Writing “Real” Characters
One of the nicest compliments I’ve gotten about my books is that the characters seem real. Well thank goodness, because sometimes I forget and think they are!
One of the most common pieces of advice writers hear is: Write what you know. That works great for me. I grew up in a family of storytellers—the seventh generation to live on our farm in West Virginia. Dinnertime was filled with tales of our days, sometimes with a little embroidery thrown in, and if we ran out we could always ask Dad to retell one of our favorites. It’s those stories of his growing up that are almost mythical for me. So many of the characters—my grandparents, great uncle, great grandmother, Dad’s childhood acquaintances—were gone by the time I took an interest. Even so, they live on through his stories. Now I have a chance to go back to that “simpler” time when life was pretty well confined to a small community of people who supported each other. I know I romanticize it, but I think that’s okay. My stories are a love letter to Appalachia.
So over the next few weeks, I thought I’d introduce you to some of the “real” characters who inspire my books. The photo above is of me in my Grandma Burla’s lap. (Burla . . . Perla). I did get to know her well. She died just a few years ago at 97 and she was a great resource for stories about other family members who had gone on before.
The lady on the right is my Great-Grandma Jane. Now she IS mythical. She died when I was ten or thereabouts. I remember her, but was too young to appreciate what a wealth of information she carried. Here are a few of my favorite tidbits about Grandma Jane courtesy of my dad:
- She once took a partial deck of cardboard playing cards from Dad, ripped them in half, and threw them in the coal stove.
- When she prayed aloud in church, she prayed, “Lord, if I have sinned, forgive me.”
- When books from the community’s bookmobile were being damaged, Dad discovered the culprit when he saw her tear a page out because there was a “bad” word on it.
- She was once interviewed for the newspaper and was mortified that they quoted her as if she talked in a country, colloquial style. She did not.
- She didn’t roll up her sleeves when washing dishes or clothes so as not to be unseemly in showing too much skin.
Now, I cannot attest to the truth of all these statements. Dad IS a storyteller. But, oh, what a rich picture they paint!