Getting Personal

My brother is crotchety. A real old wave-the-cave and yell, “Get off my lawn!” curmudgeon. It’s got nothing to do with age. He’s been like that since he was about nine years old.

And yet, when it comes time to set the alarm for a flight out of Sea-Tac airport, he will without exception assume that traffic will be light and the line at the security checkpoint short. Always, at some level, expecting the best. Behind that gruff exterior he is the wild-eyed, pie-in-the-sky dreamer who’s always got some intricate scheme cooked up, whether it’s remodeling the one bedroom cabin in our backyard or starting a family business. Then he goes to work, tears a Chinook helicopter down to a million tiny pieces and reassembles it from the ground up, able to tell you the exact amount of torque used on every single bolt.

How, one wonders, do those personas co-exist within the same human being?

These questions popped into my mind after I spent last weekend both visiting my brother and attending a workshop presented by the amazing Cherry Adair, who was supposed to be talking about editing but ended up doing a great presentation on character development in the process. And besides, mentally dissecting my family members on the flight home was a nice distraction from the woman in the seat behind me who muttered “We’re going to die” and lapsed into a terror-induced asthma attack. In her defense, the descent into Salt Lake City set a personal record for me both in turbulence and the closest I’ve ever been to the ground before having a pilot pull up and say, “Maybe we better circle around and take another shot at this when the wind goes down.”

But back to my family. Meet my sister. The sweet-spoken high school beauty queen, always perfectly turned-out, who would seem to be more fluff than tough. Yet she turned a peon college clerking job for the USDA into an internship and then a full time job in public affairs when over eighty percent of her fellow graduates were unable to find employment in their chosen field. Then she decided she wanted to move up the ladder so she completed a second Bachelor of Science degree with two kids under the age of five and a husband deployed in Iraq for eighteen months.

And then, after four years in administration, she said, “Being the boss sucks, these people are driving me insane” and dropped back down the ladder to public affairs where she was happier. She is one of the most determinedly optimistic human beings I know, but if she organizes a conference for several hundred people and the keynote speaker fails to show up, she’s got a presentation locked and loaded on her laptop to fill the gap. In direct opposition to my brother, she always hopes for the best but is exhaustively prepared for the worst. Again, what would seem to be complete opposites coexisting beneath the same skin

Interesting characters, my siblings. If I wrote them as they are, I suspect they would be roundly rejected. Unrealistic. Incompatible character traits. That sort of thing. This is what they mean when they say, “Unlike real life, fiction has to make sense.”

I’ve been asked why my debut novel is what most people would describe as ‘sweet’. No explicit language or sex. Definitely not the case in the other books I’ve written. The answer lies not in my intent, but in my cast. The entire book is written from David’s point of view, a man so strait-laced and sincere he has been tagged with the nickname ‘Dudley Do-Right’. He can hardly spout profanity and fall into bed with the heroine while maintaining his rather strict personal boundaries. As he says, “It’s not about morals. I’m just not comfortable being naked in front of a stranger.”

Plus his mother would tan his hide if she heard him drop an F-bomb.

Me? I fall somewhere between my brother and sister. As a writer, I am obviously prone to flights of fancy, not the least being that I might actually make money at it some day. It might help if I had more of my sister’s knack for organization. Or less of my brother’s talent for procrastination.

If nothing else, from now on I will listen to her when deciding what time to leave for the airport.

Kari Lynn Dell

The Long Ride Home – Samhain Publishing

TLRH quote 5

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