Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Adapting Reality to Fit Fiction

Or is it the other way around?  The advantage of a fictional town is that no one can say something like, "Eighteenth Street is one way north, not south! Don't you know anything about DC?"

On the other hand, if you have a fictional beach town that is set in a Mid-Atlantic state (as Ocean Alley is), when you describe the way the ocean looks it cannot sound like the lighter blue-green of the Caribbean.

The characters who populate Ocean Alley are busy with their own lives when their peaceful pursuits are occasionally interrupted by a dead body or two. I choose to have parts of their lives focus on people who have less. So Jolie heads a food pantry committee and the fundraisers can take her focus off a crime--or be part of one.

At some level, I hope that a reader will realize that they can volunteer for a good cause without having to devote huge amounts of time to it. However, if action or dialogue deals a lot with people who need food or the couple of homeless veterans whose paths cross Jolie's, then it appears the books have "a message." And when fiction seems to want to educate, readers are likely to tune out.

So, Jolie sits above a dunk tank for a fundraiser and Scoobie chases cans of donated beans across a parking lot when a box rips. In book six, which I'm writing now, other members of the food pantry committee gang up on Jolie, Scoobie, and their friend Ramona by deciding the fundraiser will celebrate the trio's 30th birthdays. With any luck, the party games won't be deadly.

The major reality in New Jersey is recovery from 2012's Hurricane Sandy. That is not fun. But as the Ocean Alley boardwalk is rebuilt, even that reality can give readers a chance to make reality a better place.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Freedom to Read and Express

There are many things to think about on Independence Day--whether it's July 4th in the U.S. or Bastille Day in France, or various days in other countries. Each year I think about our freedom to not only read but publish anything we want to.  (The seven especially bad words aside on television.)

Each year in Garrett Park, Maryland there was a parade and an annual essay contest.  I won two years, until I got into a different age group and there was more competition. The parade also had a costume contest, and one of my brothers won for best costume one year. (Can't say which one, he'll get back at me.)

Those annual rituals made 4th of July more than an occasion for fireworks. Each year there was a theme, and we talked about it.  One year we celebrated the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the union, which is why my sister was wearing a bathing suit in this one--Hawaiian beaches, not Alaskan tundra. I only have one sister, so no need to guess, for those who know her.

Another town I lived in also had parades. Coincidentally, Takoma Park, Maryland was the nation's first nuclear free zone and Garrett Park was the second. Very interesting places to live. The picture at right shows one of my brothers introducing a niece and nephew to the 4th of July Parade in Takoma Park in 1993.

The biggest takeaway for them was the Shriners Club's clowns in their small cars. Not exactly the most patriotic entry (though a good lesson in charitable giving), but memorable.

Whatever you are or will do this 4th of July, keep thinking about those freedoms. And enjoy the fireworks.
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