Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Continuing Connections Find Their Way into Fiction

I've never been one to model characters on real people. It's always seemed limiting. Each August I realize that even though I don't populate fiction with familiar faces, my books are imbued with the traditions of time spent with family and friends.

Why August? I attend an annual family reunion in Southwest Missouri, and usually get together with one or two groups of long-time friends. This year I missed the Iowa book club, but spent a few days in the Colorado Rockies with gracious friends. I recommend the steam engine ride through peaks near Georgetown, CO.

August is also state fair time. If you want ideas for characters (all shapes and sizes) I recommend sitting near the major food tents or any vendor that sells edibles on a stick. You can skip the Midway -- no different than an ordinary amusement park.

Discovery Garden - IA State Fair
The Iowa State also gives a flower-lover lots of images, especially if a major character in a series is a gardener. I didn't realize until I started reworking a novella this summer how much nature has featured in most of my books. You think you see what's in front of you, but the routine aspects of life can fade into the background.

My favorite example of ignoring the obvious came in the form of a wall of an A-frame living/dining area in a house I owned in Maryland years ago. After about six months, I had a dozen or so pictures on the largest segment of the wall. About six months later, I realized every one of the paintings and prints had water in them. No wonder one of my series is set at the Jersey shore.

Despite the visual effects of summer in several states, it's the people who leave the lasting images -- or help create new ones. In the Hobby Building at the Illinois State Fair, I watched one woman look at quilt after quilt. After passing her a few times, I finally asked if she had an item on display. "Oh, no. I don't think I could enter."

When I asked her why not, she said her work wasn't good enough to win. I pointed out that, while it's more fun to win, I've entered items and not won. (Nothing so creative as a quilt.) I love looking behind the exhibit glass at something I entered. I told her I'd look for her next year. Her face is etched in my brain, so she may end up as a character in a book I'm considering.

More than specific people being fodder for fiction is the lasting impact of friendships on the imaginary relationships we create. In one series, I have a few friends who occasionally finish each others' sentences. One pre-publication reviewer remarked that I did that several times in a 60,000+ word book. "You don't have friends like that?" I asked. No, she really didn't. She doesn't know what she's missing.

Life is so busy, especially with school-age children or aging parents to look after. I wish everyone could have time for an 'August Pause.' And the friends to visit during that time.
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