Saturday, March 1, 2008

I think I know who that is...

Today at the coffee shop, the lean guy in gym sweats smiled at me. The usually dour-faced woman giggled. The leather-vested Harley dude nudged his friend and pointed. I didn’t get it. Was Starbucks putting something funny in the coffee today? Was I looking particularly fetching? Maybe someone was behind me throwing up devil horns.

Then I realized what was making the patrons smile in my direction. I’d forgotten what I was wearing. A present from Beth, my critique partner, the sweatshirt reads: “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.”

And it’s true, you might. But I guarantee you won’t know it’s you.

Folks reading my book might think they recognize the characters. I hope so. My characters are meant to act like real people. But no one in my book is based on a real person.

Let me lay your fears to rest. First of all, most of the true stories I’ve been told are too unbelievable to be put in a novel. I really can’t have a character as snotty as your mother-in-law. No one would believe her antics. Truth is stranger than fiction, as the saying goes. Like most clich├ęs, there’s something to that. And I’m writing fiction. The truly bizarre has no place in my stories. Besides, real life is full of coincidences and happenstance, two devices I’m no longer entitled to use.

That’s not to say I don’t steal from you. A tick, a way of moving through the world, a manner of dress. Those fabulous earrings. I might even quote you, although that’s usually without realizing it.

Author Cornelia Read says that she writes about things that make her mad. That’s true for me too. While her anger is reserved for people doing truly heinous things to the young and innocent, mine are more of the 11-things-in-the-grocery-line variety. I use that aggravation and give it to one of my characters.

There’s no question that writing is a great release. It feels wonderful to knock someone down a peg. Someone, who in real life, you have to sit down across the table from. Or work with. Or worse yet, live with. It’s good for the spirit. I’m sure it keeps down the actual murder rate.

Justice is mine. I can really sock it to the crabby salesperson or the long-ago boss who thought my time wasn’t as valuable as hers. Since I’m writing about murder, I can even kill that person off.

So if you cut me off on the highway, or insult my sister’s baby or spit in my soup, I will have the last laugh. You’ll never know. If your hair is red, I’ll make it blonde. If you’re a guy, I’ll give you a big shelf of a bosom. Swedish, Armenian. You get the idea.

What that sweatshirt might have said: Careful, you might end up DEAD in my novel.


Linda O. Johnston said...

Love it, Terri! As a lawyer, I'm especially careful not to make anyone TOO recognizable to avoid getting sued. On the other hand, it's fun to combine traits. And the lawyers where I now work mornings keep asking me if they're going to show up in one of my novels someday. I tell them yes--to keep them on their toes!


Camille Minichino said...

I've always it was better to have the person I don't appreciate the KILLER instead of simply, easily dead.

Great presentation Terri.

Anonymous said...

With murder and mayhem floating in my mind I've come across people who've ticked me off who may end up in the pages of my books...disguised, of course. In my mind I'm thinking "You'll get yours, my pretty" (evil cackle follows).


ellen said...

Nothing quite so satisfying as raking somebody you dislike over the coals in a story. Nothing, that is, except selling it, for the world to see.

Anonymous said...

Terri- It was great fun to see your book in a booth at the Manteca Quilt Show today. Looked like it was selling well so looks like you'll be getting lots of new fans. Way to go! I just hope I don't make you mad at me because I don't want to end up getting killed in a book, that's for sure.
Your friend, Ruth

Monica Ferris said...

What a brilliant piece of writing, Terri! And all of it true. I tend to put the traits of people I don't like into books, rather than the people. Or, if I do use an unlikable person, I make them a miserable jerk with an unhappy life they only dimly comprehend. I have used people I like, with their permission. Most are thrilled, though I have never forgotten one remark I got: "You listen a whole lot better than I thought you did."

Terri Thayer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terri Thayer said...

Thanks for the comments. I'm a little scared that Linda the lawyer worries about getting sued. Worried that I didn't hide some of my characters well enough. Of course, I'm going to my grave insisting I made them up.

I'm cackling in my mind, too, Allison, although I like Camille's suggestion that these folks become the killers instead. Then I can punish them with life in prison without parole.

And yes, Ellen, selling well is the best revenge. And thanks, Monica. Listening is the key.

Ruth, who I can barely get to answer an email and who rarely can find her cell phone, commented! The end of the world might be nigh!

Thanks, Ruth, for being my scout at the local quilt shows. I'm so tickled that the book is out there. Next time grab one and show 'em your name in the acknowledgements.