I should probably begin this post by acknowledging its inspiration. A couple of days ago, one of my fellow Write Clubers, Bill Chance, wrote a very insightful piece about the movie Kick-Ass. Now, I’ve never seen the movie myself. Those sort of bloodbath flicks aren’t really my style, but what inspired me was the conversation that transpired as a result of his post, during this week’s meeting of the minds. The notion of this ass-kicking little girl made me think of all the other ass-kicking “girls” that I love so much, both on film and in print. I recommend you take a minute and read Bill’s blog yourself – (here).
I’ve always been drawn to strong female characters. These are characters who aren’t afraid of getting a little grime beneath their perfectly manicured fingernails, or speaking their minds and educating the ignorant masses in the ways of the world. Women who know how to handle a weapon, any weapon, and aren’t scared to use it – relish in using it, even. These female characters would never need a man to do their saving. They can save themselves, thank you very much, with much more finesse and efficiency than any male counterpart – in heels and a cocktail dress, no less. They have chutzpah – or balls for my non-Yiddish speaking friends. I love that.
If you know me, then you’re probably well aware that one of my all-time favorite television characters is Alias‘ Sydney Bristow. I got to know her quite well when I was in the midst of getting my formerly fat butt into shape. She got me through hour after hour of seemingly endless pedaling to nowhere. I have a special place in my heart for Sydney Bristow. To me, she is the epitome of ass-kicking greatness. She’s smart, tough as nails, focused – and who isn’t just a little bit turned on by the over-the-top costumes she dons? All in the name of saving the world from evil masterminds hell bent on destroying us all.
Of course, she isn’t the only strong female character out there. There’s The Closer’s Brenda Leigh Johnson – a powerful woman with a dogged determination that keeps her obsessively focused on getting her suspect’s confession. Her balls of brass tenacity coupled with her “bless your heart” southern drawl makes her a formidable foe to many a bad guy. Then, there is Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larssen’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Not your traditional heroine, I will concede, but strong and admirable, nonetheless. Of course, you have to get passed the emaciated, Goth thing she’s sporting and overlook her very disturbed mind brought about by an equally disturbed childhood. Peel all that away and you will find a girl who will stand up for herself and those she loves, no matter what the cost. I mean, how could you not love a character that will break into her rapist’s apartment, hog-tie him to a bed and tattoo his crimes in red ink across his chest? Not necessarily how I would have gone about enacting my revenge, but it shows she’s got chutzpah.
There are a slew of other woman – a list that I am surely not doing justice – but the few that pop into my head at this particular moment are: Sigourney Weaver’s alien ass-kicker Ellen Ripley, Tomb Raider’s Lady Lara Croft, Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, Resident Evil’s Alice, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, In Plain Sights’ Mary Shannon, Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet. Yes, Elizabeth Bennet – the future Mrs. Darcy – an inspiringly strong woman, especially in the context of her time. No, you’re not going to see Lizzy packing a Glock 38, riding a motorcycle through the English countryside to save Mr. Darcy from the evil clutches of Mr. Wickham and Mr. Collins. I agree, that would certainly make for some great entertainment. I’d watch it. However, for a late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, middle class woman she was remarkably defiant against the walls society placed around her. She mocked the status quo. Sure, she ended up marrying the handsome, rich guy and living happily ever after, but she did it on her terms and without compromise. Something I greatly admire in a female lead. Perhaps this is the very reason I can’t jump on board the Twilight crazy train. Bella is a character I would kill off the minute an opportunity presented itself. Grow a backbone, girl! Get yourself a gun that shoots silver bullets and a big wooden stake. Do the world a favor – get rid of those obnoxious werewolves and sparkling vampires. Go find a real man – or don’t – just stop sniveling over those two pathetic saps.
These kick-ass women, and countless more, are the kind of characters I find intriguing and aspire to create within the pages of my own work. A daunting task to be sure, especially in a literary world where so many female characters are portrayed as damsels in distress. What about you? Who are a few of your favorite kick-ass women in the world of fiction?
What? I can’t understand you. You’re grumbling. Not a morning person, you say? Blasphemy! I love mornings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the jump out of bed, happy as a clam morning person. I have fantasies about bashing those obnoxious nitwits in the face with a baseball if they dare to breathe my air. No, I’m more of the roll out of bed, where’s my coffee, give me an hour of silence before you speak to me kind of morning person. Not your definition of a morning person? Meh. It’s mine.
I’m always the first one up in my house, usually by 5 or so. Never have been any good at that whole sleeping thing. On a bad night I might average 3 or 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep, on a good night 6 tops. Don’t feel sorry for me, though. I’m used it. It’s one of those things in life that you just learn to accept – sort of like accepting that as soon as your husband falls asleep (which will be 2.5 seconds after he lays down) he will roll your way and start snoring. It’s been the same night after night for the last 17 years. It’s not going to change. You just accept that smothering him in his sleep will get you nowhere but jail. And then who comes out the winner there? Him. Who needs that?
For me, early morning is a time to collect my thoughts, plan my day and savor the coffee from the pot that brews at precisely 4:45 every morning via a preset timer. Top ten inventions of all time, in my book, and yet another reason not to smother my husband. He makes some damn good coffee. I wish I could say that I sip from my favorite mug while typing feverishly away at my morning pages but alas, I do not. Writing first thing in the morning is beyond even my capabilities. A complete failure on my part, I know, but to get up enough energy to string a few hundred words together before the coffee has time to do its magic is just plain craziness. Instead, while I await the collection of my thoughts, I engage is more mundane activities. Perhaps I will read a book from the stack that covers my nightstand and has started to bleed onto the floor. More likely though, I will surf the internet, troll Facebook and play some stupid, mindless game while listening to Morning Joe or the NBC 5 morning crew repeatedly report the same stories on the half hour with weather on the fives.
Not impressed with the morning activities of a self-proclaimed morning person yet? Well, sometimes on particularly nice mornings when I don’t have to be anywhere, I will venture out my backdoor – in my pjs, cup in hand. When was the last time you step outside just as the sun was coming up over the horizon? It is an awesome sight to behold as thin fingers of light peel away the darkness. Stars and planets slip from view and the moon slowly makes its descent giving way to a new day. All right before your eyes. Now take a deep breath. What do you smell? Dirt? Grass still wet from last night’s rain? The sweet scent of roses drifting in on a gentle breeze? An aroma as alluring as fresh-baked bread. Listen. Hear the Mourning Doves cooing and calling to each other, the munch of grass as the rabbits come out for a bit of breakfast, a lawn mower – uh oh.
So, yes, I am a morning person and with all these things to see, hear and smell right outside your bedroom window, I can’t begin to fathom why you are wasting your time sleeping. Sleep is overrated. You can sleep when your dead. Get up, grab a cup of joe and join me on the patio.
Just do me a favor – don’t spoil the mood by speaking to me. I’d hate to have to bash you in the face with my baseball bat. Tends to start the day out on the wrong foot.
“All characters are based on elements of a writer’s personal experience.” Robert Holdstock
I’ve always been a watcher. No, not in that creepy Keanu Reeves (The Watcher) sort of way. My watching tendencies come more out of an innate curiosity of what makes people tick. I often sit and wonder at the lives of the people I come in contact with on a daily basis. Are they rich? Poor? Do they have a good marriage? A good job? Are they nice or more of a self-centered prig? Do they have mannerism that I find interesting or repulsive? Why did they pick those shoes to wear with that blouse? Are they a secret spy? A terrorist? A serial killer stalking their next victim?
For instance, take the man from Starbucks my writing group observed last night. He was tucked away in one of the room’s only comfy chairs, “reading” a self-help book. I say this with air quotes because, although he had the book open in front of his face (and I mean literally blocking his face), he was talking on his bluetooth. At least I assume it was a bluetooth because surely he wasn’t sitting in Starbucks, pretending to read a book AND talking to himself. What the heck was this guy all about? We all took a peek at him and speculated. Was this man a secret spy? Perhaps he was sent to observe the man across the room wearing a nondescript baseball cap and typing feverishly on his laptop. Or perhaps he was waiting for that girl he met on that dating site and hoped to impress her with his choice of reading material. Or maybe he was just a douchebag hiding behind a book we all knew he wasn’t interested in reading and talking way too loud on the phone. I ruled out secret spy right away – Jason Bourne he was not – and settled on the latter.
This is what makes people watching so fascinating to me – speculation and the “what if” game. Like the woman I see at the gym every so often with the ginormous…um…let’s call them ta-tas. I see her float past me during my hour-long, 27.9 mile ride to nowhere. I am always shocked and amazed that she can walk with such impressively good posture – shoulders down and back, perfect alignment over the hips, head up. I don’t know much about physics but I would certainly think that she is defying gravity in her ability to remain upright with such a disproportionate top load or maybe she has a spine made of steel. Hadn’t thought of that possibility until just now, but I digress.
As she passes me, I always look around expecting to see a Bravo camera crew trailing behind her, catching her every move for the yet unannounced new addition to the series – The Real Housewives of Denton County. I am forever disappointed that she is all alone because who wouldn’t be tickled pink over another Real Housewives to add to the DVR lineup. No? Just me? Hm. It is a this point that my mind begins to ask questions. Is she a stripper? A kept woman? A kept woman who used to be a stripper? Sydney Bristow in costume preparing to take down the membership manager who is really an arms dealer using 24 Hour Fitness as a front? I always thought he looked a little questionable. I’ve been meaning to run him through public data.
The peculiar man from Starbucks and the buxom blonde would both make great supporting characters in a novel. Neither would make it to the end of the book alive, but we all need those expendable characters to keep the story flowing. Right? You know I’m right. But what about those instrumental protagonists? My former history professor is character inspiration gold. Not in the sacrificial lamb sort of way but as leading man material. He looks like a young, very thin Ben Affleck with nerdy glasses and displays some distinctive and, often times, funny tics. He is a brilliant historian, versed in his discipline with more than his fair share of passion on the subject. He paces the room as he lectures, his voice getting louder and more animated with every breath. Sometimes I feel like I am in church (if i went to church – don’t judge me) because his voice will suddenly boom and reverberate off of the four walls of the small room. This is always the point in class where the devil inside me rejoices because his sudden increase in volume will cause the snoozers to jump out of their skin, knock their empty spiral notebooks onto the floor and look around in wide-eyed shock. Maybe that’s why he does it.
He says “right” after every couple of sentences and he’s not asking a question. He just says it. Maybe it’s a Minnesota thing. He is also shamefully disorganized and clumsy, dropping piles of unbound, coffee stained lecture notes onto the floor so often it becomes such a part of the daily routine that students don’t even notice anymore. I see him not as this odd, little professor teaching me a freshman level history course, but as the lead in a romantic suspense novel. Perhaps, the absentminded professor schtick is just a cover. What if he is a super secret spy, a member of an off the books black ops team only activated in times of great crisis (are you seeing a pattern here)? What if he will have to team up with the to be announced, tough as nails female character to save the world? What if he is just what he seems, a quirky intellectual who is inadvertently dragged into some sinister plot? Better yet, what if the bodacious blonde from the gym and the obnoxious dude from Starbucks are assassins bent on killing the president of the community college (the president that reminds me of that lawyer). The professor stumbles upon the plot becoming a target himself, then he must team up with the aforementioned compelling character, eliminate the blonde and the Starbucks dude to save the president’s life and dismantle the bomb hidden beneath the library atrium with only his knowledge of World War I trench warfare tactics to guide him.
Or maybe not.
Characters are the driving force in every story. Without them, there is no point to putting pen to page. Next time you are at the grocery store, standing in line behind that lady with one too many kids who wants to pay with an actual paper check, take a look around you. See, that man in the next aisle? No, not him. The other one. Yes, the one with the carton of milk and toilet plunger. Take a good look at him. Ask yourself: Who is he? Why is buying milk and a toilet plunger? Could he be a super secret spy? A terrorist? A serial killer hunting his next victim? Oh crap! Did he just smile at you?
In one month, I will turn 39. Egads! 39. Seriously? How the hell did that happen? I mean, I can see the whites of 40’s eyes glaring at me from the not so distant shadows. It’s the beginning of a whole new decade of my life and that much closer to middle-age. Oh wait, am I middle-aged now? Oh God, now I’ve scared myself. I suppose it’s safe to say that I am not really taking this whole 39th birthday thing too well. I never do and really, who does? I remember a time when I couldn’t wait for that next birthday to come. Age 10 meant I could ride my bike on the street; age 16 – driver’s license; age 18 – emancipation; age 21- legal liquor. Then it all just sort of fizzled out. After a while birthday excitement got harder and harder to muster until one day the very thought of another birthday left me curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, murmuring unintelligible nonsense over and over. What? Never happened to you? Hmmmm…strange. Happens to me every year.
As the days tick by, edging closer and closer to June 16, I find myself feeling reflective. When I turned 29, my beautiful daughter was not yet one and my son was still under the false impression that I was, if not cool, a least a little bit fun. But for all this happiness and promise of what my 30s would bring, I didn’t start the decade off on the right foot. Indeed, I squandered almost half of it by feeling afraid. Afraid of the future; afraid of change; afraid of finding out who I really was as a person – or perhaps rather, who I wanted to be as a person. It wasn’t a good time for me. I retreated into myself, alienated friends and got myself good and fat. I could snarf down an entire bag of Oreos without coming up for air. It was actually quite an impressive feat, if I do say so myself. I stumbled my way through my early 30s this way until I saw the family Christmas photo in 2004.
I was excited about that photo. It was the first photo of all us in years. I picked it up and opened the envelope with much anticipation. It was going to be great, I just knew it. Wrong. Sure, my family looked amazing. Megan with her chubby little cheeks and Brendan with his dazzling smile and Nolan looking every bit the part of a proud husband and father – then there was me. Double chin, round face, sunken eyes, frizzy hair, sausage arms accentuated by the festive red sweater I’d stupidly chosen instead of my usual black. My gasp of horror was irrepressible and was surely heard by everyone in the photo studio. I don’t think I have ever laid eyes on a worse photo – not even my senior pictures which were mind-blowingly bad to say the least, was that bad. I’ve alway wondered how I made it out of that place without disgracing myself but I made it safely back to my car before I dissolved into a sobbing pile of goo.
That terrible, awful, disgusting, repulsive – I could go on forever – picture changed my life. It was like someone flipped a switch in me. I didn’t want to be the person I saw in this picture staring back at me with dead eyes. I wanted to be something more. First thing I did was lose the weight. Wasn’t easy – it never is. One of life’s little ironies is that it’s always so much easier and a lot more fun to get fat than it is to get un-fat. I did it though – me, my stationary bike and reruns of Alias (only the greatest show on television – EVER). Once I did that, it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me. I mean, if I could lose 50 lbs, what else could I do? What did I want to do? I wanted to write. Writing was something I’d dabbled in since childhood but never had the confidence to pursue.
I took a basic novel writing class at Collin County Community College. Best thing I ever did for myself – well besides loosing weight and getting healthy. I learned several things about myself during this class – 1) I am quite capable of carrying on conversations with complete strangers without making too much of a fool of myself 2) I sweat and shake profusely when I am nervous – I am talking sopping wet pits 3) Letting others read and critique my work doesn’t make the heavens come crashing down around my ears. 4) Change isn’t all that scary.
In my mid-thirties, I learned that the universe has a sick sense of humor. I was taking baby steps in my endeavor to be more open to change and find myself. I was more than happy with the pace of things. Apparently, the universe didn’t quite see things my way. In the span of just a few months, I lost my house to a fire, my father to cancer, my mother came to live with us and then was diagnosed with cancer herself. Like it or not, I was going to have to deal with some serious change – quickly – like right now. If it had been five years early, I might have crawled into my bed, pulled the covers over my head and waited for the storm to pass but it never crossed my mind. Instead, I dealt with it, bit by bit and I let myself grow from the experience. I signed up for another writing class (the one I had to drop because my father passed away) and I met the most amazing people. (Funny how the universe worked there – I never would have met them if I had stayed in the first class.) They read my work – I had to stand up in front of them and watch while they did it. As before, it didn’t kill me. I did sweat like a pig and shake like a leaf but I survived. I discovered I liked sharing my work, I liked the honest feedback and I learned that I wasn’t a terrible writer but I had a lot of room for improvement. I found that I liked them. Everyone different with their own thoughts and creative ideas. And every one of them just as quirky as me. I felt a kinship with these people. I found my group.
As I make the climb up these steep steps toward 40, I am not happy about it. I hate the new wrinkles around my eyes, the laugh lines that frame my mouth and the saggy little skin I’ve just discovered under my chin that no amount of miracle cream can seem to tighten. I hate that no matter how much I exercise, I will never get rid of that bit of fat that is threatening to overtake my knees. My feet hurt, my knees ache a little and I can’t fall off a ladder anymore without really hurting myself. I’m still scared of losing the tight grip I keep on my life – I will forever be a control freak but I am learning to be more laid back and maybe even the tiniest bit spontaneous. I understand now the importance of nurturing good relationships, cutting out the bad and not being afraid to step off the ledge without looking – well maybe just a peek before I leap. I am getting older. I can’t stop it, I don’t like it anymore now than I did ten years ago but the difference now is that I can accept it and feel almost a little bit of excitement about what I might be able to accomplish in the coming years. I am a 38-year-old college student, after all. Right now the possibilities seem endless.