Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Count Your Blessings, Character Style

Current Project:NMMNG
Status: The tortoise approaches the threshold

Tomorrow countless blogs, facebook posts, and relatives sitting around the table will recount their blessings, and this is all well and good. And I'm sure there will be more than a handful of posts talking about our blessings as writers, so I'll leave that territory for those more reflective than I. Instead, I want to talk about our characters and how they celebrate the holiday. Christmas books are a long time staple of the romance world, but Thanksgiving books and scenes are a little more rare. I love when they appear though because they reveal so much about the character and his or her family dynamic, values, beliefs, and preferences.

Now whether or not you are planning a Thanksgiving scene in your WIP, choose one of your characters (pick the trickiest one you were complaining about yesterday for a challenge) and give him or her a typical Thanksgiving prior to the start of your story. Who is there? Who is he or she happy to see? Not? What foods does he or she like? Dislike? If he or she is without family, what might he or she do instead? Now when he or she was a child, what sort of Thanksgiving was celebrated? How did these memories shape your present character? Finally, what sort of Thanksgiving future would you like to give your character at the close of your book?

I'll be back to put up my own answers later. Have fun!


Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy -- I'm at the hospital with my mom right now. We just signed her up for hospice. Tomorrow she'll go home to her residence and hopefully rally for awhile. The holidays, for going on two years now, have faded away for me. Last Thanksgiving was the beginning of this mess, Christmas last year, all family was snowed in in Portland and we were obligated to be here (the hi-light was a walk in the snow and the sighting of a chipmunk running across the path.) This year, kids are away or working and we're at the hospital and what it brings to mind to me is that you have to carry a holiday in your heart, but you also have to reinforce it with the people and traditions that make it special. I will be spending Christmas with as many family members as possible, heaven willing.

I don't hjave the brain for your exercise, but it will give me something fun to think about in the next book. I've done Christmas -- next book I'm doing thanksgiving. Thanks!

wavybrains said...

Oh Alice, huge, huge, huge, HUGE hugs for you. I'm so sorry for your family and for your mother. A year ago this weekend, my grandmother passed away after her long battle, and the holidays are a miserable time to be at the hospital.

Could you use anything? Kevin is off work for the next few days and I'm done after I teach tonight, and we'd be happy to run something by the hospital or your home for you. Food? We don't mind a road trip :)

We're having a tiny Thanksgiving tomorrow with just us and my brother. But hopefully, the food will be tasty (assuming it gets made :))

Paty Jager said...

Alice, thinking of you.


Hmmm... I guess that would be the heroine from my sisters book since I 'm still tweaking the epilogue.
Orphaned at 10 and taken in by a recent widow, she spent her childhood taking care of the woman and they lived one step above paupers on a small family inheritance the woman had and Maggie's odd jobs.

Atypical Thanksgiving would be Maggie helping the woman's sister make the meal. Then the two women, a husband and Maggie would all sit down and give thinks for what they had- food and a roof over their heads. The one thing that would make this day perfect would be if her younger sister walked through the door. Ever since the fateful day that Indians killed both ether parents and they were taken in by different families, the girls have been waiting to become of an age they can find the other.

Thanks giving is a wonderful day because they are allowed to eat all they want and the table is filled with succulent foods they have only once a year. Turkey and custard pie with spices.

Before she became an orphan her father and mother held huge Thanksgiving feast at their church with the whole congregation bringing foods. She helped her mother prepare the turkeys provided by several farmers and they baked pan after pan of her mother's sweet yeast rolls.

Family means everything to Maggie and that's why she is desperate to find her sister.

The Thanksgiving future would be Maggie and Ty and Lorabeth and Sam together for Thanksgiving and living within a few miles of one another.

Paty Jager said...

We had our Thanksgiving yesterday. My daughter and granddaughter's all left at noon today as well as my dh heading back to Elk camp. So I have Until Saturday to write (well really read galleys) Then I'm at a book signing in Bellevue on Saturday with three other authors.

wavybrains said...

For my exercise:

Grant's mother died when he was 8. Prior to her death, Thanksgiving was a big affair. They would usually go to one of the grandparent's homes, but sometimes his parents would host. After his mom died, Thanksgiving was quieter. If they went to Minnesota to his father's family, it would be loud and noisy and big, but still a little lonely for him. If they stayed in St.Louis, with his mother's parents and other relatives, his mother's absence would be felt more. The last few years, his grandparents have been living at a retirement complex, so Thanksgiving has fallen to other relatives. This Thanksgiving, Grant and his father are joining the father's new fiancee and her family for the first time. They celebrate way differently than he's used to--it's a catered affair and everything is way prettier than he's used to. They don't even have turkey--they have prime rib with horseradish sauce, and Grant spends dinner really missing his grandparents and unhappy with his father for deciding to marry Lacey. He's already unhappy with Ashley, his soon-to-be step-sister, and he spends the meal watching her divide her plate into perfect quarters without ever actually eating anything. This is also the first time he meets Perfect Preston who is home from Chicago University. His step-brother-to-be is a charming lout who comes accompanied by his lingerie model girlfriend. Grant feels really ignored and this feeling is amplified when at the last minute, there is no room at the main table and he ends up at a table of rowdy little cousins. It's pretty obvious to him that Lacey's family isn't crazy about her marrying his father, and this makes him unhappy. This meal is a big part of the backstory for the REAL story which begins a few months later in February.

For Thanksgiving future, I think Thanksgiving is still going to be an adjustment as Grant deals with having Lacey's family around permanently now. I would hope that next year, Lacey compromises and they end up at Grant's family. More likely, though, I can see her and his father avoiding the whole issue by traveling somewhere that Grant would rather not be. He'll deal. :)

Genene Valleau said...

More (((HUGS))) to you, Alice, in this very difficult time.

Do the holidays seem to underscore the sadness of a loved one who is ill or dying, or family challenges in general? Do the "happy" and the "merry" messages of the media make us feel even more disconnected because we're feeling opposite emotions? Or is it just me who thinks that?

Since I'm usually out of step with most of society and really, really dislike driving on holidays, the "traditions" when my kids were younger tended to be ones we made up from year to year. We just went with the flow of whatever we felt like doing.

As for my characters, the ones in my nine-book series would all gather at their adoptive mom's or at the restaurant in the little town near where they grew up. (One of the characters owns the restaurant.) With eight siblings, spouses and children, as well as friends, this would be a big, noisy celebration. The food would include traditional dishes such as turkey, ham, mashed and sweet potatoes, as well as dishes unique to new spouses who may have previously spent the holidays alone.

More times than not, a food fight would erupt at some point. After the mess was cleaned up, the family would adjourn to the volleyball or basketball court to play their own version of one of those games.

Alice, what a good idea to write a Thanksgiving story! I'll look forward to reading it!

Katie said...

Ooh, this is fun! Food is a big part of my book so far, actually. From homemade pretzels and a big meatloaf dinner to simple pizza, it marks my character's lifestyles.

Heath's mom would either host, and cook most of the food. She has a little restaurant, and makes all sorts of delicacies. Her brother would probably come, and maybe they'd do something with his grandparents, but I think they'd invite more friends than family. His mom used to cater, so it feels more like a party than a dinner. Heath would begin to feel like a waiter, with he and his mom working to keep supplies and drinks flowing. Still, it's fun and noisy and everything goes great, always.

Piper would be grocery shopping and cook the meal herself, because her dad is busy and can't cook, and her mom has no interest. She and her little sister would have fun working together, though. Maybe they could get her mom's parents to come. They always have her grandpa on her dad's side over for holidays, and she loves seeing him. It would hold lots of happiness from having their family together (her dad works most of the time), but her mom's depression and apathy would mar some of the moments. So her picture has two sides; one is white and the other is black.

That was a good exercise! Thanks, Wavy!

Deborah Wright said...

{{{Alice}}} -- thinking of you.

Wavy - thanks for the exercise! There isn't a holiday scene in my story, but doing this clarified a couple of things about my character's relationships with her parents, and especially her father, for me, so yay! It's a bit long, but here goes...

Alexandra Summerfield wouldn't know a normal Thanksgiving if it bit her on the nose. It wasn't because her mother was killed in a car crash when Alex was ten. They'd had plenty of Thanksgivings together as a family before that and not a single one could remotely be described as normal. The fact that both her parents were a bit vague on the whole holiday thing probably didn't help (never ask Alex about Christmas).

Alex pestered her mother a couple of Thanksgivings to get a turkey, only to eventually give it up as a bad idea. It wasn't that her mother was a bad cook, exactly, it was just that she was far too preoccupied with her research. The first Year of the Turkey, as Alex tended to think of them, her mother stuffed the bird and put it in a hot oven, only to get distracted and forget all about it until the carcass was an inedible lump of charcoal. The second year her mother kept her promise not to overcook it, but only because she completely forgot to turn the oven on.

The main problem with Thanksgiving, though, was her father. Frederick Summerfield seemed always on the verge of a breakthrough in his research that required him to spend long hours in his lab. For some reason, autumn, especially around Thanksgiving, was when disaster usually struck. Inevitably, some gadget he was tinkering with would blow up or catch on fire. And there's nothing quite like a trip to the Emergency Room for the memory of one's family Thanksgiving tradition.

After her mother died, Alex did her best to get her father out of his lab on the holidays. She couldn't quite manage a full turkey dinner on her own, but she did her best with hot turkey sandwiches, store bought stuffing and canned cranberry sauce. She even managed to keep him from blowing himself or his lab up for several years in a row, no small feat in itself.

Anonymous said...

The spicy scent of pumpkin pie wafted past Gwyn's nose. "Mmm, that smells great," she said as she rounded the corner of her mom's kitchen and took in a big whiff of Thanksgiving splendor.

"Oh good, you're here," her mom shoved a 5# bag of russets into her arms along with a peeler. "Get these peeled, chopped, and boiling. I'm running behind and I need some help."

"Oh Gwyn, darling. You've arrived. I'm so happy to see you sweetie. How was your drive? Do you want something to drink? Are you hungry?" Gwyn mocked as she lugged the bag across the kitchen, dumped the raw, dirty potatoes into the sink and began to peel like a mad woman. Come to think of it, she was mad, which was totally lame. Why she thought it would be any different this Thanksgiving from any other she'd spent with her family was beyond her. Since birth, heck, probably since conception, her mother’s mood never varied. She was still the most cold, abrasive creature on the planet. Hey, at least she stayed consistent. Gwyn hoped in her deepest soul that she didn't carry the bitch gene. But, one never knew, did they? One day she could wake up and bam, bitch gene would be oozing out of her pours. Gwyn shuddered and peeled faster.

"Watch yourself, you. You'll never catch a man with a sarcastic mouth like that. Do you want to be single forever?" Her mother pulled the hot pies from the oven and headed into the mud room to let them cool.

Oh gee, that was subtle. Not. Gwyn shook her head and took a deep, cleansing breath. She rinsed the peeled potatoes, threw them into a gargantuan pot next to her on the counter and continued to peel.

"So, where is everyone," Gwyn asked, and kept her eyes on her task.

"They're all out combing the beach for shells and whatnots," her mother grumbled from the other room. "And walking the dogs," she said as she came back into the kitchen. "Oh for Pete’s sake! Look Gwyn," her mother yanked the potato out of her hand and took hold of the peeler. "You're peeling too deeply into the potatoes, see? That's wasteful. Watch what you're doing. Do it like this," she demonstrated. Of course her peelings were perfect. Just a hint of white against the dark peel. Whatever.

"Sorry," Gwyn rolled her eyes, and tried to lighten up on the peeler. She stood on her tiptoes and dared a quick peek out the kitchen window but couldn't see any of the rest of her family or the doggies along the beach. Please God, make them hurry. Don't leave me the lone child in the house with Momster, she silently prayed.

It was so weird how you could be a grown woman, living perfectly well and happy on your own for years, with a fantastic career, lots of friends, and whatever, and then you come home. To your family. Okay, in this case, to your mother. And you remember this exactly the reason you normally skip holidays with the family.

Anonymous said...

LOL, Debbie! That was great! You're so funny! Very strong voice. ;)

Alice-- I'm sooo sorry about your holidays being a mess. I hope this year starts a good turn of events, instead. *fingers crossed* And you should totally have Wavy bring you a full-scale Thanksgiving dinner! LOL

Loved reading what everyone shared!

Now, I'm going into the kitchen, once again, to see if that damn turkey is done yet. UGH!

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! :)