Showing posts with label characters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label characters. Show all posts

24 July 2022

Bed, Bath, and Beyond: The Rooming House, part 2


Tales from the Rooming House

Last week I introduced you to the cast of the guest home were I rented a room rather than stay in a hotel for a six month project. I bring you a little more about my landlady, God love her.

Kitchen Computer

The kitchen held a computer for the landlady and anyone else who needed to use one. One day when the house had emptied, she shyly approached me.

“Will you, um, see uh, I have a prob… er, I shouldn’t ask, but… well, I made a mistake and, uh, no, never mind, I just felt… if you… you work with, um, computers, right? No, it’s not fair… to ask, you know, I’m sorry, see. Forget it.”

“Tell me what the problem is.”

She sniffled into a tissue. “Well, um, I went on a web site… or maybe two sites or so. And uh, I gave them my credit card number, er, and I can’t get it back. They um, keep charging me.”

pseudo-porn
“Okay. No sweat. Let’s sit down and figure it out.”

Poor lady. She flushed fifty shades of red. She’d worked up considerable courage to ask me. Respecting her vulnerability, I strove to be kind, gentle, and non-judgmentally professional.

She trembled too much to type the URL, so she slid over while I drove. I didn’t flick an eyelash when she spelled out the address of an ‘enticing teen boys’ porn site. Miserably, she said, “The other’s a bisexual-lesbian teen site.”

“We’ll do this in two steps,” I said. “First we’ll terminate your account and billing. See, that’s done. We’ll do the same thing on the other site, and bingo, that’s done. But to be safe, let’s tell the credit card company not to accept payments from these guys.”

She didn’t say anything, but dabbed her eyes with a soggy Kleenex. I’ve developed a habit of being deliberately incurious about personal matters. Humans are born naturally inquisitive creatures. No one should be punished for lifting the lid of their own curiosity.

I said, “I can set up a secret folder where you can store personal things, you know, bank information, private letters, and uh, home movies and the like. Only if you want.”

“Oh yes. Could you help me set my profile on a singles site?”

Her bio was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, but she wouldn’t let me change them. “No one will care,” she said. I thought it might restrict her potential dating pool, but kept my opinion to myself.

Other than confirming her credit card charges had ceased, neither of us mentioned those web sites again.

The Bickering Fair Ones

I wasn’t used to breakfasts amid mere acquaintances lounging in underthings, but I like to think I handled it with panache. Then I worried; were they treating me as one of the girls? Whew. Fortunately not.

“Jesus, Jill. Can’t you hook your own damn bra?”
“Yeah, Jill. What did you do before he arrived?”
“Shut up, sluts. You’re just jealous of these.”
“Wait til she asks him to do her front clasp.”
“Oh ♩♫Leeeeigh. Can you stuff these in for me?”
Ƒ you. What about Gail’s flash dances?”
“What? Me?”
“Dashing between rooms with only a tea towel.”
“It’s a bath towel.”
“For a hamster. I have hankies bigger than that.”
“Don’t be so mean. You’re so…”
“Aw shit, Gail. We didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Their sniping revealed a drama I wasn’t aware of. With my nose in technical manuals, I had been studying and oblivious. The landlady explained. Apparently Gail, the youngest of the group, wore less than usual when I was in-house, so to speak.

“They’re teasing her because she wants the attention of the only male in the house. Her heart was just broken and she craves validation.”

“Validation… I don’t understand.”

“She just wants you to notice her. Be a friend, that’s all. Be kind. She’s more fragile than she thinks. Neither of you needs rebound romance. Just buy her a rose one day. That will do nicely.”

I had been clueless sixteen ways from Sunday. I humbly felt as if our local High Priestess of Womanly Wisdom had guided me on a path where otherwise I would have fallen flat on my face. Or put another way, guys can be dumb and she saved me from myself.

bedroom floor plan

Bed, Bath, and Beyond

After my initial months of exemplary behavior, the landlady switched me to a larger room at the end of the hall across from hers. A mirror hung at the end of the corridor between the landlady’s room and mine, convenient for the women to check their makeup before heading out in public. Unlike the rest of us, she usually left her bedroom door open and I paid no attention to the darkened expanse of her doorway.

Because my schedule meant I was the last to rise and depart, the landlady asked if I would let her dog out for a bound around the garden before I left for work. No problem. I agreed.

Now, I sleep nude. Don’t judge me. Just sayin’. I don’t have patience with bedclothes.

Once I felt comfortable that only I remained in the house each day, I clambered out of bed naked, immediately let the dog out, and hit the shower amid its rain forest canopy of panty hose. Bras and knickers obscured the steamy mirror, so after bath, I stepped into the hall. Still starkers, I brushed my hair reflected in the mirror. No issues, I always made certain I was alone.

One morning I let the dog out, shaved, showered, brushed my hair before the hall mirror, dressed, let the dog in, threw on my jacket, dashed out the door, and…

There in the driveway stood my landlady’s car.

But where was the landlady? I’d already locked up and didn’t have time to investigate, but that evening, she looked at me speculatively.

I said, “Did you stay home today?”

“Uh-huh. I called in sick.”

“Er, this morning when I got up, uh, my back and forth to the bathroom, brushing my hair in the hall mirror, um, you saw all that?”

“Yes.” Her cat-licking-cream smile hovered between impish delight and giggly satisfaction.

Bed, Bath, and Beyond logo

“Everything?”

“Oh, yes. Every bit.”

“Your room was dark, I didn’t realize…”

“I know.” Her smile turned gleeful. “I know.”

We never mentioned that again either. She might have shared that little adventure with the other women, but I think not. Maybe she appreciated I’d kept her secret, but really, she was just a good person.

My contract ended not long after, but for a guy without sisters, the ladies educated me in record time.

17 July 2022

Bed, Bath, and Beyond: The Rooming House, part 1


How many landladies does it take to change a light bulb?
None. She bills you for a 25-watt bulb and lets you replace it.
buckeyes
Ohio buckeyes

A conversation with Melodie Campbell brought me back to a landlady in Columbus, Ohio. I’d travelled to America’s heartland for a six-month consulting project. Usually I stayed in hotels or occasionally in a company-owned apartment, but this time I opted to stay in a guest home, the only male in the house, the first time this landlady felt brave enough to accept one. For dialogue and character study, the house made a great observation post.

Roommates

Initially, I was assigned the smallest room, fine with me. It was a place to bathe and sleep, not socialize. As roommates came and went, the landlady upgraded our rooms depending upon seniority.

The house's female population varied fluidly depending upon who was upset at whom, who said the wrong thing, and who was going out with someone else’s man. Hostilities simmered and sometimes erupted. Everyone was very pleasant to me as internecine animosities and alliances came and went.

Snatches of conversations went:

“Who used up the half-n-half?”
“Um, you?”
“Slut.”
“I’m late again. My boss will have a cow.”
“Of course he will, the moment you arrive.”
“I’ll ignore that.”
“Hon,” (speaking to me) “Darling, hook my bra, please.”
“Why bother, Jill. You’ll only beg him to unhook it later.”
“Bitch.”
“Slut.”
“Did you pick up my dry cleaning?”
“Did you find it in the closet?”
“Bitch.”
“Shut up.”

I avoided much soap opera by working late into the night and setting my alarm after others left for the day. Occasionally one or another of the ladies snagged me to pour out her heart, typically a grievance with another of the tenants, usually man-related.

At the center of much angst was naturally a guy, a jerk. He’d gone out with at least three of the women including the landlady. The ass pitted them against one another and made outsized demands to prove they were worthy. They should have buried him in the back yard, but at that time of year the ground was frozen and snowed over. They’d have to wait for spring.

Maluku postage stamp

Bath

I grew up without sisters. Even though I’ve lived with girlfriends, they shared my residence one at a time, not in a group. I wasn’t prepared for a bathroom decorated with a dozen pairs of pantyhose and other bits of underwear strung on the shower rod, the sink, and the mirror.

I can’t deny I haven’t come face to face with micro-bikinis (shut up, Eve!), but in those circumstances I wasn’t paying much attention to those thongy things. In the harsh, florescent light of a bathroom, either a geometry mystery or an engineering marvel emerged. For folks who’ve been distracted by the higher level events in our world, thongs consist of strings and a tiny triangle the size of a Moluccan postage stamp. My inner anatomist turned all geek, calculating an inch and a half per side does not a covering make.

A = ½ W × H

The bathroom was loaded with bottles and aerosol cans of hairsprays, deodorants, creams, powders, and many, many mystery items. I sought space for shampoo and shave cream, finally putting my razor on the highest rack in the shower.

On day two, the shampoo level of my Head & Shoulders startled me. The new bottle was now half full… or half empty. Oh well. I lathered up and then… I was pretty sure I left the cap on the Barbasol, but a white snake of foam across the tub suggested Goldilocks of the Three Bears had helped herself. I slathered on shaving cream, picked up my razor, and…

“¡Ye-ouch! Holy ƒ-ing #¥‡€¢§¶™ Mother of a G.” Someone used my razor to shave the three bears, the house dog, and a sisal door mat.

Some problems I solved by purchasing shampoo and shaving cream with hyper-masculine ingredients like diesel fuel, saddle soap, gun oil and names like Strike Force Command, the man’s manly man products with 20% more testosterone.

Bathroom conversations went:

“Don’t touch my Pantene, ever. It’s mine.”
“Twit.”
“Twat.”
“That’s what I meant.”
“If I find who stole my conditioner…”
“Who used up the Redken?”
“Janet, goddammit. Will you stop leaving hair in the tub?”
“Not me. I didn’t shampoo.”
“I didn’t say you shampooed, I said you left hair in the tub. Shave that thing somewhere else.”
“Bitch.”
“Slut.”

I became aware of two important things.

  1. I was lucky to be accepted by a houseful of women.
  2. If the rôles were reversed, a women in a house of men wouldn’t find it any easier.
Ohio State Buckeyes
More Ohio Buckeyes

Kitchen

The resident’s kitchen featured only a small table and three chairs, plus a community refrigerator. I needed room only for milk and juice. Three days after buying milk, it disappeared. I bought another. Then the orange juice and milk disappeared. Now we had a problem.

Complaints of office mates nabbing bits from the common fridge occasionally happened, but I hadn’t expected food theft where I rent. I approached the landlady.

She said, “It wasn’t one of the girls. I threw it out.”

“What? Why”

“It had been in the fridge three days already.”

“Okay. Why?”

“Because they were three days old. The expiration date was coming up.”

“I’m confused. The milk and juice weren’t sour, they hadn’t come close to the sell-by date, and you tossed them? I don’t get it.”

“Because of the date stamp. I don’t want anyone getting deathly sick.”

“You’re saying the expiration date means you’ll expire?”

“Absolutely.”

“Drink expired juice and you’ll die or something?”

“Certainly. I don’t want responsibility for sending anyone to the hospital. They put those date stamps there for a reason. The nearer you get to it, the more certain you’ll get sick. I don’t want oldness germs infecting other foods. Milk or any crap in there more than two, three days goes.”

My dear landlady was a lovely person, but she lived in fear of best-before dates. She was convinced expiration dates meant personal expiration by black death.

Beyond

And yet, I was oddly honored to be accepted by the house.

Next time: The Naked Truth

01 March 2022

The Importance of Emotional Motivation in Fiction


Writers know their characters should be real, distinct, and engaging, but that's easy to say. How do you go about doing it? Focusing on voicewhat and how a character speaks and thinksis an important part of the process of making your characters come alive off the page. Another is understanding what drives the characters. This latter element played a key role when I wrote my newest story, "Beauty and the Beyotch," which was published last month in issue 29 of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine. Here's the teaser:
"Beauty and the Beyotch" is a story about three high school girls told from two perspectives about one thing: their struggle to make their deepest desires come true. What happens when those dreams collide?
These girls' motivations drive all the action in the story and make them who they are. So, who are they deep down?
 
Elaine is an insecure spoiled girl who yearns for acclaim and fame. She is afraid that Joni (her best friend, Meryl's, new pal) will get the starring role in their school's upcoming musical, Beauty and the Beasta part Elaine not only craves but believes is her due. Elaine is desperate to avoid such humiliation, which she fears would undermine her long-term goals.
Joni is shy, an introvert. The idea of auditioning for the show scares her. But she also badly wants to please her mother, who starred in her own high school productions and who keeps encouraging Joni to spread her wings and make some friends. So, despite her anxiety, Joni decides to try out for the spring musical.
Meryl is caught in the middle of her friends. More than anything, she wants to be a menscha good, kind person. It's what prompts her to befriend Joni, even after she learns Elaine doesn't like her, because she can see Joni needs a friend. Because of incidents from Meryl's past, being good and honest means more to her than anything else. But when Elaine's and Joni's goals collide, Meryl is forced to make heart-wrenching choices that strike at the essence of who she wants to be.
So, we have three distinct characters, each driven by something different. But are their goals substantial enough to justify their actions? To make them believable and to make readers care about what happens in the story?
 
The answer for Elaine is an easy yes. Her dream of becoming an actress is something people can understand, if not relate to. The longing for celebrity is well known in our culture, and Elaine believes getting the starring role in the school musical is a key part in her path to fame. In contrast, Joni's and Elaine's deepest desires are quieter. Joni wants to please her mother. Meryl wants to be a good person. I wonder if readers might be skeptical about these goals. Are they important enough to warrant being described as the girls' deepest desires? Are they strong enough to drive Joni's and Meryl's stories?
Thinking about crime fiction brings these questions and their answer into stark relief. When crimes are committed, we know that there can be a superficial reason driving the perpetrator as well as a more meaningful reason. For example, Bob Smith robs a bank because he needs to pay for his mom's nursing home. His reason is practical, but deep down, it's also very personal. He cannot allow himself to be the son who lets his mom down again, and he will risk anything to be a better person for her, even if it means being a bad person in the eyes of the law. What's driving Bob is personal, all about how he sees himself and wants to be seen in his mother's eyes. Yet I'm sure readers would think these needs are meaningful enough to believably drive his actions and could lead readers to become invested in what happens to Bob, even if they think his actions are wrong. 
 
With that in mind, let's return to Joni and Meryl. Just like Bob is driven by a personal reason, so are Joni and Meryl (and Elaine, for that matter). Each girl's past has turned her into the person she is as the story begins, be it a fame-seeker, a mother-pleaser, or a mensch. They're all desperate to get what they need emotionally, and those needs, those passions, those deepest desires, are believable, even if they aren't what many would think of as big dreams. They've set these three girls on a collision course, and the result is a story that I hope readers will find compelling.
So, when you are crafting your stories, think about what drives your characters deep down. It doesn't matter if their needs involve careers or more personal desires. It only matters that you make the characters feel real. Basing their actions on their emotional motivations will hopefully enable you to bring the characters to life in complex, compelling, and engaging ways.
 
Want to read "Beauty and the Beyotch"? You can buy issue 29 of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine by clicking here. It's available in ebook form and trade paperback. 
 
The magazine is now edited by Carla Kaessinger Coupe, following the death last year of longtime editor Marvin Kaye. This issue also has a story by fellow SleuthSayer Janice Law as well as stories by Keith Brooke, Peter DiChellis, Hal Charles, Rebecca K. Jones, V.P. Kava, Rafe McGregor, Mike McHone, and Jacqueline Seewald; a reprint by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and features by Martha Hudson, Kim Newman, and Darrell Schweitzer.