Thursday, April 9, 2009
Hi. Ruthy here, who in no way, shape or form is going to try to compete with her incredibly intelligent, thought-provoking and wonderful Seekers of the week past. Oh mylanta, are you serious??? They had to call a three-alarm fire to put out Julie's post yesterday. Talk about heat!!!
And Tina's never-ending wisdom? Mary's brevity???
Today you get humble ol' me, and a slice of Ruthy-pie. Great in small doses! :)
And now we continue with... MAKING LEMONADE
Did you ever wonder why few young writers achieve long-lived success? They may have a shot at glory, then fizzle like the back end of a roman candle. Very few leave their mark on the reading public.
My theory: They haven’t made enough lemonade. Shoot, they haven’t lived long enough to make enough lemonade. This isn’t their fault, of course. I blame the parents.
(Rule # 1: Always blame the parents)
Real lemonade isn’t as easy as it might seem. We’re not talking Countrytime, here. No Kool-Aid allowed.
To do it right, you’ve got to slice fresh lemons, stew them, squeeze them, then sweeten and chill the result. Sprigs of mint/ fresh fruit and or other garnish may be applied as desired.
Lemons on their own aren’t all that great. (Sorry, citrus belt. Read on.) As an addend to pies, cakes, fresh baked or broiled haddock, lemons provide a finishing touch, the pizzazz needed to complete the taste palate.
But on their own they’re sour, pithy and make my forehead wrinkle and I can only afford so much anti-wrinkle cream. I’d have more money if I hadn’t had so many kids, and then the anti-wrinkle cream wouldn’t be such an issue. Of course if I hadn’t had so many kids, I wouldn’t need as much anti-wrinkle cream in the first place. It’s a vicious circle.
(Rule #2: Always blame the kids)
I’m not negating lemon use. Au contrare, mon petit. (Thought I’d throw in a little French chef here to show I’m multi-cultural. Although my favorite TV chef is the Swedish Chef on The Muppet Show. “Bork, bork, chickee, chickee…“ He’s too cool.)
Real life hands out occasional beatings. With a few decades experience behind you, you’ve lived through those days and survived. (I’m assuming this because you’re here, reading this. Thank you, by the way.)
Those beatings shape us. Mold us. Develop our character. Without the bad times, the good times wouldn’t seem so good. (Snippets of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” are now running through my head… That will last all day. Oy vey.)
Our personal character development is in direct relation to the shaping of our fictional characters. Their subtleties, their nuances, their quirks. The life and times that make them jump off the page and into the readers’ hearts. Or the house next door.
Here’s a scene from Running on Empty, where our hero meets his conscience in the shape of two old women. Cade's ex-wife has returned from who-knows-where and the entire town of Grasse Bend, New York has rallied around their to-die-for good-looking police chief, a man of strong Christian principles with typical over-inflated male ego...
Cade growled. She’d hurt him, so they’d hurt her. Of all the contrary notions. He swiped a hand across the nape of his neck, annoyed, then tipped his cap to the Pritchard sisters, the harmonic thunk of aluminum walkers announcing their approach. The aging women beamed and Cade paused his walk. “Miss Mary? Miss Martha?” He nodded to the elderly spinsters in turn. “Nice day.”
Mary’s eyes lit as she grasped his hand, her chin angled homeward. “Our mums are quite lovely this year, don’t you think, Cade? Just now coming into their own.”
Cade cocked a brow of interest. “I noticed that right off, Miss Mary. I’m especially fond of the new ones.” His look swept the noble front yard. “Pink and white.”
She squeezed his forearm. “Mauve-dappled-ivory.”
He grinned. “Always the teacher.”
“They are new, Cade.” Her tone said she was happy he noticed. “Come spring, I’ll give you a slip for your place. They like full sun, but a little shade won’t hurt.”
Cade nodded, appreciative. “I’ve got just the spot. Don’t you forget, now.”
“Oh, she won’t, Chief. Her memory’s sharp. Matches her tongue.” A slight thump of Martha’s walker punctuated the assertion.
Mary reared back. “Why, Martha—”
“Don’t ‘why, Martha’ me,” retorted the older sister. “Facts are facts. Weren’t you just saying you couldn’t understand the likes of that girl, running off on a fine man like our Chief?” Martha turned back to Cade, her expression pointed. “I said it’s none of our concern. A married couple needs to work things out for themselves and people should stop running her down.” She glared at her younger sister, her chin firm.
Cade couldn’t disagree. “You’re right, of course.”
“Like she knows anything about marriage,” spouted Mary, her chinks pink. She pressed Cade’s arm again. “Three dates in eighty years. Whew hoo.” Releasing her grip, she fanned herself in mock amazement. “A wealth of experience.”
“Enough to know right from wrong.” Martha’s jaw tightened as she compressed her lips, eyes narrowed.
Cade saw no easy way out. Once the old girls got going, they could carry on forever. He glanced at his watch and tipped his cap. “Ladies. Always a pleasure. Enjoy your walk.”
That paused them momentarily. “You have a spot turned for those mums come spring, Cade.”
“I’ll do that, Miss Mary.” He turned and nodded to Martha. “I appreciate your kindness, Miss Martha. All around.”
She looked him in the eye, her expression frank. “A body doesn’t always get a second chance to set things right, Chief. I expect a smart man like you knows that.”
Wise words. Cade met her gaze. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
Mary’s criticism had hit home. Like so many, she pointed a finger at Anne, excusing Cade. He worked his jaw, pensive. A town defending their police chief against a girl. If he weren’t so ashamed, the thing would be downright
I like employing secondary characters to add zest to an otherwise predictable drink. Using them complements the already good mix of flavors. Of course too many quirky characters in one book weakens the flavor of the lemonade, kind of a like an alto section that thinks they sing melody, or a headliner that tries to step back into the chorus line... Some things just don’t work!
Our job is arbitrary. We take the poor widower or angry divorcee or lonely spinster and offer them a new opportunity between the pages of a book. We give orphans new life. We fix hearts and mend marriages, and find sweethearts for the forlorn in a beautiful, faith-enriched setting. At that moment God feels close, life seems good and hearts are full.
But it would all fall short if we’d never faced the scourge of the personal cross through divorce, death or despair. Rich characters come from a wellspring of experience, a depth that only comes from turning your fair share of lemons into lemonade.
Summer’s coming. Hold those glasses high. Drink the fruits of your labor. Use the sweet to soften the sour. Set your shoulders back and embrace those chances to make lemonade.