Oh, Those Flawed Characters

Let’s talk about those fictional beings that lure us into a good story.  I love a flawed character.   One that even might bend a few laws, break a few rules, or spout off something that later he’d give his right arm to take back.  

I think these imperfections make our characters feel real, human.  And yet, I have a line that a character must not cross for me to fall in love with them. For a story to really resonate with me, these fictional characters must still be a hero. Their good qualities must outweigh their flaws.  Now I like a bad villain in a story.  But I need a hero to take him down. I can like a villain more than I can dislike a hero. Does that make sense?

I love to write about tough characters who are a bit rogue, who sort of play by their own rules.  In my YA books the character who come to mind first is, Della, in Shadow Falls. Della would butt heads with anyone, but nine times out of ten, it was in defense of someone else.  When Leah MacKenzie, went out into the woods to search for bullets and put herself in danger, she did it to find answers—answers that Matt needed to find peace.  When both of these girls broke rules, or took something a little too far, it was always about helping someone else. 

I’ve been binge watching some shows lately and I noticed how I tend to even like the slightly roguish type of characters in series.  The main characters in the series, Justified and Longmire come to mind.  Both Walt Longmire and Raylan Givens broke rules left and right, but it was always about protecting someone else, getting justice, or righting a wrong.  I loved those guys.  Yes, they made my heart go flutter, and if they’d asked, I might have left my husband for them.  (Not really, but you know what I mean.)

However, I recently finished the series, Yellowstone. It was recommended by a lot of people who also enjoyed Justified and Longmire.  And I enjoyed the heck out of it, but as much as I love Kevin Costner, I wouldn’t have left hubby for John Dutton’s character. His flaws, some of his actions came across more to protect himself or his wealth, than it was for the people he loved.  Do you have lines that characters must not break for you to really fall in love with them?  Do you enjoy stories with the anti-hero? 

Let’s Go on an Adventure

Being stuck at home is difficult. Oh, how we long to see the greener grass on the other side. We want to see a beach.  We want to go see Italy, Paris, England.  We want adventures. I do. I do.  I do. 

But hubby and I have been taking late afternoon walks and both of us admitted that in our frustration, we have overlooked the beauty, the things that we should be enjoying, admiring, and getting excited about that are practically in our backyard. 

Each afternoon as we take our walks, we look for things to notice, to get excited about.  Because we live in a very wooded community, most of them involve wildlife and nature.  And while some make me stop and savor the sight, some make me want to scream. Honestly, I have screamed, nearly peed my pants a couple of times.  However, in being more present in the moment, being observant, our walks have become explorations. 

I remember taking my kids for walks in our own backyard and telling them, “Let’s go on an adventure. You never know what we might find.”  I still remember my son discovering roly pollies. You would have thought I had taken him to an exotic zoo.

I guess in a way, that’s what we’re doing.  Since we are limited to where we go, we are opening ours eyes and taking stock of our own world.  Are there things around you, things you have become blind to due to the frustrations?  

Below are a few of the things hubby and I have discovered lately. What would you see if you took a walk, and looked, really looked?  What could you appreciate?  What might you stumble upon that would make you scream, but that you might come home and post on Facebook? 

Secrets Uncovered Through DNA

The book I’m working on now has family secrets that are revealed through DNA.  And let me tell you, there are plenty of secrets to be uncovered in your DNA.  And not all of them are fictional.  You see, I did the whole DNA thing.  I did it several years ago, but recently, the did an update on the DNA that changed my profile.   

I even did my dog’s DNA.  Lady, a look-alike Border Collie, was basically given the title of Super Mutt.  And like my Lady, I discovered I’m a melting pot of the best.  

I was told by both sets of my grandparents that we had Native American blood in us.  My maternal grandmother, Evelyn Keith, told me that my grandfather’s grandmother claimed she was French, but… “Everyone knew she was really Native American.” 

Oh, the secrets.  And I wanted to get to the bottom, unearth all those juicy details.  Did I also mention that my dad confessed that I have a half-brother.  So I did the whole DNA test.  My father, my husband, my two kids, and a niece all did the test.  And while I found a lot of secrets, I have yet to find my brother.  I’m still looking.

But those secrets…  Well, even after they did the update, I still don’t have a smidgeon of Native American blood on the maternal side of the family.  Sorry, Grandma, you were wrong.  I have French.  I was even able to trace it back to Mary Laffoon Keith, my grandfather’s Great Grandmother. She just happens to be an American hero.  https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/113259094/mary-keith

I’ll bet Mary is laughing in her grave, “Told cha.  Told cha!”  I hear her saying it with a French accent.

The paternal side of the family was also lacking in the Native American DNA.  But surprise, I have African DNA.  My father, my daughter, my niece, and even my brother all carry it.  In addition to having French and African DNA, I have English, Scottish, Irish, German and some from Norway.  Like my dog, I’m a melting pot and I’m proud of every percentage.

And honestly, I have connected with distant relatives and it’s been a real hoot.  I was even contacted by two distant cousins who were adopted and are looking for their biological parents.  It’s been fun to research and help them in their searches. I will admit that my daughter is the one doing most of the research.  She loves it even more than I do.

Ahh, but recently she found a secret from the not so distant past.  You know, the south is teased about marrying family.  Well, I met Hubby in California.  When we married, my daughter was five. So imagine her surprise when she discovered she shared DNA with people who shared DNA with her stepfather.  A little research and well, let’s just say I have followed in the southern tradition. Just call us kissing cousins. 

Have you ever done your DNA?  Do you know any of your ancestral secrets? Any siblings out there you haven’t met?  

Staying Young and Young at Heart

Back in the nineties, hubby and I went to Hong Kong.  While there, I saw an elderly man standing beside a light pole and he reached down to his ankle with one hand and stretched his leg up, all the way up, and over his head.  Basically, he was doing the splits while standing on one foot.  I was awed and without even meaning to I blurted out the question, “How can you do that?”

Sounding very wise he said, “The secret is to never stop doing something.”

Now that I’m on the downward slide of fifty, I think about that piece of advice that I didn’t follow.  I walk almost every day for about 40 minutes, so I’m not one who doesn’t exercise.  But I admit there are some things I wish I hadn’t stopped doing.

On occasion, I’ll turn on some music and dance around like I was fifteen at a sock hop.  And yes, the next day my muscles are screaming at me that I don’t move things around enough.  Then not so long ago, I bought my granddaughter a hula hoop.  I slipped it over my head to show off my moves, and was dearly disappointed when I couldn’t even get the thing spinning. So, I think I’m going to try dancing and hula hooping more often.  

But it’s not just the physical stuff I think we neglect as the years tick by.  I recall the saying: We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.  I do believe writing helps keep my mind fresh and my outlook young.  But not everyone writes. I think reading can offer some of the same benefits.  I know a lot of people who are enjoying going back to their childhood hobby of coloring.  Or pulling out the old board games.  

There’s a country western song with a line I heard that I really like,  “When was the last time, you did something for the first time?”

I know that a lot of you are still teens. Well, heed the advice of never stopping anything. If you are older, what do you do to keep your body and mind young?  Have you done something for the first time lately?  Any hula hoop advice?

Dreams

This blog was published several years back but I thought it was interesting. So enjoy!

Just the other night I had a dream.  A bad one.  Okay, let me just call it what it was, a nightmare. I woke up, heart racing, unable to breath.  I was at an airport and someone had stolen my purse, my phone and my ticket.  I wasn’t even sure which airport or how I’d gotten there.  Or where I was going. Now, I had my clothes on, because I have those dreams too where I’m naked and afraid, but even with my clothes on in this dream, I got so upset. I felt completely lost.  Unsure of myself. I admit, I didn’t like that dream.

But not all dreams are bad. Several times in my life, I’ve dreamed that I was flying.  Man was that a high.  It made me feel unstoppable. Yes, dreams can be powerful. They can make us feel elated, unhappy or as with the airport dream, terrified. Did you know some statistics state that the average human spends six years of their life dreaming? Except for a few people with psychological problems, they claim everyone dreams. You may not remember your dreams, but you still dream.

Some people look to their dreams for signs, for something that can help or even warn them in their waking life. I kind of believe that.  I think the airport dream is about me feeling lost because I’ve been writing something different.  I feel a little unsure as to where I’m going with this new project.  So my takeaway from the dream is that I need to stop questioning myself.  Remind myself that it’s okay to try something new, maybe relook at my plot to confirm I’m on the right path.

In doing some research on dreams, I found some interesting facts.  Men and women dream differently? Men are more likely to have violent and aggressive dreams and they dream more about other men, about 70% of the dream characters in a man’s dream are men. On the other hand, women dream about women and men equally. See, we females believe in equal opportunity.

In a survey, it was found that between 18-38% of people have experienced at least one precognitive (future sight-acquisition of future information) dream and 70% experienced déjà vu. In addition, 63-98% of people believe that it’s possible to have a precognitive dream.

I have a friend, who is a psychologist who says when you dream of someone, that person is really you.  To interpret the dream, ask yourself how you view this person.  If she a little shy and timid, the dream is trying to tell you something about that part of you that is shy and timid.

In This Heart of Mine, Leah MacKenzie has some really scary nightmares. She’s pretty sure Eric, the organ donor for her heart, is trying to tell her something through her dreams. She’s ready to discount them until she discovers Eric’s twin brother Matt is having the same dreams.

Escaping into a Series

With the sheltering place and all the unrest spilling in from the news lately, hubby and I have found we need some mental escape. We are both readers and we do that, but we needed something more.  We found binge watching shows is helping us escape.  It needed to appeal to both of us.  My friend recommended Longmire.  I recalled seeing some of it when it was on regular TV.  So, after dinner and reading time, we went to Netflix and watched Sheriff Walt Longmire solve murder after murder all the while trying to get the relationships in his life right. I loved the western ambience mingled with the suspense. I loved Walt’s characterization and watching him deal with the grief of losing his wife.   

I was sad when we finished it.  So sad that it made me realize that by binge watching a show, I get closer to the characters. So close, it’s similar to what I do with characters in a book. When we finished Longmire, I knew I was going to miss my good buddies, Walt and Henry.  And like I do with characters in books, I kind of miss them and still think about them.

Well, that same friend recommended another show.  She assured me that if I liked Longmire, I’d like Justified. And she hit the nail on the head with that one, too. While I know it’s not really a western show, I love the ambiance—small town crazy—that it portrays. The suspense, with flawed, yet relatable characters, and the use of humor in the show is fabulous. The blended tone of suspense, romance, and whacky off-the-wall humor is what I love writing. What I love reading.  What I love watching.   

And dare I say that Timothy Olyphant is easy on the eyes. 

I know most of us find comfort by falling into a book.  But is there a show you have discovered in these hard times that entertains you and makes you forget what’s happening in the world?  Have you watched Longmire and Justified? If not binge watching, what is it other than reading that offers you an escape? Do you read in the same genre that you watch on television? 

Southern Sandwiches

Because of my hubby compromised immune system, we are still sheltering in place.  Which means, no going out to eat.  So forgive me if my post have been focused on food lately, but I’m stuck in the kitchen cooking way more than should be allowed. 

Two weeks I talked about the craziest fried food.  In that post, I mentioned fried Bologna and it got me thinking about the things we slap between two pieces of white bread and call lunch.  Being from Alabama, I remember being served a fried spam sandwich.  The thought kind of makes me a little green now.  

That said, the south just seems to have more than their share of odd sandwiches—especially those of the sweet and savory varieties.  

In my book, Blame it on Texas, the heroine was fixing herself a sandwich and offered to do the same for the hero.  When she asked what kind of sandwich he wanted, he replied, “I’ll take whatever you’re making for yourself.”  Big mistake. Let’s just say it was a funny scene when he bit into the southern delicacy of banana and mayo on white bread.  Poor guy, no matter how much he wanted to pretend to enjoy it, he couldn’t swallow it.  Nope.  Couldn’t do it.

We also ate can pineapple and mayo sandwiches.  I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of fruit sandwiches.  Unless you consider tomato to be a fruit.  And yes, I know it is, but that’s different.  If you start talking bad about mater and mayo on white bread, well, those are fighting words.  I love, LOVE, me a mater sandwich, extra mayo and heavily sprinkled with salt and pepper.  Now I insist, the mater needs to be fresh, and if it’s so fresh you can taste the sunshine on it, well, it’s to die for. 

Of course, in the south, they eat a lot of peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  My father would put mayo on it too.  Not me.  Nope.  But I had cousins who ate banana, mayo and potato chip sandwiches.   Or banana, bacon and mayo.  Yes, bacon is a southern stable, but let’s keep it away from fruit, maters excluded.   Then there’s peanut butter and onion sandwiches.  I’ll pass on that one.  My father was known to enjoy a pickle and mayo sandwich.  

How many of you have dined on a banana and mayo sandwich?  What is the oddest thing you slapped between two pieces of bread and call lunch?

Step Away From the Deep Fryer!

Being from Alabama, I grew up on fried chicken, chicken fried steak, fried potatoes, fried green tomatoes, fried Okra, fried squash, fried bologna and fried pickles.  Notice the key word here is … fried.  Yup, in Alabama we fry stuff.  I’m amazed we haven’t figured out a way to fry Sweet Tea.  Or maybe they do fry it?

Not that Alabama is the only one who fancies frying.  Recently my adopted state, Texas, had a state fair with a deep-fried menu that left almost nothing to the imagination.  We’re talking fried butter, fried beer—seriously?—fried coke—do they have that in diet?—fried jelly beans, and fried peanut butter banana cheeseburgers.  (If your head is spinning at the last one, you aren’t alone.)  How about some fried salsa?  Or you could tickle your taste buds with some fried kool-aid, fried pizza or a fried pop tart.  Not to your liking?  How about some fried pig ears?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that a little batter and a lot of hot oil can make anything tastes twice a good. But I do believe we might have taken it to the limit.  And as much as I like touting the southern states, we aren’t the only frying fools.  

And I think I have a winner for the state offering up the most absolutely-absurd deep-fried item.  You ready?  Arizona touts their fried scorpions.  You want that plain or with chocolate sauce?  My response… are you freaking kidding?  I refuse to batter and fry anything that I’d yank my shirt off in public if it accidentally crawled on me.  Yeah, I know China is famous for their backyard creatures-turned-snack-options, like crickets, grasshoppers and lizards.  And I’ll turn my southern nose up to them, too, but scorpions?  No.  Just no!

I’ll confess, I’ve eaten fried Oreos, fried Twinkies and even fried gator.  The last was not my favorite. What’s the craziest fried food you’ve sampled, or even heard of?  Are you brave when it comes to trying new delicacies or do you have a sensitive palate? 

On My Mind…

The subject has always been an issue, but recently it’s become more of an issue for me.  I’m talking about expiration dates.  I checked and found out that they only started appearing on our food in 1970.  But honestly, I don’t remember my mom ever checking dates when I grew up. 

To be honest, she still doesn’t.  I visited her in California several years ago and was making a sandwich.  When I went to spread the mayonnaise, I noticed it looked funny.  I checked the date and it expired three years ago.  THREE YEARS!!!  

“Are you trying to kill me?” I asked Mom.  I went for the mustard, but it was even older.  As I cleaned out her fridge, I reminded her of all the times she’d called me to say her stomach had been upset.  Then I went through her pantry and wow.  She had cans of food that was old enough to get their driver’s permit. 

She claimed she didn’t even know canned food had expiration dates.  I think the only reason my brothers and I are alive today is because we were a family of five and food didn’t last that long.

When I got back to Texas, I went through my pantry.  Lurking in the dark back corners, I found a can of black beans that should at least have been in kindergarten.

The expiration-date issue is on my mind because I’m doing a lot more cooking.  But mostly because I’m ordering my groceries and having them delivered.  The milk they brought us today has a three-day life expectancy.  The flour tortillas and the dozen eggs has four days.  Something about the whole quarantine dilemma has made me not want to waste food.  So, I’m going to be drinking milk and eating breakfast tacos for the next few days.     

Because my hubby has a compromised immune system due to his transplant drugs, we have to be extra cautious.  But I know a lot of people who treat expiration dates as merely recommendations.  They say, “Oh, those are sell-by dates.”  And yes, I know that’s true, but especially now with the shortage of toilet paper, I’m not taking a chance. Honestly, I’ve always tossed out milk the day before the expiration date. I never was big on the this-tastes-funny-try-it-and-tell-me-if-it’s-bad line.  If I even feel the need to do a sniff test, I usually toss it out.

How about you?  Are you sniff tester? A taste tester?  When’s the last time you checked your pantry for expired food?  Do you abide by the expiration dates or do you treat them like a suggestion?  On what products do you least take the expiration date seriously? 

Oh, Those Titles!

Titles are important. They set the tone of the book.  I’m working on an adult series, a Western Romantic Suspense, and I’m proud of my title:  Secrets of Sweet Mesquite. For C.C. Hunter I have one titled, Sole Survivor. 

But when I started thinking about titles, I couldn’t help but to think about song titles. Being quarantined I had some time on my hands, so I googled a few. And let’s just say I spent about an hour with tears in my eyes.  There are some songs with titles that brought some powerful emotions out of me.

For starters, Johnny Cash sang  a real heart tugger, “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart.” All I can say is, hmmm. Roger Miller sang one with a title that kind of baffled me, “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd.” 

Trace Adkins entertained hundreds with one song titled, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.”  And the song has some lyrics worth mentioning, “Got it going on like Donkey Kong. Shut my mouth. Slap your grandma.”  Now I’m betting Grandma didn’t appreciate that.  I think I heard that song, but I still don’t know what it’s about.

But that bit of lyrics had me thinking about a Christmas song, “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer,” sang by Elmo and Patsy. I love that song.  Sorry Grandma.

Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty sang one with a title that really spoke the truth,  “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly.”  David Allan Coe harmonized to one clever melody, “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” and some of the lyrics are worth mentioning: “Well, I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison, and I went to pick her up in the rain. But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck, she got runned over by a darned old train.”  Yeah, wow! That’s a head scratcher.

Now, Frank Zappa sang one with a title that had some good advice in it that I do follow, “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.”  The Cramps also had one that offered some counsel I try to abide by, “Don’t Eat the Stuff Off the Sidewalk.”

Aaron Wilburn gave meaning to a real love song that every woman would love to hear, “If My Nose was Running Money, I’d Blow it All on You.”  But Ruby Wright made my heart heavy with one titled, “Billy Broke My Heart at Walgreens And I Cried all the Way to Sears.” I’d love to add some lyrics to it, “But I found someone new and was happy as a daisy before I got to Macys.”  (Maybe I’ll stick to writing books and not songs.)  

Dan Hicks had a song with great title that would make a good quarantine song, “How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away.” Frank Serafino, had a real love ballad titled, “If I’d Shot You When I’d Wanted to, I’d Be Out by Now.” That might be a quarantine song too.

Jimmy Buffett’s song title, “If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, You’ll Know it’s Me,” made me crack a smile.  Bill Anderson sang one with the title, “Walk Out Backwards,” and the lyrics read: “When you leave, walk out backwards, so I’ll think you’re walking in.”  I think she left due to his drinking, don’t you?

How about… “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” by Little Jimmie Dickens,

Last but not least, Billy Walker sang one titled, “I’m so Miserable Without You, It’s Almost Like Having You Here.”  Do you know any funny song titles or lyrics?  Let’s have a chuckle.