characters


Random quote of the day:

“If you’re silent a long time, people just arrive in your mind. It makes me believe the world was created in silence.”

—Alice Walker, quoted in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellion by Gloria Steinem

 arriving4WP@@@

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Plot is what gives your characters something to do while they banter.”

—Elizabeth Bear, Twitter, July 29, 2010

banter4WP@@@

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Mar 12
I love this man: http://ontd-political.livejournal.com/10981269.html 

Mar 13
Some days I miss hanging out with my characters so much it hurts. Some of them were running though my mind a lot today. Maybe I’ll be able to use all this to write a really profound book one day. Either that, or croak early.

Mar 16
Always glad to see Jenny McCarthy slammed for her unscientific and harmful beliefs on vaccines. Can we start on Gwyneth Paltrow now? Oh wait, she’s just criminally elitist and stupid, not a murderer.

Mar 23
I feel bad that you feel badly. Perhaps your doctor should examine your hands.

Mar 24
The dream factory isn’t dead: it keeps supplying me with good ideas I haven’t got time to write.

Mar 25
I like the idea (from The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah) that the Jinns decide whether or not we’re going to believe in them.

Mar 28
A working mom’s open letter to Gwyneth http://nyp.st/1eVO22J 

Could this woman be any more blinkered and entitled? Yeah. I don’t think she’s bottomed out yet.

Mar 28
My cat is sad because she wanted to seek enlightenment but all the other cats cared for was tuna.

pic.twitter.com/fQMG2efc5w

Mar 29
Louis CK: “I got a white noise machine. You know what that is? It’s a machine that allows white people to sleep.”

Apr 3
Pro-tip: Don’t ask an animal activist the old joke question, “Do you know how to get down off a duck?” You’ll never get to the punchline.

Pro-tip2: Use a ladder.

Apr 3
Duty vs. personal aspirations, that’s my conflict. Most days sublimated, some days excruciating.

ETA: Love is also in the mix, making things more confused.

Apr 4
Walmart’s false argument: RT If Walmart Paid Employees a Living Wage, How Much Would Prices Go Up? http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2014/04/walmart_living_wage_if_the_company_paid_its_employees_more_how_much_would.html …

Apr 4
I believe in science and I believe in spirit. This doesn’t have to be a dichotomy or a contradiction. It just is.

Apr 4
While eating chips I read, “Every bite of food you eat alters your daily metabolism, electrolyte balance, and proportion of fat to muscle.”

Apr 7
And my mother turned 93 today. Happy birthday, Mam!

Apr 8
Dear Nekkid Girl Posing In An Abandoned Warehouse: it isn’t arty. You’re still just a nekkid girl.

Apr 10
Penn & Teller decimating the anti-vaccination brigade in under two minutes. http://youtu.be/lhk7-5eBCrs 

Apr 10
When did “alone” become synonymous with “lonely”? The two are quite distinct.

Apr 11
The transport company that takes Mom to dialysis two days a week just called to say that in May they’ll charge $70 a ride not $30. I don’t know what we’re going to do. We can’t afford that, and the alternative is me missing a lot more work.

Apr 13
Potentially hopeful news from the social worker yesterday about transportation for Mom to dialysis. Don’t want to say much for fear of jinxing.

No, I never engage in magical thinking, why do you ask?

Apr 14
Let go and let the Universe. I now have three possible solutions to my mother’s dialysis transportation problems.

Apr 15
I’m so old I remember having to get up and walk over to the TV to change channels.

Apr 18
Me at the cafeteria: This morning I need a whisky muffin. Hold the muffin.

Apr 23
A hornet’s nest found in an abandoned shed. The head is a part of a wooden statue it fused with.

pic.twitter.com/rL1xLzXLLB [Warning: may cause the wiggins.]

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Apr 24
3 judges sided with Verizon and decided to let ISPs censor the internet. Tell the FCC to restore net neutrality! http://cms.fightforthefuture.org/tellfcc/ 

Apr 24
Maybe I should do as my spam suggests and get myself a Russian Bride. Of course, I might not be able to fulfill all her expectations. Too bad they don’t have a green card program for “domestic assistants.”

Apr 25
What Hitchens got wrong: Abolishing religion won’t fix anything http://www.salon.com/2013/12/07/what_hitchens_got_wrong_abolishing_religion_wont_fix_anything/ …

Apr 29
Avoidance seems to be the chief management style of many organizations.

Apr 30
I’m thinking of starting a company called Clusterf*cks R Us. Probably wouldn’t get much business, though.

Apr 30
Okay, maybe I’m a little panicky over how much I have to do before my surgery in two weeks. And maybe the surgery, too. And the recovery.

A little.

Verging on a lot.

May 1
My spam keeps sending me a “Notice to Appear.” I think I’ll send my Russian Bride instead.

May 1
The night air is full of jasmine crushed into luscious fragrance by the first heatwave of the year.

May 2
Even the most shining hero is a human being with feet of clay. If we’d just remember this, there would be less anger in this society.

May 3
The same government agency which made us prove my mom was married to my dad and that he had died needs us to prove it all over again 20 years later. Different department, you see. Apparently they’re unable to communicate with one another. Dealing with government agencies is a big component of caregiver fatigue. It wouldn’t be so bad except my dad’s death certificate has gone missing and L.A. County takes 4 weeks to get a new one.

May 3
Or maybe I won’t have surgery in 2 weeks. If I put it off this time, it will be 2 times.

May 4
Mom is home from the hospital. She’s doing okay.

May 6
I wonder if the superbuff guy on the cover of so many romance novels who’s face disappears past the top of the cover has a really ugly mug?

Or if, yanno, it’s supposed to be some artistic sh*t.

Or if, yanno, it’s so women can fantasize any man they want?

May 6
Abandoned mill from 1866 in Sorrento, Italy: Oh, the stories this conjures up!

pic.twitter.com/kHgXAnyRVV

May 6
I think “narcissistic loony toon” sums M. Lewinsky up quite nicely. She has wedged her way back into the public eye just like that string was wedged between her cheeks.

[Fortunately, it was a brief appearance and quickly faded from the public’s notice.

May 7
The Red Queen still rages. “The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer.” —Harlan Ellison

pic.twitter.com/C0YNAXzclI

May 9
My surgery has been officially postponed. Mom had some minor setbacks that were major enough to warrant postponement.

I’m deeply ambivalent. I don’t fancy being a cripple for the rest of my life, however.

I think I’ll change my middle name to Ambivala.

May 11
THIS. Roz Chast on people wanting to live to be 120: “I feel like these are people who don’t really know anybody over 95.” http://n.pr/1nCUcrx 

“The reality of old age,” she says, is that “people are not in good shape, and everything is falling apart.”

Everyone says, “It’ll be different for me. I’ve taken good care of myself.” But you NEVER know what life will throw at you.

That’s life’s sweet and cursed mystery.

“When you’re young you look at old people & just think they’re old people. It’s only later that you properly realise they’re ex-young people.” —Tom Cox, Twitterfeed 5/10/14

Everyone thinks they will be 30 until they’re 75. Until they hit 40, I guess.

May 15
RIP Lady Mary Stewart. You filled my Young Adulthood with many happy hours.

May 15
Ironic Twitter Juxtaposition: http://twitpic.com/e3vvhy 

May 17
Ironic or psychosomatic? I wrenched my knee on the very day my surgery would have taken place. Not the one that would have been operated on, either. My other knee which has as many problems and will need its own surgery someday.

May 21
Ironic Twitter Juxtaposition: http://twitpic.com/e4drq1 

May 21
I’m at the bargaining with the Universe stage. That can’t be good.

May 22
My friend and I were just saying that the next Survivor should feature an all-geriatric group of contestants.

“If your team all successfully completes your challenge, you will be given your meds as usual. If not…”

And complaint marathons to see who lasts the longest. That competition is expected to go on for days.

May 22
I can hear a train whistle every once in awhile late at night. It’s always wonderful. I don’t know where it comes from. There are no trains closer than five miles, but I guess that sound carries. Either that, or it’s the ghost of a train which once ran just down the hill from where I live.

When I was a kid I used to follow those tracks from Venice, once all the way into Culver City. The trains only ran once a month late at night to keep the access rights. Eventually, they gave those up but the rails remained for years afterwards, partially covered in blacktop in some places. They’re all gone now, alas.

There is so much that is gone. Venice is a highly urban place now but once was full of open fields, trains, horse stables. I’ve seen them all go in such a short span of time. A lifetime. Palimpsests. They’re everywhere I look, all over Venice.

Here’s one of my palimpsests: http://tinyurl.com/oa4z3mh 

May 28
“It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.”

Maya Angelou seemed immortal, but it was her glowing humanity that made her seem that way. Alas, if only. RIP.

May 30
pic.twitter.com/OX9CqMctxV This picture reminded me to send a b-day card to a friend. I may inhabit this skull but I don’t always understand it.

Jun 3
Sexism kills (maybe): http://tinyurl.com/p5rkuta 

Jun 3
It’s such a pain reading academic books on the Kindle that I’m going to order a paper copy and be done with it.

Forgive me, LJ. It has been three months since my last confession.

Time has really slipped past me. I’ll spare you some of the Christmas whinging as that is so last year…

Dec 18
1 in 200 Women Say They’ve Had a Virgin Pregnancy: http://yhoo.it/1dPsJwS   Ooookay.

Dec 18
It wasn’t something I needed, thought it a bit extravagant, but I will admit that I sure enjoy my new latte maker. Best part? It was a gift!

Dec 19
More structural rewrites are in my future. I had so hoped this one was good to go.

Dec 19
If only my name was Felicia. Then I could change my Twitter handle for the season to Felicia Navidad.

So now of course I’m earworming Feliz Navidad.

Dec 19
My new most-hated phrase: “Clear all the jelly!

Dec 19
So beautiful! Worth sitting through the annoying ad.

)

Dec 23
Having occupied my office chair for 4 hours I will now go to lunch. 4 hours after that I will be off for 9 blessed days.

Dec 23
Ooookay. Candy Crush has now moved beyond divertissement to obsession.

Dec 25
My cousin’s Christmas gift to me: coming to take care of Mom while I have knee surgery. God bless you, Francie.

Note from March: there’s an unhappy ending to this story.

Dec 25
I still think the Miami Heat’s logo looks like a flaming butternut squash.

Jan 1
One half of the gay couple who married on the Rose Parade float was a former hair dresser of mine. I’m thrilled for him!

 photo aubrey_zpsd4438e72.jpg

Jan 3
I hate cutting characters out of stories even when I know it’s necessary. I feel like I’m denying them there chance at the limelight.

Jan 4
You know that thing where you’re unintentionally full of shite, where bad memory and public pronouncement collide? That thing.

Jan 6
This guy! who flew his plane under the Eiffel Tower to chase and shoot down a Nazi:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2533373/WWII-fighter-pilot-flew-THROUGH-Eiffel-Tower-dies-Virginia-aged-92.html …

Jan 7
Mom had some issues at dialysis last night so we had an outpatient procedure this morning. Home again. Everything’s fine.

Jan 7
Michael Easton on General Hospital always reminds me of Dr. Drake Ramore.

Jan 8
Back in the ER again. This week is a clusterf*ck.

Jan 9
Mom’s CAT scan was OK so the hospital kicked her loose late yesterday afternoon so I could take her to dialysis. I was not pleased. We didn’t get home from dialysis until after 10 and Mom was hurting. I had to do two hour watches on her all night long to make sure the head wound didn’t go south. But she’s doing much better than we had any right to expect. She’s got a 4 cm cut on the back of her head and 10 wee. She fell in the street when the transport guy came to pick her up to take her to the clinic.

Jan 9
I used to live 2 blocks from here in 79 (and other inane facts)—Venice Beach, 1979: http://twitter.com/History_Pics/status/421099026046808064/photo/1pic.twitter.com/i6p2z7Jwoy 

Jan 15
A vivid and profound dream last night. Clearly a message from Self to self, but I haven’t quite figured out all it was trying to tell me.

Jan 18
A belief which keeps you prisoner in a life you hate should be done away with. It is not a thing of the Spirit, it is an aberration of Man.

Jan 19
All Ma wanted to do today was watch football and all I wanted to do was read philosophy. What a ridiculous conundrum.

Jan 20
I think Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber should date. Then the gossip media mill would implode and none of us would have to listen anymore.

Jan 24
So I says to my friend, “If the Apocalypse comes, I’m going to shelter in place and let it get me.” I’m not cut out for dystopia.

Jan 24
I’ve getting so tired of manufactured crises. I’m tired of the real ones, too, but the manufactured ones are really wearing thin.

Jan 25
I’m a committed mediocritist. It’s exhausting trying not to do better, but I can’t compromise my principles.

Jan 27
It’s official: I get my bionic knee on March 20.

Note from March: As previously stated, this may not be true.

Jan 30
CCF is one of the most decent people in FSF. RT @Catrambo Charles Coleman Finlay produces some tips for rejectomancy. http://ccfinlay.com/blog/nectar-for-rejectomancers.html …

Jan 30
If you believe in the possibility of a fair trial in Italy, read The Monster of Florence by Preston & Spezi. Their legal system is a joke.

Jan 31
I think my cat is as likely to answer to “You little t*rd” as she is to Min.

Feb 2
RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman. Stunning. Heartbreaking.

Feb 7
Actually, I’m not really having knee surgery in March, I’m headed here.

 photo candycrush_zps209ef385.jpg

Note from March: In fact…

Feb 9
The rages come out of nowhere like they always have. Why do they still have the power to surprise me?

Feb 10
He’s so cheerful all the time he gives me the creeps. No names please.

Feb 10
RIP Maxine Kumin, one of the best. http://tpr.ly/1ddOkBz 

Feb 11
Both beautiful and sad. Help take care of Baby Iver:  http://yhoo.it/1lxsoTZ 

Feb 12
Daily Mail article on sitting down: “those who sat more than six hours a day were 37 per cent more likely to die” NEWSFLASH: everyone dies

If you MUST read it for yourself:

http://dailym.ai/1omhzX3 

Feb 19
People assume that because you aren’t ambitious in the same way or for the same things as they are that you have no ambition.

Feb 20
Pussy Riot is brutalized by Cossacks while trying to protest, then Livejournal goes down. Probably not a coincidence.

Feb 20
So I won’t be getting my bionic knee after all, not for awhile. My cousin can’t stay with Mom. Not her fault, just life. She got sick herself.

Feb 24
Ah, farewell Harold Ramis. One for the ages.

Feb 26
So Der Weinerschnitzel is using a tiki motif to advertise their new chili cheese dogs which have no tiki motif that I can tell. ??  I’m a big fan of tiki so I don’t mind, but…

At home sick and watching too much TV I suspect.

Feb 27
Dear Marketers: If you make me create an account to shop at your site I won’t be shopping at your site.

Feb 28
My cat answered to “Farthead” today. In other news, I’ve been home since Tuesday with an awful cold. Am sick of being sick.

Feb 28
I watch my mother destroy a vintage pattern I bought her so she could make something from her past. Things don’t matter, just what they mean to people, and she is so present and content recreating that past. And I am content.

Mar 2
In Braveheart it always sounds to me like Mel Gibson is saying, “You may take our wives but you will never take our freedom!”

Mar 2
Watching the Oscars, Mom is confused. Spike Jones and Steve McQueen are not who she remembers.

Mar 4
Dear Nekkid Girl with “Individuals” emblazoned across your nekkid picture: all nekkid girls are exactly the same.

Mar 5
They’re getting Social Security and Medicare now—New Year’s Eve party, c.1960:

 photo 60sgirls_zps73fb9e7e.jpg

Mar 6
She has no pattern recognition left since the stroke. She was a crafter/artist. This was key to her identity. Life is a cold-hearted bitch.

Mar 6
If I start receiving ads in my car as some bright sparks are proposing I’ll drive my car through the front door of the first ad agency I see.

Mar 7
And sometimes a miracle occurs and the way becomes clear again and the universe seems a warmer place. You just never know what Life will do.

OTOH, Miley Cyrus still thinks she’s the only person ever to discover S-E-X.

Mar 11
My latest Etsy obsession:

http://etsy.me/1nHBVJa 

and a continuing one:

http://etsy.me/OiQOVN 

Mar 11
In my Twitterfeed I saw a story about shamans bilking relatives of those on MH370 claiming they can find the plane, followed by another claiming the loss of the plane was a giant government conspiracy. These seem to be the inevitable exploitive accompaniments to all tragedies these days.

Random quote of the day:

 

“I don’t believe any writer ever creates a character; he draws from memory some one he has known.”

—Mark Twain, quoted in “Mark Twain and the Pacific Coast,” Pacific Monthly, Jul 1910

 


Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

I sometimes find myself fretting about my characters and disappointing my readers. Will they be disappointed, I ask myself, in a story where the freak protagonist remains a freak at the end, not magically transformed into someone more attuned to mainstream standards of beauty and social standing? Not young and strong and thin and accepted. A glorious transformation definitely takes place for this particular character I’m thinking about, but it’s all internal—with maybe a glimmer of hope at the end.

For me, as a reader, that’s all I ask: the potential for a better tomorrow. I’m not a fan of unrelieved realism and tragedy and probably would never write that kind of a story. When I was young, I thought it the only way to achieve High Art, but I don’t think that so much anymore. And I’m not so much interested in High Art, either. Just good writing.

This protagonist I’m thinking about is being punished for her sins. Not in the narrowly defined Judeo-Christian sense—as often marketed by fundamentalists and evangelicals. I don’t consider things like who is twanging who in whatever manner to be a sin, so long as everyone is a consenting adult. Sin is a word I reserve for things like murdering, cheating, manipulating, driving companies into bankruptcy, costing thousands of jobs, and the losing/looting of pension funds and properties. Fortunately, my protagonist is not a hedge fund manager or a corporate raider, so the reader may be able to find some sympathy for her.

I have a penchant for complex and not completely sympathetic characters, though. Sometimes that works out, sometimes not. They don’t always act with shining heroism and at times are a bit unstable. Or shitheads. Readers don’t always like them. That’s my fault some of the time (all the time?), because I haven’t written them with sufficient courage. I haven’t had the nerve or the foresight to take an unattractive character (or character trait) to its logical extension. I’ve tried to hedge my bets, gambling that I can charm my way past the unlikeable bits with no diminishment of heroism. I’m afraid to let the reader actively dislike the character even for a short time. You can’t really do that, I don’t think. When someone is being a shithead, you have to let them be one. You do run the risk of alienating some readers, of them putting the story down and never going back, but if you’ve set the story up right, they may stick with you for the rest of the ride to see how things work out.

Or maybe it’s a question of doing the best writing you can, the most interesting characters, and letting them find their audience. A risky stratagem, given the vagaries of the market, but the only honest way I know of approaching this. In real life human beings are often contradictory, selfish, stupid, and yet they’re not bad people. They have the potential for redemption. Those are the people I’m interested in seeing in fiction, too. Oh yeah, a good shiny-smiled hero or heroine is fun to read sometimes, but most of the time I like yellow-toothed protagonists better.

And maybe this, too, is a question of skill. Perhaps the reader can accept their contradictions, their mean streaks, their lashing out if the skill of execution is right. I know I’ve read characters like that and not thrown the book across the room. Take, for example, Chess Putnam in Stacia Kane’s wonderful Downside Ghosts series. Chess is a complete mess, makes stupid and self-destructive decisions, is her own worst enemy—and yet I love her and love reading about her even when I’m cringing hard at what she does. I keep pulling for her to snatch her backside out of the fires she throws it into time and again. She isn’t every reader’s cup of tea, but she’s mine, and wonderfully flawed and makes for compelling reading. So, the point is not to make characters that will be acceptable to every reader, but to make the writing compelling enough that readers can still find something to hold onto. Have I learned that lesson yet? I don’t know—or I know that I haven’t pulled it off all the time. I’m still working on it.

You can’t please all readers all the time. That I know for true. Some will accept the well-written shithead, some never will. That’s a matter of taste. As for the writer writing these complex people, it’s a matter of writing and revising and revising and revising and finding the balance.

Yes, that’s the truth, and the answer to my question, I suppose.

So I told my mother that I had written a remembrance of Dr. Raymond La Scola. We discussed in general what I’d said. Mom never reads my stuff. I think it embarrasses her in some obscure way, like she doesn’t know what to say to me about it, so I’ve long since stopped offering it to her. But she was pleased with what I’d said about Dr. Ray.

“He used to tell you stories,” she said.

And just like that, I remembered that he had, when he wanted to distract me from some part of the exam. I’d forgotten that he was another dedicated storyteller in my life, like my father. I was surrounded by storytellers back then. No wonder I knew so early in life that I wanted to be a writer. Second grade, in fact, when Mrs. Cooper played a moody bit of music and asked us to let our imaginations go. It was the first time in my life I experienced flow, and I was addicted to it from then on. Another pantser born to the universe of writing! God save us all.

I must have told Dr. La Scola about that. Mom says that I was his patient until I was about nine, so it is possible I told him. I don’t remember doing that, but so much is lost to the haze of years. The reason I think I must have mentioned something about being a writer is because soon after I told Mom about my reminiscence, she dug that old novel of his out of the obscurity of storage and presented it to me. Man, it is somewhat the worse for wear. Not dog-eared or anything, but the tip top of the pages where it’s been closed and gathering dust for decades are real dirty, and there’s a freckling of brown spots on the pages.

And there on the back, a picture of Ray La Scola, smiling, effervescent, like he’d just finished laughing from a joke, or was just about to start in. That’s the sweet, kind smile I remember, those are the sparkling eyes. Except, dear me, they are clearly not brown.

“I remember him with brown eyes,” I told Mom.

“I think they were gray,” she said.

Yes, clearly light eyes. Though I think he had a certain brown-eyed soul.

But back to the book. He autographed the fly leaf for me, and this is what it said:

For Pamela, my favorite red-head, whose future I look forward to writing with, Best Wishes, Ray La Scola.

When I read that again after so much time, I experienced such a moment of wonderment, such an upwelling of “Ah ha!” and “So that’s where I got it from.”

“I must have told him I wanted to be a writer,” I said.

“You must have,” agreed Mom.

And this is what the back jacket says:

Ray La Scola was born in New Orleans, in an old house on Bourbon Street. Early in life, he became interested in the piano and organ, later studying at the New Orleans Conservatory of Music. His interest in writing began his sophomore year at Louisiana State University when he studied under Robert Penn Warren.

After graduating from college, the author entered medical school and while there continued the professional music career he had started at the age of twelve. Advanced medical study took him to the Chicago Medical Center and Cook County Hospital. He now practices in Santa Monica, California.

It doesn’t say anything about him being a lawyer first, so perhaps Mom misremembered that, or perhaps in the creative form of Author Bio it just didn’t fit the current narrative. I’ll never know.

And what of the book itself? Dear Reader, I haven’t had the courage to read it yet. What if I don’t like it? Mom pronounced it a “cute story,” but I mean…what if I don’t like it? Dr. Ray is probably beyond caring, so I’ll probably read it some day, but…

Generally when I write a character, even in third person because I’m usually writing in a tight third person perspective, I like to use language that is appropriate to that person’s worldview and experience. My voice shifts slightly depending on who I am following. A thug will not describe the dewy light of dawn, and a lady of refinement will not curse like a sailor—unless the thug is not a typical thug but one who likes purple prose, and the lady once made her living swabbing decks. I’m not always sure all readers notice these things, but it’s important to me that I get that sort of thing right.

Time appropriate language is important, too. Revising a novel set in 1938 has reminded me how hard I worked to get the period language right. In some cases, this made the prose rather stiff in places, jarring to an early 21st century ear. In this final language polish, I’m trying to walk the line between authenticity and flow. “Twaddle” and “claptrap” may be perfectly acceptable 1930s period substitutes for “nonsense,” for instance—but they make me want to giggle. If the scene is not one in which I wish to evoke giggles, then I have to come up with a compromise that suits the scene, suits the period, and suits a more contemporary audience. In this case, I used “baloney,” which can be somewhat humorous, but isn’t quite as silly. It fits the context of the scene better, anyway, and that’s the important thing.

Then there comes the question of other types of verisimilitude which are not so easy to reconcile. I would have a great deal of trouble using racial epithets in my fiction. And yet in earlier periods of U.S. history those words were used regularly and casually. It was almost de rigueur in certain circles. Can I accurately portray those segments of society without using that offensive language? The words are so hurtful—but they were the way people spoke. I didn’t support removing “offensive” language from Huckleberry Finn, but can I justify using it in a contemporary work, even if it is set in an historical period?

I don’t have an answer, and fortunately in the case of my current novel, it didn’t come up. I know I’m not the only writer struggling with this, and I don’t think there are facile answers to the question. Character speak is always a balancing act between the way things are/were and the effectiveness of the prose in trying to tell a story. I suspect this is one of those cases where everyone has to decide for themselves what’s appropriate.

This mystery isn’t completely unsolved like the cases I usually feature in these posts. It does contain the strange and puzzling elements I favor, juicy bits to make the eyes tingle as they read. Ultimately, though, this story is about the grandest mystery of them all: the twisting, turning, tangled terrain of the human heart.

I’ll get to the strange and mysterious part, but first I have to introduce the main character.

When I was a tiny girl, I actually loved going to my pediatrician. Oh yeah, I dreaded shots as much as any kid, but I loved Dr. Raymond La Scola. The gentlest of men, he had shining eyes that I remember as being dark, but it was a long time ago and I was little, so God only knows. The important part was that those eyes broadcast joy at being around children. Kids can tell that stuff, when a grownup really likes being around them and when they’re just going through the motions. Dr. Ray loved kids. He had a melodious voice, so soothing and comforting, and when he talked to me, he talked to me and listened attentively to what I said. Pretty heady stuff for a little kid.

My mom loved him, too. He was the most compassionate of doctors. We were desperately poor, my father working only now and then, my mom struggling to make ends meet by babysitting and sewing and whatever else she could think up. We lived in a ramshackle old house back then in one of the poorest neighborhoods in L.A. When my mother was especially hard up and I needed care, or my shots, Dr. La Scola often waived his fees. Once when I was so sick I could hardly get out of bed, he came to the house—a momentous, archetypal event in my young life. I remember his dark fedora and stylish overcoat, the leather doctor’s bag he carried, his shining stethoscope hovering over my chest, his sweet-sad smile. I remember his comforting voice, telling me it was going to be all right, that I was going to be all right. I remember the quiet ebb and flow of his words talking to my mother, telling her it would be all right, too.

He didn’t charge for that visit, either. I confirmed this with my mother when I was an adult.

Dr. Ray was also something of a Renaissance man. He published a novel, The Creole, and gave my mother an autographed copy which I still have. He was a concert pianist and before becoming a doctor, he tried his hand at being a lawyer. He had a restless spirit, always looking for something to fill his soul. He looked for love, too, but rarely found it. In the bad old days, being gay meant always hiding an essential part of yourself. He had a crush on a policeman friend of my mother’s. J. wasn’t insulted or jeopardized by this. He was secure in his manhood and let Dr. La Scola down easy. J. appreciated what a good man he was because he treated J.’s kids, too.

After I’d moved on to a grownup doctor, my mother one day found herself in the medical building where Dr. La Scola practiced. Since it had been a few years since she’d seen him, she thought to drop in and say hello. “You wouldn’t believe the strange people in that waiting room,” she later told me. “No kids. It looked like he’d gone down to Venice Beach and found the roughest, skunkiest people around.” Venice Beach was where the hippies and druggies hung out back then. It still is, in parts, but it’s also become a tourist mecca and quite upscale in parts. Mom left the office without saying anything to the receptionist or Dr. Ray.

On August 25, 1980, Dr. Raymond La Scola was charged with murder.

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That’s the name of this pen and ink drawing, done by my friend, Francesca, back when she and my roommates-at-the-time shared a studio in Venice, California. It’s a fairly accurate portrait, in an abstract way. Back then, I had one of those long, very curly perms. I loved my hair like that, but it was such a commitment of salon time to keep it up because my hair is naturally fine and string straight (all except for one mutant wave at the back of my head). Also, those perms really damaged my hair. So I didn’t keep it for long and I have hardly any pictures of me like that. Certainly none that I’ve scanned.

I did receive quite a bit of positive male attention with that hair, though. Lynn and I spent many weekend nights going to the Whisky à GoGo on the Sunset Strip, Madame Wong’s in Chinatown, and many other places of the rocking and the rolling variety. Great fun and we saw a number of good bands. Later, I went the full punk treatment, with hair only an inch long except for one long trailing bit of hair down my back and a little crest on the crown of my head. The boys were not quite as fond of that haircut. In fact, some of them stopped talking to me, assuming I’d lost interest in boys. It’s amazing what some people will assume on scant evidence. C’est la guerre, c’est l’amour. I don’t even have a pen and ink drawing of me with that haircut. I was quite camera averse in those days. Carl moved in with us about this time, which confused the upstairs neighbors a great deal. They wondered if he was gay, but they also wondered about the sleeping arrangements because…only two bedrooms. We didn’t clarify things to straighten out their rumpled assumptions. Not their business. We found the whole thing rather funny.

Also accurate about this portrait is the worried look on my face. I suspect I looked like that quite a lot in those days. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But I don’t think I’ll talk about the worst of times. Maybe in another post. Maybe not. When I look at this drawing, I tend to only remember the good times, the laughs, to feel warm inside.

This post is really about where we lived.

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