What a character!

It’s not a revolutionary statement to say everyone is different. It’s made patently obvious simply by looking around. I believe one difference is how we approach our reading. Some concentrate on plot, some on prose, and others on message, with lots of other facets in between and plenty of combinations thereof.

I’m starting to think I’m a character guy. (It’s not just the fact that so many people have said I’m a character. That’s a coincidence. Maybe.) In every novel I read, I seem to be drawn first to its characters. As I wrote before, though I can’t explain why, I care deeply about what happens to these fictional people. It makes no sense, but there it is. If a book’s characters annoy me, there’s a better than even chance I won’t care for it, no matter how well regarded it might be.

It turns out that maybe that characteristic has carried over to my writing. More than one reader has commented on my protagonists, Fania in A Slippery Land and Calandra in A Song in the Storm. (Both are young women. Go figure.) I expect myself to be obsessed with my characters, but it’s a supreme compliment when I hear things like:

I can’t stop thinking about Fania.

Fania is a great role model for my daughter.

I agree, but I have a different perspective. Hopefully, Calandra will have a similar effect on readers.

It’s not just the leads, but even the minor characters get under my skin. That makes the writing and reading so much more fun. And since of necessity I read my own books many, many times in the revision and proofing processes, it’s good to know I’ll be spending time with people, er, characters I care about.

I hope you care as much as I do. But maybe you’re a plot person. Hopefully I’ll have you covered, too.

Mr. Burdick’s Burden

Hello, my name is Rick C and I’m a bookaholic.

It’s true. There is always at least one book I’m making my way through, sometimes a few at a time. My backlog of to-be-read books is out of control. I’ll read pretty much any genre, but there’s one I miss terribly. Children’s picture books are among my favorite reading matter.

FrogToadArnold Lobel, Don and Audrey Wood, Rosemary Wells, Peter Spier, James Stevenson, as well as old reliables like Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. They’re my Tolstoy, Hemingway, and Faulkner. I miss having little children around to read to and it runs contrary to the societal norm for a man to read “Frog and Toad Are Friends” in public. Not that I haven’t done it anyway.

burdickNo list of children’s author/illustrators would be complete without the remarkable Chris van Allsburg, best known for his “The Polar Express”, as well as other great books that were made into mediocre movies. One of his books was an enigmatic masterpiece called, “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick”. Each page of the book consists of a magical (and sometimes downright creepy) illustration. On each facing page was written a single line from the book from which the picture was supposedly drawn (pun intended).

According to the book’s introduction, the collection of drawings and accompanying texts were dropped off at a publisher by a mysterious author named Harris Burdick, who never returned to pick them up.

All that verbiage was simply to lead up to an idea I’ve come up with for some blog posts. Since the extent of my backlog of writing ideas outstrips even that of my reading list, what better model to follow than Mr. Burdick’s? I can’t draw to save my life – hope to God I never have to – so I’ll write short snippets from stories that don’t exist, that I have ideas for but have no hope of ever pursuing. Consider them writing prompts on steroids. Maybe they are.

Confused as much as distressed, he watched the ship disappear beneath the waves, foam and oil bubbling to the surface, marking its interment. No one could possibly have survived the explosion that ended the vessel’s journey long before it reached its destination.

He still clung to the life preserver he’d carried with him when he leapt into the water just moments before the blast. The old man he’d dived in to save had certainly looked like he might drown out here, miles from any known shore. The prospect of playing the hero in front of the crowd of onlookers standing on the deck, some of whom were attractive young women, had triggered a shot of adrenaline that made him perform an act that was as uncharacteristic of him as the peaceful, beckoning look was on the face of the old man.

Now the ship was gone, the sea slowly settling from turbulent to placid. What had happened to that man?