Momming, Writing, and Thanking #NeilGaiman

Momming is hard.  (I assume that Dadding is hard, too.  But, not being a Dad, I wouldn’t presume to know.  It just seems like it would be.)  Momming takes time and energy (so, so much energy).  It takes patience, and it requires a certain tacit agreement to go without sleep.  Momming means changing your child’s clothes a dozen times a day…on days when you may not even manage to change your own clothes even once.

Momming is especially hard when you try to pair it with something else that is hard like, you know, Arting.  Arting is hard by itself.  Arting takes time and inspiration time and dedication and time.  And…well, did I mention time?

Yeah…with one husband, three children, three cats, four chickens, and one beagle, time is at a premium.  I know, I know.  I’m not special.  What was it that Neil Gaiman said?

quote-you-get-what-anybody-gets-you-get-a-lifetime-neil-gaiman-35-41-19
Image Credit: AZ Quotes

“You get what anyone gets – you get a lifetime.”  ~Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.

Smart man, that.

I really like Neil Gaiman a lot.[1]  I like his books.  I like how he talks about books.  I like that he appreciates librarians.  I even like how (for whatever reason) my beagle barks incessantly whenever I listen to Neil Gaiman’s audio books, as if she is convinced that a well-read Englishman has broken into our house and might decide to steal her kibble.

Not too long ago, I read a lovely response on Tumblr that Neil Gaiman had written about, well, writing.  In part, he said:

Set aside time to write that’s only writing time. Put away your phone. Turn off or disable your wifi. Write in longhand if you wish. Put up a do not disturb sign. And make your writing time sacred and inviolable. 

 And in that time, this is the deal. You can write, or you can not do anything. Not doing anything is allowed. (What not doing anything includes: staring at walls, staring out of windows, thinking broodily, staring at your hands. What not doing anything does not include: alphabetising the spice rack, checking Tumblr, taking your pen apart, playing solitaire or running a clean up program on your computer.)

 You get to pick how long a day your writing time is. An hour? Two? Three? Your call.

Doing nothing gets pretty dull. So you might as well write. (And if you write 300 words, one page, every day, you’ll have a 90,000 word novel in a year.)

Let me be the first to admit that I absolutely defer to Mr. Gaiman on the subject of writing.  He has done it longer.  He has done it better.  But I have Mommed longer than he has—what with him not being a Mom and all.  (Yes, yes, he has Dadded—his is Dadding–I know.  Hear me out.)

When I read Mr. Gaiman’s writing wisdom with a friend, I choked at the bit about picking how long a day your writing time was.  Seriously, an hourTwo?  Three?  *snort laugh*  I know of Zero mothers who have an hour to set aside without someone bellowing Mom?  Mama?  Mommy?

The Mom Version of this would be more like:

You get to pick how long you can ignore the crashes and whining coming from the other side of the door, or how long you can hide in the bathroom until your kids/spouse/co-workers find you. Ten Minutes? Fifteen? Until the person in the stall next to you asks if you have a roll to spare?  

Your call.

I understand that writers must write.  I do.  I get it.  And we do learn to steal our moments where we may.  For instance, in order to carve out about 30 minutes of writing time in the morning, I get up at 5:00 a.m.  I also write on my lunch hour.  I write at football practice.  I write in the stadium while waiting for color guard practice to end.  I write on my arm at stop lights.  I write on the back of envelopes.  I have even written out a particularly pleasing turn of phrase in the steam on the shower door, then attempted to fog up the room again to retrieve the snippet.  (Yes, it worked.)  But I honestly cannot tell you the last time that I had an uninterrupted three hour stretch of writing time.

With three kids, all of my vacation time and sick days are used tend to the needs of others.  Sick children.  Teacher conferences.  Rehearsals.  Recitals.  Dentist.  Asthma attack.  You pick.

Still, I do take his meaning.  And, honestly, I am grateful for the reminder.  It is the doing of The Thing that makes The Thing possible.  In other words: if I want to be a writer, I’d better write.  So, I do.  God help me, I do.  I set my alarm to an hour that even my chickens find deplorable.  I also linger in the bathroom longer than strictly necessary for bodily functions.  In between moments of Momming, I find time to do something else.  I write words.  I turn phrases.  I craft Art.  Perhaps the method is haphazard but, for now, it is the only method this mom can manage.

Life is short.  Kids grow up.  So, in the words of Neil Gaiman, I might as well write.

Thanks, Neil.

[1] I am especially fond of him because when my eldest child was eight years old, she decided to write to Mr. Gaiman and to send him a “book” she had written (and illustrated) entitled “Regina the One-Winged Owl.”  Mr. Gaiman was kind enough to very promptly send along a handwritten note of encouragement telling her how he liked the cliffhanger ending.  My daughter was thrilled.  She is now 14, and she still has the note.

Comparisons, #Outlander, and All-That-I-Am-Not

My hands are neither graceful nor fine boned. And, unlike so many others, I cannot seem to find the time or inclination to tend to my cuticles or shape my nails into careful squares, or ovals, or whatever-it-is-that-is-fashionable-right-now…let along actually paint them. I am glad merely to keep them washed and reasonably free of dirt from the garden.

There are days, though, when I am painfully aware of my ragged cuticles. Days when I am self-conscious of the short haircut (self-cut in exasperation at 11:00 p.m., likely with whining kids outside the door…which also explains the strangle tuft that sticks up in the back, both too long and too short to behave).

I am neither blonde nor tan. I am not young. I am not well-endowed. I. Am. Not.

On the I Am Not Days, every comparison is a failure. I am not lovely, or engaging, or wealthy, or privileged. I am not brilliant. I am not the person I thought I would be when I was younger. I’m just not.

I cannot compare myself to others and find much of anything that adds up to the person I want to be, because who I am meant to be has absolutely nothing to do with them and everything to do with me.

My nails are kept purposefully short, because short nails are more practical. And gardeners are nothing if not practical. I would rather dig in the dirt than fret over a manicure because, in my life, having herbs enough to get us through another year trumps fancy fingers. A yard full of flowers and food is far more enticing than those nail wrap things that everyone but me seems to have.

My hair is kept short, because I resent spending time curling, or straightening, or blow drying…and my not-quite-curly-but-certainly-wavy-but-not-in-that-easy-to-manage-way hair would require significant maintenance if kept at a longer length.   I would rather spend my morning writing than fighting the unending war on misbehaving waves.

I am forty three years old. And I own each of those years. I earned them all. Each wrinkle and crease is well-deserved. I spend no time trying to conceal them; I do well to remember to wash my face put on some sort of lotion at night. I’d rather climb in bed with my husband than waste time on creams and potions to preserve some illusion of youth. After all, he is perfectly aware exactly how old I am. It’s not like I am fooling him.

(If you are concerned about Outlander spoilers, stop reading now.)

As I re-re-re-read the Outlander books, I find that I identify so much more with Older Claire. Much more no-nonsense than her younger counterpart, Older Claire has made peace with her graying hair, the broken vein behind her ankle, and the faded stretch marks on her stomach*—in part, of course, because of Jamie’s acceptance and appreciation of these parts of her. Just as he loved her legs—no, not smooth and waxed (exotic though it must have seemed in that place and time), but the unaltered, and downy haired leg that God gave her—Jamie even loved the wee hair that sprouted from her areola.** He loved all of her.

Certainly it is easier to find peace with yourself when you surround yourself with those that love and accept you are you are. Perhaps that is part of the wisdom that comes with age: knowing who to keep close and who to let go. Sometimes it’s hard to know on which side of the divide people fall. Maybe the easiest way to find out is to see how you are reflected in their heart. When I am with those closest to me, I feel funnier, more capable, and more comfortable. When I am with them, I don’t find myself trying to live up to others’ expectations. With them, there are no comparisons.

With them, I am simply Myself.

hand
My decidedly not graceful hand.

* I adore the part where Claire is concerned about her stretch marks and Jamie reveals his own scarred thigh and asks her if the sight of it repulses her. When she says it does not, and he says something like “if your body bears the scars of your own battles” why would it bother him, it is all I can do not to swoon then and there.

** (I recently reread this bit and it still made me smile. It also reminded me of something which Amanda Palmer wrote wherein she describes such stray hairs as “nip-lashes.” Henceforth all references to stray nipple hairs shall be referred to as such. Thank you, Amanda Palmer for providing me with a word I didn’t even know I needed!)

The Duality of Jamie Fraser (or Religion in #Outlander, Part I)

The best stories keep you thinking long after you read them.  They hang around and whisper to you…they nudge and prod you…they force you to consider (or reconsider) what you believe.  These are the stories I read, and the stories I try to write.

So, of course, that make me think about Outlander (feel free to go grab a cup of tea—or some whisky, I won’t judge).

SPOILER

 Ok, now that we have that out of the way…

One of the things that I love about Outlander is the spirituality it encompasses.  I mean, obviously Jamie is Catholic.  The books have an amazing number of prayers, in an impressive array of languages (English! French! Gaelic!)*  And, of course, it makes me feel guilty because I do well to mutter a few prayers in my one language, whereas Jamie seems to have about a million prayers—really long prayers–memorized…but I digress.

Jamie is a highlander, and the superstitions of his time are as much a part of his life as his Catholicism is.  He knows the patron saint for every occasion, just as he knows how to keep a spirit from leaving its grave (salt!).  He takes blood oaths, and he recites the Act of Contrition in French.  He carries a dried mole foot in his sporran to ward of rheumatism, and he prays nearly unceasingly for Claire and their unborn child after he is forced to send them back through the stones.  (If you have not read “The Scottish Prisoner,” yet, why the heck not!!  Seriously.  Also, I am normally not an audio book person, but it was amazing.)

There are entire books and blogs and discussion boards that happily deconstruct the symbolism and superstition in Outlander.  But what really interests me is Jamie’s duality—the way that his Catholicism and the pagan traditions of that time and that place are inextricably woven together.

One bit, in particular, comes to mind.*** It is from Echo in the Bone (so, if you didn’t heed my spoiler warning, consider this your last chance)…

…that particular spring always had the air of being remote from everything.  It lay in the center of a small grove of white ash and hemlock, and was shielded on the east by a jagged out-cropping of lichen-covered rock.  All water has a sense of life about it, and a mountain spring carries a particular sense of quiet joy, rising pure from the heart of the earth.  The White Spring, so called for the big pale boulder that stood guardian over its pool, had something more—a sense of inviolate peace.

The closer I came to it, the surer I was that that was where I’d find Jamie.

‘There’s something there that listens,’ he told Brianna once, quite casually.  ‘Ye see such pools in the Highlands; they’re called saints’ pools—folk say the saint lives by the pool and listens to their prayers.’

‘And what saint lives by the White Spring?’ she’d asked, cynical.  ‘Saint Killian?’

‘Why him?’

‘Patron saint of gout, rheumatism, and whitewashers.’

He’d laughed at that, shaking his head.

‘Whatever it is that lives in such water is older than the notion of saints,’ he’d assured her.  ‘But it listens.’

I walked softly, approaching the spring.  The jays had fallen silent now.

He was there, sitting on a rock by the water, wearing only his shirt.  I saw why the jays had gone about their  business—he was still as the white boulder itself, his eyes closed, hands turned upward on his knees, loosely cupped, inviting grace.

I stopped at once when I saw him.  I had seen him pray here once before—when he’d asked Dougal MacKenzie for help in battle.  I didn’t know who he was talking to just now, but it wasn’t a conversation I wished to intrude on.

It was there that Jamie uttered the prayer that defines his life, his love, and his heart:  Let me be enough.

Despite the many long litanies that Jamie had memorized over the years, in his times of greatest need, his prayers were always simple, direct, and heartfelt.

Let me be enough. 

And for those that have read “The Scottish Prisoner”…

Lord, that she might be safe.  She and the bairn.

When there is nothing else he can rely on (not his strength, or determination, or sheer willpower), Jamie takes his fear and desperation and quietly “offers it up.”

When I read “The Scottish Prisoner,” I thought about how overwhelming it must have been for Jamie.  To simply not know if someone was alive and safe.  No wonder that Jamie considered it his own purgatory on earth.  I imagine the desperation nearly suffocating him, and the only way to keep the panic at bay was to repeat the words and to hold onto them like a lifeline.

Lord, that she might be safe.  She and the bairn.

No answers, no certainly, no closure.  The only possible path to peace is through acceptance.

I always thought in the first two books Jamie is rather like a shield.  He is happy to put himself between Claire and danger.  He doesn’t flinch from taking whatever pain or suffering is directed at her.

But in the later books, Jamie is more like a stone.  Yes, he can still be a barrier, but age and wisdom made him more than that; he is also a foundation…and Claire (as well as the rest of their family) builds her life upon him.

Jamie’s spirituality, his Catholicism, and his deep and abiding faith also influence those around him.  I was amazed by the changes in Claire, of course, but I was also intrigued by the changes in Young Ian (have I mentioned how much I adore him?).  [And, for the record, I am planning to do additional blogs to talk about religion/spirituality as it relates to Claire and Young Ian.]

And, honestly, the books have changed me…they made me want to be a better Catholic.  I have highlighted huge sections of the prayers on my Kindle, and I have tracked down quite a few old prayer books and books on the saints.  I have also picked up a book on Highland superstitions.  It has a lot about plants and blessing to say when you plant and harvest certain wee herbs.  (With my gardening skills, a few prayers certainly wouldn’t be amiss!)

I have found that I find a great deal of peace while puttering around the garden and feeling the wind in my hair and the cool grass underfoot.  And the chickens help, too.  Perhaps it is the sense that you are responsibly for something other than yourself.****

But then Jamie already knew that.  Claire was right, he was too quick by half.

 * I keep promising myself that I will collect all of the prayers** in one place where I can refer back to them.

 ** This would be much easier if the publishers would, someday, offer the full collection of novels (and novellas), in order, as one digital file, so that I could use the search function for this purpose.  Please, please do this someday, book publishing people, because I would throw money at you to be able to have this!

 ***Yes, I know there are tons more.  So let’s talk about them!  Leave a comment with your favorite snippet or scene that shows Jamie’s spirituality.

 ****No, for those wondering, I did not name any of them Laoghaire…or Claire or Jamie, for that matter.  Although, in the interest of full disclosure, they are all named after Scottish clans: Seton, Maxwell, and *ahem*…MacKenzie and Fraser.

The Thing About Asking

Maybe the hardest part of writing isn’t story ideas, or characters, or even finding time to write (although, to be honest, that kind be pretty rough).  No, the hardest part is asking for things–asking for people to believe in your idea, to take a risk on your talent, to believe in you, and to spend their hard-earned money to do it.

Earlier this year, right about the time of the Big Scary Health Scare, I had an idea for a story.  Of course, it sounded insane.  It had a Southern Gothic feel, with some romance woven in, and, of course, some strange timey-wimey bits.

The story kept sneaking up on me.  When I woke up it was there.  Bits of dialogue came to me when I was driving to and from work.  The characters interrupted me when I was trying to shower.  And then the story revealed its title:  The Gravekeeper’s Wife.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bogenfreund/359381330
The Gravekeeper’s Wife

Ifrinn!  When a story did that, when it told me its name, it was a sure sign that it wasn’t going to let up until I got it down on paper.  So slowly, a bit reluctantly, I started.

People don’t visit graves like the used to.  Used to be that people’d come to pay their respects after church, maybe, or on holidays and anniversaries–and Decoration Day, of course.  Now, though, they don’t bother much.  Except, of course, when they want to make sure that the dead stay buried.

Then, the characters started getting really chatty.  And I realized that I really, really wanted to focus on it.  But I couldn’t, because all of those doctors who were so kind as to keep my beloved husband alive now wanted to be paid for their efforts.  And, unfortunately, the “pay the bills” work leaves no time or energy for the “sustains my soul” work (namely the blogging, and the world building, and the stories).

Something has to give.

This is where the whole “asking” thing comes in.  If you enjoy this blog, or talking with me about Outlander, or liked “The Collector,” or want to find out more about “The Gravekeeper’s Wife,” you can find out how to support these things over at my Patreon page.  There will also be plenty of free things over there as well (because sometimes the only help you can afford to give is a kind word or a virtual hug–and I happily accept those, too)!

Image Attribution.

After #Outlander

With Outlander now on hiatus, there are hours to fill. Long, hot, Oklahoma-summery hours. With hours and hours without school to help occupy the children.

So. Much. Time.

Yes, yes, I know there are always 24 hours in a day, but there is something about the heat that makes the days drag. Some days it seems that all I do is make the sweaty commutes to and from work…and try to convince my children that cleaning their rooms is a good way to alleviate boredom. (No, they never, ever believe me—but I try.)

This year, however, I was inspired. Inspired (as in so many things) by reading Outlander. Inspired, also, by the fact that Hubs survived The Widow Maker.

As a result, I wanted this summer to be Something More. I wanted it to be Memorable.

So, I planted more flowers than usual…

Purple Cone Flower
Purple Cone Flower

…and more vegetables.

(Peas, tomatoes, string beans, black beans, jalapenos, leeks, and onions.)

…and more fruit. (I planted a crabapple tree, two apple trees, a raspberry bush, a blueberry bush, two blackberry bushes, and two elderberry bushes. We added a second grape vine (with plans to add two more).

Apples!
Apples!

And I planted plenty of herbs (five varieties of lavender, three varieties of rosemary, curry, two kinds of sage, four kinds of thyme, cilantro, parsley, horehound, ten kinds of mint, dill, three kinds of oregano, three kinds of basil, a couple of stevia plants, tarragon, chives, bergamot, wild ginger, ginseng, chamomile, calendula, lemon verbena, lemon grass…I know I am forgetting something…)

We like mint, don't judge.
We like mint, don’t judge.

And I planted flowers. Lots of flowers.

Borage
Borage
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Lots of purple flowers.
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Chamomile and more purple flowers.

And, last weekend…

(insert drumroll here!)…

Cluck!
Cluck!

…we added four chickens to our bramble of a backyard.* Three Buff Orpingtons and one Bar Rock. (I am looking to add a couple of more asap, because apparently there is a thing called “chicken math” where you plan to get three chickens, come home with four, and immediately add two more. Fortunately I am much better at this “chicken math” than “new math.”)

I spent Friday night putting together the coop while Hubs was at work (I might have forgotten to tell him that I was finally going through with all this! Oops! Surprise, honey!).

Coop in the daylight.
Coop in the daylight.

My dad was kind enough to help put together the coop. As daylight gave way to dusk, we kept hammering and piecing things together. It felt good…and productive…so nice for something to make sense again. Before long, we were building by moonlight. I broke the silence to ask my dad if a chicken coop built in the moonlight was somehow lucky. (After the stress and drama of this year, I will take my luck where I can find it.) I could hear the smile in his voice when he answered, “Yes. You’ll be lucky if this coop stays together.”

I laughed like I hadn’t laughed in ages. And it felt good.

It had been a while since I laughed. Laughing felt like tempting fate. I didn’t want to mess with her…she was a bitch! So I had stayed quiet. I had kept my head down. I didn’t want to look too far ahead.

When Hubs was in the hospital, the books were my refuge. I read them, and re-read them. They were my touchstone. They reminded me that True Love was hard and scary…but that it was worth fighting for, worth sacrificing for, and that gave me hope.

I read about the potatoes in Jenny’s root cellar, and I read about Claire’s garden and her wee herbs. I had always loved herbs. As a teen, my room was filled with books about herbs and their uses. I saved money to buy herbs…much like a “normal” teenage girl might buy clothes.

But somewhere along the way, there was not enough time, or space, or money, or…something. Somewhere along the way, I let it slip away from me. Reading the books reminded me of how many things that I loved and let go. And when Hubs had his heart attack, it reminded me that life was too damned short and unpredictable to put things off.

So I bought chickens. Because, I gotta tell you, chickens are friggin’ cute.

We named them all after Scottish clans...one *might* be named Fraser.
We named them all after Scottish clans…one *might* be named Fraser.

Yes, I bought chickens. And I planted herbs, and vegetables, and fruit. I started to study Gaelic, and I researched my genealogy, and I listened to bagpipe music while I watered the plants.

So while Outlander is on hiatus, I will not fret over Droughtlander or obsess about every snippet of series information that ripples across the internet (although I really AM looking forward to seeing Season 2!).

Instead, I will enjoy my summer…the summer that Outlander inspired.

Slàinte
Sláinte mhath.

* Yes, I know that Jamie said that “Chickens make verra poor company.” But he and I do not agree on everything. For example, I am in the “Claire camp” when it comes to neck kisses. Just sayin.’

The Thing About Dying… (a/k/a Why I Write)

The thing about almost dying is that it makes you very, very aware of living. Not necessarily the Big Things, like how will your family fare in your absence or the state of your soul, although those thoughts are likely present as well, but the little thing…things that are often of no consequence to anyone but yourself, perhaps something that never seemed particularly noteworthy before.  The little things are the things that haunt.

My husband told me that he realized just how serious things were when the emergency personnel started cutting off his clothing. His first flash of thought…before the fear of life and death and pain and That Which Comes Afterwards…was just this: What if I never get to smell her hair again?  Weeks later, when finally he shared this, my own raw emotions broke free (although I admit that I did ask him what my hair smells like…apparently it is smells like sunshine and rosemary and “kind of perfumey”).  Other fears came later: job and bills and money and The Future. But for a moment, all that mattered was the familiar warmth of comfort of a beloved.

photo 2In the weeks after That Day, spring awakened and the view of the ridge behind our house took on new life. Something seemed to stir in my husband, too. He watched the bulbs I had planted break through the earth, and he asked eagerly when we could plant our garden.  Per doctors’ orders, the digging and planting would have to fall to me this year. Despite my exhaustion, each day ended with a few more seeds tucked into the earth like an offering.

The daffodils and hyacinth bloomed and faded. The grape vines leafed out. The lavender seemed to resurrect itself from the gray dormancy of winter.  The tomatoes and peppers sought the warmth of sun, as did the peas and black bean bush.   The berry bushes flowered and the herbs trailed and twined and stretched skyward. My spirits also grew as my husband walked the gardens each night to point out the minute changes that had never before caught his notice.

He became engrossed with living and what comes from a life well-lived. These things we grew, photo 1they had purpose, they offered something back…he worried that his life did no such thing. This man, long since sworn to protect and serve, worried that his life was not Enough. My heart broke.  When I tried to console him, he told me that I couldn’t understand, that I already knew that I was leaving something behind, that my words were my legacy.  But, even as he said it, these words that he spoke of, these words that I love, that I try to shape and craft–they seemed so inadequate. How could I not find the words to give him to ease his mind and settle his soul?  What kind of writer was I?  What kind of wife was I?

photo6Our walks around the garden have been hampered by the seemingly unceasing rain.  The pattering of rain from the gutters and the sloshing of passing cars has replaced the low drone of tree frogs.  The rain crows mock us in the still between the storms.  The fog’s embrace soon becomes stifling as our growing restlessness cuts short our goodwill.

This morning, desperate, I took to the garden in the early morning hours and rain be damned.  Breathing came easier in the rain cooled air, but the words did not.  I sat on the damp rocking chair and lulled myself into thoughtlessness.  Closing my eyes, the baptism of rain continued.  The rain has a purpose, I reminded myself before I finally rose to start the day.

Then the words finally came.  They are not my own, but I am unspeakably grateful for them:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

–Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)

Tonight, I will take him to the garden—rain or shine—and I will remind him of this truth too often forgotten.  It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.  And I write it here, in case you need a reminder.

photo 3

The Soul of a Character: “Representation” and Emulation

I have been listening to all the discussion about “representation” in literature, and it has made me reflect quite a bit about my own reading habits–both now and when I was younger.  I’ve been trying to figure out what character in literature I most identify with…which one “represents” me, and I am finding it more difficult than I had originally thought it would be.

When I was a young reader (way, WAY back when) there weren’t a lot of pale young girls with glasses and braces who liked to read away entire summers.  So, rather than finding a character I could identify with, I ended up reading stories with characters whom I hoped to be more like.

I read the Little House on the Prairie books, because I liked history, and because I was fascinated by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  She was smart and spunky.  I also devoured a series called “The Great Brain” about a really smart kid because, even then, I knew that intellect lasted longer than looks.  I didn’t necessarily see myself in these characters, but I saw the person I hoped to become.

When I read now, I rarely see much of myself in the protagonist.  Because really, who writes stories about moms with three kids who is compulsively cheap and writes on her lunch hours?  Even if they did write them, I don’t think I’d bother reading them; no one wants to read about someone who cuts her own hair at 11:00 on a Friday night because that is the only time no one else wants the bathroom.  So, instead, I read books about the kind of woman I hope to become–you know, some day–when I grow up.

I read a lot of history…because I was fortunate enough to grow up with a great-grandmother who loved to tell me stories and who shared her history with me.  I have her old postcards and love letters and gifts from beaus.  (She lived in Prague, Oklahoma before the land run, and she dated Jim Thorpe for a while.  I still have some of their correspondence.  In one, he swooned that she was “fat as a pigeon,” which apparently was quite a compliment back then).

I also read (and re-read) Outlander because it has I love all things Scottish and because, duh, history (or at least historical fiction).  The series also taps into the very visceral need I have to connect with my own heritage.  I married a Wallace…and my own family boasts the blood of generations of MacDhòmhnaills and Wallaces and Lynns.  And, I’ll admit, I still feel a spark of pride when I read about Jamie’s red hair and his Catholic faith.  Despite the obvious gender difference, I immediately identified with him.

I also identified with another literary ginger.  Ron Weasley is a favorite of mine.  I admired his steadfastness.  While I could definitely relate to Hermione’s love of books and obsessive desire for knowledge, it was Ron that suffered the constant comparison’s to Harry, and it was Ron who quelled his own self-doubt and jealousy and stood by Harry’s side.  (I know, I know, he wavered, but give the guy a break…he still did better than I would have!)

I have read a lot recently about under represented cultures, genders, body types, etc.  But for me, I didn’t see myself so much in the appearance of a character, but in his/her soul.  Even as a child, when a character I had grown to love hurt, or had doubts…I felt his doubt and pain; it didn’t matter that the doubt and pain was housed in a male body.  Even now, I feel a kinship with James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser because of his faith, and his sense of honor, and his desire to protect those he loved no matter what the cost.  It was of no consequence that such loyalty came in a masculine form.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t have characters of all sizes, shapes, colors, creeds, et al.  It just means that, for me at least, I take my heroes where I can find them.  And, as a writer, I write the characters as they come to me.  I never set out to make a character a certain height, or color, or nationality…that is just how they come to me–just as I never set out to have a son with ginger hair, or a daughter with a mass of unruly curls, or another daughter with locks the color of Scottish honey.  I just hope that my children find characters that they can look up to, no matter what their gender, race, or religion.