My mother thinks she’s the mother in every book I write.
Even Aisling Grimlock’s mother, apparently. I don’t know what that says about her but she also refers to Avery Shaw as “you” when talking to me, as if I’m the character.
I’ve told her numerous times that the characters are not people she knows, but she doesn’t believe me.
In truth, a lot of my characters are based on people I know but none of the characters are exact duplicates of anyone I know (if that makes sense). It’s more that I pick out certain elements of an individual’s personality – usually something funny – and apply that to a character and then embellish even further.
Take Aunt Tillie. She’s a mixture of two people. I based her looks on a great-aunt and overlaid personality traits from that great-aunt and my great-grandmother.
My great-grandmother was a fascinating woman who took my mother and siblings (her grandchildren) to the cemetery and made them serve as lookouts while she stole flowers from the dead because “they wouldn’t miss them.”
She liked to take walks in the woods, pick out full-grown trees she loved, and make my grandfather dig them up and move them to her yard.
She glued false eyelashes on ceramic frogs and considered them art.
She also enjoyed a good fight when necessary. Does that sound like Aunt Tillie? Yes, and no. My great-grandmother obviously didn’t curse anyone to smell like bacon but she would’ve happily done so if given the chance.
The entire Wicked Witches of the Midwest series became a thing because one day – after listening to my mother and her two sisters argue for what felt like forever – I wondered what it would be like if I turned them into witches. Hence Winnie, Marnie and Twila. No joke. They’re the same … and yet different.
Newsrooms are always full of odd people so populating The Monitor’s newsroom was easy, including Fred Fish (who shares a lot of quirks with my former editor who has since retired) and Marvin Potts, who is close to my friend Mitch Hotts but also just a little sillier. To be fair, though, Marvin doesn’t need a lot of embellishment because Hotts is a quirky individual.
All of the characters pick up a habit or two from people I find interesting. Then, however, I expand on the quirks.
My cousin Kylie, for example, inspired two characters (but kind of split down the middle). Kylie and I were very close growing up and spent a lot of time together. She gave me ideas for Lexie in Avery Shaw (and yes, a lot of the stuff Lexie does my cousin Kylie did – and gladly told me about) and Clove in Wicked Witches of the Midwest.
Ah! People who have read both series probably don’t think Lexie and Clove are all that similar, other than their looks. They are, though. My cousin Kylie can manipulate with the best of them and turn on the waterworks like Clove. She also used to melt down when I made her sneak through the woods when we were doing something we shouldn’t be doing. On the flip side, like Lexie, she has no problem smacking people around with an umbrella and can bring a grown man to his knees whenever she feels like it. She’s fierce and tiny, but neither Clove or Lexie is exactly her. They both have elements of her personality.
Carly in the Avery Shaw books and Kelsey in Covenant College also pick up a few of the traits from the same person.
Mario in the Avery Shaw books is based on my cousin Chuckie, who is as gregarious, self-deprecating and funny as Mario but still manages to have a serious side, too.
The family restaurant in Avery Shaw? It was real. It was called Avery’s and it was in a small town called Mancelona, Michigan for a very long time. It’s gone now but I miss it a great deal. We didn’t have family dinners ever week but we all wandered in and out whenever we want, ordered whatever we wanted and also worked long hours even as teenagers.
Of all of my characters, the one most like his real-life counterpart is Grandpa in the Avery Shaw series. I made him look exactly like my Grandpa Avery. I gave him my grandfather’s larger than life personality and – the thing is – I rarely have to embellish stories about him because he was that much of a character.
He enjoyed skinny-dipping every morning to give the old ladies in the neighborhood their daily “thrill.” In fact, one night my cousin Eric and I were sneaking into the pool and didn’t bother to look at the trampoline. As we were lifting the gate latch, we heard “the water’s wet.” When we turned, we found him naked and drying on the trampoline. He thought our discomfort was funny.
He did go to jail for refusing to report for jury duty (and yelling obscenities at the judge).
He did get in trouble with local law enforcement for ripping up handicapped parking signs in his own restaurant parking lot.
He threw bread at us when he was angry and we were working with him. He also laughed when we were up to mischief and took us for sleepovers on the trampoline in the summers. Of course, he would get up early and time the underground sprinklers to get us wet at six in the morning … but that’s an entirely different thing.
My grandfather loved telling stories about himself so I know that he would be happy with Grandpa in the books. In fact, he would probably think that’s the only fun character.
What do you think? Who is your favorite character, and why?
When I was a kid, I was torn between whether or not I was going to grow up and be the Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman. I flirted with being a Jedi Knight for awhile, but I wasn't up for the intense travel associated with the gig. In my teens, I settled on being a writer -- although I had no idea the effort that would entail.