Finding Your Fictional Characters in the Real World

Smile for the camera, Buck.

Smile for the camera, Buck.

Here’s my muse Buck Crenshaw minus his evil twin Fred. Not sure why his overbearing mother allowed a photo of Buck on his own. It would have been better for everyone if she had separated the twins more often. Together they tortured chickens, shook down weaker school mates for cash and taught William Weldon how to spell every word wrong for the town spelling bee.

Yes, Buck’s no angel. Note the sneer on his well-fed and handsome young face. He’s worse than his brother for being a follower of badness instead of being the leader, but can you blame him? His father is distant and his mother neglects him–allowing him to wander into the ocean as soon as he can toddle towards the waves. Fred takes guardianship of his twin with a mix of superiority and resentment in return for his brother’s willing accompaniment in all schemes and mischief.

I already knew what Buck would look like as a young adult, but I found this gem recently. How is it that the universe delivers the photographs of my fictional characters whenever I need them? God works in weird ways indeed–even out of the back of someone’s pick-up truck at a rummage sale.

Can You Write Stories for These Pictures?

Under the Lilacs book illustration.

Under the Lilacs book illustration.

I’d never heard the term domestic genre stories but I LOVE it. These are the great stories of the late 19th century that spoke to the trials and travails of ordinary life and often with beautiful illustrations. I assume they’re the works that some people deem “of no literary merit” but I disagree. Any book with illustrations like these I know I will enjoy.

If the stories are a bit sentimental who cares? Why is that any worse than the ones about monsters or post- apocalypse? Who gets to decide literary merit? If a book sells then a bunch of people find merit in it.

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Back to domestic genre stories. The average person is not in love with a vampire or on a desert road strewn with radioactive debris from World War Three. Why are we so interested in the weird? Are there domestic genre stories out there today? My books are about families. I’m not sure how sentimental they are but I certainly wouldn’t mind having Alice Barber Stephens illustrate them!

Alice Barber Stephens

http://www.plasticclub.org/index.shtml

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Books I’ve Known and Loved

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Okay, don’t be disturbed by the man’s weird stare and ugly hat. While On the Border with Crook is about the Indian fighter General Crook it’s more about the erudite and humorous John Gregory Bourke— the dashing military man and entertaining writer. Invariably the military men of the late 19th century had such enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity and good humor under sometimes very harsh conditions you’d have to admire them–but Bourke and Crook were unique in their sincere respect for the Indian.

I make Bourke have a brief flirtation with Katherine Weldon and Crook command and admire John Weldon as a good soldier in The House on Tenafly Road.

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Books I’ve Known And Loved

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When you write about post-Civil War America it’s impossible not to bump up against war wounds. John Weldon in The House on Tenafly Road is addicted to morphine, given his first dose in a Civil War hospital by well-meaning doctors trying to keep him comfortable before his eventual death–which never happens. He escapes in his best friend’s new boots with a stash of morphine, laudanum and some new British-made syringes.

Only one man, Doctor Graham Crenshaw with some hidden mental war wounds of his own (his family blames him for the deaths of his brothers) recognizes Weldon’s problems, but he’s a quiet man. I thought after so much medical research he’d eventually get a good medical novel of his own but it’s in his character to work quietly in the background, allowing others to form their misconceptions about him and the bloody work he did during the war as a brilliant young surgeon.

With a name like Graham Crenshaw he deserved fame but instead served a higher purpose–he had piles of children with his wife, one of them being Buck Crenshaw. I think I’ll still get more medical one day (most of the Civil War medicine was cut from the first two novels) and I look forward to it because blood and guts and misplaced emotions are what I’m about as a writer.

By the way, Civil War Medicine by Alfred Jay Bollet, MD is fantastic even if you don’t like blood and guts.

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I Found Buck and Fred In A Painting By Cucuel

I Found Buck and Fred In A Painting By Cucuel

Sometimes the images come first when writing a novel and sometimes they appear as a gift after your characters are fully formed. This is EXACTLY how I imagined Fred and Buck Crenshaw (since they’re twins) and then I found this lovely painting by Edward Cucuel. In my mind it’s at Buck’s wedding and Fred is having a chat with his sister Thankful. Oh, writing can be such fun!

Edward Cucuel, the son of a San Francisco newspaper man, had big talent at the age of 14. Eventually he went to France where he exhibited his paintings of mostly impressionistic, beautiful women and handsome men in social settings. Tell me the guy in this painting doesn’t look great smoking. Cucuel made Germany his home until World War II when he came back to San Francisco to live the rest of his life in seclusion. Did a beauty break his heart?