characters

Peggy, Among the Stars

The following is an excerpt from the new book by Bev Walker, “Profiles…” Bev is a long-time member of Writers in the Grove.

She may be the smartest person I’ve ever met, certainly one of them, and certainly a shining star in my life. And a prime example of how deceptive appearance and manner can be.

The plain house dress and sagging cardigan sweater were always a little rumpled. Some stray pieces of her long thin black hair never seemed to find a home in all the years I new her. The rest hung precariously in a knot at the back of her neck. There was no sign of grey. She was in her nineties, how far, she wouldn’t say. When asked, she’d reply curtly, “Age is irrelevant.”

She was four-foot ten, round, and quiet. Her large sleepy eyes and calm demeanor reminded me of Yoda, the wise old elf of the Star Wars movies. That suited her more than most people realized. She’d been a closet Science Fiction writer as long as she can remember. Not with any thought of getting published, but just because she loved doing it.

When her husband died, she and her four young children moved to Forest Grove, Oregon. She took classes at Pacific University where her guest instructor was famed fantasy writer Ursula LeGuin. LeGuin’s husband was a professor there at the time. LeGuin became a profound influence on Peggy’s blossoming style, a turning point.

“She is a woman of extreme integrity,” said Peggy, “and I learned more from her than I ever had from any other teacher.”

That is tribute indeed as Peggy was a straight A student all her life, an honor graduate of the prestigious Reed College, as well as the Episcopal Church’s Education For Ministry Course (FFM), which is the equivalent to a four-year seminary course in religion.

She and I had been friends for some time when she asked me to help her organize and sort her file of writings. She couldn’t do it herself because she was totally blind from Macular Degeneration. She could type, but she couldn’t see to edit what she’d written, so was in the habit of just starting over, again and again, resulting in many versions, pieces all mixed, some on computer, some in a paper file.

We got into a routine. I’d sit at her computer and read aloud what she’d written. She told me changes as we went along.

She wanted to focus on one novel in particular. It was the romance of an astronaut, born in another galaxy, who discovers a lost world, and the strange girl he falls in love with. It came alive for me in Peggy’s words. Her amazing images sometimes had my head spinning with colorful pictures of a whole new universe unfolding before me. I was mesmerized by her breathtaking adventures among the stars.

Then suddenly there’d be a section where she started typing with her fingers on the wrong row of keys and there were pages of funny paper cuss words! The journey halted in peels of laughter when I told her what she’d done.

Once a week after church, four or five of us went to brunch in the next town. On the way to the restaurant it became a game to ask our personal guru trivia questions. “Stumping Peggy” was always fun, and a challenge. It never mattered the subject, our Peggy had a story, or at least an answer, to engage us. We all came to firmly believe that our Peg knew everything there was to know about everything.

One day, I discovered another side to our friend. It seems that when we thought we were playing games with our brain trust, she was quietly, and with a straight face, happily playing a different game with us. I innocently asked, “Peggy, how did you ever become so knowledgeable about so very many different subjects.”

With those big sleepy eyes and pixie smile, she looked at me sideways and blithely replied, “Oh, sometimes I lie.”

She knew darn well we’d never know the difference.

When Peggy died in 2009, I imagined her out there exploring her beloved universe, going where she’d always imagined going, and smiling as she discovers reality is even more fantastic than she ever dreamed.

Footnote: Today, as I write this, it is the 24th of April 2017, and I’ve been watching the news. By remote satellite hookup, a woman astronaut, age fifty-seven, is being interviewed. Among the records she’s set is one for the longest time living in space. She’s been orbiting the ear in a US spacecraft for almost two years. The newscaster notes, “There’s a Velcro strip on the outside of her pants, probably to stick her to the wall while she’s sleeping.” Her name is Peggy. Peggy Whitson. And I whisper, “Go, Peg, go.”

Tell Me a Story

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Bev Walker, based upon the prompt, The Roles We Play.

“Why can’t a woman be more,
More like a man?” he said.
“Because then you wouldn’t be here,” says I.

Would I trade having kids,
Watching them grow,
Laugh, learn,
For the hard labor of a
Construction site?
Or sitting in an office all day?
No.

Would I trade the warm scent
Filling my kitchen
As I take loaves of fresh bread
Out of the oven,
For the oil and grease
Of a mechanic, a factory,
Or the dry sterile atmosphere
Of a skyscraper downtown?
No.

Would I like to be an astronaut,
Like Peggy Whitson,
Out there, exploring the stars?
Yes!

But the time is not,
Nor ever was,
For me to fly to the moon,
Discovery electricity,
Romance in Paris,
Dance across the Great Wall,
Or pet a tiger.
But I can.

I can do whatever anyone
Throughout time has ever done,
Feel what they’ve felt,
See what they’ve seen.

So, show me, storyteller.
Where have you been?
What have you done?
What have you seen?
Tell me a story
So I can go, too.

8 May 2017

Prompt: The Roles We Play

Living up to roles, the things I’m “supposed” to be. Some are not welcome, some have been around so long, they are a part of us. Writers in the Grove member, Patti Bond, brought in the prompt:

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
From My Fair Lady, “A Hymn to Him” sung by Henry Higgins, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

Your prompt is to address the issues of roles, be it why a woman can’t play the roles of a man, or any roles we play in life.

Prompt: Mortal Enemies

Remember a mortal enemy in your life, how did you deal with this person. Did you use humor? What did he or she teach you? Are you grateful? Are you saying thank you, or thanks a lot, fellow?

This week, write about such an encounter, and consider the lessons learned in the process.

NaNoWriMo Tips: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

So the saying goes. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then you have no excuses for writing those thousand words during NaNoWriMo.

Before or during NaNoWriMo, look for pictures to represent your character, places, scenes, things, or events and add them to your research collection. When you run out of steam, turn to them for inspiration.

Look for what is in the picture to inspire you, but also look outside the frame. What is the person wearing? Why? What does that outfit do for them? Is it a uniform? Does it work with their recreational activity, or possibly work for their best-dressed work uniform in a corporate office?

Where are they? Do their clothes match the environment they are in? Why are they there?

If it is a place, go inside the picture to see what it beyond the bushes or trees, through the doors, around the edges in your mind so you see the whole picture.

Visual inspiration may come from a variety of forms. A picture in a magazine might trigger memories or concepts while having nothing directly to do with them. Add those to your collection to stimulate your imagination.

Also take advantage of Image Search on Google and other search engines. Type in a word or phrase and switch to the image view and scroll to find an image that catches your imagination. View the image alone and print it to add it to your collection if necessary.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

Prompt: The Anti-Hero

The following is a tutorial and prompt for Writers in the Grove by Lorelle VanFossen and Patti Bond.

“Casting someone who people love to hate is absolutely critical.”

Bravo-TV’s Real Housewives producer Andy Cohen spoke on CNN’s “Why Donald Trump is the Perfect Real Housewife:”

If reality stars are going to make it big, they’ve got to amp up the drama – and by drama, I mean totally insane behavior.

Donald Trump is the perfect Real Housewife — the perfect villain — in the sense that some of us cannot stop talking about how much we freaking hate him. We can’t stop retweeting his deranged rantings. We cannot stop fact checking his obviously false statements. We cannot keep looking at each other — whether in real life or on a comments board — and asking, Can you BELIEVE this guy!?

In short, we cannot look away from the specter of Capital “C” Crazy before us, even if we shove an entire basket of deplorables over our heads. If Trump had a “Real Housewives” tagline, it might be, “Hate me all you want. I’ll be back for more.”

This is not a discussion about politics, but a look at a fascinating type of character often found in fiction as well as the real world: the antihero. Antiheroes are fascinating and compelling characters, and often set in the fine line between hero and villain.

The article offered a shortlist of reality TV casting requirements, which define well the concept of an antihero.

  1. 1s the character willing to say or do just about anything to be famous?
  2. Is the character polarizing among other characters and viewers?
  3. Is the character highly charismatic, yet highly offensive?
  4. Is the character predictably unpredictable?
  5. Does the character live in their own world, out of touch with reality (delusional)?

Like watching a car accident or train wreck, we can’t tear our eyes away from them. This is what makes a good antihero character for television, film, theater, or fiction. (more…)