Category Archives: daughters
No man is really fit to judge his own character. You can’t see it objectively from the inside. But one of the benefits of being a fiction author is that you don’t have to judge yourself. You can get away with judging everybody else around you. And they don’t even need to realize that that is what you are doing.
I am going to dissect three examples from my own fiction.
The first, as you have probably already guessed, is Valerie Clarke, the heroine of Snow Babies, When the Captain Came Calling, and Sing Sad Songs.
Valerie is named after the prettiest girl I went to school with, the one in my class that was in school with me from kindergarten to twelfth grade. The one who used to politely laugh at my jokes and smile at me a lot when I needed someone to look at me and not scowl. She is a very lovely lady now with grandchildren and a good life in Iowa. And besides the name and the beauty, that’s about as far as the real Valerie goes in the make-up of this crucial main character.
The spirit and the personal history of this character come from a very composed and determined young lady that I taught as both a seventh and an eighth-grader. I have referred to her before in this blog as Sasha. But that’s not her real name. And I am not going to ever give you her real name because she’s entitled to the secrets I may have revealed about her in creating this character, as well as entitled not to be burdened with the things in my stories about her that she never did in real life.
In the course of the novels I write, I dramatized the loss of her father, writing a scene in which she comes home to find him after he has committed suicide over the loss of his part of the family farm that he co-inherited with his older brother. Kyle Clarke’s suicide is the single most devastating scene I have ever written up until now. It stopped the novel in the middle. I had to write two other whole novels before I could pick it up and continue. But Sasha’s missing father in real life did not commit suicide. The love that develops between Valerie and Tommy in Snow Babies and the love she finds with Francois in Sing Sad Songs are also facts that do not belong in real life to Sasha.
But the part of Valerie Clarke that really is Sasha is her indomitable will, the way she simply cannot be stopped when she makes up her mind to accomplish something. And that smile that melts your defenses and forces you to accept everything she is about change in your life for the better, whether it is painful or not. The bravery that Valerie shows when she loses someone or something that is important to her is also Sasha. Overcoming disappointment and how one manages to do it is a real key to someone’s character. It helps you decide whether that character is right to be the heroine or is a better fit to be the villain of a story. And Sasha could never have been a villain.
And finally, there’s the thing about the character of Valerie Clarke that has attached itself to my own daughter, the Princess, whose real name I also never use in this blog. She was roughly the same age as the character of Valerie as I was actually putting the story of Snow Babies down in sentences, paragraphs, and Cantos. Some of the more private details about Valerie come from her, things I could never have learned about the first Valerie or Sasha because I never lived in the same house with them. And these more private details are probably the reason that my own daughter has not read a story with Valerie Clarke in it.
So, now I have revealed the basic anatomy of the character creation of one of three promised characters that I am proudest to have created in my fiction.
Canto Thirty – Rage in the Clarke Name
Kyle Clarke came storming into the Zeffer house before either the sheriff’s deputy or Mrs. Philips could arrive. He was angry to the point of curse words over what apparently had happened to Valerie. He made Mrs. Zeffer and Ray repeat the story of how Ray found her three times before he even started calming down. He made it clear he wanted the story from Ray, not Valerie. Once he had learned she had been unconscious, he didn’t even want to hear her version of events. He told her she would not be able to make sense of things until she was well rested and recovered. He wanted Mrs. Philips, a registered nurse, to examine her before any other investigation took place. Valerie could only imagine in horror what he suspected.
“Mrs. Philips! We need you to examine little Valerie Clarke,” said Mrs. Zeffer as Mary’s mother arrived at the Zeffer home. “She’s been attacked by someone.”
Mrs. Philips was very pale, and also seemed shaken.
“What is the matter, Mrs. Philips?” Kyle asked. “You seem unwell.”
“My daughter Mary and her boyfriend Pidney Breslow are missing. I’m afraid it has something to do with what happened to Valerie.”
“Oh, no! We’ve phoned the sheriff already and he’s sending Deputy Harper from Belle City to investigate,” Kyle said in a concerned tone.
“Do you know what happened?” asked Mrs. Zeffer.
Ray was sitting on the bed in Bobby’s room next to Valerie who was already wearing the clothes Kyle had brought her. Both of them looked at the adults standing just outside the bedroom doorway. Valerie’s fear for what might’ve happened to Mary and Pid was overwhelming. She leaned against Ray’s shoulder and began to cry softly.
“It was the strangest thing. The three of them were all in our basement, reading some old book. Then, suddenly there was a purple fog in the house. It smelled so sweet it made me sick to my stomach. It apparently knocked me out. When I came to, I found my daughter Amy and her brother Jason were both sleeping on the floor. They had been knocked out too.”
“And the kids were taken from your house?” Kyle looked alarmed and upset.
“Yes, all we found were their clothes in the basement. I have never seen anything so strange. Whoever took them must have stripped them naked first.”
“Oh, you poor dear,” said Mrs. Zeffer, taking hold of Lady Philips’ shaking hands and guiding her to a chair in Bobby’s room. “Sit here. Let me get you some tea.”
“Was there any indication who might have done this terrible thing?” asked Kyle.
“I… I don’t know,” Mrs. Philips said as Mrs. Zeffer bustled out of the room to make tea. “We found the empty clothes… and then you called asking me to come here and examine Valerie.”
“You should’ve said something then,” Kyle said.
“I… I just felt numb. I told Jason to look after Amy and came right here to see what I could find out.”
“All right… um, Mrs. Philips… I called you over here to examine my daughter Valerie. I was worried someone might have… well, she was found naked in the alley, unconscious.”
Lady Philips made a small strangling sound in her throat. Valerie knew immediately what she must have thought had happened to Mary.
“I’m okay, Daddy. I know for a fact that nobody did anything like that to me.”
“Valerie, princess, you were unconscious. Somebody drugged you and stripped you naked. We need to be certain what happened.” Daddy Kyle was trying to be comforting and soothing, but there was a cold, desperate edge to his voice that actually scared Valerie. She looked at Ray. Ray’s eyes were frightened too.
“Your dad is right, Val. You need to be checked. Mrs. Philips is an RN, a professional nurse. She’ll be able to tell.”
“Okay, Ray,” said Valerie’s dad coolly, “You should go help your mother in the kitchen. Deputy Harper will be here soon.”
Ray reluctantly let go of Valerie and stood up. “You know, sir, that I would never hurt your daughter.”
Kyle’s angry glare softened a bit. “I… I do know that, son. And believe me, I am grateful for the way you rescued her and brought her somewhere safe. I’m on edge right now. I don’t know what was done or who did it. You know what I mean?”
“Of course. If I were in your shoes, I’d be afraid for my daughter too.”
Ray nodded resolutely. Then he went out of the room.
“I will examine her in private, Mr. Clarke. I will be able to tell. I have treated rape victims before. I don’t have a kit with me, but I will know if one needs to be used… Only…”
“What?” Kyle asked.
“After we know, I am going to need you and Deputy Harper to find Mary.” Valerie’s dad was grim-faced, but he nodded his agreement.
Canto Twelve – Mom Matters
“Honey, I’m not trying to be mean to you or anything,” Valerie’s Mom said so that Valerie was clearly meant to understand that she was about to be very mean, but she wasn’t trying to. “You have to tell us where you are going and what you are doing… and who you are doing it with.”
“Oh, Mom. I’m not a baby anymore! You need to trust me.”
“I do trust you. I just don’t trust everyone you’ve been hanging around with in town.”
“You don’t trust Mary Philips?”
“Oh, I trust Mary fine, I…”
“Is it Pidney you don’t trust? He’s a football hero, you know.”
“Pidney is fine too, I…”
“Ray Zeffer? You don’t like Ray Zeffer?”
“I’m sure he’s a fine young man, but…”
“Then you don’t like Danny? He’s practically my best friend. He ain’t a girl like Jane and Wanda, or my cousin Stacy, but I can actually talk to Danny!”
“Valerie Elaine Clarke! You are jumping to conclusions again. You need to let me talk.”
Mom looked out the kitchen window at the table in the yard where Daddy Kyle and Uncle Dash were in serious discussion. It was farm talk. But it did seem an awful lot like older brother, Dash Clarke, was seriously lecturing younger brother, Kyle Clarke, about something that was seriously upsetting to both men. Was that worry on Mom’s face? Valerie wasn’t sure whether it was worry for Valerie, or worry for Daddy Kyle. But she was sure it was worry-wart levels of worrying.
“You do realize,” Mom said, “that Conrad Doble is a lot older than you are.”
“Yes, Mom, I know.”
“And you know he was in trouble with the law? He was involved in that whole wolf-dog thing when those attack dogs killed poor old Mrs. White.”
“Yes, I know. But I don’t even like creepy old King Leer. I try to stay away from him.”
“He’s a part of that club thing that Mary Philips is stirring up again.”
“You mean the Pirates? We are a 4-H Club softball team, Mom. They want me to play second base.”
“It’s a long time before summer softball comes around. And you don’t understand what it was like before when those Pirates were making trouble in the 70’s.”
“Mom, Brent was the leader of the Pirates then.”
“Well, yes. And your cousin is a fine young man now. But the Pirates tell such weird stories and get into such weird situations.”
“Werewolves and an undead Chinese wizard, huh?”
“Now, you know I don’t believe any of those stories were true. It’s just that…”
“You know that Torrie Brownfield had that hair disease that made hair grow all over his body. He was an awful lot like a werewolf!”
“Okay, but that’s not what I’m trying to say right now. That Doble boy is not trustworthy. He is capable of some very bad things. Maybe even drugs.”
“Believe me, I know, Mom. But I can take care of myself. And Pidney and Ray have both told King Leer to leave me alone or they would beat the snot out of him.”
Valerie’s Mom gave a brief chuckle. “Pidney could do it too,” she said. “Doble would be black and blue all over. I have great respect for Pidney Breslow’s football muscles. It’s just that…”
“I know. When a girl reaches a certain age… You know I had this talk with Daddy too.”
At that moment, Daddy Kyle and Uncle Dash came storming in to the kitchen, the screen door making a sound almost like a gunshot as it slammed closed behind Uncle Dash.
“That goddam agent lied to me, Dash!” Kyle shouted. “He promised me more time, and now he doesn’t even admit what he actually said to me before. He shook my hand on it!”
“But he’s a government man, Kyle! You should’ve known better than to trust the goddam FHA like that. They wanted a chance to foreclose from the very start!”
Mom’s eyes were large and frightened as she looked at Daddy Kyle for answers, and Valerie was sure her own eyes were also.
“Kyle?” Mom sputtered, “Is something wrong?”
“Oh, it’s the goddam FHA… er,” Kyle looked at both Mom and Valerie and appeared to finally register the big scared eyes. “Um, it is something we should discuss later. Not in front of the Princess.”
Uncle Dash suddenly quieted himself as well. “Yeah, um… we’re not done yet, Kyle. But I promised Dad I would look after all of it before he died. I am not going to go back on my word. We’ll find a way. I just wish you hadn’t accepted those last two loans.”
“It takes money to farm, Dash. You know I didn’t plan on the hail or the combine breaking down so soon.”
“Hell, I know you didn’t, Kyle. We will find a way.”
Uncle Dash looked grim. Daddy Kyle looked sad. Valerie walked up to him and hugged him around the middle. She didn’t know why, but she knew it was a very important thing to do just then. And Mom was looking at her and nodding ever so slightly. Not everything Valerie did was wrong.
I told you the other day that my daughter had started her first ever oil painting. So she has… but I failed to show you the picture of the green basketball that she intended to be a cactus. Well, that wasn’t entirely me being forgetful. I wanted to show you what it looks like once it has undergone the full treatment and transformation into a credible cactus. I wasn’t trying to make fun of the Princess, but rather encourage her in learning to paint with oils.
Here is the finished cactus;
She does still have cactus spines to paint to make it look less basketball-like, but you can certainly see the progress here already.
My daughter, seen here in this oil painting of me and her, she’s the one trying to talk to the spirit elk in a previous lifetime, has started painting oil paintings. She started with a picture of a small cactus growing in sand. I have to admit, when she showed it to me for the first time, I thought it was a green basketball. But she has worked out the details since and it is beginning to actually look like a cactus. Now, you might think I was making fun of her in this post, calling her an oil painter who makes cactuses into green basketballs, and using my oil painting of a nude and overly-white Native American girl to illustrate her, but actually, this post is praising her abilities. She is already a much better watercolorist than I will ever be. And she is learning to paint green basketballs… er, cactuses, in oil paint at a much faster rate than I ever did. This semi-competent oil painting of mine took many practice paintings and many years to achieve. Far slower than her mastery of the medium coming into focus before her eighteenth birthday. And besides, she is leading the sacred spirit elk into the safety of the lake and away from the stormy darkness of the background, while I, as my Native American self, can stand hamming it up and looking at the artist as I have my vanity-project portrait done in oil paint.
Okay, so this is not a perfect essay, and it is not 500 words. But painting in oils and trying to be a real artist is hard enough without you criticizing. Be kind in the comments, or I might cry.
My daughter the Princess often disses my cover designs for my novels. The one I created for my half-written manuscript, displayed above, is really too yellow by about 500 degrees. I wanted to write a yellow book about sea stories and island magic set in Iowa, a State about as far removed from an ocean in any direction as a State can be (Well, maybe tied with Kansas and Nebraska). But yellow is not the right color. In fact, the green accent color makes me a bit nauseous next to the yellow. So, I vowed to my critic I would try again and do better.
Take a look at these alternative designs;
Will this one attract woodpeckers, do you think? Or is that too racy an idea for a novel about a young girl growing up. Woody Woodpecker is a sex symbol, isn’t he? No? Whereever did I get a fool notion like that?
I could really use your input. If you wanted to vote, you could choose a cover name from this list to tell me about it in the comments;
Purple and Wood
Something better, Stupid!
I promise not to get mad about any commentors who choose the last one. But I don’t promise to make any new ones either. It is, however, quite easy to make changes using computer programs. I don’t have to redraw anything. Although I could be slightly worried that the Tiki totem could be viewed as racist, even though his race is “little men made out of wood.”
Canto Four – Machine Shed Blues
Valerie was thinking about chores when she wandered out to the machine shed. She hadn’t gone into the house yet for a reason. Feed the chickens and check for eggs. Put fresh water in the water bottles. God, she hated Mr. Boofoo chickens! …Err… un-cool chickens. The ones that were going to peck at her for checking their nests were all Mrs. But the other part fit. Lingering outside meant she didn’t have to march out to the chicken house immediately. She’d get it done… just not yet.
As she wandered into the machine shed, she saw her Daddy there, leaning up against the combine. The engine housing was up and various parts were laid out on the white concrete floor in a very careful rainbow of different size pieces, bolts, and screws. Kyle was leaning up against the combine with a paper in his hands. He stared at it with red eyes. Had he been crying or something? It looked like a bill, this paper that seemed to be making him sad. Then, he suddenly wadded the thing up into a ball and pitched it across the shed. It plinked off the corrugated tin wall and banked directly into the empty barrel there. Two points! But it did not make him happy. Then he noticed Val was watching him.
“Oh, hi, Princess. You are looking lovely tonight.” His face was happier by a mile and a quarter, but the redness of his eyes still showed.
“Is something wrong, Daddy?”
“Of course not. You haven’t done your chicken chores, though, huh?”
“Well, not yet… I will go in a minute. I wanted to talk to you first.”
“Oh? What about?”
That was the thing. What about? She didn’t really have a what about. She just sensed that she needed to talk to him.
“You know how everyone thinks Pidney Breslow is going to be a great football player this year?”
“Yeah. The big goof is just a freshman and he’s already made the varsity team. What about him?”
She had to say something fast… but that usually meant saying something stupid because she couldn’t think fast.
“Do you think he would make a good boyfriend for me?”
“You are ten, Princess. He’s fifteen or sixteen, isn’t he?”
“I’m eleven. Mom is younger than you are.”
“Only by two years. Not as big a deal.”
“You don’t like Pidney?”
“I like him fine. But you are ten. Any boy who thinks he’s going to be your boyfriend will have to get past two bear traps, some electric fencing, and my shotgun loaded with rock salt.”
“Why rock salt?”
“It won’t kill him, but it will sting like hell.”
“Besides, don’t Pidney and that girl Mary Phillips already have a thing going on? They are always together.”
“They are best friends. They live next door to each other. More like brother and sister.”
Kyle laughed. “Pid’s a red-blooded American boy. They may say friends to each other, but when they are alone together, well… Dagwood Phillips needs to have some rock salt in his shotgun for that.”
“Nobody’s gonna shoot Pidney are they? I mean, I think I am in love with him.” There may have been a look of terror on Valerie’s face at that point. She really wasn’t sure.
“No, Princess. No one is really going to shoot him. It’s just a joke that fathers say whenever they are thinking about their daughters and young men. Besides, I never figured I’d have to shoot Pid anyway. I always reckoned it was more likely to be somebody like that Murphy brat.”
“You’d shoot Danny?” She wasn’t sure how she felt about that one.
Kyle laughed. He walked over to his daughter, put his big greasy hand on her neck and gently pulled her face up next to his heart.
“I love you, Princess. I would never intentionally do something to break your heart. But I will do everything I can to protect your heart from being broken. Just try not to like the boys I might have to shoot for something, okay?”
He said that last with a laugh that told her he loved her and was only playing with her. Daddy was her real handsome Prince.
This beautiful song, an operatic aria by Puccini, is from the comic opera Gianni Schicchi. But, more important than that is what the song actually means in context.
In the opera, Gianni Schicchi is a con man intent on swindling a family out of their inheritance and knowing all along that he will be destined to go to hell when he dies. The family is gathered for the reading of the rich man’s will, which is, because this is a comic opera, lost for the time being. Their main concern is for the money, which rumor has it has all been willed to the church. But one among them is actually worthy of inheriting the money, Rinuccio the son of the rich man’s cousin. And, as luck would have it, as it always does in comedies, Rinuccio is the one who, during the manic and desperate search for the will, actually finds it. And assuming he comes out well in the will, he secures a promise from his mother that if he inherits money, he can marry Schicchi’s beautiful daughter Laurretta whom he truly loves.
But when he reads the will, he is devastated. The money all goes to a monastery. He begs Schicchi to help him convince the family that he should marry Laurretta anyway. This Gianni Schicchi tries and finds it harder than turning water into wine. So Schicchi is about to give up when Lauretta finally speaks up for herself through the song,
O Mio Babbino Caro (My Beloved Father)
At this point Schicchi is moved by the beautiful song and even more beautiful love his daughter has surprised him with. He not only agrees to help, but executes a bizarre plan, hiding the rich man’s body and pretending to be him come back to life to rewrite the will. Now the will favors Rinuccio, and over the protests of the family, he inherits the money and marries his true love, Schicchi’s daughter. The opera ends with Schicchi singing his case to the audience, telling them in song that going to hell is worth it to aid true love.
And this, then, is the truth of O Mio Babbino Caro.
Love, expressed through the surprise of hidden talent suddenly revealed, is the most persuasive argument there is.
Whether it is the love in the music suddenly discovered in the overwhelming voice of a little girl like Jackie Evancho or Amira Willighagen, or the late great Maria Callas who also sang the role, or even the singer of Puccini’s greatest work who is yet to perform it and make silly old men like me weep for beauty’s sake, the song is the most persuasive argument there is in favor of true love.
That is a thing I desperately want to capture in the novel I am writing now, Sing Sad Songs. Love expressed in music. Love that reverses loss. Love that heals all things. And Love that moves all people. The love that is masterfully sung in O Mio Babbino Caro.