I mentioned in the last post, Introductions, that I’m working through the voice exercises in Hallie Ephron’s Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel.
One of the takeaways for me is that every hero needs a flaw, a chink in the armor, a button to push. Something to overcome. This was hard for me. I normally write characters that have what I wish I could have. Perfect childhood. Real family. Loads of friends in school that didn’t tease or bully because of your weight or being smart.
I know I can’t write a flaw I haven’t lived. But hoo boy, this is a doozy. The only things I’m addicted to are stuffed animals and books. Not much noir detective flair in that. But. I. Will. Complete. Every. Single. Exercise. Time to pop the zit, dig deep, and face demons. If my sleuth is going to have a flaw, I’m going to own it.
Welcome to voice exercise number two. The essence of the conversation was real. The hiding place was different. And I still don’t have the Hero Gene or a Y chromosome. But I am the woman in the last paragraph. Enjoy.
Creative Writing Assignment 2 – Due End of Class Friday, September 28:
Describe the moment in childhood when you first realized your parents were not perfect and how the realization changed your worldview.
I’m not sure I ever thought my parents were perfect. Hard to think that when you see them maybe two hours a day and spend most of your time in day care or at school 6:30 in the morning to 6:30 at night. I somehow knew they didn’t like each other. Each one talked to me, but they talked at each other, loudly.
The slap-you-in-the-eyeballs moment was a Saturday morning in early June. School ended the day before. Second grade. Top of the class. I got up, dressed myself, and scooted around quiet as I could to finish all my chores. Mom and dad were big on chores and projects to build character…or more likely to get the house and yard clean without having to do it themselves or hire somebody.
Quick listen. Mom still asleep in her bedroom, dad in his. Victory. I grabbed a flashlight and my summer reading assignment (I didn’t have a real library card yet, but I had schoolbooks for summer reading) and found what I thought was a good hiding spot behind the boxed artificial Christmas tree on a plywood sheet in the garage rafters. I was 100% sure I couldn’t be found and put to work. Up was always a blind spot; they’d look everywhere else first.
Reading joy lasted about an hour. Then the door slammed. Flashlight off. Don’t move. Keep quiet. But they weren’t even looking for me. The argument topped anything I’d heard before, maybe because they thought I was elsewhere; it was about me. They stormed off in different directions to blow off steam; Mom flew off into the skies above Peregrine Heights and Dad stomped back inside the house with a door slam louder than the first one.
Only when I realized I was desecrating my schoolbook with saltwater could I force my tears to stop dripping and figure out what had just happened. Two bits replayed in my head for weeks. Mom yelling “I will not let you turn my daughter into the barefoot and pregnant mother you always wanted.” And Dad countering “It’s not my fault she has no Hero Gene. That was your chromosome, not mine.”
Mom wanted me to follow in her footsteps as a cape, but I had not one single particle of superpower. Dad had been an orphan, got his superpowers in the disaster that killed his parents. He wanted a mom. The perfect little woman. Even at seven, I knew that was not going to be me. It hit me hard. No matter what I did, how good I was in school, what I grew up to be, I would never be good enough for either of them. Did it hurt? Hell yes. Could I do anything about it? Not a damn thing.
The pain never left. It’s still there today, but I cobbled together my first bits of inner armor to protect my squishy bits before I climbed down from the rafters. Pitiful attempt. Thinner than foil at first. Any sharp word could pierce it back then. Not anymore. Bring it on.
I set myself a new goal. Show them it was their loss. What was inside me was better than good enough. Not a cape? Not a girly girl? No problem. I’ve got a brain and two hands. And I damn well don’t need anyone else to validate my worth or my existence. I work to be the best me I can be for me. No one else.