Blather readers, you’re in for a treat. Our guest this week is Loralee Lillibridge, author of contemporary romance and the soon to be released Bringing in the Thieves, Book One in the Joyful Noise mystery series. Loralee has her own unique method for creating characters, one I think you’ll enjoy. Welcome to Book Blather, Loralee.
Thanks so much, Marilee and Book Blather, for inviting me to share my thoughts about books and writing. I’m delighted to be here. To give you a brief peek at my non-writer persona, I have a wonderful husband of fifty-eight years. We are blessed with four grown children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. We live in a rural area of West Michigan on acreage that has been in his family for over one hundred years. It’s truly a miracle this native Texan (me) learned to drive on icy roads and survive frigid, snowy winters, but I love my adopted home state. It has shown me exquisite beauty in its four unique and colorful seasons, the fascinating, blue wonder of Lake Michigan and its coastline, and the awesome Mackinac Bridge to the rugged Upper Peninsula. However, I still get homesick for bluebonnets, the Lone Star flag, and Blue Bell ice cream. And I’ll never apologize for saying y’all. I happily wear many different hats - writer, wife, mom, grandma and great-grandma. I’ll always answer to Loralee and truly cherish being called “friend”.
Choosing a topic for this blog had me doing some mighty deep thinking, at first. Since I’m big on recycling, I decided to expand on a post I wrote more than a year ago. I’ve added to it because it helped me learn to develop realistic fictional characters. This all came about because of early holiday gift shopping and an inspiring poem by Southern poet and writer, George Ella Lyon. Her poem, Where I’m From , gave me an idea for a special gift I could make with little expense. All I needed was a spiral notebook for each recipient.
The poem had me wonderin’ about where I’m from. Not physically, ( that would be Momma and Daddy), or territorially, (that would be Texas by birth, the grace of God and an amazing heart surgeon), but the heart and soul of times and events that make up the whole enchilada of me and where I’m from. I still wonder about those things. What were the events, big and small, that impressed me deeply enough to become part of where I’m from? And why did some events and memories take root there while others didn’t? Good questions. I’m in my seventh decade of life’s journey. It’s time to find the answers.
In order to do this, I started my very own Where I’m From spiral notebook. Some of the answers I found were pretty darn surprising. And guess what? This same type of notebook could serve as a guide to develop the characters I write about and make them come alive. Like me, their past makes them who they are, even though they live within the pages of my books. To say this unexpected discovery excited me would be an understatement. I was over-the-moon thrilled. Good-bye to cardboard, one-dimensional characters. Hello to real people my readers could relate to, fall in love with and above all, remember.
Now, a project like this can’t be accomplished in a day or even two, especially since I’m a lot slower now than I was ten years ago and even slower than last year. I need plenty of time ponder; to haul out old memories and revisit the crazy fun times of youth and the bittersweet moments of growing up; to remember those special days and give thanks for the people who shared the joys and heartaches back then. How could I leave a written history of where I’m from until I know myself better? How could I breathe life into my characters until I knew them better? I read Ms. Lyon’s poem over and over, opened my mind and let my thoughts run free.
You see, it’s always been important to me to find special gifts to give each Christmas. I believe it’s important to pass things down from generation to generation. (Something besides bad health genes and bad habits.) We want to give our children and grandchildren a sense of their North/South heritage regardless of who won that war. Last year, I gave the girls a replica of the three-tined Granny fork my momma taught me to cook with, along with a faded recipe card written by her, from the wooden recipe box she’d received as a young bride. We also gave key rings we had made from pieces of our own wedding silver. As Grand and Great-grandparents, we recorded talking books of The Night Before Christmas for the little ones, (and for some of the older ones who wanted one, too) so they can hear us read to them even after we’re gone.
After more than a dozen starts, my notebook begins like this ...
I’m from Momma’s fried chicken and pecan pie. Church on Sunday and Daddy’s sermons. Sticker-burrs in my bare feet on hot summer days. Sitting on the back steps blowing bubbles with Dubble Bubble gum not allowed in the house. World War II, troop trains loaded with servicemen rumbling through our small town. Missing Daddy and my brother, both serving in the Army and Navy. Rationing, Uncle Sam Wants You, V-mail and the atomic bomb. Ten cent movies on Saturday afternoon. Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and Hi-Ho, Silver! Riding bikes to town, secure in the knowledge that we had nothing to fear. Cornbread, collard greens and fried okra. Granddaddy as City Marshall in a town so small there were no traffic lights and hardly any crime. That one glorious time singing with Rev. Billy Grahams’s choir. . .and always forever, Momma’s pecan pie.
And so, I continue to remember where I’m from and revive those memories. I may not share them all, but my holiday shopping is underway. The notebook’s a long way from being finished. It may not be complete in time for Christmas this year. I have lots more to discover . . . and remember.
When I write my novels now, I use this same remembering trick. Each character has a notebook and I dig deep to find out where they come from and what stories lie buried in their past. When I finish, they are no longer flat, unemotional cardboard images on a page, but real people with hopes and dreams the same as you and me. I hope readers will them the way I see them that way.
So, if you want to do your holiday shopping early this year, give yourself this gift: Check out the website of writer/teacher George Ella Lyon and read her poem. www.georgeellalyon.com . You can’t help but be inspired by her words. And by the way, spiral notebooks are on sale this time of year most everywhere in town, in case you’re suddenly in the mood to discover your characters’ pasts while crafting your own gift of where you’re from for your loved ones this holiday season. You’ll be surprised what you learn. Gosh, don’t you love being a writer?
HAPPY HOLIDAYS! Loralee Lillibridge
Contemporary romance www.loraleelillibridge.com
Southern mystery series coming soon www.joyfulnoisemysteries.com