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Writing What I Know

My character brainstorming and how each one relates to Sara.

My character brainstorming and how each one relates to Sara.

The question I’m asked most often from readers is this: Is Family Ties based on personal experience?

No.

I’m not Sara. My parents aren’t Simon and Tibby. The Jerichos and Jason are completely made up.

“But it feels so real.”

Have you heard the saying, write what you know? Robin Cook was a doctor. He knows medicine and writes medical thrillers.

I worked in the mental health field for twelve and a half years. I spent ten and a half years working with boys, mostly teenagers, but some as young as three. Most of them were physically/sexually/emotionally abused/neglected by one or more family members. I did direct care work at first. I was with them from after school until bedtime and on weekends. I knew their histories and their pain, was forced to physically restrain them when they were in danger of hurting themselves or others, and sat with them as they cried and cried about how unfair life was.

I started the first draft of Family Ties while doing direct care work, because I needed somewhere to put their stories and the stress of carrying them with me.

While my roles and worked evolved through the years, one fact remained: I worked with many of the boys from the time they stepped through the doors to the time they left. In some cases, that was years.

I worked with parents who could fit the Simon and Tibby bill. I knew social workers like Shannon and school administrators like Mr. Croft. I’ve seen kids fall through the cracks and poor decisions made on their behalf. I’ve seen what precedes events that become headline news and had to bite my tongue. I remain tight-lipped on so many news events, because it is never as black and white as the media portrays it and people think when making hurtful comments on articles and social media.

The work is difficult. It is emotional. It is exhausting. But it is worth it when you witness true change happening before you. When you see everything click into place. When they return several years later, young men and in college or working full-time, or they call you on the phone because they want to hear a voice they know that truly cares for them.

I’m not Sara. My boys are.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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My Favorite Screen Characters

Rocket GotG

My friend, Adam Dreece, tagged me to share My 10 Favorite Screen Characters. Wait, I can only choose TEN?

Rocket – Guardians of the Galaxy

A genius raccoon whose first language is sarcasm. Why wouldn’t I love him? I mean, there is a reason why Adam calls me Rocket.

Princess Leia – Star Wars

Titles and diplomatic upbringing aside, when push comes to shove and everyone around her is bickering, she grabs a blaster and gets the job done.

Peggy Carter – Captain America: The First Avenger, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter

“I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t matter.”

Jack Bauer – 24

He’s Jack Bauer. Do I really have to explain?

Charlie’s Angels

No, not the movie. The original TV show with Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith, and Farrah Fawcett. They taught me that women could be more than secretaries, cheerleaders, or teachers.

Raymond Reddington – The Blacklist

I’m a thinker while watching TV/movies and reading. I look for where things are going and figure out twists before they happen. But when Red launches into a story, I never know if it’s a real memory or if he’s bullshitting us. Then there is the I’m-bored-with-you look he gets with whoever he’s interrogating right before he shoots him in the head.

Sons of Anarchy

Honestly, Kurt Sutter wrote in such a way that each character really could not exist and be who they were without the others and the struggles they all lived through. They functioned as a dysfunctional family. A modern day Hamlet.

Will McAvoy – The Newsroom

I fell in love with Will from the start. You could say we lean the same way in politics. What I loved as well, was how the news show was run – the way news should be run.

Dr. Spencer Reid – Criminal Minds

While Derek Morgan might be the show’s best eye candy, Spencer proves that smart is sexy.

Tyrion Lannister – Game of Thrones

Despite everything and everyone fighting against him, he’s the only one who truly has the bigger picture in his grasp and works towards it for everyone’s benefit. Even if they’re too blinded to see it. Peter Dinklage does a marvelous job bringing life to a character that I first fell in love with on paper.

Bryan Mills – Taken

He has a particular set of skills…

Starbuck – Battlestar Galactica (reboot)

The reboot of one of my favorite childhood shows brought a darker tale to the screen. Starbuck was no longer just a cigar-smoking, womanizing pilot. She was an ace pilot, smoked cigars, played cards, threw punches if someone set her off, tormented by guilt, and loved a man she could never really have until she found the one who loved her unconditionally.

Felicity Smoak – Arrow

She’s a geek who wears glasses and makes a polo shirt and khaki uniform look good. Not only that, she’s the voice of reason for everyone around her and the glue that keeps the team together.

What? You really thought I was going to keep it to ten? HA!

And now I get to tag Douglas B. Wimmer! Because I’m an awesome twin li’dat.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Portrait In Grey

Waiting for the show to start

I recently watched a forensic psychiatrist blame mass shootings on the entertainment industry for creating relatable bad guys like Tony Soprano and Walter White. I turned off the TV as soon as I could free my hands because I was rankled before he laid blame to fictional characters. Experts and society like to blame music, video games, and TV/movies on horrific events such as mass shootings. We want something to point our finger at instead of focusing on the criminal and holding him/her accountable. No matter how grisly the act, the real bad guy is rarely as sinister as we want him to be.

We would like the world to work in black and white; to have these little boxes that everyone fits into quite neatly. This is not a fairy tale where the Wicked Queen is inherently evil with no redeeming qualities or a small shred of humanity. Snow White and Prince Charming do not possess pristine integrity. We live in the grey with layer upon layer of complexity. One choice we make leads to another, which leads to a multitude of potential choices. We live in Storybrooke where Regina is wicked because her heart was broken; adopting a son was helping to mend it. We live in Albuquerque where honest chemistry teacher Walter White decides to use his expertise to cook meth in order to leave his family with a nest egg once cancer claims his life. Then he gets caught up in the power and adrenaline it brought him and keeps cooking for selfish reasons.

Our bad guys in real life have a story. You cannot pick them out of a crowd. They are like the rest of us except for the multitude of decisions they made that led to them to commit crimes. Some of them are smarter than us. Some of them dress better than us. Some of them are our next door neighbors. Some of them are family. It is easy to make judgments when we see someone’s mug shot on the news when we have no connection to them. They are not all anti-social criminals who lack a sliver of empathy that we would like them to be. We want to think the worst of these people because how else do we explain people who become serial killers, mass murders, or terrorists?

When I was still in the midst of my career in mental health working with teens, a former client shot a police officer then shot and killed himself. All kinds of things said about the young man in the media by people who never met him. What he did was wrong and took the officer from his family and himself away from his own family. One of the news anchors said something like, “I hate to see when young people go down this road.” I know she was trying to show some empathy for the situation but all it did was enrage me. She did not watch him go down that road. She saw him at the end of the road. She did not see the many ways the system failed him long before he reached the end of that road. Another former client was shot and killed when he and another young man tried to break in and rob an elderly couple. Commenters on the news article online were not kind. They immediately blamed the family. I knew this young man well. I spent a lot of time with him and his family. He was sweet, engaging, and fun. I never imagined him committing such a crime or being killed in the process of committing any crime.

Writers have to develop characters with layers of complexity like Regina and Walter White. We create protagonists with flaws because none of us is perfect. We create antagonists like the people we encounter in life to remind us that everyone is human no matter what they do. We create antiheros who skate the line of right and wrong because they are the most realistic of all. We can relate to the hero who overindulges in a vice or a bad guy who knows what he is doing is wrong and wants to do better. We empathize with Bruce Wayne whose parents were killed in front of him as a child. We grow up calling him a hero, but is he not really just a vigilante with fancy toys like Oliver Queen? We are like these multifaceted characters we create, we read, or we watch. A one-dimensional character holds no interest because no one can relate to them and no one likes them. When you have a character who does nothing but whine about how his parents love one of his brothers more than him, all you want to do is beat him with something big and heavy.

Our art imitates life in the grey. A painter only coats a canvas in one color as a base and adds other colors on top of it in many layers because that is how life works. Layer upon layer.

Even Christian Grey had fifty shades.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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