This next story dates me, being from the days of book-size cell phones, once exclusive to the super rich until they became one of life's mandatory accessories. At the time, my husband and I were dating, hence poor but happy. He drove a small, green Mustang. One day, I'm waiting for him beside his car, and he looks at me oddly and shakes his head. "That's not my car. I don't own a Jaguar and I definitely don't own a car phone." Hey, the Jaguar was small, green, and looked mustangy to me.
In parking lots, I locate my blue Hylander by clicking on my key beeper thingy. I've also memorized my license plate because I still manage to climb into other driver's big blue cars. I then wonder who the hell left their stuff in my passenger seat?
My husband knows his cars, but he won't spend his money on an expensive brand. He is pure New England Yankee frugality. Once you buy something, you wear it, use it, and drive it until it gasps its last breath, croaks and dies. Case in point, he's an expert skier, but just recently replaced his skis. He admitted the sales people sang disco songs when they saw his old ski equipment. He wonders if it was his age or his purple ski boots that dated him.
This brings us to our other car, a Ford Taurus. Last year, it was fifteen years old but still making it to the train station and back, so we had yet to give the car its last rites. Admittedly, Ford no longer makes this car, it was declared the least likely car to be stolen, and ours was a bit dinged up and missing a hub cap. No matter, it still got my husband to the train station and back, and he liked to boast it only had eighty thousand miles on it. So when my sister, who drives a sleek grey Lexus asked me if I was embarrassed to drive the Taurus, I was puzzled. I mean, if I'm driving it, I can't see the missing hubcap, so why should it bother me? Okay, so being car illiterate, I forget about their status symbol asset.
While my husband may not care about owning the trophy car, he does recognize them, as does my son. My husband once took my son to visit a car dealership when they had Ferraris in their lot. Now a snarky-voiced teen-ager, my son asked for a Ferrari as his souvenir when I visited Italy for my mother's seventieth birthday.
So what is the point of this blog? Besides to joke about my car illiteracy quirk, I wanted to discuss how writers can take character quirks and thread them into our stories. What one might find embarrassing often provides great grist for the writer's mill.
Every author has the proverbial novel under his bed, the one collecting dust bunnies because it has beginning writer's errors cluttering it. My dust bunny is my first contemporary novel. This story is not ready for prime time in its current draft, but the characters and scenes still resonate for me, so I believe they are worth a second life once they get an extreme makeover.
In this book Beautiful Stranger, I wove in some of this car stuff. I made my heroine, Cara Tait, car illiterate, while molding her eleven-year old son, Griffen after my own car-obsessed son. The underlying plot is the secret baby story line. Cara has a one night stand with Matthew Barrett and gets pregnant. Matt is the equivalent of American royalty, being the son of a Kennedyesque family and Cara chickens out when she goes to tell Matt about her pregnancy. A struggling artist and from the poor side of the tracks, Cara fears losing her child to this family's moneyed world so alien to her own, and she keeps her secret.
Beautiful Stranger opens eleven years later when their son decides his mother may not want Matt in her life, but Griffen does. His decision and subsequent actions is the catalyst forcing Matt and Cara back together, whether they want to be or not.
I wrote two scenes that played off each other. In the first scene, Matt has surprised Cara at Griffen's baseball game. At the game's end, he insists on walking them to their car. Griffen's friend, Jack and his mother, Anne walk with them.
Cara stiffened when Matt fell into step beside them, and they strolled to the parking lot like the frigging Cleaver clan if you ignored the tension sizzling between her and Matt like an electric current.
They reached Matt's Jaguar first, and Cara gritted her teeth as Jack and Griffen paused to fawn over it.
"Boys and cars. I don't get it. Never did," Anne said.
Cara shrugged. "What's there to get? They're a means of transport. Anything faster spells speeding ticket."
"Be still my heart." Matt cringed and patted his chest. Shaking his head, he joined the boys. "She's a beauty-- the XJ model. She has four hundred horsepower supercharged V8 and can spring from zero to sixty in just five seconds."
"Mom, can we get a ride home in her, please? Come on, pretty please?"
Cara's heart twisted. No absolutely not. She had forgotten about the Barrett money - Jaguar money. She had enough competition with Matt; the car gave him bonus points, add his millions, and she might as well toss in the flag. Her used Honda and RISD debts faced stiff competition. "Not tonight, Griffen. Another time."
"Awh, Mom, come on. It's a short--"
"That's enough, Griffen. I said not tonight. Next week, I promise." So much for taking the time to figure things out. Her time was running out. She wished it could stop or melt away like Dali's watches.
This is from a scene later in the book. Cara, Matt and Griffen go to get ice cream together after another of Griffen's baseball games. Cara and Matt are exiting from the shop after making their purchases. For Griffen's sake, a tentative truce has formed between them.
Cara stepped outside and shook her head. "But I told you, I'm not ready for this puberty thing. Griffen's not ready for girls. You saw him, he becomes monosyllabic. He's--"
"Too late." Matt placed his hand on her shoulder to quiet her. "I believe Griffen's made his choice. Look." He angled his head to the picnic table that once held Griffen's teammates.
Cara glanced over to see Susan and her girlfriends from the baseball game sitting at the table without a boy in sight. "What the? Where?" Confused, she followed Matt's gaze to see a group of boys circling his Jaguar.
Griffen's voice drifted to them. "It's the XJ model. It has four hundred horsepower and can sprint from zero to sixty in just five seconds."
"There's nothing like a boy's first love." Matt lifted a hand to his heart. "It's a beautiful thing to see. She's a beauty with smooth, elegant, sensuous lines." His eyes drifted over the slim lines of Cara's figure, and her answering laugh sent ripples of heat spiraling through him. His mind went blank. The Jaguar. He was talking about a car. Or he had been. He swallowed, his mouth bone dry.
"I guess I'll hold off on further discussions of sex," Cara said, her eyes dancing.
"Unless he starts checking out the infinity. They're racier than the Jag." Matt grinned at her expression, his heart light.
So faults, foibles and quirks are all great stuff to use in building a character or a scene. The trick is to find and mine them in your writing. When done well, readers remember them. Some are infamous. In Sheridan's play The Rivals, Mrs. Malaprop's hilarious misuse of words coined the term malapropism. While our foibles might not make history, they can provide comic relief. Who doesn't laugh at Janet Evanovich's heroine, Stephanie Plum and her penchant for blowing up her cars? Okay, I'm back to cars. Time to wind up this quirky blog. Next one I promise will be shorter....