Mark Terry

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Very Unique

September 9, 2009
Yes, I wrote that title on purpose.

Anyway, last week or so, one of my cousins on Facebook took a test that I declined to take, called something like "How much of a Flintite are you?" The Flintite referred to the city of Flint, Michigan. I grew up in a suburb of Flint. My cousin grew up in another suburb of Flint.

The point? Oh, well, the point is that the picture for that particular FB quiz had a photograph of a legitimate Flint landmark, the original Citizens Bank building, complete with this huge weatherball (that changed color depending on the weather). My father worked at Citizens Bank for about 30 years. When he retired he had been the supervisor of the vault for probably most of those 30 years.

I commented on my cousin's post that the photo sure brought back a lot of memories. My brother commented that he and I were probably the only non-bank employees to spend more time in the vault than the lobby.

I was thinking about that because it's true. I doubt if employees of the vault today would ever be allowed to have their kids or family members in the vault, but from time to time I visited Dad at work (I was also told where there was an envelope in the house with instructions about contacting the FBI should my father or a family member be kidnapped, which is odd, but something people with that kind of money proximity were advised to do, apparently). I only remember being in the lobby once, but I remember being in the vault a few times.

In the context of writing, I was thinking about how you need your characters to have some unique thing in their past or in their life. We tend to gravitate toward traumas, I suppose, but I'm not sure that's completely necessary. All of us as writers undoubtedly have some unique thing in our lives that has influenced us in some way. I'm not sure visiting the vault influenced me (although I don't know, I do work in a basement). I imagine a bigger influence was a mother who always had a book in her hand (even when the TV was on, which is something I do often as well).

Derek Stillwater, my recurring character, was raised by missionary physicians in various parts of Africa. One of his earliest and most influential memories is he and his family being escorted out of Sri Lanka by U.S. troops during a war. This memory is mentioned in the upcoming novel, The Fallen, but not in the two previous books, although I was aware of it. It partly came about because I wondered what kind of person raised by missionary physicians would join the military and why. And also, what about his background inspired him to focus on biological and chemical warfare and terrorism. I knew his parents were physicians. I knew his brother was still a physician in Congo for Doctors Without Borders. So what got him interested? Was it being 8 or 9 and being escorted to helicopters by these big, tough, impressive soldiers? Was it a rebellion against parents?

What sort of unique tidbit do you know about your characters?

Mark Terry


Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Oh . . . this is a great post! Hmm . . . I used to go to a candy store on the Lower East Side when I was a little girl. Before it was a candy store, it was a grocer, and there were potato shoots to toss down old potatos or what have you to the basement. But it was really a front for a bookie and those in the know tossed bets down. I use that in my book . . . my two main characters have a unique bond because they were part of that world via bother their fathers.

My friend once moved into a house with thirty phone lines in the basement. She didn't know that was a sure sign a bookie owned the house before. LOL!

7:39 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

You had a colorful childhood. But, then again, maybe you're having a colorful adulthood. Who's to say?

9:25 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

Love this post. I can't remember, honestly, if I have much unique in my childhood. Everything before I got sick (and during) is sort of shaky. I have so few memories that survived. Kinda disconcerting.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Neat story. I don't know about my characters but this entry reminded me of my own past. When I was of grade school age my grandfather worked as a janitor at the phone company which was on my way home from school. He used to let me into the closed building sometimes to get a soda from the cafeteria. He knew the woman who worked the switchboard and so I was allowed, under supervision, to work the switchboard briefly. Once I connected to two of my friends at the same time, which was not a service offered back in those distant days. They were amazed to find three of us on the line together.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Richmond Writer said...

I lived in Managua Nicaragua when I was six. My most vivid memory is walking out of a store with 2 hand embroidered crepe dresses and seeing a blind woman being lead by a child my size. They were begging for centavos.

It didn't change my life or make me a better person. I don't champion the poor or anything like that. It colors my writing though. Everything I've ever written has been about class/economic structure, the contrast between the poor and rich and my inability to reconcile what should be with reality.

Years later I had 4 shirts, 2 pair of pants and 1 pair of ugly blue suede shoes that had to last me a year. Everyone else, even welfare kids, had more clothes than that.

6:20 AM  

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