Sunday, May 2, 2010

Characters I Have Known

Can you read a person like a book? A character that saunters into your path where suddenly your head snaps up and a part of you comes to attention? I know that feeling. It can happen in what we might call the natural world or in those so many of us live in as we create novels of all genres.

Characters have a certain way of speaking, of cracking a line, of giving the eye that causes us to lean in a little closer and listen to the story that is about to be told. 

Recently when author friend Shellie Rushing Tomlinson and yours truly hit the road in search of story we discovered one at every turn. We also encountered a few characters along the way. One of the most memorable being the one and only Mr. Jack Reed of Tupelo's well known Reed's Gumtree Books. He decided to pull up a chair and captivate us with some true tales of the business, of the things his seen come and gone, and how staying young at heart and having hero's is real important to living a good, long life. 
I think if we hadn't had another book event in Nashville we would still be there, trying to get just one more antidote out of the man that was full of them. Overflowing he was. But here's the thing. Shellie and I were both ready to talk about ourselves, our radio shows, to interview other customers, and, yes, even each other but when Mr. Reed walked in it was all over. And we both knew it, too. 

Here's why. 

When a character comes calling you have to have your listening ears on. Pricked up high. So that suddenly a bonifide whistler of a man comes waltzing through the back door of your mind, you have to just decide whatever that other thing was - it can wait. That blind snake milker living down in those swamps - oh, yes, there's a story there that woman longs to tell. That old woman rocking and reminising. That baggy man shuffling his shoes in the dirt of wasted dreams. Here's the deal American Idol will be there next week. That list of things to do to get published - one more day. All those unopened bills, well - if your staring down cutoff day - give it an hour. And give that character their due while their willing to talk. Just like we did Mr. Reed.  
Because the fact is -

We don't know when that opportunity will roll its way around again if ever. I've lost a few good characters in my life. Some to the wicked wracked out strange tragidies. Some with faces so young they are now immortal. Some just to the ever moving hands of time. I never felt as though I had captured any of them, spent enough time with them, listened to enough of their stories. 

I feel the same way about the characters who have been knocking on my door, well, now nigh for a decade. One with a foot stomping impatience waiting for her story to be told. And yet, I've been writing and living and running and puttering - in other words living this big old, wonderful, messy life. But - those characters - they tell me time is not waiting for me to set aside my precious hours in neat packages to listen to them. 

No more than real folks do in this real, natural world of hours. Babies don't want for us to slow down before they grow up, lovers don't wait for us to make time for one more dance, grandparents don't wait to tell us one more story before they go. 

It's up to us. Purveyors of characters such as we are. Storytellers, story seekers, greedy story grabbers one and all. 

Here's to all the wild, wooly, wonderful characters in this life and from beyond the page who dare to  inhabit our worlds and in the process give us half a fighting chance to capture a moment of their light. 

River Jordan is a Storyteller. She lives in Nashville with her husband and their big, white, lap dog where she also produces a weekly radio program on Radio Free Nashville 107.1fm.  She is captivated by the new book cover of The Miracle of Mercy Land (Random House/Waterbrook) due out September 7, 2010. For more information on the author, her work, and the radio program visit 


Patrick Brian Miller said...

This isn't the first time I've heard about Reed's before. Can't wait to visit there when I go to Tupelo.

Karin Gillespie said...

Hi River,

I just got your email about the weather. Hope things are back to normal in your corner of the world. Thanks for a great blog and I admire your perseverance.

Neither rain nor sleet not power outages or rising rivers keeps this blogger from the computer :)

River Jordan said...

Patrick - Yes, yes, must go to Reeds and not miss it. I love the city of Tupelo and will be back as soon as I can.
Karin - I so much wanted to talk in depth about character creation and some of my favorites from other writers novels but the power was off and I was running on generator with very slow and sketchy internet. I'll just have to visit this topic again!

Sun out today but now the waters rising again. The story continues.
(PS) please check out the beautiful cover that Waterbrook created. I can't get it to upload! The man in the photo is Mr. Jack Reed himself. The photo of me is taken at the famous Beauty and the Book porch in Jefferson Texas!)

River Jordan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Laura S. said...

You're absolutely right! Listening to characters...the ones in our writing and in our one of the most important things. Thanks for a thoughtful and poignant post!

River Jordan said...

THanks Laura. I hated to leave the blog for the night with my deleted double comment. :)

More on listening next time around when I have full power. I love the process and the way that characters walk into our stories and just stay there.

Just like some cool people I have known.

Shellie Tomlinson said...

Sweet memories you stirred. Thanks. :)