Sometimes memories from my childhood come back not as whole stories, but as single events, scenes or lines of dialogue. These snippets are important because I find I can use them in my writing to create aspects of my characters, places for events in the story to unfold or happy and sad feelings for character development.
So here are a few of those snippets and how I’ve used them.
Meatloaf a la Aunt Fern
My Aunt Fern, upon whom my character Aunt Nozzie is based, was one of the most important people in my life. She loved to cook, but when she did, the kitchen looked as if a bomb had hit it. One of her favorite dishes was one called “Shipwreck.” I can’t remember much about it except that it required most of the bowls, pots and skillets to be used. It was turned out in a loaf pan and put into the oven to bake. I know it was some kind of a gourmet meatloaf that no one in the family but my aunt appreciated. The kitchen took hours to clean.
I took this memory and created a Thanksgiving story in which one of the Grandmas and Aunt Nozzie can cranberry sauce which explodes in the kitchen leaving the walls tinged with pink after washing them down. Each time Aunt Nozzie heads to the kitchen in one of my short stories about her, there is always a resulting disaster—murder and mayhem reign in Aunt Nozzie’s kitchen.
My aunt also loved to eat out and took me several times to a place in Rockford called “Jacks or Better” where I became addicted to Shirley Temples and hamburgers and French fries. This love of dining out has followed me in my life and into the lives of many of my characters especially Eve Appel who always eats a full rack of ribs and two servings of cole slaw.
I love to use restaurants as scenes in my books. Dining out aside from those times with my aunt was rare when I was a kid, so restaurants are special places for me. I watched other diners as a kid, a habit I’ve continued until today. Both my husband and I are writers, and we both love food. When we dine out we rarely talk to one another because we’re too busy watching others and listening in on their conversations, fodder for our mysteries.
The Art of Using Bad Words
I began my apprenticeship with bad language early in my life even before I moved to the farm. One day my maternal grandmother was sitting with me on the front porch of the house we rented before we the moved to the farm. I was about three years old and playing with my dolls. One of the doll dresses fell off the porch railing. I put my hands on my hips (according to my grandmother) and said. “Oh, damn.” The consensus was that I learned to swear from my father who swore at the cows. Since he sometimes took me with him to the farm even when I was young, it’s likely I picked it up from him.
All my protagonists swear, but because I write cozies, they never use really bad language. I try to invent swear words instead of using the common ones. Eve Appel swears with expressions that emerge from where she lives in rural Florida like “Oh, lizard lips” or “Fish heads”. Other expressions she enjoys are,” It was so quiet you could hear a toad pass gas,” or she hit him in “his little boy parts.”
The Odd One
I was an only child who grew up on a farm, so my interactions with other kids were limited. As I’ve indicated before, that made for a vivid imagination, but it also made for a view of myself as an outsider looking in. My husband who is a sociologist calls it the outsider/insider phenomenon. Transposing it into my writing means my protagonists are often outsiders in their communities. Eve Apple is a Yankee transplanted to the South. The women in my stories often take unpopular stands on issues For example, Laura Murphy’s research on sexual harassment on the college campus often upsets some of her male colleagues. Eve, along with her business partner Madeleine, takes part in a demonstration against mud bog racing, a local favorite sport, a stance that impacts their business.
Part of my outsider/insider status came from being a smart farm kid who made the honor roll every six weeks, confusing the man who made it a point to give each person on the honor roll money for their accomplishments. He didn’t know who I was at first, and my name initially led him to think I was a boy. Oh, gosh. Name stuff again. That’s another story.
Hera Knightsbridge, my protagonist who owns a microbrewery, is a woman in a predominately man’s business making for some difficulties in dealing with her community of brewers and denigration of her sleuthing abilities in finding who is threatening and killing other brewers.
To find out more about my work, go to my author page on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/lesleydiehl
I’ll bet you have childhood snippets that influence you yet today as an adult and, for those of you who write, they probably find their way into your work. Share them with us.