Saturday, June 6, 2015

What a character!

 by Jinx Schwartz

How many times have we heard that phrase, what exactly does it mean, and how does it apply to my writing?

For starters, I have a lot of characters in my life. Not the ones in my books, but living, breathing characters, the kind defined by Webster as a person with many eccentricities.

I admit that my lifestyle fairly screams for character encounters. We live half the year in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez aboard our boat, and there cruisers abound from all over the world and all walks of life. One thing they have in common is that they are adventurous types who have chosen a life way outside the box. I can pick up enough material from one potluck on the beach (which happens at the drop of a hat) to fuel many a book. When in port, a walk down the dock or a beer at a local watering hole and I have new best friends, from, well, everywhere. Tuning into the daily ham radio nets, with boats checking in from all over Mexico and the Pacific Coast with the tale of the day, has me jotting notes for future plots, or idiosyncratic scenarios.

And then there is the other half of my life, living smak dab on the Arizona/Mexico border. Not only do we make the headlines frequently, the city of Bisbee has been named by a national organization as one of the quirkiest places to live in the United States, and they are right. My gardener packs a .380 in his boot, my Zumba instructor is a retired, gay, exotic dancer, and my nearest neighbor is a Rottweiler who lives alone. Her owner shows up with food and water once a day and I give her lots of treats, but otherwise, she has house and yard to herself most of the time. Rosa is an equal opportunity barker; she targets illegal crossers and Border Patrol agents with equal hostility. She’s the best dog I never owned.

Even my more formal friends (you notice I used the word more?) are great book fodder. When one of them was barred from visiting the Kremlin because she set off the radiation detectors (she’d recently had a nuclear stress test), I filed that away, et voila, and it became part of a plot point in Just Deserts, fourth novel in my Hetta Coffey mystery series.

And then there is Hetta Coffey. She’s a woman with a yacht, and she’s not afraid to use it. Okay, so she isn’t real, but boy, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Many of my readers actually think I am Hetta, or that Hetta is me. Since almost everyone says I am a real character, maybe we are one.
The plot thickens . . .

(Excerpted from The Mystery Writers, where you can read Jinx Schwartz’s interview along with 59 other authors, who offer excellent writing advice.)

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