Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Am NOT Felicity

The problem with publishing a novel in first-person narrative is that everyone thinks your lead character is YOU.  Felicity is the lead character of my book, Bliss, Bliss, Bliss, and she is a singer-songwriter who lives in Ocean City.  True, I have studied singing, and I have written several songs, but the seed of my story about Felicity was actually planted after a conversation I had with my best college buddy, Lauren.

Lauren is also a singer-songwriter, and she often sings in the types of piano bars that Felicity performs in.  One day, Lauren was lamenting about how she has no problem earning a living playing music during the summer in her resort town near the ocean, but by the end of the summer, all the tourists go home, and she finds it hard to earn her living during the winter doing only music.  She says her town gets really empty, and it is depressing.  That gave me an idea:  What if you put an already-depressed woman inside of a deserted town like that to struggle financially and face yet another cold and lonely winter?  Does this mean my friend, Lauren, is Felicity?  No.  It means that I took her situation, created a character, mixed some of my own personality traits in, then pretty much let her loose inside a story where she'd have to face her own experiences, relationships and dilemmas that I myself have never had to deal with, and I let HER make the decisions. 

Some of the decisions Felicity has made, I do not like.  During the writing of my novel, I remember telling my friend, Tara, over lunch one day that I REALLY didn't like what my character, Felicity, did that day before.  She was wrong to do it, and she wasn't supposed to do it, but hey, Felicity is not me, and if she decides to do something, just because I myself would not do it, doesn't mean that I should step in and be the moral majority and interfere.  I am NOT Felicity, and I have to let her make her own mistakes on her own journey of self-discovery.  I have never had the relationships she has with the three main male characters in my book.  I have never carried a torch for someone who already has a girlfriend, I've never dated a yuppie, and I've never hung out with a former rock star!  But it's fun to watch Felicity do these things, and I don't even have to pick up the pieces when her life begins to fall apart.

As I've said before, I did give Felicity some of my character traits.  Mostly, it comes out in the dialog.  A lot of her viewpoints are my viewpoints, I will admit to that. She can be a little neurotic sometimes, and so can I. One thing I am NOT neurotic about that Felicity is concerns her issues with food: "Eating could be such a nuisance sometimes," she says. She constantly worries about being too thin and the fact that she never knows what to eat and never feels like stopping to eat it.  I get a real kick out of those sections.  The first thing I usually think about when I wake up in the morning is what delicious food I can have that day! Sometimes, it goes something like this:  I'm going shopping today, I can't wait to buy my block of cheddar cheese or Today I get to eat that big plate of vegetable lasagna at that restaurant near work!  In this way, Felicity is my opposite!

The father issues Felicity has are actually based in truth.  I too lost my father as a teenager.  Felicity's two female friends, Edie and Coco, also have father issues.  Coco lost her father as a child, and Edie's father abandoned the family when she was a child too. Edie and Coco are actually based on two women I have been friends with.  I don't know if anyone reading the book could guess who they are.  It's not something I choose to reveal, but hey, if you happen to read the book and can guess it, I will admit whether your guess is correct or not.

Bottom line is that Felicity is a work of fiction. She is not me, but she has some of my traits and knows what it is like to lose her father.  She works in the same capacity as my friend, Lauren.  She has two best friends who are extremely similar to two friends I have had.  But I am NOT Felicity, and yes, I still do love her!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Are You a Larry or a Betty?

Lately, I've come to the conclusion that most of us are either Larrys or Bettys. For instance, I am definitely a Larry.  I'm loud, speak my mind, and focus on things the average person would never focus on, i.e., how many pieces of shrimp are put into my Kung Pao Shrimp, and I'd notice if one day there were fewer than usual.  Betty Draper is soft-spoken, only speaks up when near nervous breakdown, and is focused on one thing and one thing only:  how to keep the "perfect image" of herself glimmering in everyone else's eyes.

I'm sure we all fall into both categories at different times.  Sometimes (although rarely), I do have a quiet day  (most likely because I'm just tired).  But it really does seem when I look around that I primarily see Larrys or Bettys.   Larry David is the same in every episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."  He has no boundaries, and what you see is pretty much what you always get.  On this season's "Social Assassin" episode, Larry's friends use these traits to their advantage:  They are afraid to tell their loved ones to stop doing the annoying little habits that drive them crazy (like the wife who drives her husband crazy by saying "LOL" whenever she thinks something is funny rather than actually laughing or the mother who drives her daughter crazy by smacking her lips and saying "Ahhhh" every time she takes a sip from a drink she really enjoys) so they simply ask Larry to do it.  Of course, there is some blackmailing involved, but personally, I don't think it would have been all that hard to convince Larry to just "tell it like it is" even without the blackmailing! He's a Larry, he loves the truth and welcomes conflict if it means standing up for something he believes in.

Betty Draper of "Mad Men" is Larry's polar opposite.  An episode of "The Mountain King" illustrates the essence of Betty the best:  In this episode, Betty and her friend Sarah Beth both lust after a man named Arthur Case.  He horseback rides at the same stables that Betty and Sarah Beth do.  He's engaged, Betty's married to Don Draper, and Sarah Beth has a husband too, although lately Sarah Beth has been confiding in Betty that her marriage is on the rocks. One day, when Sarah Beth is not at the stables, Betty takes the opportunity to set a lunch date for herself, Arthur, and Sarah Beth.  When the date and time arrive, Arthur and Sarah Beth meet for lunch, but Betty purposely cancels at the last minute so that Arthur and Sarah Beth are left alone together. Some days later, Sarah Beth calls Betty on the phone and tells her how distraught she is because she and Arthur have been having an affair! Betty must know deep inside that she has had a hand in making this affair happen.  Does she feel guilty? It's hard to say when you're dealing with a Betty. Sarah Beth hysterically tells Betty something to the effect of: "Well, you liked him too!"  Betty answers:  "Liking someone and having an affair with them are two different things entirely!"  Beneath the quiet, demure exterior lies a cobra waiting to strike! 

But still, no one ever suspects such behavior from a Betty.  Even Sarah Beth has no idea at all that Betty had a hand in her downfall with Arthur Case. Bettys are quiet and soft, and Larrys are loud and brazen. It's obvious that the Larrys annoy the Bettys, but what the Bettys don't realize is that the Bettys bother the Larrys every bit as much.   Bettys' voices may be quieter, but when they scheme out in public on their cell phones with their confidantes, those of us with good hearing can still hear them!  The fact that the Bettys are underhanded bothers the Larrys simply because they themselves don't operate this way.  Larrys don't like sneakiness.  Of course, Bettys would never really categorize themselves as sneaky.  Bettys just carefully choose the words they speak.  Also, because Larrys speak at face value, the Bettys think the Larrys will take THEM at face value.  What they don't know is that Larrys are always reading between the lines when speaking to Bettys. They don't take the Bettys' words at face value (although the Larrys let the Bettys believe they do).           

Keeping all these Larry and Betty traits straight can be confusing. But the most confusing of all (which is also the most satisfying) is to find a cross between the two.  It is not found very often, and is very rare indeed, but I can think of one Larry/Betty cross and this is yet another character on Mad Men -- none other than Betty's husband, Don Draper.

Most people think of Don as a womanizing business executive who assumed a dead soldier's identity in order to get to the top.  This much is true, but despite that, Don still inhabits just as many Larry traits as he does Betty traits!  My favorite example of this is when he writes and publishes an ad in the New York Times entitled, "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco."  What happens is that one of Don's agency's most important and longest-standing clients,  Lucky Strike, maker of cigarettes, quits the agency in order to consolidate their company with another agency.  It had been months in the making behind Don's agency's back.  Don finds out about it through the grapevine, and although everyone else at his agency worries that losing Lucky Strike will make their agency go under and/or damage their reputation, Don decides to take matters into his own hands.   He turns the tables on Lucky Strike by publishing the article which makes it sound like their severed relationship ended amicably because Don no longer had the conscience to promote something that was bad for people's health.  This is ingenious! Everyone at the agency is appalled.  How could Don have made such a bold move without consulting anyone first? How could he have had the guts to have done something so public?  Lucky Strike was sneaky in conspiring behind Don's agency's back knowing full well that their move might cause the agency to go under.  Don is sneaky too, but he also lays things out in the open and no longer behind anyone's back.  At the end of his article he proudly states that his agency "welcomes all business" because he and his agency believe that "our best work is still ahead of us."  Lucky Strike now no longer has the opportunity to make Don's agency look bad. I think Don's move proves he embodies the perfect "marriage" between a Larry and a Betty! 

I do believe that there is room in this world for Larrys, Bettys and the Don Draper Combo.  The important thing is that WE know which one we are because most people seem to be in denial.  I know I am a Larry, but it doesn't mean I don't like Bettys.  After all, I do have, and proudly display, my very own  Mad Men Betty Draper Doll!