Five Rules for Lead Characters To Live By

1.Get to know your writer.

She won’t bite. She needs you just as much as you need her. Sure, she may put you through a beaucoup of manure. It’s okay. That is her job. Things will work out well in the end. Ask her questions about your role in the story. If you make her like you, you might get a return engagement. Series have been built around characters who have made nice to their author. Just look at Harry Potter. Seven books just because he said please and thank you and ma’am. Believe you me that boy knew exactly what he was doing. And guess what? His author may be bringing him back.

It wasn’t that James Bond and Tarzan were so popular. It was that they gave their creators a warm, fuzzy feeling. So ask your writer if they like wine? If they do, there’s no rule that your can’t give them a nice bourdeaux. Maybe she’s into clothes. Give her a new pair of shoes that fit comfortably and look great and she will be your friend for life. Just ask Scarlett O’Hara. Tomorrow may have been another day, but shoes got her the job. Jake Barnes knew his Hemingway. He gave Papa his first typewriter. It was Jay Gatsby that showed Fitzgerald how to get Zelda to marry him. And Huck Finn taught Mark Twain everything Sam Clemens knew about humor.

2.Let your writer get to know you.

You think Holden Caulfield was invented in a day. Absolutely not. Ol’ Hol was sharing his stories with J. D. for years. Originally Sal was only going to put Hol in a short story. Hol kept telling his creator more and more. Pretty darn soon Sal had a whole novel.

So tell your writer everything. How you wet the bed till you were seven. How Mary Lou Wizzama broke your heart when you were eight. How you almost died of the flu when you were nine.  Don’t forget the secrets either. How you almost got caught shoplifting when you were twelve. You just had to have that first number of The Flash comic book. How you were dumped by your first girlfriend because she didn’t like the shoes you were wearing to the prom.

Stuff like that. Believe me. Your creator will love that kind of stuff. And if you don’t have any interesting stuff, make something up. When he finds out that you did make it up, he will be impressed. It means you’re ready to work hard in your role as a character. He might even promote you from sidekick to protagonist. That was how Huck Finn got his lead.

3. Dress appropriately.

I can’t tell you how many characters have shown up on set in the wrong duds. Othello showed up in a kilt. Talk about mad. The Bard was livid. Tom Sawyer showed up in a suit. Mark Twain just about laughed him off the set. And that Nick Carroway of Gatsby fame. He thought Fitzgerald wanted him to be a cross dresser. F. Scott was drunk for a whole week over that one.

Do some research. Find out what time period your character is supposed to be in. Have a little looksee at your character’s resume. It will keep you out of all kinds of trouble. Dickens fired a character once because she thought she was doing Jane Austen. Jane Austen was very forgiving. Mr. Darcy thought he was playing Tom Jones’ daddy. Can you imagine?

4. Choose your friends wisely.

Loners don’t make it in the story business. Don’t forget how useful Doctor Watson was to Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock had a good eye for character and Watson was his man. Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” got his job because he coseyed up to Nick Carroway.

Remember this character can save your butt in a tight spot. Don’t forget that Gretel would never have been able to get that witch into the oven without Hansel. Dick Whittington would have been nowhere without his cat. Do you think Dorothy would have ever made it back home without Toto? Absolutely not. And Peter Pan could never have found his way to Never Never Land without Tink. She was his GPS Navigator. I’m telling you sidekicks matter.

5.Don’t forget to join the Character’s Union.

It will save you a lot of heart ache and pain. There are characters who absolutely refused to join. Look at them now. Take Hamlet. He could be a rich character. Every performance would be bring in a royalty. Hundreds of times a year, that is how many performances go on. For each of those performances he would bring in the big bucks. Could be living in a mansion. Instead he’s forced to live in a trailer park. He can barely pay the rent on that run-down trailer of his. Last I heard he was a neighbor of Honey Boo Boo’s. Can you imagine how humiliating that is for one of the best known characters in all of Western Civilization? Compare that to Ham’s ghostly dad. He’s only in three scenes. But he now owns an island. For each performance in the last four hundred years or so, he has gotten minimum. Makes you think, don’t it.

If you follow these five simple rules,

you can have a successful career as a character. It worked for Moby Dick, for David Copperfield, for Emma, and it can work for you.

How I Really Met Your Mother

Jack scoped out The Dancing Leprechaun with his usual scan, checking out the terrain. He wasn’t looking to make a connection of the female kind. If he ran into an attractive someone, he would introduce himself, then make a go for a weekend date. Wednesday nights were for a bull session with three former college buddies.

You could tell the Dancing Leprechaun was an Irish pub by the decor on the walls. Posters and paintings and photographs of great Irish folk the likes of Yeats, Lady Gregory, Joyce, and the Big Fellow, Michael Collins. In the middle of the floor stood a statue of the Irish Hercules, Cú Chulainn, brandishing his broad sword.

Jack was the last to arrive at their regular booth. After four hi-yas, they started talking NFL draft and Stanley Cup. In no time, Jack finished off a burger and was ready for a second Guinness. Looking for a waitress, he turned around from his seat in the booth. Across the room, he spied a brunette in a yellow dress as she and three of her friends entered the pub. It was like a bomb detonated inside him.

He had to meet this woman. While some other guy might have hesitated, Jack didn’t. And he wasn’t about to wait till the weekend. He had to get to know this woman immediately. He got up from his seat and told his buddies he was calling it a night.

George looked over at the woman’s group and grinned. “Hmmmm. You may be messing where you shouldn’t be messing. It looks like they’re both with somebody.”

“That never has stopped Casanova before,” Dan commented.

Horst said. “You remember what happened the last time.”

Jack laughed. “That was then; this is now.”

Jack walked over to her group and introduced himself to the brunette and her friends, looking directly into her eyes and smiling. “Can I buy you a beer? I mean the four of you.”

“Don’t see why not,” the brunette said. “My name is Ashley.” She reached over and shook his hand. She wasn’t what you would call the kind of beauty you would see on television and in the movies. She had other qualities which gave her face a glow, but it was her beautiful brown eyes and the spirit behind them that reached deep inside Jack, a spirit that had known great pain, a spirit that could love deeply. “This is Helen.” She pointed to the other woman. The curly guy was Doug, the blond Thomas.

“Five beers please,” Jack called out to the waitress. Then he motioned to a table. “How about there?”

“Sure,” Helen winked, then pushed blonde hair strands out of her eyes. “Anything for free beer.”

Jack eased into the chair between Ashley and Helen. “What brings a party like you guys to a place like this?”

Ashley laughed. “Doug here wants to marry me. I’m trying to decide. What do you think?”

“If you have to ask a stranger, I’d say you shouldn’t.” He lifted the icy Guinness bottle and drank from it.

“But I’m rich.” Doug gave Jack a smile that didn’t feel like a smile. “And I love her. That should count for something.”

“Then I guess that settles it,” Jack said. “Right, Ashley?”

Ashley smiled and said, “I haven’t said yes yet.”

“You will,” Doug said to her, anger in his eyes.

Helen changed the subject. “What about you? What do you do?”

“I’m single. I write poetry, and I teach high school English,” Jack said.

“Poetry?” Thomas asked. “Write us a poem right now.”

“Oh, it’s not that easy,” Ashley said. “I’ve tried.”

“Let me see,” Jack said, looking at Ashley. “Tell me a favorite thing of yours.”

“She has this pillow she really loves,” Helen said. “We used to be roommates, so I know all her secrets. In case you wanted to know some.” Jack could tell that Helen didn’t like Doug or Thomas and she was going out of her way to flirt with him. If he had been after her, it would have been easy.

“Don’t,” Ashley said to Helen.

“Aw, c’mon,” Doug said. “You never told me about your favorite pillow.”

“And I don’t intend to,” Ashley said. “Now.”

“In that case, I won’t ask,” Jack said. “Maybe I can write a poem for you some other time.”

“No,” Thomas said, downing the last of his beer. “I think you should do it now.” Then he called for another round of beer. “This time I’m buying, okay. The poem will be your way of paying for our company. Right, Dougie?”

“I don’t really care for your company,” Jack said softly. “It’s the company of the women I want.”

The waitress sat the five beers down on the table.

“Helen said, “Calm down, tigers.”

The waitress left.

“So you’re a poet?” Doug asked.

“That’s me,” Jack said, then drank from his bottle.

Doug went for a put-down. “Must not be many bucks in that line of work.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised how well we poets do.”

Thomas snorted and spilled some beer on Helen. “Thomas, you shit,” she said and jumped up. “I’ll be back in a moment, darling,” she said to Jack.

“Bitch,” Thomas said, watching her stalk away to the bathroom. “Dougie, why don’t we get out of here?”

“What and miss Mr. Poet’s rendition of the poem he’s about to do for Ashley’s pillow.”

“Doug,” Ashley snapped. “What’s got into you?”

Doug leaned forward toward Jack and glared. “Oh, I’ve just become a poetry freak.”

Jack smiled and looked at her and took a sip of his beer, then said to Doug, “You wouldn’t know a sestina from a sonnet if you saw one.”

“Guys,” Helen said, sitting back down at the table. “Let’s be civilized.”

“If we were civilized,” Jack said, “we probably wouldn’t be here, snarling at each other.” Everybody laughed.

Doug smirked. “Shouldn’t of let you get under my collar.”

Ashley breathed a sigh of relief, then leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. He kissed her back hard, showing the rest that she was his woman. But Jack noticed her body wasn’t into the kiss.

“It’s okay, man,” Jack said. “Seems to happen all the time to us poets. Guess it doesn’t take much to bring out the Neanderthal in us guys.”

“That’s my last name,” Thomas laughed. “Neanderthal.”

“You can say that again,” Helen said, rubbing Jack’s left foot with her foot under the table. But Ashley was the one he wanted.

“Neanderthal,” Thomas repeated himself. “Sorry, guys. I got to go to the little boy’s room.” He slid out of his chair and headed to the men’s room.

“I got to go pee too,” Doug said and stood up. “Now y’all behave yourself, you and Helen.” Then he was gone.

Helen moved herself closer to Jack and pushed her hand between his legs. Then she said, “Damn, I gotta go pee too.” She got up and rushed off.

Ashley smiled at Jack. “Well,” she said.

“Well,” Jack said.

She took his hand and ran her fingers across his palm.

“I’m going to have to get home soon,” she said.

“Too bad,” Jack said. “I was just getting to enjoy your company.”

“Yeah,” she said, “Doug’s going to drop me off at the Everglades Apartments. I am in Apartment 6B. That’s where I have my pillow. You should see it sometime. It was my Granny’s.” Then she took back her hand as Helen returned and sat down next to Jack.

“I’m afraid I have to go,” Jack said.

“No,” Helen said. Then pouting, “Don’t go.”

“Have to,” Jack said. “Got a class to teach tomorrow. Those kids wear a guy out if he doesn’t get his sleep.”

“I bet,” Doug said as he and Thomas sat down.

“It was good to meet you guys. I haven’t had this much fun since…I don’t know when. And congratulations, Doug. Maybe you can invite me to the wedding. Here’s my card.” He handed Ashley the card.

“Sure thing, poet,” Doug said. “Maybe you’ll read the poem at our reception.”

Jack walked back to his apartment four blocks away, then drove over to the Everglades. As he pulled into the parking lot, Ashley walked up the stairs to her second floor apartment. Her lithe body had the grace and athleticism of a Jordan Baker from  The Great Gatsby.

He parked in an empty space at the end of the building. Then he saw Doug start his Lamborghini and take off, speeding out of the parking lot. Wonder where he’s going so fast? Maybe to Helen’s. Wouldn’t that be something?

Jack gave Ashley five minutes to settle in, then got out of his car and hurried up the stairs. He rang the doorbell.

From inside, Jack heard her call, “Doug, it’s late.”

“It’s not Doug.”

She opened the door. A white robe covered her slender body. “Well,” she said, smiling.

“I’m here to look at that pillow.” A boyish grin filled his face.

“Come in then.”

He followed her into the apartment.

“It’s in here.” She led him into her bedroom. He followed her.

“This is it,” she said, taking a hand-knitted pillow off the bed. It was white with blue unicorns dancing on it. She handed it over to him, as she looked into his eyes and he looked into hers. They kissed, the pillow between them. It was like the first kiss he had ever had. Suddenly he was happy. They sat down on the side of the bed and kissed some more.

“That’s some pillow,” he said.

“I thought you would like it.”

Afterwards, they lay side by side, both of them smiling.

“That was wonderful,” she said.

“That was what I was thinking. But what about Doug?”

“Doug? I’ve forgotten him already.”

“He’s not going to give you up that easily.”

“I’m not his possession, you know.”

“Oh, he thinks you are.”

“Well, he’s got another think coming.” She kissed him again.

The next morning her smart phone woke them at seven.

“Yes,” Ashley said, answering it. “No, I won’t be in to work today. I think I’ve got a bit of the bug.” Then she hung up and said to Jack, “That was my office. I work as a paralegal. One of my co-workers called to ask if she could get a ride.”

“I thought you were a student at the college.”

“I work three days a week and take a class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

“I’d better call in too.” Jack called work and told them they needed a substitute for his classes. Then he hung up and they made love again.

Later, she turned to him and said, “You want breakfast? I am a great breakfast maker.”

He kissed her and she crawled out of bed and took a shower, then headed for the kitchen as he showered. If the rest of his life was this good, then he was going to be a very happy man.

Across from a breakfast of eggs and bacon and toast and coffee and orange juice, she reached over and took his hand and said hesitantly, “I have something to tell you.

Oops, he thought. Here it comes. Oh, well. Things were good while they lasted.

She gulped, then let it out, “I only have three years to live.”

That hurt. That hurt bad. He gulped.

She went on to explain, “Don’t worry. I’m not contagious. Something inside me is all messed up.” Jack wanted to ask for more details. The tone of her voice told him she was in no mood to give him more.

He leaned over toward this woman he loved and kissed her, softly, gently, then said, “We’ll just have to make the best of those three years, won’t we?”

First snow

The wind resonates purring
soon to be clawing and biting,
chill crackles the air,
and automobile engines chatter
on this night icy and cold
from the year’s first snow;
Bobbie Ann and David, Warren,
Susie and I, we band of five
inseparably cloister against
the meowing on its prowl,
scratching, raking its talons
against the side of the house.
And then the calm. The snow calls
us from our stories, songs and games
to frolic in a niveous wonderworld
where we and other neighborhood kids
friskily pack and splatter
white balls of algidity while
missiles of ice hiss past.
A crash in the ear, a blast on the skin,
an ouch! and we slosh our retreat
to Bobbie Ann’s house,
hot chocolate and snow ice cream.

Old friends fit like comfortable shoes

Searching for my old school buddy, Wayne, I moved through the ballroom and the New Year’s Eve party crowd. I hadn’t seen him in twenty years, not since high school graduation.

Then three weeks ago he’d called me out of the blue. Said over the phone that he’d like to see me, had something to tell me, and he’d be here at this party tonight. He’d leave a ticket for me at the front door if I’d come.

I told him I’d be here and hung up. Over the days that followed, I debated. Did I want to see him again? After all, I ‘ve changed a lot since I was no longer that seventeen-year-old kid he’d hung with. We’d both been on the football team. I was a quarterback and he my receiver, and we’d done everything together. Chased the cheerleaders. Cruised in the bright red Mustang we’d fixed up. Fought in the same fights, always standing up for each other. Gone to the best parties, seeing who could out chug-a-lug the other. We were the Boomer Brothers, the toughest dudes around. Everybody said so.

Then high school was over and Wayne left town. I never found out why. I only knew that he was the restless sort, always looking for a change. The last I heard he’d gone off and joined the Army.

Finally New Year’s Eve morning, I decided I’d come to the party tonight. I made my way through the crowd, checking out the features in each face, trying to figure out if it was really him. I looked across the room and saw someone who could be Wayne. I hesitated, then headed towards the guy. A few feet away I realized that it wasn’t him.

He isn’t here. Why don’t I just leave? Though I wanted to see him, I wasn’t sure how he’d take me these days. But, over the phone, he’d sounded like he really wanted to see me. I decided to keep looking. I guess I’ll find out real soon. If he’s here, that is. I’ve looked everywhere. Where could he be?

I started moving through the sea of faces again, glancing at each one, giving each a quick once-over. Still no Wayne. I looked at my watch. It was almost midnight.

Then, a foot or so away, I saw a face, his face. I would recognize those intense, dark blue eyes anywhere. They were his eyes alright. But that couldn’t be Wayne.

I took another look at his face as I got closer to him. It was definitely my old buddy. But what had happened?

Over the phone, I hadn’t recognized his voice at first. It had changed that much. And now I understood why. But how could I ever have guessed that he had gone and done what I had done?

I ran up to him and hugged him.

“Wayne, you’re a woman too,” I said, releasing him from my hug and acknowledging our sex change operations.

“My God, John, these shoes are killing me,” he said. “When I made the change, I never realized how hard it was going to be to get decent shoes.”