Through a Character's Eyes

Thursday, January 31, 2019
As I've been working on my WIP--a novel--I've tried to channel a 12-year-old boy. A 12-year-old black boy almost a hundred years ago. It may sound weird, but as I write, I kind of let my mind get unfocused as I imagine what a young man would say and think during the various parts of the story. In the end, if I've done a decent job, he won't sound like an old woman with breasts-that-have-turned-into-divining-rods me. Instead, he'll sound like a kid with a heap of worries and a bunch of hope.

That's Mrs. Wright--on the left. The woman on her right was her student teacher
the year I had Mrs. Wright as a teacher.

The importance of perspective made me chuckle recently.  A few weeks ago I was thrilled to hear that a letter I wrote to a former teacher (Anne Wright) is going to be published in an educational journal. The National Council of Teachers of English's journal is called Voices from the Middle.
I wanted Mrs. Wright to know how I'd honored her, so even though it had been more than forty years since I'd been her student, I tracked her down. (She's 80-something now.) I sent her a copy of what I'd submitted and several days later, we talked on the phone for almost an hour.

She said, "That was the best Christmas present I received," which warmed my heart, However, she also said, "The only part that bothered me was when  you described my hair as 'Brillo-gray.' My hair still isn't gray. If I didn't dye it, it'd be salt and pepper."

We chatted about the use of exaggeration in a story to make a point, but it was more than that. I actually thought of Mrs. Wright as old. Her hair was perfectly coiffed--every day--in a style that screamed ancient and out of touch (from my perspective). Her double knit dresses, her sensible, low heels made her an old lady in my eyes.

And what kind of character was I in those days? I was rebellious--I was the head of an underground newspaper. I was unconventional. I lived in overalls and moccasins, no matter what the season. And I was unconcerned with other people's opinions of me. I went without make up and my hair was never fussed over--I wore it parted in the middle, letting it fall as it did naturally.

This is me as a high school senior. Notice the overall straps...

When we create a character, we have to imagine how they feel and how they see the world. I saw Mrs. Wright as an old lady but in actuality, she was in her early 40's back then. I could have changed my description of her when writing my letter, but that wouldn't have been true to the narrator. That wouldn't have been true to who I was back then.

How about you? What kind of character are you now, or used to be? And if you're writing fiction, who's your favorite character?

Sioux Roslawski, before the above photo was taken, used to be Susan and Sue before she fully blossomed into the character she is today. She's currently shopping her manuscript (when she's not teaching middle-schoolers) and is keeping her fingers crossed. If you'd like to read more of Sioux's work, check out her blog.


Lisa Ricard Claro said...

What made you trade moccasins for Crocs?

Connecting with a teacher/mentor after 40 years is an incredible and heart-blessing experience. I not only connected with mine---the amazing Joan Mountford---but was fortunate to have her attend a book signing (what a wonderful surprise that was!) and had her and her husband in my home for lunch and an afternoon of delightful and enlightening conversation. Mrs. M was my teacher during my junior and senior years of high school (poetry and literature), and I learned so much from her. She is, in great part, the reason I believed I could be a writer. Knowing from personal experience how wonderful it is to have this connection, I can say wholeheartedly that I'm thrilled for you and your experience. And I'm certain Mrs. Wright was delighted to know she was remembered and had touched your life in such a remarkable way. Perhaps many years from now you will have a former student reach out to you as well.

My favorite character(s) is always the one I'm currently writing, which makes it Jimi Sixx, actress-turned-restaurateur who is thrown into a mystery to save her son from prison for a murder he didn't (she hopes) commit.

Angela Mackintosh said...

OMG, Sioux, those are my favorite overalls to paint in! OshKosh train conductor striped bellbottom overalls are sweet, and I'm still trying to find a pair.

I just love this post, and what a great story about Mrs. Wright. I can see the Brillo-gray, even if that was just your perspective. I think it's our skewed perspectives that make everything interesting, even if it's not the facts, it's our inner truths. Sometimes we worry so much about getting things right (especially in memoir), when really, what's more important is how we felt about things, rather than the actual color or texture of something.

You're making me want to look up my high school art teacher, Mrs. Lischerelli, who gave me the Gold Medal in Art for our high school. She was the only one who believed in me, and made me believe I could become an artist, which is something I'd always wanted to do. I remember she gave me tickets to real runway fashion show because I dressed in vintage 60s clothing and go-go boots when everyone else wore expensive track suits. I'd earned the nickname "Winnie Cooper" (from the Wonder Years), and drove an orange Volkswagen Thing when everyone else drove expensive cars like Mercedes (it was the rich school). I don't think I would've pursued my career as an artist and opened an art gallery without her encouragement back then. Teachers rock!

Linda O'Connell said...

I am so happy to learn your story was accepted. Not only did you make your former teacher's day, your words will have long reach and impact others. Congratulations.

Margo Dill said...

I like what you said about thinking about how old the teacher was and she really wasn't that old. :) Sometimes even when I think about myself, I think: how can I really be 48 on Monday? How is that possible? I am sure that in my life I used to think my teachers were so so old, but they were probably mostly in their 30s and 40s. It really is perspective.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Lisa--I realized keeping my feet dry is a good thing. (My moccasins only had a thin layer of suede on the bottom.)

How wonderful that your Mrs. Mountford got to come to a book signing of yours. Having someone who believes in us has a powerful impact. If there was never a Mrs. M, I would not have been "forced" to read a romance (in fact, three romance novels) because they were such compelling reads ;)

Jimi Sixx sounds like an intriguing character...

Angela--You opened an art gallery? Wow!

When you write a memoir how-to book, include the 2nd paragraph of your comment.

Look up Mrs. Lischerelli. If she's still alive, she'd love to hear from you. (And these weren't bell-bottomed overalls, but they rocked nonetheless.)

Linda--You and Kim helped me with that piece, so thank you. You've had so many students come back to see you. Congratulations to YOU for having such an impact on so many kids.

Margo--It is perspective, perspective, perspective. (And you don't look like you're almost 48. I don't know what that age looks like--since I passed it by a long time ago--but you don't look like it.)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Made me laugh about your teacher's going back to a beloved childhood home and being stunned that it's so small!:-)

I wore overalls all through my college days--and I still wear overalls. Like Ang, I'll do my painting or working in the yard in 'em because they're so dang comfortable. Overalls aren't so uncommon in Georgia...though the suburbs of the ATL, a little bit. :-)

It's funny, when I think of my high school days...the image I have of me rarely if ever jives with the image others had of me. When I talk to friends from old (OLD) days that I haven't seen in years I am ALWAYS surprised at what they have to say about their memories of me. Perspective is everything!

Renee Roberson said...

I believe that every writer has at least two or three teachers (usually English or language arts) that became their biggest advocates and told them how talented they were. I know I did! I had one in every grade, and my teacher my senior year was appalled when she found out I didn't get into the college of my choice and marched me down to the guidance counselor's office so we could put in a call to the admissions department at the college. I was mortified and also flattered that she cared so much about my future. I wasn't surprised when we were told why I didn't receive admission (my math scores were too low!) but that teacher asked me to dedicate my first novel to her anyway. Still planning on it. I hope I can track her down and send it to her when it gets published.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--Now you got me curious. What do your friends from the old (OLD) days remember about you?

Renee--Track her down now. Tell her what you're working on, what you've become. You can always reconnect with her once (not if) your book is published.

Pat Wahler said...

What a wonderful story, and great reminder of the impact a teacher has on students.

I'm betting you hear from many former students as time goes on. And how cool is that?

Mary Horner said...

Sioux, it's funny how time changes our perceptions! Love this post and the fact that you were able to connect, and get published all in one!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Pat--Thanks. Yes, whenever a teacher gets some encouragement, it's a wonderful thing.

Mary--Yes, the older I get the younger ages like 70 or 80 seem...

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