I am not my characters.
I once wrote an historical novel in which one of my minor characters criticized Teddy Roosevelt. I read this aloud to a feedback group, and the next morning a man and woman showed up on my doorstep. Upset that I did not love Teddy Roosevelt, they assaulted my ears for an hour with history and praise. When they finally wound down, I explained it was my character criticizing the man, not me. I did not serve in the Spanish American War with him. I did not know him personally. I could have saved my breath. They were miffed, and apparently happy to be miffed since my defense fell on deaf ears.
Another time, I wrote a humorous piece in which one of my characters mention a certain religious order that is known for knocking on doors. It was a brief mention of them showing up at the door, and certainly nothing derogatory, but a few days after reading this piece to a feedback group, I received a long letter from a little old lady defending her friends who belonged to that religion.
Not long ago a friend was visiting in our home. She talked about “you did this and then you did that”–which confused me until I realized she was talking about someone in one of my books. We had a good laugh about it, but I told her, “I am not my character.”
Well, maybe I am, a little bit. But if that’s so, I wish I could be as outspoken, witty and brave as they are. Alas, I’m just the wordsmith who delivers these characters to you.
Some people wonder why I set In Front of God and Everybody in 1986. There are a few reasons, but today I’ll mention only one.
The original concept for this series was a collection of books about the quirky and interesting people who live along an old dirt road in the Ozarks, Rough Creek Road. I wanted the stories to be rural in flavor and tone, and to show a life that many may remember but few of us will ever see again. In the mid-1980s, the farm crisis began to rear its ugly head. Farmers lost livelihood, land and homes that had been bought or built by great-grandparents or even longer ago. I had wanted my readers to honor the folks like my family and friends who faithfully had worked the land, raised the cattle, milked the cows and continued to find time to love each other and enjoy life until farming was no longer a viable way to earn a living.
My lead character in these stories is a child, and I wanted to tell the stories through her young eyes, watching with both humor and confusion as the old and familiar changed, not only around her but the world at large. I started the evolution simply, with new neighbors.
These days, the vision for that series has changed to meet a different market, and perhaps for the better. Only time will tell. But, for those of you who were curious why I chose not to set my story in the 21st century . . . now you know at least one reason, and maybe it’s the best reason of all.
The newest book that I’ve had published is the first in a series called, “The Confessions of April Grace.” The book title is In Front of God and Everybody.