Friday, December 19, 2014

Hands, Change, and Other Quirks

A reader once shared an observation she had made about one of my quirks. I have this thing about hands. My protagonist, Lizzie Stuart, a crime historian, tends to notice people's hands. As I was writing What the Fly Saw, the second book in my Hannah McCabe series, I realized my homicide detective also notices hands. During a seance – yes, there is a good reason why a cop is taking part in a seance – she notices that the palm of the character who is holding her hand is rough. She speculates for a moment about what he might have been doing in the interval since they last shook hands. When I thought about this moment in the book, I realized it might have bubbled up from my own obsession with my hands in winter. I "forget" to wear my gloves because I hate wearing gloves. If you live in upstate New York, not wearing gloves means your hands get dry and rough and you have to drench them in cream or lotion at night. And you're self-conscious when you have to shake hands with someone. This have nothing to do with what was happening at that table during the seance, but it is my own little author's quirk finding its way into my books in various ways. I watch people's hands and how they use them – maybe because when I'm nervous I can never decide what to do with my hands. When I'm making a point, I "talk" with my hands. Therefore, it would be difficult for me to write a book in which hands were not reaching, touching, trembling, or doing others things that reveal something about the characters.

I don't think I'm alone in having an author's quirk that plays out in my books and short stories. In fact, as a reader, I'm sure of it. These quirks seem to reflect the author's deeply held concerns about being human. For example, there's the matter of change -- particularly the changes we feel powerless to control. My own case in point: lightning. I don't like lightning. A couple of days ago I read this article on the UAlbany website about the impact of climate change on lightning:

The thought of more explosive storms and more lightning is not bringing joy to my heart. My quirk – my obsession with the weather – is getting played out as a subtext in my near future police procedural series where climate change is a day-to-day reality that affects not only what my characters wear but how well the infrastructure, including the police surveillance system, works.

Change happens. We get older. People we love leave our lives. The places that shaped our lives are transformed beyond recognition. In myriad ways the changes we see and think about are reflected in our characters and in our stories. As writers, some of us embrace change – are restless when nothing much is happening, want to be on the move, can't wait for the next device to be available. And then there are those of us, who when unsettled by the speed of the world, retreat to our cozy corners.

Our challenge as writers is to write about the things that concern us without making our characters our puppets. Writing a near-future series is forcing me to confront those changes that scare me. Luckily, Hannah McCabe is tougher than I am. A little lightning isn't going to throw her off her game. But we both get to ponder the nature of change and the impact it has on people's lives.


Sybil Johnson said...

I have noticed in my own writing that my characters rarely smell things. I have to consciously put that in. It's probably because I've had sinus problems for so many years, my nose doesn't catch as many smells as it used to. Interesting how that plays out in one's writing.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

That makes perfect sense. The first thing that comes to mind is what we tend to focus on. I couldn't probably make better use of smells.

Eileen Goudge said...

I have a terrible sense of direction, so I have to place my characters in fictional towns. Otherwise I'd have the geography all wrong and characters going the wrong way down one-way streets.