Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Team Brat

One of the topics that Nerine suggested for me last week is this: how does your environment inspire your writing? I didn't think I'd be able to discuss this topic because I didn't think I felt a strong enough connection to my environment for it to inspire my writing. For the first half of my life I was raised on military installations in various parts of the US, as well as Japan and Germany. The longest we ever lived in one place was two and a half years, and frequently we stayed for less time than that. I had very little stability growing up and never had the chance to be anything but an outsider. I thought that would change as an adult and I tried to adapt to living in a small town. I could not have been more wrong. Despite all the years I've lived here, it still doesn't feel like home. I don't think any "place" will ever feel like home. My home is a person instead of a place - my husband.

So if I don't have the standard place or environment that most people think of as home, is it possible that has had some influence over my writing? A brief exchange with a friend on Facebook got me thinking about that. Okay, yes, it was either figure this out or switch to another topic. The  more I thought about this question, the more I wanted an answer, even if it was one I didn't want to publish in a blog post. My friend asked me about other writers that grew up as military brats and I couldn't think of any at that moment, but I did a Google search later. Turns out I'd forgotten all about Pat Conroy, mostly because I've never been brave enough to read The Great Santini. My search also led me to this fascinating Wiki page about military brat subculture. I found myself nodding in agreement with quite a bit of it, recognizing some of both the positive and negative patterns in myself and my life. This passage especially struck a chord:  a pattern (for those military brats who do not choose military service) of work that is more independent (self-employment / avoidance of direct subservience to authority figures) and along those lines also favoring creative and artistic professions that offer more independence. That made me think of Kris Kristofferson because he is my favorite famous brat, and then surprisingly, my own characters.

So far my main characters have had certain things in common. They are all outsiders to some extent, usually a great extent. They are all independent, and if they answer to any authority figure it's out of personal loyalty and not some kind of corporate loyalty. They are all either other themselves or unusually accepting of anyone other. (See the anti-racism section of the Wiki article. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, makes my blood boil more than the small-minded cowardice of bigotry.)

Let me break this down a little more with specific characters. Both Jessie of Bring on the Night and Roxanne of Mojo Queen believe in using their supernatural gifts to help people. I grew up around people in uniform who believed in something greater than themselves, and I believe that is a huge part of why I love hero stories. Putting yourself on the line for someone else's benefit is an amazing thing to do. Jessie has a boss but is mostly autonomous. Roxie runs her own business as a paranormal investigator and root worker. Aislinn, the main character of my Paranormal Beat series, has an editor in chief but she's her own managing editor and pretty much does as she pleases. And I recognized very early on in the writing of the first Paranormal Beat novella that standing up against bigotry and for treating all people with kindness and basic decency was a deep underlying theme. I think that's a pretty common theme in a lot of paranormal fiction, though. Right on the first page of the first Sookie Stackhouse novel vampires are referred to as having come out of the coffin, and there is nothing subtle about the "God Hates Fangs" sign briefly glimpsed in the opening credits of True Blood. Having grown up with people of different backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, it is so hard for me to understand the deliberate demonization of people who are just, well, people. The monster metaphors help me to write about this without dissolving into tears and rage at what feels like a betrayal by some of everything good I was raised to believe. They also help me to accept my status as an outsider. That's something I thought would surely eventually change, but it hasn't and I guess it never will. So I write about outsiders, and they do the best they can with what they've got to help people, to stand up for what's right, and to keep their souls and their integrity intact.

I guess that was some pretty powerful inspiration after all.


Rebecca Rose said...

I can't thank you enough for writing this! Up until now, I've never thought about how I grew up and how it changes my characters. I too moved a lot and it took many years for me to settle down and call a place, 'Home'. I guess that's why it's so important to my characters to find a place to belong. :)

Have a Sparkling Day!

Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for commenting!