I was browsing the Facebook home feed and found this funny tee shirt and had to smile and repost it. I’ve been short all my life, including during my grownup years when I hoped not to be short anymore.
My husband is tall. His mom, sisters, dad, brother, all of them tall. My kids are taller than me. I have laughed when my nieces and nephew measure themselves against me, “hoping” to be taller than me. I told them they needed to aim higher. They did. Passed me like I was short.
The tee shirt reminded me of Randy Neuman’s tongue-in-cheek song “Short People.”
As is often the case with random things, it sparked the random realization of how often I imbue my characters with qualities and traits that I don’t have. People often ask me if my characters are based on me or someone I know. The short answer (pun intended) is that at least some are based on how I wish I was. In fact, you might take some of my characters as my “me” wish list.
So I thought I’d revisit my leading ladies and see where they fit in my life: as real or wish list.
Spy Who Kissed Me: Isabel “Stan” Stanley describes herself as this way: Isabel. Picture someone petite, fragile and blonde, done is soft pastels, lusciously formed–and you’ll know how I don’t look. Most people find it less stressful to call me Stan when faced with a reality that is tall, lots of leg and colored in crayons in brown and pasty white.
Obviously I’ve already given away the fact that the tall is on my wish list. Brown and pasty is kind of like me. Spy is my first, full length novel, so in a way, Stan is my first, full blown character, so it’s not really a surprise to find a bit me in there. I was just finding my way in character development. But like all good characters, in the end she became wholly herself. Her issues, her family, her everything are…hers. (Part real, part wish list)
Let’s see, next up in chronology is Luci from Do Wah Diddy Die. That girl is just plain crazy and not crazy like me, crazy like, well, her. So she is all made up except I used to have great legs, too. Just saying. (So a little wish list, not much real there. Grin)
After Luci, I “met” Dani in The Last Enemy. I like to think that Dani is more “everywoman” than me. While she is a bit understated (like me) she is a famous romance author (I’m not). What I loved about her is that was the best of the women I’d met in my real life, and the writing women I’d met online. She uses humor and determination to defeat the forces aligned against her and she’s happy to have a happy ending with the hero–but strong enough to have gone on if he’d been too chicken to man up and propose. I liked that about her. But she is a LOT braver than I’d be in the same circumstances. A lot. (Not much real me in this one.)
In keeping with that tradition, I wrote strong heroines for the brothers introduced in The Last Enemy. I’m not a thief or an uber-geek like Phoebe in Byte Me nor am I a genius like Amelia in Missing You. I will admit that I have to look hard to see much of me in either of them, and again, they are both tall. Do you see a theme developing here? (Not much real)
In A Dangerous Dance, Dorothy is, wow, tall and brave and sassy. I’m sassy on paper, but still short. (Tiny bit of real, mostly wish list)
Moving along to my next novel, Out of Time, we have Mel who is amazingly enough, tall. Sara in The Key is a tall red-head (also on my wish list and I even tried it for while because you can change your hair color). She is fearless and flies space ships. Not me at all, though I would like fly/ride in a helicopter, which I accomplished fictionally in Tangled in Time…by a tall heroine named Olivia. (Do I need to provide an answer?) And Doc in Girl Gone Nova? Dangerous, deadly…and yeah, tall. (not much real here)
Let’s see, Emily in Steamrolled is also tall. Ashe in Kicking Ashe? Tall. Even my short story characters are tall. (still not real)
What they aren’t is stacked. It seems my imagination isn’t quite good enough to imagine what that would be like, though I have tried. (And I can read and enjoy books about stacked heroines.)
As I’ve gotten older, I have found a few good things about being short. I can see stuff that the hubby can’t. When I fall down, I don’t have time to pick up much speed. They have petite lengths in pants now, so not so much shortening of hems. My husband thinks I’m cute.
But there is no question that my height has had an impact on my writing. I’m pretty sure I would have written stories regardless of my height. I do wonder if the characters would have been different? And in the end, I’m glad they aren’t different, because my issues eventually ceased to matter as they began to live and breathe on their own. They became them and not my wish list anymore. Their height was part of their character and how they acted and reacted to their environments and the people around them.
For a writer? That is a seriously cool moment, the pay off for when the writing felt more like bleeding, for the re-writing, the pacing, and the pondering. But it does make it complicated when people ask me if the characters are based on my life or me. Let’s face it, it all comes from my brain, though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it does. It feels like I”m watching it happen, like a movie or real life. So if I hesitate, that’s why.
If you’re a reader, do you care if the heroine is tall? Or has red hair? Do you just “cast” the story how you want? If you’re a writer, is there a personal wish list in your character traits? (Please say yes, cause right now I’m alone out here.) And to show my thanks, anyone who comments on a blog post in the month of May will be entered into a drawing for a $10 gift card from AnaBanana’s Bath & Body Treats.
P.S. In early drafts my characters are also always more patient than I am until I realize that’s just not realistic and turn them loose. And I hose them a lot, which would make a saint lost patience and I haven’t written a saint yet.
Pauline Baird Jones is short, not a red-head and not very patient, despite years of trying to change all three. (Apparently a hair cut does not affect height no matter how often you ask to be taller.) You can “meet” her taller, much cooler heroines in her 12 novels or check out her website at www.paulinebjones.com