Friday, June 15, 2012
The Most Dreaded Day of My Year
One of the most common questions I (and most writers) get from readers relates to our characters. "Do you base your characters on real people?" The honest answer is, "Of course." It's also, "Not entirely." For example, I tend to base peripheral characters on people I know or meet briefly. One of my favorite pastimes is to look at strangers in public places and wonder, "What is their life like?" When it comes to major characters in my books, however, I steer clear of using people in my life as templates. Way too much drama can ensue.
Case in point: some of my mom's friends (I'm busting you out, ladies) were reportedly horrified to think that I based Peyton Stratford's mother in The Secret Keeper on my mom. "Does she really think you're like that?" they wondered. That led to an uncomfortable phone conversation between my mother and me (so thanks for that, girls). The truth is, I tried to think of everything my mother is not, and that's how I imagined Peg Stratford to be. I often asked, "What would Kate do/say/think?" and then I'd put the opposite on paper. I think my mom eventually believed me, after I provided a lot of specific examples and compared them to historical events.
Taking a peek at that history, I like to joke that I grew up in a 50's sitcom, but like all things said in jest, there's a nugget of truth to it. My mom didn't cook dinner in pearls, and my dad didn't sit us down for long, character-building discussions, but we led a remarkably angst-free existence, especially by today's standards. My parents didn't drink heavily or do drugs or hit us or work us like slaves or verbally abuse us. We went to church every Sunday. Dad worked 8-5 Monday through Friday. Mom kept the house running smoothly, which seemed to include a lot of cleaning (much more than I do now that I'm a mom). Did we argue? Yes. Especially when each of the six of us kids went through our teenage years. Did we have family problems? Absolutely. But as I get older and I hear more and more about the experiences of other people growing up, the more I realize, Mom and Dad were as close to June and Ward as my generation gets.
This brings me to the father figures in my books, to date. Those characters aren't my father, either. At all. Not even close. For one thing, it would be impossible to capture my dad on paper. He wouldn't even be a believable character, because he was so good and so ordinary in some ways, yet so extraordinary in others. He wasn't just one of the good guys; he was one of the best guys. For another thing, a drama-free character like my dad wouldn't provide much conflict in a book. There were very few people in life who didn't get along with him. Kent Stratford, with his "my-way-or-the-highway" attitude makes for a much better foil than my father ever could.
I always knew my dad was a great person, but he was such a consistent part of my life that I took him for granted, as we tend to do the wonderful people in our lives. When he died in 2002, very shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my entire family did the mental equivalent of rocking in the fetal position in a corner. To say it was devastating wouldn't even encompass a billionth of what we felt. As a matter of fact, there's no way for me to even say here how it affected us. It's still affecting us, more than ten years later. I can't speak for my siblings, but I still physically hurt when I think about how much I miss him.
My dad was never afraid to tell me how proud he was of me or how much he loved me. He thought I was "something special" and was confident that I would accomplish great things. Whenever I feel like my dreams are silly or unattainable, I think of him, and I plow on. A decade after his death, he's still one of my biggest inspirations.
Which brings me to Father's Day. Oh, the dreaded Father's Day. For the tenth year now, I approach this Hallmark holiday with dread and trepidation. As we draw closer to the day, people start to post on Facebook about the plans they have with their dads, or they share pictures, or they simply say, "Thanks, Dad! Happy Father's Day!"
If I could have him back on one day of the year, I'd choose Father's Day. Not Christmas, not Easter, not Thanksgiving, not my birthday. Father's Day. Because then I could be happy, like everyone else.
I try to focus my energy on making Father's Day special for my husband. After all, he's a dad, too. A great dad. A paternal rock star. But he's so low-maintenance that after he's eaten his Krispy Kreme donuts and opened his cards and gifts, he's content to treat it like any other Sunday. That leaves me with way too much time to brood. And since brooding is one of my specialties, it doesn't take long for me to achieve a full-blown maudlin meltdown.
And then... I get angry.
I miss my dad, damn it.
What have we learned about anger, though? It's a secondary emotion. That's right, Class. Very good.
So, what's feeding my anger? Grief, for sure (and most obviously). Sadness that I don't get to spend the day with my dad or watch him open a card or a gift. Jealousy that others still have their dads. Frustration that some don't appreciate their dads. Resentment that some dads haven't put much effort into the job and are understandably unappreciated. Guilt that I begrudge other people their happiness.
These are not easy feelings to own up to. I hope you don't think less of me that I sort of want to punch you in the face while you enjoy time with your dad this weekend. Please understand that it's not personal. Understand that I want to punch the next person in the face as much as you. Know that I know it's my problem. And accept my apologies in advance for the not-so-nice thoughts I may have about you in that first second after I read your post or see your pictures or hear your story. I don't dwell on it. After that initial violent urge, the anger quickly fades to sadness and then morphs into happiness for you. Really, it does. I'm not completely irrational, after all. I know it's not your fault that my dad died of cancer.
Do me a favor, though. If your dad is your hero, like my dad was for me, hug him extra tight this Sunday. Or talk to him for a few extra minutes on the phone, if you can't be with him in person. It may be a silly Hallmark holiday, but it serves an important purpose: to recognize and celebrate the guy (or guys, if you're lucky enough to have more than one dad... *grumble, grumble... green-eyed monster taking control*) who made your existence possible. Remember those of us who don't have that person in our lives anymore. Pause for a moment to think about how you would feel if your dad were suddenly gone. Don't let it ruin your day, or anything. But one minute's reflection on that will sure put things in perspective for you.
And I say this with all sincerity: Happy Father's Day.
I am on the verge of more big things, as Dad predicted, with the impending publication of my fourth book, The Secret Keeper Up All Night, which is the third book in the Secret Keeper series. You can find my full collection of books on Amazon.com. I also maintain a Facebook page and love to hear from people. Feel free to contact me there or comment here on the blog.
June 16-17, 2012, The Secret Keeper Confined (Book 2 in the Secret Keeper series) is free to download on Amazon.com.