Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Family builds my characters and my stories

Branch of the family tree, okay vine.
Often when I read science fiction, the main characters and certainly the supporting and stock characters rarely have family.  I don't mean they don't ever have family, but family is not the cause of change or action in them.  Family is window decoration in most novels.  Yet family is a basic component of my fiction writing.

Family can drive my characters to do things they have been avoiding or things they would not have done without the influence of a member of the family.  In my first book In Times Passed, Brent Garrett jumps to another time period claiming the excuse that he had to get away from his mother's interference.  After he makes a life in the new time period, it is family again that affects him, influences his actions.  Loss of family nearly destroys him.

In No-Time like the Present, family motivated Misty Meredith to trust a stranger and jump two hundred years into her future so she could stand before her father and prove to him he failed by leaving her, that she didn't need him anyway because she had her Uncle Mick and Aunt Emily, family that cared to raise her.  And she is surrounded by family, starts her own family and ultimately learns that family means no one ever really leaves anyone behind.

Mick and Emily never had children of their own, yet they raised a family.  They keep taking in the orphans, granted they are family, but this act of parenting the parentless is a basic feature of their lives.   So in Next Time We Meet, this couple think they have nothing to give the future, but what they are always offering is future to those who need it most.  All their efforts are directed at creating, supporting and reuniting family. 

I am currently working on the fourth book in the Students of Jump series, working title Testing Time, and family is again basic to the story.  Sarra Marsh's family must break up in order to survive what is happening in the world and time she lives in.  The group she ends up with is guided by two individuals, Ma Potterby (a mother to all the assembled renegades) and Carnegie, (a sort of patriarchal figure whose terse manner ensures discipline in the ranks).  As she endeavors to enact change in her society as dictated by her father from a distance, she is always aware of her disbursed family.  Until change occurs, they must remain separated.  And the change may be far too late to bring them back together.

I have an anthology of short stories.  Not one of them lacks the basic feature of family.  The title story, "Gardens in the Cracks," is steeped in the fact that major change was made in how families are established, maintained, organized and torn apart.  Marga Graber has already given up one child to the demands of planetary survival and is now facing more tears in her family fabric no less damaging.  The novella sequel that follows it in the anthology deals with the events that should pull family together but often does the opposite.  Still the pull that drives us from within to desire and seek family lives on and is at times the only thing that keeps these characters going.  Thus, in Scrapper, a boy finds his way home greatly changed from the boy who was excited to leave family.

Family is integral to us all.  I cannot separate it from my writing.  I am forever influenced by a woman I don't even remember because she was at one very brief time my mother.  My father now deceased more than eight years is daily a part of my life.  For a time he held a dual role in a time period when few men could imagine being a mother to two children: one a toddler, the other an infant.  He potty trained me, and when I was becoming concerned about my daughter reaching that milestone in development, who did I call?  Yup, my dad, who offered his usual sage advice.  Potty trained in less than a week and my little girl made the decision.  I just offered opportunity and a willingness to listen. But that's a story for another time.  Family, gotta love them.

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