Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In which I examine the psychological ailments exhibited by my protagonist and me

By Tracy Kiely

I suppose there is a little bit of me in all of my characters; each one a faint reflection of an aspect of my personality, be it light or dark.

We’ve all heard the expression ‘write what you know.’ But to be a true artist, you can’t merely record your experiences. You need to move beyond the shallow realm of your existence and create. For instance, I am an only child of Irish Catholic decent who hails from Northern Virginia. After high school, I attended a small women’s Catholic college where I graduated with a degree in English.

When I set out to create my protagonist Elizabeth Parker, I deliberately did not create a fictional clone of myself. Elizabeth is an Irish Catholic from Northern Virginia who attended a small Catholic women’s college and received a degree in English but she has an older sister.

It’s these details that separate fiction from reality. So with that said, I will attempt diagnose Elizabeth’s psychological ailments and then compare them with mine. I will differentiate the differences between us by the clever use of alternating font.

Feelings of Guilt:

Elizabeth is Irish and Catholic, so she carries twice the normal amount of guilt. She also had a strong sense of wrong and right; so much so that she consistently sticks her nose into situations that she thinks are unfair in an attempt to redress the wrong. In Murder At Longbourn, when the police incorrectly suspect Elizabeth’s Aunt Winnie of murder, Elizabeth immediately sets out to find the real killer.

As a child, I was deeply troubled by the Rabbit’s inability to eat a bowl of Trix and repeatedly and frantically called the 1-800 number to vote “YES” on the Let the Rabbit Eat Trix question.


Elizabeth grew up watching an inordinate amount of “old” movies, especially the British black comedies (The Trouble with Harry and Kind Hearts and Coronets being two such examples and anything from Monty Python being a third.) This has resulted in her, at times, completely irreverent humor.

I once attended a funeral coordinated by a pompous ass who, in trying to invoke a Kennedy-esque Cape Cod atmosphere, played a CD of waves crashing onto a beach. Unfortunately, the funeral took place in DC where a street crew was busily jack hammering out front. The two sounds combined, leaving me choking on a fit of giggles.

Social Awkwardness:

I decided to create a past for Elizabeth that included a feeling of awkwardness in high school as I have read is a common condition among many young women in our society today (I believe writers need to be aware of current issues facing our society). Elizabeth hides this awkwardness behind a veil of sarcastic wit, gleaned mainly from memorizing the lines from popular movies and Dorothy Parker antidotes.

My college yearbook quote was Dorothy Parker’s “I might repeat to myself slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound -- if I can remember any of the damn things.”


Elizabeth’s awkwardness also led her to date several silly and unsuitable young men. Her sketchy dating record has left her insecure – another condition I understand (through extensive reading on the subject) is on the rise these days.

I once dated a guy who stood me up for prom.

So, as you can see in creating Elizabeth I have created a character that who, like a prism, only reflects a portion of me. What can I say? I’m an artist while Elizabeth has issues.


Sophie Littlefield said...

tracy! i got stood up for prom too!! junior high prom, but still. elizabeth's a great character because of all the attributes you gave her.

TracyK said...

HA! And now we can fictionalize our creepy ex-boyfriends and with the maturity and wisdom that comes with age, we can kill them...with dull knives.

Shane Gericke said...

A dull knife is not painful enough for someone who stands you up for PROM. May I suggest a whirling Skil saw with salt on the sharp tips?

And, that Trix hotline part cracked me up. Thanks for a great post.

TracyK said...

Ohhhh...I like the whirling Skil saw! Too bad I didn't know of such things when I was 17 (but then again, probably best that I didn't).

Gabi said...

I simply don't see a resemblance. I can't believe both you and Sophie got stood up for prom. Now that we're practiced in the art of body dismemberment, I say we find those guys.

If you ever do want to really get into the skin of Elizabeth, since you are so vastly different from her, I have several older sisters you can borrow, heck, keep 'em. Then you can really write what you know and Christmas at my house will be a better place.

TracyK said...

Oh the fun of the holidays - while I don't have sisters or brothers, my husband is one of six. We host Thanksgiving each year. One year I suggested we have it catered by drug-dispensing psychiatrists.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Great post, Tracy!

I too have older sisters you can borrow. And a younger one too. After you get through with Gabi's. You should probably start drinking now.

I am amazed at the huge leaps you made when creating your character. The research sounds exhausting.

My prom date showed up. It would have made the next few years easier if he hadn't. Sometimes getting stood up is better in the long run. But prom itself was really fun. We rented an island on the Wannsee in Berlin, we were all legal drinking age, and someone drank champagne out of my shoe before we all went skinny dipping in the moonlight. Yes, I used to be cool.

TracyK said...

Cool?? Cool doesn't BEGIN to describe that!! Someone drank out of your shoe?? Oh God, never have I felt more deserving of the minivan that sits in my driveway.

Gabi said...

No one deserves the minivan. Especially after you so graciously invited all my sisters and Rebecca's too to share your holiday celebration.

I don't know what's worse -- being stood up for prom or being affiliated with someone so cool she rented AN ISLAND for prom. I can't even remember my prom date's name. I can sort of see him and it's not good. I remember the dress. Definitely not good. Maybe I need a minivan.

TracyK said...

I've got an idea. Let's put all annoying relatives and crappy ex-boyfriends in the minivan and rent our OWN damn island.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I agree with Gabi, no one deserves a minivan! I'll send you the sister with the blue 68 Camaro and you can tool around in that. She's a wild driver, but safe (so far).

I didn't personally rent the island, the junior/senior class did. But it WAS hella cool and I knew it. Berlin during the days of the Wall had its perks.

The shoe in question was a turquoise pump with a short stiletto heel and a pointy toe. I kept it for years even though it was uncomfortable because I knew, even then, no one was ever likely to drink out of my shoes again.

If it's any consolation, when my son was in first grade I was voted "parent most likely to be handed used gum." It ain't all glamour.

Shane Gericke said...

Rebecca is STILL cool. I spent a couple of days with her--but not in the biblical sense, get yer minds out of the gutter!--so I oughta know. We did not, sadly, drink Champagne from her shoe. Or mine. We ate butterburgers at Culver's and went to bookstores at malls.

TracyK said...

At least it wasn't parent most likely to CHEW used gum. We've a couple of those around here.

Gabi said...

The parent mose like to CHEW USED GUM? Oh good grief. Please tell me there isn't really one of those. No. Wait. I don't want to know.

Anyone who feels compelled to deny biblical knowledge -- or drinking from shoes for that matter -- well, remains highly suspect. He who doth protest too much and all. It could be worse. I could think you're the parent most likely to chew used gum.

Okay, that's the funniest thing I've heard in forever.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Glad I dodged the "most likely to chew used gum" bullet. Remember that scene in ELF? Ewwww....

Shane is quite cool himself. We drove around getting free drinks everywhere we stopped 'cause I was with the Fabulous Gericke. Plus he had so many books to sign I had to flap for him. It was mountains of books. I was glad they gave me water.

Butterburgers, but no cheese curd. Maybe next year.

Gabi, he DOES do that protesting thing suspiciously much, doesn't he? Hmmm......I'll never tell. :)

Bill Cameron said...

I totally agree about the Trix rabbit. Dude got screwed without even getting kissed first, Saturday morning after Saturday morning.

Lois Winston said...

Tacy, I'm the oldest of 4. You're welcome to any of my siblings. I'd even pay you to take them! (Ah, the joys of dysfunctional families!)