Monday, October 1, 2012

Constant Charlotte

I have a long and storied history with Irish women. It goes all the way back to my college years. I wasn’t really cognizant of my Celtic connections until a travel documentary I had produced for my daughter’s study abroad program in Ireland resurfaced recently. It got me thinking about the Irish women in my life, real and imaginary.

There have been a host of fascinating women who have populated my life and my writings. Without a conscious effort to do so, I’ve managed to infuse a lot of my fictional female characters with Irish connections. And on some strange, almost organic level, that legendary Irish wit, charm, beauty and mystery has added greatly to the dimension and depth of those characters.  For the real ones in my past life, that aurora just came naturally, I guess.

For example, the name Charlotte and its Irish connotations have been tracking me for quite a while now. In Celtic, Charlotte is translated Searlait. It’s now become an indelible part of my life.

My second relationship, after college, was with another beautiful and vivacious Irish woman named Charlotte. She was in her early twenties and her strong personality was as radiant as her flowing auburn hair. Charlotte’s parents had passed away back in Philadelphia and she’d moved west when I met her for the first time. My wife, Sharon, knew about Charlotte and was accepting of our relationship. More on that later.

My Irish connections run deep even though my own heritage is German and French-Canadian.

 My son, Brian, married a Krayer. My daughter, Melanie, married a McMahon. One way or another, most of my immediate family are either alumni or subway-alumni of the Blue and Gold. All of them are radical members of the Clan of the Golden Dome.

Then the connections just continue on. My mother-in-law is named Charlotte. My eldest granddaughter is Maya Charlotte. And, of course, my youngest granddaughter, SweetPea, is also named Charlotte.

“Follow the Cobbler,” my suspense thriller now in its second rewrite, features a woman named Katherine as one of its protagonists. Katherine’s background remains a cauldron of fact and fiction (even to me at this point) but she can definitely trace her roots back to Celtic times. Irish folklore and legend figure prominently into her mysterious past. I’m still trying to sort out her quizzical history which goes all the way back to medieval times.
"Follow the Cobbler" book cover

My most recent novel, “Love in the A Shau” features an Irish college student named Colleen (some names in the novel have been changed to protect the uninitiated). She’s smart, ambitious and of course, beautiful. Colleen’s challenge in the novel is to remain true to her family’s heritage while struggling with her deep feelings for someone radically different from herself.

Irish Music

The folk music I love so much can trace its roots back to the Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh music of the 18th century. Those musical styles, themes, rhythms and vocal arrangements have been a part of our musical heritage for centuries. It’s a long and grand history that resurfaced for me in the folk revival of the 50s and 60s and the most recently with the resurgence with groups such as The Lumineers and Elephant Revival.


Temple Bar

The (now defunct) Triangle Bar on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota figures prominently in my novel “Love in the A Shau.” Dublin, Ireland, doesn’t have just one Triangle Bar. It’s got dozens. All located in the Temple Bar area near Trinity College.

Unlike the areas surrounding it, Temple Bar has preserved its medieval street pattern of many narrow and winding streets. It’s promoted as “Dublin’s cultural quarter” and has attracted a large number of bars, restaurants, museums and other artistic destinations.

Many of the bars and taverns there have the same vibe as the Triangle Bar did back in the sixties. Even with exorbitant prices and creeping gentrification, the area still beckons artists and musicians every day.


Avatars Deflecting Reality

Understanding women in real life is tough enough for the average guy. For a male writer to create fictional female characters out of real friends and acquaintances is even tougher. Then add subtle changes to hide their identity and the task becomes even more daunting.

In the same sense, relationships are hard enough to understand and maintain in real life. Creating them in a fictional world can be even more intimidating. Often times, the line between reality and fiction can blur, become focused momentarily and then fade back into vapor trails smeared across the computer screen. Which woman is an avatar and which is a real person? Where does the line between imagination and reality end and where does it pick up again?

Sharon and Melanie, Amy and Maya, Samantha and Charlotte are real enough. I care deeply for all of them and I think that has helped my writing. But the line can blur bet-ween fact and fiction, truth and exaggeration. It’s a constant challenge to start with a fictional character and not let a real one sneak in to take her place. Or visa-versa.

Is it really Colleen or Sheila, Medbh or Marti, Snow White or Susan? Some were born in a keystroke…others weren’t. Katherine, Miranda, Brooke and all my other fictional women are real in my imagination and the fictional world I’ve created for them. I can see them in my minds-eye. I feel for them. I care for them. I hope the best for them. And I want to keep it that way.

So my goal is to strike a balance between the real and imagined. I’ll try to keep my head in the clouds but my feet planted firmly on the ground. I’ll recognize reality but coat it liberally and affectionately with all the subtle enounces of a good story. I will continue to care deeply for those women as if they were real. Because in my mind, they are.

Charlotte Moves On

After a while, the second Charlotte in my life moved on, although it took her thirty eight more years to do so. And as much as I found her to be a fascinating person that I wanted to know in greater depth, it just wasn’t meant to be. In the end, she developed strong feelings for a gunslinger and drifter named Jeb Burns. I thought our relationship was over at the end of my first novel “Apache Death Wind.”

But upon the advice of my editor, I’m changing the ending of that story and leaving it open-ended for a sequel. As outlined thus far, the second story will have Charlotte returning to the west with two love interests in addition to facing the dangers of marauding Apache war parties. Who knows, she may come back into my life once again.

And if “Follow the Cobbler” works out, there are two more sequels waiting in the wings for that storyline. I might get to follow Katherine through more harrowing adventures and life-changing events. And I might come to better understand that mysterious woman who can trace her roots back to Maeve, the Irish warrior queen, and other legendary Irish folk heroes.

Three for Three

And even if Katherine, Colleen and Charlotte all fade away, there are still three strong women to steal my heart and cash in on my affections. And the youngest may be the most audacious of them all.

Maya Papaya
Sami Jam
Sweet Pea

My granddaughters have already assimilated their Irish heritage of strong convictions, fearless drive and feminist Zen.

Watch out young men, they’re coming.

And it might not be pretty.

1 comment:

Jerry Hoffman said...

Very interesting, nicely done!

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