Conversations With An Unfinished Character

I’ve always thought the mark of really excellent writing–fiction or otherwise–is being able to clearly see the character or the “subject” leap off the page before your eyes.  The great stories that I have read and enjoyed are more like eavesdropping on the conversations and spying on the lives of the characters.  It is, perhaps, a sign of obsession when you start actually feeling like the characters in books are your friends–but that’s a self psychoanalysis for another post. I have always preferred stories that are character-driven rather than plot-driven.  If you need some explanation–a Jane Austen novel (or movie) is character driven where as something like the Bourne books (or movies) are more plot driven.  Think drama versus action–to put it in a nutshell.  I am always pleasantly surprised when something I have written myself has enough life that I can picture the character sitting right where I left him or her, waiting for me to pick up the conversation where we left out.

As I was thinking along these strange lines, I wondered what it would be like if I could sit down for just a moment with one of my main characters–if you haven’t read (or at least skimmed) the Southern Summer Night short story I wrote, you may want to take a peek.  So, if I could sit down with Beau for a bit, I see it going something like this…

*****

I’m sitting outside an old ice cream shoppe–the kind typical to southern towns still clinging to to the past in every way they can.  It’s a gorgeous day–sunny and cool and breezy–and the trees actually change color in this little Alabama town. I see him walking towards me. He has a little bit of a swagger, but that might just be the boots he’s wearing. His jeans are faded and so is his plaid button down, but I can tell that they came with a hefty price tag.  His hair is longer than it was when I last left him—a high school kid trying to get away.  It’s not as curly as I thought it was though and he’s taller than I pictured. He’s frowning at me and I can’t see his eyes from behind his Rayban aviators.  His hands are stuffed in his pockets and he stalks up to the table and stares down at me for a moment.  I notice now that his shoulders are hunched and he looks highly uncomfortable.  Then, I remember it has been quite some time since he has been back in this tiny Alabama town.

“Will you sit down?” I ask.

He yanks out the chair and the iron legs scrape loudly across the concrete. He finally removes the mirrored glasses and tucks them in the neckline of his shirt. It is easy to see that the years have added a sophistication to him, but when he finally speaks, his voice is the same slow, southern drawl I pictured. Not the caricature often exemplified in movies, but the real deal.

“It’s been a while,” he says, folding his arms on top of the wrought iron table and staring at me with piercing hazel eyes. The lashes around them are just as I pictured–obnoxiously long on a man.

“I know…” I feel guilty. “I’ve been busy.”

“You left me researching in the school library,” he accuses me.

I wince, remembering that right now he is stranded just there–in his high school library searching for his mother’s sister.

“Well, I did write you coming back here,” I protest. “Some of it, anyway.”

“Yeah and one helluva homecoming it’s been.  You sure know how to welcome a guy back,” he leans back and squints at me through the sun.  It brings out the red in his hair and I’m still trying to figure out how the scrawny eighteen year old Beau I last wrote has turned into this tall, confident man in his late twenties. Because I haven’t quite written the middle yet.

“Sorry…but you have been away a long time. Anyway, this is my story, here.”

“No, it’s my story, you’re just writing it.”

Dang. He has a point.

“I’m getting there…I just need to fill in the gaps. And I got stuck…and a little bored.”

“You’re bored?” he raises his dark eyebrows. “I’m still stuck in the high school library…which, by the way looks a lot like the one at your high school. Am I going to find my aunt? How do I end up back here ten years later like this?” He gestures at his clothes.

“It’s all up here,” I tap my temple…which isn’t entirely true…but a good chunk of it is floating around in there, mixed in with other half-thought characters and scenes from other projects.

“Want to fill me in?”

“That would be cheating,” I say smugly. Plus I haven’t quite figured it out yet…

I look at my watch and realize what time it is, that I have to get up early, that I have to do laundry and I stand up from the table.

“Where are you going?” he asks, looking surprise.

“I have to go…I have things to do.”

“Well try writing the rest of my life when you get the chance,” he says, with some of the bitterness that I had hoped would have faded in ten years. It hasn’t.

As I lean back from the keyboard, Beau is still sitting there, arms crossed on the table and staring off down the road in that tiny Alabama town. At the same time, he is sitting in the library at an ancient PC desktop computer, tapping away at the keys, ten years in the past.

“I’ll write the middle…and the end,” I tell myself, and him, as the ice cream shoppe and the fluorescent lights of the library both blend together, blur, and fade away.

“Ladies, this is the last Rosé of the night…” or That One Time I Met The Bachelor

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I know people who spend their whole lives wanting to meet and/or trying to meet celebrities.  I guess I’m more the type where, if opportunity presents itself (and it’s free!) I’ll be there.  As it so happens, such an opportunity fell into my lap in the form of a friend who is a dedicated twitter follower of certain “celebs.” Now that I’ve graduated, doing random things seems to be the theme of this awkward limbo between undergrad and (possibly) graduate school. So when I woke up at the crack of dawn to get ready for work and saw a text message waiting with an invitation to accompany a friend to a local wine cellar where Bachelor Ben Flajnik of ABC’s “The Bachelor” fame would be promoting some of his wines. I figured if we were asked to leave by his entourage then at least we didn’t pay anything and we would be close to home—perfect distance to make a quick and graceful exit. As it so happens, the venue was a place I had wanted to check out for some time—an added bonus.

I wish I could say that the bachelor was far too low-brow for my tastes, but living in a sorority house will jumpstart your addiction to “reality” TV. I watched most of Ben’s season and, while of course groaning at his decisions and laughing at the ridiculousness of falling in love on national television with a guy that is also dating between 20 and three other women (depending on how long you last). Looking back, I think Ben was probably one of the more “normal” bachelors on camera.  He seemed really laid back and like he wanted to do his own thing—which perhaps came off a little arrogant and selfish on the show.  Editing can either make you look like the hero or the villain on “reality” TV.  That said Ben was never really on my radar as a famous person I would like to meet. In fact, after the tabloids stopped having photos of him and his chosen “lady” posted all over the shelves at the checkout line in HEB, I pretty much forgot about him.After meeting Ben, I think that is exactly what he would like to hear—although I won’t pretend an hour of conversation gives me any right to say what he thinks.

Fast forward to last night: a year(ish) past the Bachelor Season 10000 or 16 (whatever) and a little wine cellar just off of I-10 in Houston—light-years away from the exotic Bachelor locales.  My friend and I (somewhat more dressed up than I would normally be for a wine night) pull into the parking lot.  We can see into the wine bar, which is lined with dark cubbies filled with sparkling bottles and softly lit.  There appears to be a small crowd of people in the side room, but the place is not packed to capacity by any means, and I do not spot anything resembling a large van that would hold producers and camera equipment. Finally starting to believe my friend’s information—that this was an un-promoted meeting with a vendor, we walk through the doors. I can hear my friend’s heart pounding—she is way more excited about the prospect of meeting Ben than I am.  I’m here for the story and the wine. There sits Ben at a table with several rows of wine glasses and bottles, ready for tasting.  We wander slowly forward, waiting to be stopped. But there is no entourage, no Chris Harrison, and no red velvet rope—just Ben, his business partner, and a woman I believe is their distributor.  So we walk over to the table where Ben sits, wearing a faded, obviously well-loved plaid button down and jeans.  He stands when we approach, greets us, introduces himself (as if we didn’t know) and asks if we’d like to taste some wine. 

I can tell my friend needs a chance to catch her breath, so I go ahead and ask about the obvious—the wine.  Ben is more than happy to talk about it, explaining the meaning behind the label—Epilogue, which, in this case stands for the conclusion to a piece of music, the culmination as it were. We taste the wines and he explains the differences in aroma and taste—all the way down to the types of grapes used and the fermentation process. Now, I know what you’re wondering: was the wine any good? And yes, yes, it was. So there we were, my friend and me and Ben Flajnik, former Bachelor contestant, hanging out and talking about wine, the weirdos out in California, and the fact that this venture is Ben’s 5th start up.  His partner is his best friend, dating back to 6th grade, and his younger sisters work with the company, Envolve Winery, as well. The few queries that were made about the bachelor were graciously, but firmly deflected. Ben made it pretty clear that that’s behind him and isn’t something he wants to dwell on.  As the scheduled hour and a half drew to a close, we asked Ben where he was headed next on his Texas tour and he glanced at his watch and said they were heading out to Austin within half an hour. He graciously offered to autograph some bottles of wine for us and we each purchased several bottles, got our obligatory photo and that was that.

It’s kind of amusing to me how enamored some people were of him, simply because of his “celebrity” status. He seemed like a very normal guy and honestly, he came off much better in person than he did on TV.  I was slightly disappointed that Chris Harrison didn’t pop out from behind the counter and say “Ben, ladies, this is the final bottle of wine for the evening. Ben, when you’re ready…” but you can’t have everything.