Grannies

In my books, I love Jazzi’s grandmother.  She’s the one who taught Jazzi how to cook.  When Jazzi was a little girl, she’d go to spend a weekend with her once in a while, and they’d fiddle in the kitchen together.   But Gran has reached the age where she’s beginning to be forgetful and sometimes gets addled.  It’s a mild case, though, and another woman whose husband died has moved into the farmhouse with her.  Samantha couldn’t keep up her large house and property after she was widowed, so she and Gran have teamed up together.  It suits them both.

I should also add that Gran has the gift of sight.  More often than not, it’s hard to decipher and confuses Jazzi more than helps when Gran first announces a bit of information, but in the end, Gran’s always right.  Ansel has a soft spot for her and is happy to fetch her a glass of red wine when she comes for Sunday meals.

In Lux 2–the book I’m working on now–Lux isn’t close to either set of her grandparents and never mentions them, but Keon knows his grandmother all too well.  All five of the Johnson siblings dread spending time with her.  She’s caustic and demanding.  This sounds horrible, but I fashioned her after both of my grandmas but made her worse.  My grannies were both tough, old birds.  After my dad’s father died, his mom sat on the couch every day, eating bananas and reading True Confession magazines.  My parents dragged us to her house every other weekend while they worked to keep her house in order.  If we tried to talk to grandma to pass the time, she’d wave us away.  Once, she threw a book at my sister’s head.  I used that in a story.

My mom’s mother looked like a sweet, old lady.  She wore her snow white hair pulled back in a bun, and her dark brown eyes sparkled, just not often with humor.  I have to give her credit.  She survived the depression with four kids, sometimes without enough food to make them supper.  She’d tell them to go to bed early.  Then, when her money got better and she moved to our hometown, her daughter caught diphtheria and went deaf.  She had a hard life and never trusted that it would get easier.  I respected her, but she wasn’t the type to spend pleasant afternoons with or cuddle.

I wanted to show both types of grandmas.  Jazzi got lucky.  Keon, not so much.  But family bonds are strong, even when they chafe, so when Keon’s grannie breaks her hip and falls, Keon’s dad brings her to Summit City to live with him and his wife.  And no one can see any good coming of that.  But it’s hard to decide what to do when your parents reach an age that they can’t care for themselves anymore.  It’s often an agonizing decision to put them in a nursing home, especially if they don’t want to go there.  Often, though, there aren’t any good options.  No matter what you decide, it doesn’t feel good.  I wanted to show that, too.

I’m talking about grannies when my books are mysteries, but the characters in the books don’t just solve crimes.  They work, entertain, and visit friends.  And they have families.  If you’re writing, I hope your characters are walking and talking on the pages for you.  And happy writing!

 

Writing: Themes

When I was young, I drove my mom nuts by asking “Why?” I wanted to understand how things connected, the cause and effect of life’s happenings. A lot of my writing explored the meaning of life. Maybe that’s why I was so drawn to mysteries, and why I’m still so drawn to plot points. Plots use cause and effect to move from one scene to the next. Mysteries take the chaos of crime and bring the criminals to justice. It makes the world…and writing…more orderly.

Now that I’m older, I don’t expect to discover the meaning of life. It’s sort of like understanding the idea of infinity. I believe in it, because it makes sense to me. How can anyone draw a line in space and say This is where it ends? Because then, we have to ask What’s on the other side of the line? Something must continue. So even though I can’t fathom infinity, I believe in it. For the same reason, I believe there must be SOME meaning to life, but I have no idea what I think it is. I’ve heard lots of different discussions on it–that life is a classroom, and we’re here to learn, that life is a blessing and sacred, even if it stinks, and that life is a stage, and we each play a part–good or bad–for the experience it brings us. I can find flaws with each and every answer I’ve heard, but that just means that the question is possibly too big for me. Like infinity. So I can’t picture the answer.

These days, I’ve flipped the question and instead of asking, What is the meaning of Life, I ask How can I add more meaning to my life? And that’s the theme that turns up more often than not in my writing. Life experience probably paid a part.

Some people are lucky and don’t attend their first funeral until they’re older. I lost my one grandfather when I was too young to remember the funeral. I only have impressions of the man–a man with a big laugh who bounced me on his knee. I lost my second grandfather before my teens. Both men went quickly, no lingering. They were there, and then they were gone. My father believed that man’s days were numbered, like the notion of the Greek Fates, who wove a person’s thread and then cut it at the allotted time. My grandfathers had lived their days, until they’d reached their quota. I decided I’d better use my time wisely. But soon after I married, my father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He died before he was sixty, and the disease took him a little at a time. When his blood clogged with too many proteins and cells, doctors attached him to a machine and took the blood out of his left arm, spun it in a machine with centrifugal force, and then put his clean blood back into his right arm. In the beginning, a treatment would last a long time. Then, several months. Then, shorter. Being the man that he was, he went through the treatments with no complaints, making the best of each visit and the time he had between them…until his time was up. I’M the one who shook my fists at the heavens and asked Why? To me, a lingering death seemed more like a punishment than a quick one. It wasn’t a matter of just cutting Dad’s threads. But then, one of my close friends, who’d been through loss of her own, asked Why not? Bad things happen. Why wouldn’t they happen to you? A sobering thought, but it made sense to me. So I waded through the experience. And it helped me with the next one.

My mom died a short while ago, and my sisters and I felt almost guilty, we were so happy for her. Mom had suffered Alzheimer’s Disease for ten years. The last year was just plain ugly. My sister Patty cared for her, and my sister Mary, constantly helped. I was only an occasional visitor. My theory was to help my sisters, because it’s no fun being a caregiver. I got the easy part of the downward slide that ended my mom being my mom. But I can assure you that out of love, all three of us felt huge relief when Mom’s struggle was finally over. And that experience, along with everything else that’s happened in my life, has affected my writing. Maybe that’s why urban fantasy appeals to me right now. Life’s struggles loom large in my mind, too big for mysteries. The concept of life and death is more complicated than it once was. A witch or a werewolf live until someone or something kills him. Is that a blessing or a curse? A fallen angel is immortal and can’t die. How desirable is immortality? And what makes living each day, every day, meaningful? What purpose makes life worth living? Those are the themes I’m drawn to now. And next week, I’ll lighten up:) Maybe I’ll talk about romance:):)

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