Friday, April 18, 2008

Judy, Judy, Judy

by Cathy Anderson Corn

Are your protagonists larger than life? Have you ever considered weaving your story around someone you know who's a character? I haven't used her yet, but my friend Judy is surrounded by stories that are stranger than fiction.

I'll just mention the part where she was hit by a drunk driver and suffered injuries that required surgery and several months in a metal halo device around her head. Oh, and while she was recovering in a hospital bed in the livingroom, her mother had a heart attack and went to the hospital, leaving Judy alone in the house.

Let's skip to the part where Judy and her two little dogs have moved to Sedona, Arizona, where Judy worked as a hospice nurse, visiting the dying. We took Judy out for dinner last fall when we visited Sedona, and she shared a hospice story.

She traveled to a patient's house one day, and there were no meds in the house to ease the dying man's pain. The meds were gone because the dying man's wife had given them to her boyfriend. As the man was near his transition time, and Judy wanted to make him more comfortable, she implemented care as only Judy could have.

"Everyone, let's sit at the table and hold hands (I think the boyfriend might have been there, too). We're going to breathe deeply and relax. We're going to send healing energy around the circle..." And so Judy, unable to give meds, did a healing meditation. The man relaxed and so did everyone else in the room, and he made his transition. A few days later the hospice got another request for Judy and her meditations.

That evening, we drove Judy home, and her two little white bijons danced on her condo balcony waiting for her. Judy is single, and they are her children, and they were excited to see her. So I was blown away when I got Judy's email two months later. Donny, ten years old, had suffered a cardiac arrest at the park during their morning walk after a normal morning at home and good health. Judy tried to resuscitate him and drove him to the vet, but it was too late.

We mourned his loss. At least she still had Dolly, just a year older than Donny, to bring her comfort.

Just a few weeks later, Judy emailed me that Dolly was very near death from Addison's Disease. A few days after that, she wrote that for the last few hours of Dolly's life, she had held her and sung her into the light.

Dolly was gone. Judy had lost both dogs in 27 days, and I didn't know how she was going to stand the pain. Sandwiched in between the passings was Judy's 50th birthday.

Then, about six weeks after that, another email from Judy. A patient from hospice had died, leaving her pets behind. Someone needed to take them.

They were two white bijons, two years old.

So Judy writes me that she now drives around the countryside taking care of people who want to live--she switched from hospice to Home Health Care. She says she still has two little white dogs, the ones the universe sent to fill the void in her life and heart, but it all feels much lighter and brighter now. Judy, a survivor, has overcome once more.

So tell me, who are the colorful characters in your life? Have you given them a place in your fiction?


Tory said...

The grumpy psychologist working on night shift in my suspense novel-in-progress was based on a real therapist I met. However, when I tried to "get inside" the character (trying to figure out what the real person would do in a particular situation) I got blocked. So now I think of my real people-based characters as sort of "imprints." giving them a physical appearance and a basic personality, but I let it diverge from there. That works much better!

Annette said...

The story of your friend brought tears to my eyes, Cathy.

I, too, have a colorful best friend and I channeled her for one of the main characters (the protagonist's best friend) in my two veterinary mysteries. I changed her looks and her family situation completely, but her words and actions were straight from my wacko pal.

Gina said...

Cathy -

It's sounds like Judy's life would make an interesting story.

I haven't used friends as characters in terms of portraying their terrible tragedies in fiction. Some things are too personal to be shared with strangers -- like when a friend was raped by her little girl's best friend's teenaged brother. I wouldn't feel comfortable writing the details of that. Some things might come across as heartless, like laughing with another friend about how, after her leg was amputed due to bone cancer and she was practicing with crutches on a wooden floor, she got a huge splinter in her one remaining foot. [If that isn't enough to make you think the universe has turned against you, I don't know what is!] The same friend died of brain cancer shortly after her husband was murdered. A real life tragedy that might not be believable in fiction -- I mean, how much bad stuff can happen to one character? In real life, there are no constraints on that.

I have used friends as prototypes, in the sense that a character might move and talk like "XXX," much in the same way that I might base a character's actions upon the way a particular actor might play the role. And I have, at times, taken the emotions expressed by friends and attached them to fictional situations that might evoke similar emotions.

Martha Reed said...

Tory, imprint is the perfect word for how I draw some of my characters, too. Can I use it?

I laugh when someone reads my work and says "Oh, that's me!" because usually (99% of the time) it's not. But once someone thinks I've drawn a character based on them they seem to hang on to the idea.

I notice they also always pick one of the nicer, quirkier characters. No one ever wants to be Eddie Farrar.

Joyce said...

The guys at work are always asking me if they're in my books. I just smile and say, "Maybe." It keeps them on their best behavior. Well, sometimes, anyway.

Some of my characters are composites of different people. Most are just figments of my imagination.

Wilfred the Author said...

Not a best friend, but a shooting instructor at a gun range I've gone to. I'll dispense with his name, because he was freaky about even having his picture taken. You see, he claims to have a gang issuing death threats to him.

I met this character during the gun range exercise at SinC's Forensics U in St. Louis. I coordinated the event and Got to know this gentleman.

As a civilian, he has been carjacked, mugged, he's gotten shot and he has apparently shot somebody. He's the kind of guy who seems to attrract trouble and if you saw him on the street, you'd think he was a normal businesman. Someday, I'll have a charatcer based on him.

Cathy said...

That's it. I think I use an imprint of the real person for some of my characters. It's all loosely based on reality.

And the words and actions are what I use if my character is based on a real person, too. It's fun to have the spirit of one's buddy in the character.

All I can say is, "Gina, Gina, Gina." Such experiences!

I've read of a writer who used people close to her as characters. When the people read her book, not one recognized him/her self. Stranger than fiction.

Has your book come out yet? It sounds very interesting. I got nervous just reading about it. Best wishes and welcome to the blog.

kathie said...

Wow, Judy is something else. I only hope someone like her is around when I die--that's an artform and gift for sure. I use bits and pieces of people in stories. I have tried to use whole people before, camoflauging them--or trying to--and I find I am inhibited by that, afraid to hurt the character because it feels like I'm hurting the person or that they would think I was (if they knew it was them.) question, the colorful people in life inspire me and I have to say Judy sounds like a great character for a book and even better in real life. I always wonder how much of the character on Medium is accurate to the real=life woman. She's one of my favorite TV moms, but I can't help wondering about the "real" AZ mom she's based on.

Cathy said...

And Joyce,
I'll bet the boys just love your teasing. Plus, they'll all buy your books to see if they're in them.

Wilfred the Author said...

A Reason For Dying is close. I'm hoping by June 1st. Thanks for checking. It's my first and to say I'm a little anxious is an understatement.

Cathy said...

If you want to read the book written by the real Allison Dubois, it's "Don't Kiss Them Good-bye." I talked about her in my March blog. I'd loan you the book if I could find it. There are entirely too many books around here.

Joyce said...

Cathy, all I'll have to do is tell there's a sex scene in Chapter 15 and they'll probably buy multiple copies! Of course, that depends on it actually being published.

Cathy said...

We'd all like to buy a copy of Chapter 15. Let me know where to send the money. Might get some new ideas.

And of course they will be published, and also the ones that are still just foggy notions in your mind. (Can't wait to get Chapter 15.)

Anonymous said...


Judy sent me (and several of her other friends) this blog. What a great story and what a great gal! We are both blessed to have her in our lives. I was her neighbor in Sedona and have pictures of our last night there (and other times too) on my screen saver, so every few days I get to say hello to All three of the angels.