Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Recipe for a Book--Strong Secondary Characters

I was reading posts in the “Girly Book Blog Hop” (34 of them!!!) sponsored by a member of the FaceBook group, Chick Lit Goddesses. The blog hop ended yesterday, but I’m sure you could pick them up still.

The theme was secondary characters in each blogger’s books. It made me re-think my own stories and how I have portrayed secondary characters.

Because, well, you do know I’m a writer, don’t you?

“Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary Time” is a blatant attempt at self-promotion. I lure you in with recipes, cooking tips, and gadget reviews, but it is all to serve one master: my culinary mystery series. Well, that, and I do truly like recipes, cooking tips, and gadgets.

The first book in the as-yet-unpublished series, Mission Impastable, sees Alli, my heroine, and Gina, her BFF, trying, unsuccessfully, to name their start-up personal chef business.  Later in the scene, my fave secondary character, Maria, Gina’s mom, enters. Listen in:

Given her “Luscious Mango” hair color, Alli laid what should have been a freckled cheek, but wasn't, on the top of the old oak table in Gina's kitchen. She closed her eyes.
Gina sat down across from Alli. She picked up her paper towel and swiped at a syrup puddle one of the kids had left behind for her to find with a silk blouse sleeve at some inopportune moment. She tossed the crumpled bit to the table. Gina’s eyes looked stricken. She bowed her head. She ran her hands through the sides and to the back of her blond-streaked hair.
"How about 'Meals in Minutes'", she looked over at Alli whose head remained on the table.
"Or 'What's Cooking?'" Still no response from Alli.
"Maybe we could call it 'What's for Dinner?'" Gina asked with a question mark in her voice.
"Nah," Alli mumbled from her tabletop nest. "Somebody got that one with meals people drive in and pick up over by the Black Canyon Freeway." Alli's flat voice signaled a lack of her normal ebullience. Her head bobbed up.
 "How about using our last names? 'Smithson and Wesson-food you'd kill for'? No, huh?"
Alli thought again, furrowing her brow and kinking more curls. "I know! I know! Unique! Ear-catching! Let's call it "Al-Gi Dinners'! Get it? Alli and Gina. . . Al-Gi!"
"Tell me that's your sick idea of a joke!" Gina frowned back at her best friend since second grade. Alli's cheek went back onto the table where she spied a stray cheesecake crumb--mmmm! blueberry, her favorite. Her finger darted out to capture it for release on her tongue.
Silence reigned, but a change in the air current signaled someone else had entered the kitchen. "'Dinner is Served'," Gina's mom announced, waddling over to the table, her pink, orange, and purple floral housecoat flapping limply in her considerable wake.
"Ma," Gina gave "the look" to Alli before further addressing her mother, "Ma, it’s breakfast time. Since when have you lost track of your meals?"
"No, Genius! That's what you should call this personal chef thing, which I personally think is a wastrel of your time, since any good mother would not want a stranger cooking for her family if she had any self-pride at all and who will pay you enough to feed your own children which makes you wonder who will be cooking for them while you're out feeding the world, that would be me."
Maria Martini paused for breath, "Call your business, 'Dinner is Served'."
Alli's head popped up. "I like it," Alli smiled. "Classy. Specific. Easy to remember. 'Dinner is Served' Yeah, I like it!"
"Oh, Ma! That is perfect! How did you come up with it?" Gina asked, dark brown eyes snapping in her re-animated face.
Maria gave a smile that could have been smug or a snarl. "That's what I thought of the first time you two twits thought you wanted to start a cooking business even though you didn't ask me what I thought probably because you knew I'd try to talk some sensical into you because why would someone cook for other people in their kitchens when you don't even know if they have a can opener since people who don't like to cook probably don't even own a can opener, not that you open a lot of cans.”
Gina and Alli stared at Maria. They knew she was going to start up again, and to interrupt her now would extend her explanation even further. Better to let her finish.
“But that's the name I thought of two weeks ago." Maria smiled, her lips twisted in what passed on her face for a sweet smile.
"Two weeks ago," Gina repeated flatly. "And you couldn't be bothered to tell us until now?"
"When I heard my sweet Alli say," Maria paused to pat Alli's cheek, "Al-Gi Dinners', I couldn't keep it to myself any longer because why would you have listened sooner when people need to hit the dirt on the bottom first."
She sat happy-faced, clearly relishing the look of the two of them sitting gape-mouthed. It wasn't always easy following her logic or her language, but, more often than either of them would like to admit, Gina’s mother made her convoluted points.
“You fill in the name on the forms in this pile,” Alli tapped the larger stack. “I’ll go register the name for a website.” Alli darted off to the office they shared in Gina's house, enumerating her "to-do" list aloud. "I'll be back in an hour or so," she yelled over her shoulder.
            Maria settled herself at the table with a mug of Alli’s strong and hot coffee. "My Alli," Maria’s smile reflected her pride. "Isn't she just something? She plays that computer like a deck of cards. Why don't you learn to do the computer things she does?"
            Gina felt the familiar rise of jealousy whenever her mother praised Alli’s attributes over her own. "Why should I? Alli can do that part, or even the kids if it comes to that. I save myself for the other stuff," Gina replied a little defensively.

Maria is in part modeled after my mom, the first language-mangler I knew. Mother takes “Ibufferin” when she gets “flusterated”. Maria was easy to write. I like her as a secondary character because she has a unique relationship with Alli that goes back a long time, and she can tell Alli when she needs to shape up. Most people in my critique groups like Maria, but some think I overdo her language-mangling. What do you think? Comment below. Would her language patterns drive you nuts or do you find them endearing?

No comments:

Post a Comment