My kids are weird. I say that with the most love possible. They are funny, unique endearing and strange. Just now, I was sitting in my office and I heard beat box noises and laughter, so I wandered out to see what was going on.
My eldest son was sitting on the arm of the couch, improvising lyrics to a song, while one of the neighbor boys played guitar and did a beat box. The closest example I can give is Alice’s Restaurant. One played and the other came up with lyrics, with a smattering of harmonica thrown in for spice.
All I can say is, I wish we’d recorded it. I haven’t laughed that hard in awhile. My son is one of the best at improvising lyrics. When his brothers were younger, he would play guitar and tell tales to put them to sleep. They loved it. Of course, he couldn’t always remember it later, but they always begged for particular songs every night.
My children have been a constant source of material. I don’t often write about them, because I don’t want to embarrass them, but I frequently use things they’ve said or done, in my books.
A prime example, also from my eldest son. His friend had been visiting and was heading home. They exchanged insults, as they often did. (Male bonding, I’ll never understand it.) The exchange stuck with me and I ended up using it in one of my sci-fi novels, Shakazhan. The last exchange between the men is the quote. The names have been changed to protect the innocent (Me) from being sued:
Ben chuckled, winking at Matilda. “Yes, Ma’am. Duty would work.” He risked a wicked glance at Wil. “The fact that you’re beautiful and desirable, and the sexiest woman I’ve ever met would have nothing whatever to do with it.”
Wil was furious until he recognized the subtleties of the remark. He chuckled. “Ben, you know what you can kiss.”
“Yeah, Wil, and you know what you can blow.”
I don’t always copy exactly what they say, but more the way they say things. Their mode of expression is unique and it fascinates me. Laced with sarcasm and double meanings, they communicate on an entirely different level from other people their age. I have to wonder how much of this my husband and I are responsible for, and how much is simply from them. Their friends have picked up on it, too, so our influence spreads.
Anyone who has read my books, knows that I use a lot of humor in them. I don’t purposely try to be funny, because that’s hard. Instead, I involve myself in the conversation and let the characters find their own humor. I’m not the one being funny, they are. They also have running jokes throughout a story, something that others don’t know about, but always makes them laugh.
In Conduct Unbecoming, the men are always twitting Joel about his bright blue Civic named Bluebell. Though I didn’t borrow any exact conversations, the way that the men comment and tease Joel is so like my sons and their friends, I have to give credit to them for it:
“Boys, enough,” Vivica said. “Joel, your car is cute—just like you.”
They moved toward the back door together.
Joel crossed his arms, frowning. “Why do women always tell me I’m cute? Men don’t want to be cute.”
“Then don’t drive a car that looks like it should be covered in Hello Kitty stickers,” Teague remarked, dodging out of his cousin’s way as Joel took a swing at him.
“My car is not gay!” Joel yelled as he flung open the door.
“Okay. . . .” Jasper held up his hands. “It’s not gay. It’s bi-curious.”
“You can ride in the Pinto O’Death,” Joel said.
“I’ll ride with Joel,” Aileen said. “Shotgun,” she called as she walked out the door.
Nadeya followed her. Teague and Vivica walked toward the truck, bypassing the Pinto. Disgusted, Jasper followed them.
“Okay, I know it’s lame,” he grumbled, “But it was all I could get my hands on.”
“That car’s almost as embarrassing as Joel’s,” Teague said as his truck motor roared to life.
Joel started his car and purple neon lights flickered underneath.
“Jesus,” Jasper remarked. “There is no expression sorry enough to describe that.”
In my historical novel, Indian Summer, there are continuous comments about Manuel’s well appointed pants, because of a remark some old lady made at a party:
“Your young man there.” She pointed with her cane somewhere below Manuel’s waist. “He’s well appointed, indeed he is.”
She smiled toothlessly, cackling happily and hobbled off to sit beside Manuel’s aunt on the settee. I looked over at Manuel, finding him scarlet faced. I couldn’t imagine what had made him blush. I leaned toward him a little whispering to him.
“What did she mean well appointed?”
He reddened even more deeply and moved nervously from foot to foot. Dropping his head and his voice to a whisper, he turned slightly away from my parents to answer me. “Well, it’s not really polite for me to repeat its exact meaning. But it means….” He looked around to make sure we were not overheard. “It means that I fill out these pants well—in the front.”
He looked at his feet and turned as red as the roses in my hair. I’m sure I did too.
“Oh,” was all I could manage. “Oh, indeed.” I giggled nervously and couldn’t help adding. “Well, she’s right.”
I should add that the character of Gabriella, who tells Indian Summer, is patterned after my daughter. Though she is only fifteen, Gabriella has core of strength and determination is patterned after my only girl. She was, and is, a formidable opponent and I wouldn’t want to get on her wrong side. Nor would I want to get on the wrong side of Gabriella.
My point throughout this piece is that inspiration can come from anywhere. It might be a conversation overheard in the grocery store, or between friends and family members. It can hit like a lightning bolt from the clear, blue sky, knocking an author on her backside. Or, it might drift in through an open window like a spring breeze.
Let life influence your writing. It’s there and a part of you. Don’t separate yourself from it, embrace it and allow it to flavor your words. Make it part of your imaginary world. Doing so will make your characters more real. I don’t mean that you should simply write what you know. That’s some of the most foolish advice ever given. Instead, write what entertains you. Use what you know to bring it alive.
Dellani Oakes is an author who currently lives with her husband, Joe, her three sons & the eldest son’s fiancée. It’s a crowded house! In order to retain some semblance of sanity, she writes. The above is something she wrote for the Fun in Writing class she leads through the local Council on Aging several years ago, but still holds true today. Her friends and family are a constant source of inspiration.
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