12 August 2009

Children ask the oddest questions

On a trip to Napa Valley this week, I ended up sharing an airplane row with two inquisitive, but fairly well-mannered little girls. Their earlier flight had been cancelled, so mother, daughters and granddaughters were spread across the plane.

After the initial “you’re not my mommy” look, the two relaxed, and then shared with me where they’d been (Virginia). Where they were going (home to Daddy) and what they did (visited cousins with whom they quarreled). I was asked to open stubborn candy wrappers, watched them devour my Fig Newtons and turned down several offers to watch Ratatouille with them.

Within an hour, no question was off limits, including the perennial: “Are we there yet?” Before we got there, they introduced me to their mother and grandmother, and poked Daddy to point me out to him after we got there.

This is not unusual. Children and puppies adore me. I know that sounds terribly arrogant, but I’ve had both follow me across parks, through stores, out doors. Neighborhood kids have knocked on the door and ask if I wanted to come out and play. As one friend put it, “It’s a good thing you aren’t a kidnapper because you’re definitely a pied piper.”

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to. And it’s one of the few traits that I can say I purposefully gave to one my characters.

Generally, my characters are themselves, wholly formed individuals who just start whispering stories to me one day. But when Aedan—the hero of my upcoming book TIES THAT BIND—began telling me his story, he started at his lowest, darkest point. I found myself writing a hero who was selfish, careless and amoral. Not only was he hard to like, he was hard to read.

I knew he was more than that, but I needed a way to show it quickly without redeeming him too quickly.

So I gave him my way with children. In ANAM CARA (where Aedan first appears) I’d already established his way with animals, particularly dogs. So it was an easy step to make him a credible pied piper.

Of course I do wish I’d met today's traveling companions before I’d finished the book because I would love to know how Aedan would've reacted when the youngest girl leaned over and asked, “Will you tell my mommy I have to go poop?”


Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Keena,
What a lovely story. I indentified with it right away because I have the same affliction/gift - kids and dogs seem to have a special attraction to me. Sounds like the little girls were glad to share a row with you. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

KEENA--this is a darling post--so clever, how you moved from the children into the characteristics of your hero.Children love my husband--he's 6'1", rather lean, usually wears a cap and sunglasses. Babies and little girls, especially follow him with their eyes, and if he happens to look at one, without a doub,t the little thing will reward im with a toothy grin and sparkling eyes. They look at me and turn away. yes, there's something decidedly appealing about a hero who attracts dogs and children--he has a big heart in there, after all. Loved this story--Celia

Mona Risk said...

Keena--Lovely post. One day you will make a lovely grandmother. With four little grandchildren between 5 and 3 I know and love everything related to small children, including poopoo and pipi. I am an expert on these last ones as my little Madelyn insists on proudly sharing every one as the accomplishment of the day.

Bernadette Hearne said...

In his time and place, Aedan would have offered to find her a leaf to use in place of not-yet-invented toilet paper, LOL!

Keena Kincaid said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I appreciate it. You might be right, Bernie. Then again, his reaction might depend on what "Mommy" looked like. ;-)