Episode Title: Coming to grips with the characters
Welcome back! In the last blog, I talked of the basic plot for the short story, namely that of a twelve-year-old girl who is struggling to assimilate a life suddenly changed by the unexpected death of her father. Lizzie, as I have named her, is my protagonist, but to properly tell her story, she is in need of a strong supporting cast. Her mother is an obvious relationship for Lizzie, and she will play the role that we would expect of all good mothers. However, with their humbler lifestyle, “Mama” has taken on a second job to make ends meet. This effectively gives Lizzie more personal freedom than most kids would experience in the 1950s.
As with all kids, Lizzie is in need of a good friend at school, and that person arrives in the name of Maggie Mae Johnson. Her father has just been transferred by his employer to Bakersfield, so she is also new to Jefferson Elementary School. The girls, neither of them having a friend, are immediately drawn to one another. Maggie Mae’s family has just moved into a fine home, which, ironically, is on the same street where Lizzie and her family lived before financial problems, due to her father’s death, caused the loss of the house. Count on Maggie Mae, a black girl, to be a key character throughout the story.
As I indicated in Blog #13, Lizzie is smitten by a game the boys play at lunchtime and after school. There’s a problem, though, with her wanting to play a game that is off limits to girls. And Johnny Henry, who introduced the game to Jefferson Elementary’s boys some years back, is in control of play. He stands ready to block any attempt by Lizzie, or any other girl, who wants to cross the invisible but forbidden line. Lizzie decides to learn the game on her own and, in her own crude way, she begins to practice at home after school. Will she ever be allowed to play? Can she become skillful at this manly sport? Expect conflict with Johnny Henry’s character.
When Lizzie goes to teach herself the game, she knows none of the rules that apply. A man who lives alone in what is the finest trailer in the entire trailer park, comes by her practice a number of times during his stroll up the trail, always stopping momentarily to observe her antics, saying nothing, and then moving on. He finally stops and takes an interest. As it turns out, he knows a great deal about the game. But why? He is Mr. Rob (as they agree she should call him), who will be the constant influence in the development of her skill. Will Johnny Henry, the game’s champion, be in her sights at some point?
Remember, this is set in 1958, so a major challenge for me as the writer is to make sure that the characters and their interpersonal relationships are natural for the time. The things that kids think about adults, the things that excite kids, the challenges they face, can often be quite different from those experienced by kids today. But, then, this is why we write period novels, isn’t it, to experience a different time and the people in it. Until next time, keep writing!