Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Biology is Not Destiny - At Least in MY Story

Everyone in the family except me is heavily involved this week with the high school choir's musical production, which means long evenings of dress rehearsals, which means I get a couple of evenings this week with no supper responsibilities. Last night was the first of those, and while I'd like to say I was able to spend the evening writing, no such luck - I still have speeches to grade. As I was working on the speeches, I turned on the TV (mainly to keep me from going to sleep as I was grading, ha ha). After perusing the various channels, I settled on the Science Channel, on a program called, "The Science of Sex Appeal."

As a communication teacher, I find the research into human attraction fascinating. One of the sections of the program discussed what I'm going to call the "match hypothesis," which says people tend to choose mates who are within one point, up or down, of their own attractiveness rating. Thus, Brad Pitt ends up with Angelina Jolie, and those of us who are more ordinary-looking end up with other ordinary-looking people.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. People are attracted to potential mates for a variety of reasons, with most women apparently more attracted to men who appear to have status and stability (traits that make him a good candidate as a long-term father and protector). The program went on to discuss a number of other factors, such as a person's unique scent, that play into attraction. All in all, it was a very interesting program. (And yes, I did manage to grade a respectable number of speeches while still learning all this about attraction!)

Just because I'm not writing doesn't mean my story has been sent to its room with the door closed. I think about it all the time, and this morning it occurred to me that part of the fantasy-entertainment value of the story is that it turns the "match hypothesis" on its head. In the story, a girl of low social status who has been labeled as "homely" all her life is matched with a handsome guy whose family is relatively well-off. Originally, the girl goes along with the "match hypothesis," not seeing the guy as a potential mate. However, circumstances force them together, and one thread that runs through the story is that biology is NOT destiny - even if the "match hypothesis" says two people of different levels of physical attractiveness shouldn't be together, it can happen.

I'm not claiming to have invented this literary theme; gosh, it's probably at the heart of any number of stories throughout time (I'm too lazy to think of any at the moment, and too hurried - got to get ready for work). One thing I like about my story, though, is that it doesn't stop at that simple fantasy. In the story, it would appear that the girl has found herself a very suitable mate. After all, not only is he more attractive than she is, but he also has status and relative wealth, which according to the program, would make him a perfect choice. As the story develops, however, the status and wealth are steadily stripped away (and even the attractiveness is lessened - the poor guy ends up with a couple of scars). At one point in the story, she gets a choice as to whether she wants to keep this mate who has turned out to not be what was originally promised, who now is actually a risk because there's no guarantee he can give her any kind of stability and protection, at least in terms of physical possessions.

Well, of course she does keep him - I mean, this is a "sappy" romance, as my husband put it. And that actually leads me into one of the major themes for the second book, which I'm working on now when I'm not grading speeches or some such. That story is told from his viewpoint, and a big part of his struggle is to provide a stable home for his wife and the children their union produces.

Wow. I'm glad I stumbled on to that program. Even if my story is a sappy little fantasy romance, I'd like for it to also have some depth to it. Looking at it from the lens of this program, maybe there's something there worth thinking about, something more than "sap"!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Where Is This Going?

When I was a kid, my family liked to work jigsaw puzzles. We had several in boxes that were stored in a bedroom closet, including some that had come to us from my mother's parents. One of the puzzles they gave us didn't have a box, which meant there was no picture to guide the person who was working on the puzzle. Instead, all the pieces were in a plastic bag that had a handwritten description of the picture (I believe it was a landscape scene with a guy fishing). Actually, I never saw this puzzle because I don't remember that any of us ever tried to work it.

Lately, I've been thinking about that puzzle in a bag as I'm reading A Painted House by John Grisham. I'm almost finished with the book now, and I still find myself asking, "Where is this going?" I've even done my trademark move of peeking ahead in the story, and I still can't figure it out! It very much reminds me of the picture-less puzzle - there are many pieces, and some of them are colorful and interesting by themselves, but I can't see how those pieces are coming together into any kind of coherent picture.

For one thing, I don't get the title of the book. The narrator of the book is a 7-year-old boy named Luke, and he and his parents live in an unpainted farmhouse with his parental grandparents. However, the disabled son of the migrant hillbillies who come to pick cotton on the farm starts to paint the house. Why? I think I get it that a painted house symbolizes more genteel living, and I think I understand that Luke's mother (who grew up in a painted house) wants to escape farm living. But I really don't understand why the disabled boy started painting the house in the first place. He's a very underdeveloped character, anyway, and to put him in charge of the action that gives the title to the book just seems, I don't know - weird.

Another of the hillbillies' sons, Hank, is a terrible bully. I won't go into everything he does because I don't want to give away any spoilers. I will say he gets in a conflict with one of the Mexican workers who is also on the farm to pick cotton. That conflict does not end well, but what brings it to a head is really the last thing I would have expected. Again, it's just kind of weird. It feels like there was a missed opportunity - there were some situations that could have led to that final conflict in a more dramatic way (for example, the Mexican and the bully's sister have been romancing when they were supposed to be picking cotton!), but those don't seem to play any role.

And then there is the dirt-poor sharecropper family that has a whole passel of children, including a 15-year-old daughter who claims Luke's uncle is the father of her surprise baby. That storyline took up a significant chunk of the center of the book, but it has more or less faded into the background as the end of the book draws near.

Honestly, I feel like I've dumped out all the pieces of the puzzle and now have to figure out how they go together with nothing more than a brief description of what  the story is about to help me. It hasn't been unpleasant; John Grisham's writing style flows nicely, and the pace of the story clips along (except when he's describing the baseball games - ugh). But it's just puzzling to me. Maybe if I keep plugging along for these last few chapters, all the pieces will suddenly fit into place and I'll see the big picture.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I Hate to Do This, But I Have to

In the past three days, I've had 30 or more spam comments about selling "cheap" prescription drugs on this blog. In an effort to stop that, I'm turning on the word verification for comments--at least for a while, until the spam-bot finds someone else to prey on. Sorry about that folks, I know it's a pain.