Backstory: in novels and my life
One of the techniques in writing is to flesh out the backstory of your characters. Authors will often keep a file of the character's life before he's introduced on the page. You don't always use that information, but it helps you to figure out how your character might behave in a situation. Knowing childhood stories, emotional wounds, and past victories helps you to flesh out how your character will think and act.
I like fun facts, so I decided to share some of my backstory.
I was raised in Wynantskill, NY—a suburb of Troy, which is a designated hamlet. It's an area founded by Dutch explorers in the 1600s. The beauty of the northeast is breathtaking. I was so fortunate to grow up there.
I babysat a monkey while I was in middle school. It was a Woolly monkey that a neighbor owned. Bad monkey, it pinched!
The neighborhood where I lived was a dead-end loop. I rode hundreds of miles around that loop on my bicycle while I was in grade school.
I can still recall a perfect afternoon of sledding before dinner, about a week before Christmas. I think I was in the 5th grade, and like all the other kids in the 1960s, I wore my dad’s green army socks over my shoes inside my rubber boots.
When my children were in grade school I had two simultaneous part-time jobs. One was as a stringer for a local newspaper (a freelance journalist who contributes stories and photos on an ongoing basis but is paid individually for each piece), and the other job was in industrial espionage.
I once jumped off a 50-foot cliff into the Colorado River. Once was enough. It was terrifying—not so much the jump, but the descent down, down, down into the river.
A few years ago I drove my daughter through Carl’s Junior (don’t judge me, I didn’t eat that food) and inadvertently ordered “Cliss Clut Flies.” We still laugh about that.
My first official job was stuffing envelopes for the Commissioner of Jurors in the Rensselaer County Court House in Troy, NY. It was a summer job. I was 15 and had to get working papers.
When my children were in elementary school, the district instituted a program to help children have a positive self-image. The program was flawed because it penalized children of any faith. I interviewed some PHDs, did some research, and presented my findings at a school-board meeting. They changed the program. Win!
Before I was married, I volunteered for a Philadelphia charity that helped women escape abusive partners. I would drive into the city and pick up terrified women (some with children) in my little VW Karmann Ghia and drive them to safety.
When I was a child, one of my favorite things was to climb high in tall pine trees and hang on for dear life while the wind made the treetop sway.
When I was in 7th grade, I went to see the movie, Oliver. I had to leave early (and I’ve never seen that movie in its entirety) because I got food poisoning from eating at Woolworth’s lunch counter earlier in the day.
The first time I contemplated eternity was when I was about in the 4th grade. One morning I went down to the basement to get a pair of clean socks. We hung our laundry down there to dry because we didn’t have a clothes dryer. As I walked through the basement I repeated forever and ever and ever and ever and ever. For about three seconds, the reality of unending time stretched before me like a telescope. It was such a breathtaking epiphany that it still gives me tingles.
My first job after college was as a radio newsperson. I loved it for nearly two years and then was fired because of #MeToo. When I left the building, one of the secretaries said, "The general manager dropped his pants in front of the previous newsgirl too, and she didn't complain." (That's only one incident that occurred.) If only I'd known then what we know now about sexual discrimination, I'd have had a bucket of cash.
After I married, we moved to Maine, and I got a job as a TV newsperson. One of my first assignments was to speak with employees of a fabric mill. The mill had just become employee-owned. I had a hard time finding someone who spoke English. There were a lot of French-speaking folks there. That was an uncomfortable moment, but I found some workers to speak with and saved the segment.
I love story. I love to read good stories, I love to write good stories, and I love to hear good stories. I'm a good listener and I love to draw out stories with appropriate questions. I guess that's the reporter in me coming out. Once while I was getting my hair cut and styled, the hairdresser told me the most intriguing story about her early life. I was spellbound. Afterwards, she said, "I can't believe you got me to spill my beans!" Her story was so unusual, but she said it was easy to tell me because I was interested and respectful.
So, what interesting facts can you share about your life? Come on, share.