I found myself on a short street under the freeway where a couple of dozen homeless people clung to the shadows. They looked sweaty and miserable.
I eventually made it to the Chick-Fil-A drive thru and enjoyed my sandwich in my air-conditioned van in the parking lot. Then I had to walk the twenty feet to the trash can.
113°F is brutal.
I grew a new respect for those homeless people under the freeway.
Then I knew I blew it.
Not right then and there but with several scenes in my novel Reymons. The main characters have to fly open cockpit ultralight aircraft through one of the hottest areas on the planet. I will have to rewrite the scenes to reflect the brutal desert heat that they have to endure.
I try to set my scenes in familiar areas. Sometimes that isn’t possible. In those cases, I am seeing that it is important to visit the scenes to get an idea of what would be affecting the characters.
In the desert of Nevada and Southern California, the heat would be of primary importance to the characters. In some places, the geological features may take precedence. In others, traffic or crowds.
To build depth and realism in characters, you have to know what they are sensing and bring that to the page.
This weekend, I will be in one of the towns that inspired the fictional town of Kerryville, VA. I will keep my senses alert for what my characters should experience.
And just so you know, I don’t plan on exploring the fictional depths of Humphrey’s Peak, known in the distant future as Reymons.
For some things you just have to use your imagination.
One of the tools I often use when writing is the Character Interview. I pretend that I am sitting down with my character(s) and ask them questions that will help me determine how they will speak and react within the story line. I did that with Ashley and Carl from The Space Beyond. It was fun so I decided to share it with you.
Spoiler alert! The interview does contain spoilers so please click on Christmas Stories in the menu and read the story before you read this. It’s less than 5,000 words so it won’t take you long.
Also keep in mind that this interview is raw writing. Only the worst mistakes have been corrected.
One final thing before you read this and after you read the story:
In hind sight, I realize that I have painted foster parents in a rather poor light in the story. Please know that I hold foster parents in the highest regard. I have been one myself and I can tell you that it can be the toughest job in the world. The vast majority of foster parents pour their hearts and souls into the kids in their care. Carl’s point of view on his foster parents is rather negative. That is not my view on foster parents.
That’s out of the way so let me introduce you to Ashley Jones and Carl Mason…
Interview with Ashley Jones and Carl Mason.
Main Characters of “The Space Beyond – A Christmas Story”
Me – We’re on the front porch of the Jones family home in Pratt, Tennessee to talk with Ashley Jones and Carl Mason after their amazing adventure.
Hi Carl and Ashley. Glad you could join me. Can we start off with a little introduction? Just tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Carl – Hey, it’s great to be here. My name is Carl. Duh! I’m twelve and I live two houses down the road from Ashley. You can just see it over yonder, the white house with the red tin roof. I’ve known Ash since kindergarten. She’s like the sister I never had.
Ashley – You have two sisters!
Carl – They ain’t really my sisters, and they sure ain’t like you!
Ashley rolled her eyes.
Carl – Anyway, I was sayin’ before I was so rudely interrupted, We both go to Rolling Hills Middle School. It used to be Pratt Junior High. When they changed it to a middle school, everyone was joking about it being PMS so they changed the name to Rolling Hills.
Me (interrupting to stop this runaway train) – And what are you known for there?
Carl – Everything. I’m the fastest runner, the best pitcher, and the smartest thinker.
Ashley – Well, two out of three isn’t bad.
Carl – Whatcha sayin’ I aint good at? Oh yeah, I’m also the most modest!
Me – Okay, so you’re kinda the jock of RHMS?
Carl – Sure as shootin’! Oh, and I’m good at that too.
Me – At what?
Carl – Shootin’. Huntin’ too.
Ashley – He tends to overcompensate for his lack of self-confidence.
Carl – What you talking about!?
Ashley just stared at him.
Carl – Okay, I’m not really the best at most things, but I do have a good pitching arm.
Ashley – That much is true.
Me – What about you, Ashley?
Ashley – I’m Ashley Jones. I’ll be twelve next month. My parents are electrical engineers, or at least that’s what they told me before what happened last month. They moved here a few years before I was born. I’m their only child.
Me – What are you known for around here?
Ashley – I don’t know. Maybe for being different. I don’t get all gaga over boys and fashion and that stuff like some of the girls do.
Me – What kind of things do you like to do?
Carl – I forgot to say, Pa’s a foreman at the window factory. Ma stays at home ‘cause she takes care of us kids. I’m the oldest.
Ashley – Sorry, that’s the way he is. Always interrupting! Anyway, I love to read and hike and, when the wind allows, fly my kites. I can also whip his butt in most video games.
Carl – In your dreams.
Ashley – Trust me, you’re not in my dreams!
Ashley looked slightly to the side and blushed a little, clearly indicating her lie.
Me (speaking to Carl) – And I take it you like to play baseball?
Carl – And basketball and track and field. I’d like to play football, but coach says I’m too skinny.
Me – And you two are best friends?
Ashley and Carl replied at the same time.
Ashley – I tolerate him.
Doug – She tolerates me.
Me – you guys seem to have a connection. Is there anything romantic going on there?
Ashley – Heck no!
Carl – (Wrinkles his nose) With that? (Points at her).
Ashley – He’s not mature enough for anything romantic. And I have more refined taste.
Carl – I’ll have you know, half the girls in my class are pining for me.
Ashley – In your dreams!
Carl – I do have some amazing dreams.
Me – Okay, so nothing romantic, so why do you guys hang out so much together?
Carl – ‘Cause she has the better gaming console.
Ashley – And, despite his ignorance, Carl really is my best friend. I guess we’ve just known each other so long and being the only kid my age for two miles probably helped some too.
Carl – I reckon that’s true too.
Me – Do you guys like living in the country?
Ashley – Yeah! I love the peace and quiet and the sound of nature.
Carl – And the fields to practice my throwing and running.
Me – Okay, let’s move on to some hypotheticals. Let’s say you are attacked by some bad people – do you fight or run.
Carl – Fight, of course. Especially if I’m protecting someone (eyes shift to Ashley). I mean, you gotta do the right thing.
Ashley – Sometimes the right thing is to stop and evaluate the situation before jumping into an unwinnable fight (glances at Carl). But, that said, my mom taught me a lot of martial arts skills so nine times out of ten, I’m gonna fight.
Carl – She’s right about that, she’s bad ass! (Suddenly puts his hand over his mouth). Am I allowed to say that?
Me – It’s fine. You guys saw some pretty crazy things last month. Which of you is more likely to believe what doesn’t make sense?
Both – Me.
Ashley – My mom kinda prepared me with stories that I thought were from her imagination. Now I’m not so sure. Then again, Carl will believe anything so maybe he’s the more gullible.
Carl – Dang straight! That’s a good thing, right?
Me – Which of you is better at obeying your parents?
Carl – Me, you don’t cross Pa! Don’t get me wrong. He’s a good dad. But his word is law!
Ashley – My parents aren’t that strict but if they lay down the law, you know it’s for a good reason.
Me – Have your parents ever caught you in a lie?
Carl – One time, when I stole a candy bar from the Cracker Barrel. I tried to deny it but the chocolate on my shirt gave it away. I was only 7. Pa made me pay back four times what it cost.
Ashley – And gave you a whooping!
Carl – That’s a spanking. Folks around here still do that, you know. Still, you better not tell anyone. Might mess up their gig.
Me – What gig is that?
Carl – As foster parents. They need that money from the county. That’s Ma’s job.
Me – So I gather that you’re a foster child.
Carl – Me and my two sisters. Like I said, they ain’t my real sisters but they been with Ma and Pa since before I came. Little Joe is Ma and Pa’s child.
Me – What about you Ashley.
Ashley – I share everything with Mom. She’s cool. Dad can be a dork so I’m not so open with him. Still, the extent of my lying is saying I’m okay when I’m not.
Me – How well do you deal with pain?
Ashley – Physical or emotional?
Me – both.
Ashley – I can usually deal with physical pain. Mom gave me techniques to ease the suffering when I get hurt. For emotional pain – I think I’m better than average but it’s a lot tougher than physical pain.
Carl – I think I’m the opposite. It doesn’t bother me when people try to mess with my head, and I can deal with physical pain to a point and then it kinda stops me in my tracks.
Me – Do you cry easily?
Both – No.
Me – Do you have any scars from last month?
Carl – (Pulls up sleeve) You should see…
Ashley – (Stops Carl) Time will tell.
Me – What can you tell me about your adventures last month?
Ashley – Nothing, we’re sworn to secrecy until it’s published.
Carl – What she said – other than it was epic!
Me – Okay, can’t wait to read it on Christmas Eve!
In the hills of North Carolina stood a little country church in bad need of a paint job. The deacons got together and decided to hire a local painter. The painter arrived with a pickup filled with paint, rollers, brushes, and ladders and got to work.
The job went great and it looked like he would be able to finish in one day. When he got to the steeple, he realized that he had only one gallon left. He debated whether to run into town to buy more paint, but he would never finish that day if he did.
He had a solution. He had two gallons of thinner. Soon he had that one gallon stretched into three. Like Jesus and the loaves, he thought.
He got out his tallest ladder and proceeded to coat the steeple with the thinned paint. Nobody will ever tell the difference way up here. He was nearly finished when the sky turned dark. Thunder rolled and the painter sped up.
Just as he was making the last stroke, lightning hit the steeple and a loud voice thundered from heaven, “Repaint! And thin no more!”
Some of you started to read that joke and said, “Not this one again.” Some of you got to the end and laughed. Most young readers, if they got to the end, went, “Huh?” That’s the challenge I face as an older writer trying to be relevant to today’s young readers.
Is it even possible?
So how does this 50 something writer stay relevant to today’s young people? Here’s what works for me.
First – Hang out with young people!
I have an unfair advantage in that department right now. I currently have three teenage kids at home (we started late). There have been teens in our home for eight years now!
That’s not enough. Teen kids often treat their parents like they’re from another planet (which we are, in a manner of speaking). For most of my adult life, I have remained involved in either children’s or youth ministry. I’ve gotten to know many young people and they have shared many of the secrets of their generation.
You can also volunteer at school libraries, Big Brother/Big Sister programs, youth centers, etc. Get involved and listen with an open mind to the things they are saying and doing!
Second – Immerse yourself in the culture!
I’ve often volunteered to put together the music playlist for the hangout times at youth groups and camps. It was a proud moment when a youth told me that my playlist was “really good.” I researched what they were listening to. I listened to the songs (many today have lyrics inappropriate to youth groups), and I put together lists that would be both fun and uplifting to youth. (If you have i-Music, you can find one here.
The styles are much different from what I grew up with, but I’m learning to appreciate the drive behind them and enjoying many of them.
I also try to keep up on other entertainment that’s popular today. TikTok, Instagram, shows on Netflix and Disney+ are places that I visit as time allows, often with my kids. Mind you, I can’t spend the kind of time that many youth spend on entertainment, but I do what I can to stay current.
Third – Get their help!
Run your ideas by the youth you know. After you’ve written, have them proofread.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “People don’t say that anymore.” And “That doesn’t make any sense.” And the worst, “Boring!”
Take their advice! Rewrite, edit, and work with your helpers to create writing that they will relate to.
There are many other tips I could list here that apply to writing for young readers. White space, chapter length, hooks, and others can take your story from good to gripping. I plan on learning more about them in two weeks at the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference. There’s still space there and there’s a virtual option. Check it out HERE!
Bottom line: if you have something that you think the next generation needs to hear, write it. Bring it to them in a way they will understand, enjoy, and believe!