Friday, June 19, 2009

Quirks, Phobias and Eccentrics, OH MY !!!

I have a deathly fear of fire. Really. I have a fireplace in my house and I use it. I frequently burn leaves in my yard. Doesn't matter. I still have an incredible fear of being trapped in a building that is on fire. Not just your average "That makes sense. Fire can kill you." sort of way. If Mrs. O'Leary had had the number of fire extinguishers in her barn that I have in my 14 x 80 foot trailer Chicago would NEVER have burned. Trust me.

I'm trying to decide if that's a phobia or just a quirk. When does a quirk become a phobia and at what point does it become downright eccentric. I take that back. I don't fit the criteria to be eccentric. If you're odd and you're poor, you're just plain crazy. If you're odd and you're rich, you're eccentric. Hey, I don't make the rules. So, am I crazy? I would LIKE to be eccentric one day.

What does this have to do with writing? I just wondered if any of you have or have thought about creating characters with phobias, quirks or eccentricities. And I'm speaking in terms of heroes for the most part. Women expect other women to have phobias, quirks and eccentricities. We women are accepting like that. We realize that with all of the intellectual gifts and talents we have we're just too accomplished and grounded NOT to have a few oddities about us.

Now in our heroes, on the other hand, I think we often expect perfection - physical perfection and intellectual perfection. And we want all of their emotional imperfections to be all about how they relate to women. That way we can show off some of those female talents and fix all of those emotional imperfections which will result in our getting the hero, or rather in our heroines getting the hero. You get the picture.

I just wondered if any of you have ever written a hero with a phobia or quirk that you didn't necessarily WANT to cure. Sometimes they can be quite endearing. Sometimes they can humanize these male gods we make of our heroes. I just happen to believe that it is the odd little flaws and quirks that make a man human (or a woman for that matter.)

I'm not afraid of snakes, having owned some rather large ones in my lifetime. In fact I'm not afraid of any reptiles, and yes, I've owned some pretty big lizards too. BUT, the hero of one of my books is DEATHLY afraid of snakes. Which makes it all the more fun when he falls for a young woman who is doing research on the possible uses for cobra venom. (Did you know research was being done on this very thing as early as 1802 with regard to the ability of the venom to cause blood to clot? Cool stuff for a Regency historical author to know.) Does my hero's phobia make him less macho? I don't think so.

But it doesn't just have to be phobias. How about a little OCD thing the hero does that most of his friends find funny, but our heroine finds it fascinating? Have you ever used something like this. Do you think it works or does it make the hero less heroic? (My late husband could not stand for his food to touch on the plate. For our everyday china I picked the pattern with the biggest plates I could find. I still have the dishes and when I use them it makes me smile because for a minute he's there with me saying "Did I tell you how much I love these dishes?" Yes, Roger. You told me.)

So, how about it writers? What do you think? And what about you personally? Any phobias out there? Any quirks? Any eccentricities? We Southern gals know all about eccentrics! In the South you don't ask if there is insanity in the family. You just ask which side its on!!

19 comments:

M.V.Freeman said...

Oh my Louisa, now this is opening a can of worms...quirks. Oh, I have a few.

Some are: I am afraid of the dark. Yes, me, who writes very creepy things. If the lights go out, or its too dark outside, I almost vapor lock. *sigh* And still I write what I write...go figure.

I also hate spiders. I mean REALLY hate them. It doesn't help, that my husband does too. We have a running tab on whose turn it is to kill the beasts in side the house ( I think its his turn!)

I have more, but well, that's quite enough admitting for one day.

As for my writing, I did add an interesting quirk to my hero. He cannot tolerate people getting physically sick. It's to the point he practically bolts for the door when it happens. And yes it happens, especially if there is food poisioning involved. :-)

This was a delightful post! BTW, Louisa, I don't think having more fire extinguishers than most is a bad thing...and I geuss I won't ever reach the status of "eccentric" myself, but I'll deny "Crazy" for a few more years. At least until the dye job on my hair doesn't take anymore. ;-)

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

Indiana Jones had a snake phobia, and nobody's calling him a sissy.*g*

Thought I'd stop by because I hate it when I work at a blog and no one reads it. Glad I did. Fun post and thought provoking.

I like human heroes. Mine tends to get flustered, but comes through in the clinches--and I don't just mean the lovemaking kind. It works for me.

Christy Reece said...

Wonderful post, Louisa!

I love characters with quirks. In the first book in my next trilogy, my hero has severe claustrophobia. He hates it in himself...thinks of it as a weakness. And the heroine knows about it and is always trying to protect him.

Can't talk about my phobias...too many of them! My real life hero is terrified of bees. Runs like a gazelle if one gets anywhere near him. And one of my favorite quirks of his...he moves all the snails off the driveway onto the grass before he backs out every morning. He feels so guilty for hurting the little creatures. And that's just one of the many reasons he's my hero.

Carla Swafford said...

The older I get the more quirks turn up. One of them my kids love teasing me about. I must have a red "clear" toothbrush. Yep. You read it. Why? Because I don't want to wonder later out of all the brushes in the holder, which one is mine. Of course now I have two to wonder about, but I still buy red "clear" toothrushes. :-)

In my current book, my heroine is afraid of flying and having a stranger touch her.

I'm like you. I like my characters to have little quirks and phobias. Usually my secondary characters have the strange habits.

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey, Mary, did you ever stop to think that your writing is a way of coping with your fear of the dark? Facing your fears can be very liberating even if it is just on paper!

I love that you and your husband take turns killing those terrible ferocious spiders! LOL

I love that your hero has that reaction to people getting sick. Too funny and makes him VERY human!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks Gwynlyn ! I know what you mean! And you are absolutely right. Nobody would call Indiana Jones a sissy.

It's very human for a hero to get flustered. The coming through is what makes him a hero!

Louisa Cornell said...

Christy your husband is a keeper!! What a great guy! And hey, I'm not crazy about bees myself!

Louisa Cornell said...

Okay, now we all know what to get Carla for Christmas!! Hey, that quirk makes perfect sense to me, Carla!

Karen Beeching said...

These are the funniest comments, you guys. Louisa, your memory of Roger almost got me teary-eyed. Sigh.

I'm with you, Mary! I hate the dark as well. I've been like that since I was very young, yet I love dark heroes and paranormal. Go figure. My husband laughs that I need a night light of some sort in most every room of the house.

I have a fear of stalkers. You might say, "Well duh." No, no, if you've never been stalked then you can't possibly know. It is truly the most freaky thing you can experience and will shatter your feeling of safety, no matter where you are or who you're with.

I was able to get rid of my stalker after a year of torment, thank goodness, but I'm always in fear of another one (and no, he doesn't know my current name or I wouldn't even be blogging). Obsessive people tend to gravitate toward me and I'm not sure why. If I let this fear take over though, it makes this trip to publication a little scary, because you never know. The experience had me so shaken that I got into martial arts, bought a gun and took shooting lessons, and I have a dog that barks at everything--even rustling leaves. Yeah, no stalkers for me, thank you very much.

I also hate not being in control (please see stalker comments above and you'll know why), which is reflected in almost all of my characters. I don't mean that I'm controlling of others, but if their actions influence my life, you bet. Ask my husband.

You know, listing all of these quirks, I have to wonder why my hubby even stays with me...

Louisa Cornell said...

Because he loves you for the courageous, enduring person you are, Karen! I admire you so much for being determined to take your life back and not just live but thrive. To do less than that means that the bastard wins!

My brothers laugh at me because I have weapons in every room of the house. Hey, I'm a five foot tall 50 year old woman who lives alone. I have nine dogs in runs in the back yard and NOBODY gets past the driveway without me knowing it. My neighbors say it sounds like the hounds of hell are coming after you when you start down the hill and I like it that way. My inside dogs are yap yap dogs who bark if the wind blows.

In the livingroom I have a tomahawk, a Sioux war spear and a medieval battle axe. I have 3 foot machetes in a couple of rooms too. Nothing has happened but if it does I will not be going down without a fight. I deserve to live and to feel safe and to prosper and to live without fear. And so do you.

We Southern gals are a tough bunch and I think that is why our men love us so much, quirks and all!!

Christine said...

Hi All: I, too, am terrified of fire. I light them, I enjoy standing around a fire and talking at night, but I am freaked out by the idea of being trapped in a burning building.

I am also afraid of the dark. I passed on my need to sleep with the lights on to my daughter as she often slept with me when DH traveled. Snakes, bugs (I'm allergic so I am pretty freaked by the crittiers), spiders as well.

DH is claustrophobic. And hates snakes. He is very sweet with my old Cat. He moved a chair to the edge of the screened in veranda so my 19 year old cat can easily reach the ledge to watch the world outside.

My BF's husband is terrified of blood. Sometimes he passes out if you even TALK about drawing blood. That would be a neat quirk to throw into a book.

I incorporated the dark fear into my fourth MS. Figured out a cool way to use it for my heroine.

great post!

Karen Beeching said...

Louisa, your house sounds awesome!!! I have to know where you buy your weapons!

Now that Christine brings it up again, I'm not sure if I have a thing with fire or not. I don't think about it, but I smell smoke all the time. It drives my husband nuts. I'll wake up in the middle of the night smelling smoke, and I have to check everything out before I can sleep again (you'd think my confidence in smoke alarms would be enough).

Does that mean I died in a fire in a prior life and part of me still remembers?

Creepy. Hmmm, I sense an idea coming on for my next book...

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey, Mary and Karen, these ideas are all great!

My battle axe was made for me by a master craftsman from Poland. I met him at a Renaissance Faire and it took six months for me to get it. The tomahawk and spear I bought at powwows. I am half Native American and I go to lots of powwows.

The machetes were gifts from some guys that worked on a landscape design crew I ran years ago. The guys were from Columbia. Don't want to know where the machetes came from.

My fear of fire probably comes from my Mom's story about how her brother died at the age of sixteen. He caught fire and ran and in those days there weren't burn centers. I never met my uncle but stories of his death have always terrified me.

I really like a hero with a fear of blood - the kind who can fight and create mayhem, but the minute someone comes to draw the heroine's blood he crashes. Great stuff. Teresa Medeiros has a great scene at the end of Charming the Prince where the heroine gives birth to a little girl and the big strong battle-scarred knight takes one look at his newborn daughter, not yet cleaned up and hits the deck. Great scene!

Christine said...

I love the idea of a hero hitting the deck at the sight of his baby's arrival--mine was certainly squeamish. They kept telling my DH he could look at the birth, but he refused--couldn't handle it --totally focused on me at the head of the bed.

Karen: I also smell fire too! I walk around the house sniffing all the time! I once called my neighbor over to check the house to make sure we didn't have an electrical fire when my DH was out of town!

I have a very sensitive sense of smell. I'm convinced part of the reason is my allergies. I must be very vigilant for food allergens. And I can smell toxic bug spray two days after an area is sprayed (like at a zoo I did this) and no one else can smell it!

And it drives my family batty as well.

*shrug*

Karen Beeching said...

Oh yeah, bug spray too. I totally have that. Wow, isn't that weird?

Christine said...

Karen, we're special... we're canaries in the mine... I think it is a fight/flight issue and related to the sympathetic nervous system. My doctor, who I thank God for every day since my health scare two months ago, is convinced I have a heightened body awareness. I could blame my childhood haha, but my dad had it as well. He made an ultrasound tech check his abdomen once because he felt it was off/weird. Turned out he had the start of an abdominal aneurysm--very small at the time. Crazy!

I consider it a special survival mechanism.

Christine said...

Karen, we're special... we're canaries in the mine... I think it is a fight/flight issue and related to the sympathetic nervous system. My doctor, who I thank God for every day since my health scare two months ago, is convinced I have a heightened body awareness. I could blame my childhood haha, but my dad had it as well. He made an ultrasound tech check his abdomen once because he felt it was off/weird. Turned out he had the start of an abdominal aneurysm--very small at the time. Crazy!

I consider it a special survival mechanism.

Karen Beeching said...

Oh, I love to be special. I wish I was a special writer instead of special with heightened body awareness. LOL!!

Yes, I have that. I can't take most drugs because of that. If there is a 1% chance of a reaction, that's me.

So sad.

KELLY FITZPATRICK said...

Sorry I'm late. One of my heros reverts to biting his nail, a childhood habit, and takes up smoking again after people keep trying to kill him and the heroine. Not very hero like, but I like to write about real men.