Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Everything I Know About Children I Learned at Walmart


I do not have children. It wasn't exactly a choice. It simply turned out that way. I do have a niece and two nephews - very nice children, or they were before they became very nice young adults. I have two grand nieces who are absolutely darling. This darlingness may be in direct proportion to the amount of time I actually spend with them, but I do like them very much. So far.

I have "fur" children - dogs and one very regal and demanding cat. Lest you think to send in the gentlemen with the butterfly nets and the dinner jacket that fastens in the back, I do know my "fur" children are not real children. I did not give birth to them and they will never be able to take care of me financially when I enter my dotage. One has only to listen to the things I utter in the privacy of my own home to know I do not have "real" children.

Stop chewing on your brother.

Who turned an entire four pack of paper towels into a ticker tape parade?

Do not drink out of the toilet. Again.

Please don't bite the doctor.

There are six toys, same color and exactly alike. Why is it the one she has is the only one anyone wants?

You cannot sleep in your food dish.

Stop fishing in the litter box.

I don't care if it's raining. You have to go outside to pee!

Hmm. Maybe that isn't the best way to illustrate my point. And if any of you have children who fish in the litter box, keep it to yourselves. In my latest novella, A Perfectly Unregimented Christmas, I included four very naughty boys in the cast of characters. What is it W.C. Fields said?

Never work with animals or children.

In this story I worked with four boys, three dogs, a bonnet-wearing goat and a one-eye cat named Attila. Frankly it was difficult not to let the goat and the cat steal the show. When it came to the four terrorists, uhm, young lads, I wanted to make certain I didn't write them too young, too mature, too cute or too nasty. I wanted them to be... well, normal. But what is normal, when it comes to children, I mean? Surely as many children as I see at Walmart on a daily basis I should have a pretty good handle on what they are. Right?

Characteristics of Children at Walmart 

1. The ability to screech for four hours at a decibel between a cat in a blender and a Harrier jump jet taking off from the roof of your house, whilst Mama appears completely deaf, stoned or merely oblivious.

2. The ability to spill a large McDonald's Coke from the front entrance to the back of the store up and down every single aisle in the store. Hey, it takes skill to make one Coke dribble that far.

3. The audacity to sweep every shelf label off into the floor with one finger all the while maintaining eye contact with several ticked off Walmart associates and at least one department manager who is muttering "Must not smack the child. Must not smack the child."

4. The courage to tell mama "No!"  "Shut up!"  and / or  "Leave me alone!" without provoking a single reaction from mama at all. (If I did that growing up I'd wake up in a dentist's chair having my teeth replaced, but I was an "abused" child.)

5. A talent for pulling the one can or box from a display guaranteed to send the entire thing crashing to the floor taking out a maintenance guy pushing a broom and two little old ladies in scooters.

6. A penchant for riding skateboards down action alley after having been asked not to by the department manager, falling hard enough to break a leg, and having parents try to sue Walmart, proving once and for all - Stupid is hereditary.

Hmm. Perhaps I need to do a bit more research. Research that doesn't involve children who can walk through the produce department eating grapes they have no intention of purchasing, and who, when they are stopped, can deliver a look guaranteed to have Samuel L. Jackson in  Pulp Fiction backing away in fear. 

One of the most difficult things about writing historical romance is not being able to adhere to the rule "Write what you know." I don't have children and children were very different two hundred years ago. Children during the Regency were disciplined. They were well-behaved. They were seen-and-not-heard. They were obedient.

They. Were. Children.
And there's the truth of the matter. Romance catches a great deal of criticism for portraying unrealistic men and women in unrealistic situations falling unrealistically in love. What those critics never realize is a great deal of what we write is from our own experience, with the only twist being we write what might be if we only learned from those experiences. Unrealistic is in the eye of the beholder. And the greatest source of research into the human psyche is what we see every day - even if we sometimes have to translate it into historical, paranormal or futuristic characters. Such is the beauty of writing romance. I can turn all of the horrible little monsters, I mean, exuberant little children, I see in Walmart every day into four ruffians intent on chasing a viscount away from his own home by way of pelting him with snow-covered potatoes... and tripping him with a rope across the driveway to his stately home... and having him attacked by a one-eyed cat... and filling his coffee cup with frog's eggs...and his breakfast with black pepper... and well, you know what they say.

Boys will be boys.

What about you? Do you like romance novels that feature children and / or animals as characters? Do you think romance novels create unrealistic expectations? Do you prefer that characters or children be perfect? Normal? Or somewhere in between? Do you draw from your own experience when writing characters? Do you observe people to get ideas for characters? What sort of characters do you like to read about and writers, what sort of characters do you like to write?




Gina Danna said...

I love it! Soooo perfect. Insert Target for Walmart & I can totally relate. Also with the furkids too but I also have a child (now 24 - thank the gods!) and in many ways, is pretty equal. LOL

Helena said...

I have to admit that I am normally deterred from reading a book if I'm told it features children (but of course I'll make an exception in your case!). I think I dread "cute" children, so sweetly ideal that one wonders if the author has ever met a real child. I think your warts and all experience is invaluable!

Hope Ramsay said...

Hilarious post! I have two grown kids, so I have some experience, and I have to admit that I truly love to write in a child's point of view. In the first four books of my Last Chance Series, there is a six-year-old point-of-view character named Haley. Haley was a gas and half to write. She's plucky, innocent, and often capable of seeing right through the hypocrisy of the adults around her. She gets into all kinds of trouble, too. (She might be on the cute side, but she has a big problem she needs to solve and doesn't have a lot of adult support.) My new Christmas Novella, A MIDNIGHT CLEAR, was a bit more challenging. It has an autistic child's point of view. For that one I had to do a lot of research, including reading works written by autistic individuals. He is most definitely not a cute child. But he is a very interesting character.

I personally love stories with kids in them. So few Regency novels do have children in them, and I love Regency romance. Trotting off to nab a copy of your book, which sounds wonderful.

Susan said...

I, too, dislike "cute" children in books. Drives me nuts. And I can totally relate to your relationship with the dogs! LOL!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Gina! I would expect Target to be the same. It is wonder we are both sane. Wait a minute! Did I say that?? :)

Louisa Cornell said...

I heartily agree with you, Helena. I cannot stand children who are portrayed as ideal little angels. I often find them as cardboard characters in stories and a dead bore. Children have personalities, quirks, fears and fallacies just like adults. That's how they should be portrayed. And thank you for making an exception for me. :)

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Hope. And I LOVED reading in Haley's point of view. I found her to be a very real and very funny little girl. She was one of my favorite parts of the series and of course my Mom thought she was adorable. I am so looking forward to reading A MIDNIGHT CLEAR! I have a few friends with autistic children to whom I have recommended it. They are always excited to read any romance novel that includes children or adults with autism. I can only imagine the research involved in getting a character with autism right.

I was a bit nervous about writing a Regency with children in it because, as you said, very few include them as characters with a great deal of "stage" time. I so hope you enjoy A Perfectly Unregimented Christmas and the other stories in the anthology. We had a great deal of fun writing them!

Louisa Cornell said...

Dogs certainly make life interesting, Susan, don't they? And until I wrote this post I didn't realize how much what I say to them sounds like what the parents of naughty children might say!

The boys in A Perfectly Unregimented Christmas are definitely not cute. In fact, the hero finds them diabolical! LOL

Emily Greenwood said...

Enjoyed your post, Louisa! I used to avoid romances with kids in them, because the whole thing was bound to be treacly sweet and full of heavy-handed teaching moments, but in many recent books I've found authors managing to bring humor and fun with kids. Your story sounds like a charmer!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks so much, Emily! I've read some of those books with the sickly sweet kids. Made my teeth hurt! I think you are right. People are writing more realistic children these days. Thank goodness! (Or perhaps, thank badness?)