Thursday, June 9, 2011

On Cousins and Characters

Today being my cousin Kerri’s birthday, my thoughts have turned to family and the role they play in both our real lives and the stories we create.

My first cousins both live in Arizona, meaning I don’t get to see them very often. I haven’t been to Arizona since I was in high school, but my cousins, first and second, and their families, are a huge part of the fabric of my life.

I may not be there for the daily interaction, but across the distance we still share each other’s joys and triumphs, and our losses. We have “watched” each other’s children grow, through photographs and through our parents’ conversations. We still end our phone calls with “I love you”, and we mean it, and I know that if I needed them they’d be there in a heartbeat, with no questions asked.

A person doesn’t have to be beside you to be necessary to your life, and knowing this myself I try to give my written characters a family that extends beyond the people we can see.

I like to find this as a reader, too, in books like Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten, where Elena’s “family” member Logan, far away and on the phone, is such a vital part of who Elena is, and what she does, or in Lucilla Andrews’s The First Year, in which her brother Hector’s words of wisdom, from the wings, guide Rose’s interactions with the men she meets.

There’s something about family I can’t quantify or name, but it connects us to each other all the same, for good (in my case) or for bad, and I like to let my characters experience that kind of deep connection.

Has a far-flung family member, in your life or in a book you’ve read, had that effect on you?

(And to my cousin Kerri down in Scottsdale, Happy Birthday! Love you.)

Don’t forget to come back Sunday, to catch up with Julie Cohen…


  1. Coming in late on this (sorry!), I totally agree with you. My family is very spread out as well - at one point my parents were in Asia, my brother in the US and I in Europe - but like you said, I knew if I needed them, they'd drop everything to be with me. The special bond doesn't disappear because of the distance, rather it grows stronger I think and you really appreciate the time you do get to spend with them.

    In my stories, I sometimes have families with bad relationships, but that's because it makes for a better plot (vbg). There are always good ones as well.

  2. I keep having to remember to give my characters family. Part of the problem is in YA books you sort of want to get rid of the family in some way.

    My family is spread out now. My sister has gone from being a 10 minute walk away to being a 8 hour flight away. But I know that if I need her she'll be there :-)

  3. Christina, a bit of dysfunction is good for the story sometimes, I agree.

    And Brigid, you make an interesting point about wanting to get rid of the character's family, because I often need to do this, too, to let my heroine face her challenges independently (instead of having the whole family hanging round her kitchen, as mine would, offering help and doing the washing up). That's why I find the family-at-a-distance scenario can work well, for me, because it allows me to keep things realistic by letting the heroine have a family, yet because they're not physically nearby it also keeps her isolated.