Monday, April 11, 2011
HOW MY BACKGROUND INFLUENCED MY CHARACTERS
I was a social worker for over twenty years. This allowed me the grace of becoming a student of the human condition. I worked with every imaginable type of disenfranchised adult: the mentally-ill, the chemically-addicted, the chronically and terminally-ill, the demented, prostitutes, murderers, and more. It was a serious business and there weren't a lot of success stories. I had to focus on how I could be of help to those who so desired it.
What did this experience teach me? I learned that each individual has the right to self-determination as long as they are able to understand their unique life situations. I learned that, just because someone is different, I was in no position to judge. All people are deserving of respect. It's just that most of the people with whom I worked came from or came to very broken backgrounds. Life is not fair. Life is not easy.
Yet, like all of us, my clients had their own visions. Mind you, some of these visions did not seem to be based upon perceived reality! In some of these cases, I was presented with humorous anecdotes, some of which I have been able to incorporate into my books.
I had a schizophrenic client who believed she was of Russian royalty. I borrowed from her background in order to create a character in one of my yet unpublished books. This client would put on great airs. While she could often be abusive, she could also be of great humor and serve as a source of amusement. Of course, I had to remember my role and to remain as detached as possible. That was a challenge!
I had a client who was extremely prejudiced, but she was really just a fearful old woman who was a paranoid schizophrenic. She would appear in the most public places and hurl racial slurs at the unsuspecting. It is amazing that she was never physically harmed.
She would paint her face with baby powder so she looked like a ghost. She also had a disturbing fascination with her feces and it was not beyond her to throw it. I also based a character in one of my later books after her – a character named Ebeneezer Ickums who was an “inmate” of the Down the Rabbit Hole psychiatric unit.
I had an elderly client who became rapidly demented. She had previously been a very dignified woman. Almost overnight, she turned into a very sexual creature. She believed that I was her husband and that I would come to her at night and make passionate love to her.
I heard some incredible and some incredulous stories from some of my clients. In the beginning, I was very gullible. It took me awhile to discern when someone was baiting me. In these cases, I managed the clients' finances. While most clients were reasonable with their requests, many were manipulative and some learned how to get the better of me.
The second or third time a client requested money to go to a grandparent's funeral would quickly come to be suspect. A client who would appear without shoes in the middle of winter and ask for money to replace them would also raise a red flag.
I had one client who I would take on clothes shopping trips to replace his wardrobe. I would soon learn that he would sell or throw out his clothes in order to get more. One client set up a meat stand in a supermarket parking lot, having used his food stamps in order to sell his groceries for money. After all, it takes money to drink. Some poor souls were awfully resourceful.
Fiction mirrors life and, like most writers, I have been able to use that to my best advantage when writing my books. While my characters are largely based upon my imagination, there have been some very human situations that have influenced me. Since I have chosen to write in a humorous vein, I have borrowed from the zaniest of situations in order to entertain my readers.
Aside from inspiration for my characters, my clients have also helped me to discover those parts of myself that have required healing. My alcoholic clients helped me to understand how self-destructive my own drinking had become. That eventually led me into recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous.
My title character has a serious drinking problem that I treat with a great deal of humor. I have drawn from humorous drinking escapades in order to create humor within her own story. I may be getting ahead of myself, but I send her off to Holy Happenings Rehab in the next book in my series. Of course, recovery isn't always perfect and such will become the case for her. Addictions are powerful and difficult to let go of.
My life challenges have become a wellspring into which I have been able to tap in order to create zany characters and situations. I've never had more fun in my life. Imagination and inspiration are my main influences, but my own experience has been instrumental in shaping my ideas. Life may be stranger than fiction, but I try to make my fiction stranger than life. Enjoy my books and your own unique life journeys.
Author Davis Aujourd'hui
"The Misadventures of Sister Mary Olga Fortitude"
"Babes in Bucksnort"
Both books are also available in Kindle Format also for the price of $3.99. Hope you all enjoy.