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One rainy day in the 1950s, my mother got out a set of aging paper dolls she’d played with as a child. Sadly, they didn’t survive for long. Not many toys or games did. My brothers and I played hard.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that the tiny tabs designed to hold outfits in place never quite did their jobs, I loved the variety of clothing and the speed and ease with which I could make changes. It was far quicker than dressing the rubber-skinned ballerina doll for which my grandmother sewed skirts, tops, a cape, and even a beret.
In high school I created outfits for myself—seldom with much success—by stitching up simple jumpers and skirts, borrowing from friends, and buying what I could stretch my allowance to cover. All of that took time, time I spent yearning for what I saw as the cheap convenience of paper clothing. If only I could sketch a sweater and slip it on, paint a pair of paints, crayon a coat.
Now, with words instead of art supplies or needles, thread, and fabric, I do just that for my characters. Clothing them is far more enjoyable than clothing the dolls of the past or outfitting myself.
First, the sky is the limit. There’s no budget, no need to save up or ponder the necessity of each purchase. If Mrs. Ballantine from No Substitute for Murder insists on three strands of pearls and a cashmere wrap to wear with a silk dress, she gets them. If Dan Stone from Hemlock Lake demands top-of-the-line hiking boots, no problem. I’ll even throw in a pair of thermal socks.
Second, there’s no need to alter, hem, let out a seam, or take a tuck. Everything fits, no matter what shape the character is in. That also means there’s no need for a character to shed a few pounds or hit the gym to tone up.
Third, there are no storage issues. There’s no need to toss something old because a character bought something new. There’s always room in that fictional closet for a few more items.
Fourth, if a change of outfit is necessary to the progression of the action, it can be accomplished in the time it takes to write a sentence or two.
Fifth, unless the plot calls for an item to be impossible to find, out of stock, too large, or too small, what characters want is always available in the right size and color.
Sixth, I have the right to scoff at the dictates of fashion. Nothing goes out of style unless I want it to.
Seventh, I don’t have to dress every character every day. When they’re not in a scene, they’re on their own. I sometimes wonder if they sit at the edge of a page wearing outfits from previous scenes or if they slip into loungewear or strip down for a shower or soak.
How about you?
What advantages do you see to creating clothing with words?
What are your favorite fictional outfits?
And what do you think characters wear when they’re not appearing on the pages?
Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries, Hemlock Lake and Through a Yellow Wood. Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and five novels written with her husband, Mike Nettleton: The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor and Deception at Devil’s Harbor.
She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Her interests are reading, gardening, and NOT cooking. www.deadlyduomysteries.com
Some of my earliest memories are of dogs—a black one that allowed me to sit astride him, a smallish white one that retrieved a ball, a blond cocker spaniel with hair as fine as corn silk.
Although I have owned cats (or, more accurately, they owned me or perhaps we co-existed), I am a dog person to the core. I love the smell of puppy breath, the satiny feel of a dog’s ears, the barks and growls of dogs at play, the warmth of a dog by my side, the intelligence and love and goofiness in a dog’s eyes. Dogs make me feel more complete. And a lot less lonely.
Until my senior year in college at the University of Arizona, I had only a share in the family dogs, but then an acquaintance made me an offer I couldn’t refuse—puppies from a litter sired by a mutt with coyote blood. I named my puppy Peyote Pancake for no particular reason except that 1) it was 1969 and 2) no one took a serious run at talking me out of it. Pancake (who appears as Sidewinder in Consulted to Death and Driven to Death—now out of print) hung with me until I went into VISTA, my father said she’d be happier living in the Catskills than wherever I might end up—his way of admitting he’d gotten attached.
I lived in spare bedrooms for several months until I got a house with another volunteer in Little Rock, Arkansas. She had two cats and I made do with them until a neighbor moved and left behind a tan and white mutt with pleading eyes. I took him in and named him Sebastian.
An escape artist, he never met a collar, harness, or fence that could hold him. I was shocked, but not really surprised, when he tangled with something (Trap? Train? Predator? I never knew) and came home with bones protruding from the remaining half of a rear leg.
The vet took the maimed leg off at the hip and Sebastian adjusted and thrived. He loved to swim, ride in my canoe, and spend tornado-watch evenings in the television station newsroom dozing under a desk while I monitored police scanners. He even acquired a pet of his own, herding in a half-grown cat off the street. When I moved to New Mexico, he and Zane Gray rode together in the passenger seat.
I brought Sebastian “back to life,” in A Place of Forgetting, and I’ll “resurrect” him again as Nelson and give him a starring role—missing leg and all—in my second Catskill Mountains mystery, Through a Yellow Wood, the sequel to Hemlock Lake. (Coming out in June)
Sebastian wasn’t much of a barker, so I went to the shelter and got a more vocal dog. She was a sheltie mix I named Butterscotch Brownie for her caramel and brown pelt. When Mike (my husband and sometimes co-author Mike Nettleton) and I got together, he brought Shadow and a cat named Juliet into the mix. Shadow, the color of a moonless midnight, was a spaniel cross with a sweet disposition. All three dogs and both cats slept with us—the dogs down the middle of our king size bed and the cats by our feet or even wrapped around our heads.
Sebastian was 15½ when he had a stroke in 1985. Mike, eager to salve my pain, hauled me to the dog shelter and we came home with a black and white spaniel cross. Stymied for a name, I remembered Mike’s outburst when a mantel clock struck the hour just as he was drifting off to sleep. “Bing. F—ing Bong,” he grumbled. “Bing F—ing Bong.” For the next 14 years the dog’s tag read “Bing F. Bong.” Bing makes a brief appearance as Hawkline in Dated to Death. (Now out of print)
Although I love dogs of all sizes, I always wanted a small one, a true lapdog—meaning one that could be contained on a lap without lapping over. Mike, who had been terrorized by a friend’s tiny canine, refused to consider it until I had a reaction to antibiotics and doctors thought my liver would shut down. “The next time we’re dogless,” he promised, “we’ll get a lapdog.” When that time came, I spotted a Yorkie/miniature Schnauzer mix featured as the pet of the week.
She went by Belle, and a shelter worker confided that her elderly owner had died and the family didn’t want her. Undernourished, frightened, and weighing in at less than 7 pounds, she now tips the scales at 12 and goes by Bubba. She’s feisty, but loving.
Two years ago we got Max, a Maltese with a smug attitude who had separation anxiety in his previous home. He’s not as feisty as Bubba, not as loving as Bing, and not as smart as Sebastian. But he loves to perform—to dance and jump through hoops. Will he turn up in print? If I continue to write, the odds are in his favor.
Meanwhile, I hope readers enjoy fictional editions of Bubba. She shows up in Mike’s hardboiled mystery, Shotgun Start, and is the inspiration for Cheese Puff in a cozy mystery I released a few months ago, No Substitute for Murder. I’ll be giving away a copy of that, so if you’d like to get into the drawing, leave a comment.
Carolyn J. Rose is the author of several novels, including Hemlock Lake, An Uncertain Refuge, A Place of Forgetting, and No Substitute for Murder. She penned two humorous cozy mysteries, The Big Grabowski and Sometimes a Great Commotion, with her husband, Mike Nettleton. Through a Yellow Wood, the sequel to Hemlock Lake, will be published in the late spring of 2012 and By the Sea of Regret, the sequel to An Uncertain Refuge, will emerge in the late fall.
She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers and is an active supporter of her local bookstore, Cover to Cover. Her interests are reading, gardening, and not cooking. Visit her website www.deadlyduomysteries.com