Wednesday, July 16, 2014

 When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait for the next issue of Archie Andrews to appear on the newsstand. In case you aren’t familiar with Archie, he is a comic book character who first appeared in 1941, along with his two girlfriends Veronica and Betty, and his best friend Jughead. The story is centered on Archie’s school activities and his romantic adventures with Veronica and Betty. There were a couple of villains in the persons of the school librarian and the principal, who tried unsuccessfully to dampen Archie’s enthusiasm. There was a soda shop in town where the kids gathered, and the occasional after school dance. Archie’s stories were wholesome, feel-good events about the kind of people we all knew, with adventures that were somewhat like our own.

When my daughter was small, we spent many hours reading Archie comic books, each of us taking turns reading one page before the book was reluctantly passed to the other. She would often turn sideways on the couch trying to peek at the next page to see what was going to happen next. I confess that I sometimes did the same. The publisher recently announced that the last issue of the comic book will be published in July, and Archie will die while taking a bullet for a friend.

Even though I haven’t read a comic book in years, Archie is still there in my head and it saddens me that the publisher would allow him to be killed off in this manner. I still cringe when I remember the flood of emails I received when I killed off one of the main characters in my novel Redemption. After I had thought about what I had done for a few days, I went back and changed the ending and emailed the readers a copy of the chapter I had changed. “Thank, you, thank you!” the next batch of emails said.

If there is a lesson for writers to learn from this, it is the fact that Archie is a real person to most of us. It is hard to identify why this is so, but if we ever manage to grab hold of this reality, some of us will become famous in the same manner as Vic Bloom and Bob Montana did. Ours will join the ranks of the other unforgettable characters like Archie, Scarlett O’Hara, and James Bond. Most characters in literature are vastly different from the rest of us, with nervous tics, larger than life characteristics, or the ability to change from a wolf into a person. I think the magic in Archie is the fact that he is so much like the rest of us that we are awed by the image he presents. It is almost like looking in a mirror. Think about the characters in your own novels. Why do you like them -- why should someone else. If they fall short of your expectations, maybe it is because they aren’t enough like you or the people who will read your books. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Vanishing Breed of Men

I have always been fascinated by people who can do things, and I’m not talking about the idle rich who make a scuff-mark in the sand where they want their beach house built and crews of men build it. The ‘doing things’ that I’m referring to is when someone wants something and builds it with their own two hands. I met a man today named Robert E. Lee Voyles. Mr. Voyles is a retired pipeline worker and he decided to build a camper and see the country. Most of us would never attempt such an ambitious project because of a lack of funds or some other excuse. Mr. Voyles doesn’t have a lot of money, but he decided to undertake the project, with whatever was at hand, just because he could. The camper he built isn’t the type of camper you can find in your average dealer’s lot. It is unique and reflects his personality. I came from a generation where men made things. Boats, cabins, tools, airplanes -- you name it and someone was likely to get the itch and drag out their tools. This gentleman is part of a vanishing breed of rugged Americans. He is like one of the many millions of men who conquered the wilderness, ran railroads across the country from coast to coast, and learned to fly in heavier than air machines. If one good thing comes from our economic slowdown, it might be a resurgence of the type of people who can do the things that need to be done. I hope there are more men out there like Mr. Voyles in the next generation, rather than so many who can only work their thumbs on the keyboard of an iPad.

Mr. Voyles is leaving soon on a trip across the country. I hope to meet him again when he returns to our area and listen again to his adventures. I wish there were more like him.