Seeing ghosts has plagued Dumdie Swartz since early childhood.
Afraid that ghost guts might stick to her if she stepped through them, thirteen-year-old Dumdie Swartz still cringes when she encounters them.
Her strange attempts to avoid spirits create a lonely life.
Her sisters constantly mock her strange behavior, her parents are clueless, and her social life is zero. Dumdie finds solace working in a shared garden with her elderly neighbor, Mr. Carson. When teens from her high school steal pumpkins from his garden, Mr. Carson is hurt during the theft, and later, dies.
Dumdie’s life takes a dark turn.
She learns there are stranger things than ghosts, when she senses something evil living in Kyle, one of the boys who had raided the pumpkin patch. Kyle bullies Dumdie to scare her into silence. The more Kyle threatens her, the clearer she perceives the evil thing possessing him. Dumdie finds support in an unlikely group of girls who befriend her when she helps them with their costumes for the Pumpkin festival. During the festival, Dumdie’s fears explode when the thing possessing Kyle decides it wants to possess her.
Mining A Character’s Back Story by M.K. Theodoratus
Using back story has been a discussion point at my critique group recently. First, we have a new member, who is just starting his writing efforts and having trouble explaining the motivations of his characters. Then, I fell flat on my face trying to write a sequel to a previously published story. The failure surprised me. I thought I knew the character enough to write about her subsequent adventures.
I’ve been recycling character back story for years. As a by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer, I get curious about why my characters behave the way they do. Did it for hundreds of thousands of words for Mariah of my Far Isles Half-Elven. Have done it for Dumdie Swartz of The Ghost in the Closet, The Ghostcrow, and a couple of rough drafts.
Dumdie, like Mariah, appeared in my head one morning while petting the Wiggles, my feline muse. My first thought was: who wants a dumb main character? Socially awkward, yes. Stupid, no.
Then, I started listening to my character. Dumdie wasn’t dumb. She was a weird child living in her own world, something I could relate to because it was one facet of my own back story. One bit from my Closet draft ran circles in my mind: Dumdie’s sisters teasing her. The vision of them hiding behind the bushes and singing dum-de-dum-de-de off key at her and laughing hysterically wouldn’t leave after the story was written.
Yeah. The sisters stuck in my mind and not in a good way. Being after “a certain” age myself, I sympathized with Dumdie. She was in her early sixties, on reduced social security, homeless, still plagued by ghosts, and threatened again with losing her room in a private shelter during the winter.
That dilemma solved itself, but Dumdie didn’t go away when the story was finished like many of my other characters have done. I kept wondering about how Dumdie first reconciled herself to seeing ghosts when she hated specters so much.
Slowly, the pieces of The Ghostcrow began to stick together. Parents exasperated by a strange child. Obnoxious sisters. Ghost-seeing talents growing sharper as Dumdie reaches adolescence. A kid operating on the fringes of her peer group, but with some acceptance; she couldn’t be a total social klutz. She also needed a sanctuary where she felt comfortable which came with the neighbor’s shared garden and its scarecrow. All I needed was a threat, and none of the ghosts I thought of fit the bill until I realized Dumdie fit into my Andor world.
Andor’s one of those sad stories that plague many writers. I once had a contract for a YA novel, but the indie publisher imploded while I was building a writer’s platform for them. A demon, caught in Andor at the end of the Celestial Wars fit the bill. It discovers Dumdie and wants to posses her. Voila. I had a story and started my plodding way to the finish.
Funny thing, Dumdie still intrigues me. Does she get out of the homeless shelter? Yeah. Anything to get away from Craigbourne character of the Closet, one of the most annoying characters that ever popped into my head.
My draft notes have Dumdie and Hanna getting an apartment together, Nothing like an introvert and extrovert clashing against each other. Then, the sisters reappear in her life again after herparents’ death. I may even try to add a mystery or two. And, maybe a love interest?
Only one basic problem with getting those notes written: I’m a slo-o-o-ow writer, which is one of the reasons why I publish short stuff. I don’t have the endurance to do all the mickey-mouse necessary to self-publish a novel. I’m also too cheap to pay for the content and copy editing necessary.
Then, there’re all those other characters in my head that want the next episode of their story told. Dare I think of a new character with a back story of his/her own?
About the Author
Hooked by comic books at an early age, M. K. Theodoratus’ fascination with fantasy solidified when she discovered the Oz books by L. Frank Baum with his strong female characters. She has traveled through many fantasy worlds since then. When she’s not reading about other writer’s worlds, she’s creating her own.
Most of her stories are set in the Far Isles where she explores the political effects of genetic drift on a mixed elf human population. Lately, Theodoratus has been setting her stories in an alternate world of Andor where demons stalk humankind.
A sixth grade English assignment started her writing. The teacher assigned a short story. Theodoratus gave her an incomplete, 25-page Nancy Drew pastiche which turned into a full novel by the next summer. She’s been writing happily ever after ever since…for four or five writing careers. Most recently she’s been concentrating of her Andor stories, set in an alternate world where demons and magic plague humans.
Her latest book is the supernatural fantasy novelette, The Ghostcrow: A Tale of Andor.
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