While I could never bring myself to axe out or combine characters I’ve been with for years and have grown to deeply care about (whether I love or hate them), just to force a book’s length down or to kowtow to certain parts of the modern reading population who can’t handle more than a handful of main characters, I’ve begun to feel much differently about secondary characters I no longer care about and haven’t written for years. It speaks volumes that most of them were written out soon after college graduation in 1954.
If I’m going to be abandoning the idea of transcribing and significantly revising, rewriting, fleshing out, and editing my juvenile WTCOAC series, that means I might have to get rid of the pointless new characters who pop up during it. Not only haven’t I written these people for years (not since the first half of Saga II of Cinnimin, which was written in 1995), but I also honestly don’t remember all that much about them apart from some stereotypical, exterior characteristics. Like, Bev is the tough, leather-clad, motorcycle-riding, junior tattoo artist, Beckie is all into Spiritualism and offering unsolicited relationship advice, Vivian is addicted to shopping, Rachel Simmins is a recovering heavy smoker and a rebel from a Methodist boarding school in Newark. Yawn.
These people don’t even really do anything, don’t add to any storylines, never have any storylines in their own right (apart from Cherie), don’t serve much of a purpose beyond giving the existing characters a whole slew of new friends. Aren’t there already enough people in their group of friends? And then a few more pop up during their college years, biker Jenna (who hates her mother even more scarily than Kit), Jenna’s dopey boyfriend Mike, and Kara, Frankie Stuntz’s somewhat dim girlfriend and later wife. I really was way too influenced by popular books and shows about preteens, teens, and college kids of the early Nineties, instead of just allowing myself to develop my own voice and storylines.
Five girls from a reform school in Grand Rapids show up the first day of eighth grade, Beverly Abernathy, Kimberly Amos, Veronica Ames, Vivian Arthurson, and Rebecca Alway. Another new girl is Rachel Simmins, from the abovementioned Newark boarding school. They’re the stereotypical teen rebel characters, who soon win over the pre-existing characters and become close friends. Several of the Grand Rapids girls even get into some stupid band Cinni forms, Cinnimin and The Nutmegs. I think there are 11 girls in this band. And to think I later thought it were obscene for a band to have six or more members, instead of the traditional four or five!
Rachel eventually introduces Mickey (by then going by Shelly) to her old boyfriend Peter Szczepanielgielislaw and another guy, Franklin Vavselrukenyechkolsky. (I made the surnames up years later.) Rachel and Peter marry after college, and Mickey marries Franklin. Both these guys take their wives’ last names, because their birth surnames are ridiculously long and impossible to pronounce. (When Mickey is annoyed with her rather buffoonish rube of a husband, she chides him, “Don’t make me use your maiden name on you!”) They in turn become good buddies with Tammy Anthony, a rather humorous secondary character who’s later written into the earlier books so she can be there from day one.
The first day of high school, a major snob and bitch, queen cheerleader Dale Post, shows up, and a few years later, up pops “slutty” Cherie Watkins. Cherie is definitely sex-crazed, but the way her antics are described, she clearly sounds like she’s come from some sort of abusive situation, the way she seeks out sex with all these skeevy grown men and has casual sex in so many sketchy situations. I’m definitely not one of those feminists who thinks the word “slut” should be completely abandoned, but I’m no longer so ignorant and naïve I’d blanketly use it to describe any woman who’s had more than a few partners and ignore how such behavior often comes from a dysfunctional upbringing or past abuse.
I also thought Madonna was a slut at that age, just because she was exploring sexuality in her music. (I wrote these books during the era of “Justify My Love,” “Erotica,” and her Sex book. Now of course I applaud her for having pushed those envelopes, and recognize those songs and videos for what they really are, a tasteful, artistic, realistic, honest, modern exploration of adult sexuality.) I was so ignorant, rigid, and repressed and didn’t even know it. By my own juvenile reasoning, Lyuba of my Russian novels would be a slut and whore too, instead of someone so messed up and traumatized by an abusive father that she’s scared of being with a nice guy longterm, and is so used to being hurt, abused, and sexually exploited by a man that she simply goes with what’s most familiar rather than go through the terrifying, difficult prospect of coming to terms with her fears and healing from the past.
Absolutely nothing would be lost if I axed out the majority of these characters, who are anything but my darlings. Only I would know they’re missing in those scenes I’ll be transplanting into the other books taking place in that same timeframe. It would also tighten things up and put the focus more strongly on the characters who count. As for Beckie, who’s probably the most prominent of the Grand Rapids girls, I can give her lines and scenes to Gayle, who’s also extremely into the paranormal and mystical. The only added characters who serve a purpose are Jesse, Rob, and Kevin, who become the boyfriends and later husbands of Violet, Kit, and Julieanna, respectively. They do carry storylines, and their absence would be out of the question.
I also can’t axe Franklin, since he becomes Mickey’s husband. Even if Mickey moves to Newark after college graduation, she still comes back every so often. I also can’t axe Cherie, since she’s one of the lead characters in an important story arc during the Fifties. I also want to keep Dale, since she’s just such great comic relief, and I loved writing all those scenes where she’s humiliated and put in her place. In particular I love the scene where Ariania and Laura trick her into letting them cut her ridiculously long hair down to eventually a boy’s crop, for which she’s taken to task by their cheering coach. Cherie is also great comic relief.
Kara Charnetski is also a keeper, not only because she becomes Frankie’s wife (after the birth of their unplanned, out of wedlock son Stefir), but also because she’s a fairly important character during Saga II of Cinnimin. She’s also great comic relief, and in spite of her tendency towards light-headedness and silliness, is capable of putting Frankie in his place after he becomes a loopy Communist fanatic. (That whole story arc in Saga II, of Cinni, Kara, Frankie, their loony professor, and their friends in that class and club making a whole organized religion out of Marxism and Communism, just scares me now, because I was also headed down that path at that time. At least it makes for an interesting storyline and character development, even though I’m long past thinking it’s cool to force your own opinions and current interests into a book when they don’t even freaking fit with the established plot or characters.)
And of course, Lazarus and Malchen (then called Honey) showed up. Their surname was originally Gray, even though it made no freaking sense for them to adopt an “American” name as the Brandts did, since they were never even in America till after the War. At least I got a few great, well-rounded, compelling characters out of all these pointless characters I forced in just to give my people a whole slew of new friends. You never want to include more people than you can find uses or storylines for. Hell, I think I’ll even take out that pointless set of triplets Rachel Roggenfelder and Jakob DeJonghe have in 1961. Rachel announces her surprise second pregnancy in early 1961, and these triplets are never even mentioned till 1981, two boys and a girl, of course, so she and Jakob could have a “complete” family with two of each. Barf.
Only their firstborn Vera is a main character, and they were always perfectly fine having an only child. I wasn’t yet to the age where I realized not everyone feels incomplete with an only child, and that a family doesn’t need at least two of each to be perfect. Yeah, way to make feisty, liberal Rachel backpedal on her own convictions about the importance of birth control and only wanting one kid ever! That would be like Kit up and deciding to stay at home baking cupcakes and ironing all day instead of bawdily bragging about her sexual exploits and helping her devilish pet grandchild Pete orchestrate pranks. Totally out of character and a slap in the face to the woman she’s become over the years.