Category Archives: character sketch

Hello, My Name is Ambivalent

Ambivalence in real life is a pain. 1747917718_7d941b5441_zBut my ambivalent book character, Mill, may pique your interest.  Just read the synopsis:

Ever since his participation in high school debate team, Milliard (“Mill”) Fairbairn has known he wanted to pursue a career in local politics. Becoming the mayor of Champaign IL has now become The Goal in his life.

As Mill’s coalition and campaign gathers steam, his older brother Gary, always less ambitious but equally intelligent, plunges into a traumatic future from which even his resourceful brother can’t extricate him.

Mill, ever-supportive, is relieved when Gary achieves some stability, but it is quickly threatened by Mill’s conniving political rivals, who will use any opening to discredit Mill. One night their efforts even threaten Gary’s life and home.5879429534_90b400b642_z

As Gary loses emotional ground, Mill’s own vulnerability to stress becomes more and more apparent. Not willing to entirely give up The Goal, Mill’s distraction and self-sabotage nevertheless nearly derails his plans forever. In the end, however, a change of direction provides the very information necessary to get back on track and achieve what Mill could never have accomplished at home in Champaign.

I’ve been preparing to publish my book, “The Reluctant Archivist” for several years now. I’ve revised the heck out of it. It needs to either be published, or perish.

Shall I send it out to fifty agents, hoping one will like my synopsis enough to consider promoting me to a publisher? Or do I pay a publisher to publish and help me promote my book?

Since you’re not my mother, my publishing angst probably won’t move you. But leave a comment if my synopsis does!

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Which of the Two Are You?

There are two types of people in this world: those who feel compelled to label others, and those who don’t. 

That said, if you had no choice but to travel in time to the future or to the past, which would you choose? I would explore the past. In a way I’ve already had little choice, having a historian father whose greatest joy was to spend vacations at presidential museums and other historic sites. Because of his mini-lectures I impressed docents and dates alike with my grasp of life in past eras.

Granted, living in an era without texting or elliptical machines could be a hardship, but more subtle advantages would abound. Imagine what you could learn about your own resilience and creativity when you fell in love with a confederate soldier who could not accept, nor even comprehend, your ambition to be a contestant on “Ninja Warrior.”

Historical fiction could, in fact, be defined as time travel sans Wayback machine or  TARDIS. I gravitate toward the genre because I prefer tBack_to_the_Future_The_Ride_at_Universal_Studios_Japan_2o focus less on the physics and mechanics of trip than the conundrums my character will have to resolve in his time and place.

My current book-in-progress, The Reluctant Archivist, takes place primarily in the 1970’s–the age in which I grew up filing mental images of life at school, home, and our small town. My access to these facts far exceeds anything I learned in physics class.

My main character, Mill Fairbairn, grows to adulthood in the mid- 70’s and pursues his political ambition unaided by the Internet or Starbucks coffee. Because I want my readers to imagesenter his world and find it fascinating, I  take up this challenge: for one week I will avoid using any technology, eating any food, or doing any activity not available to Mill in the 1970’s.* And I will definitely fall short. You will hear about my lapses and mistakes, the book will improve, and you reap those rewards.

*to avoid losing my part-time job, I will use my computer and cell phone for work-related tasks only. Paying bills is not an optional activity.

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Story Based on My Book Character

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Mill gazed at the four-foot-high columns of paper, looming like steles in an Assyrian temple. They shouldn’t be anywhere in there. But he’d looked everywhere else: under his desk and atop it, in one of the two file cabinets anyway. The other file cabinet squatted on the other side of the desk, mocking his frustration.

His Crusaders meeting was this evening, and he needed to be ready. His Crusaders wouldn’t last very long without it.  Sure, they’d feign their usual commitment to the cause, but their work ethic would drop off substantially. And he really couldn’t blame them. Good thing they’d started meeting at the campaign headquarters–he’d be mortified if anyone saw this chaos on entering his front room. He blew out a shallow breath and ran his fingers through his hair, a color often termed “oak” in the furniture biz. His eyes alit on a newspaper article about Illinois’s Governor, and within seconds he had abandoned his search to read about  lukewarm gubernatorial support for Community-Integrated Living homes, or CILAs. But how much of that rhetoric could he file under “truth?” If he only maintained files on Truth he’d have no problem finding what he sought today.

Decisions made at today’s meeting wielded great importance for the next–and last–month of his mayoral campaign. Results of polls and community canvassing guided Melissa in the next promotional strategy. But if he couldn’t provide the expected resources would they continue to assemble round, leaning toward his every word, loyal as golden retrievers? His accelerated heartbeat voted no.

CILA article devoured, Mill considered discarding the newspaper. It had already resided, rent-free on his desk, for three weeks. Again he hesitated, reluctant to part with a story nestled so close to his brother’s needs. He would clip the article and trash the newspaper later. With an Incredible Hulk-like spurt of vigor he pawed through the remaining newspapers and magazines on his desk, then turned to the box atop the file cabinet. He upended it, then slowed and pieced through each piece of paper, breathing through his diaphragm as if readying for a television conference. Nothing.

Mill tried to talk to himself nicely. They won’t abandon you because of something like this. How long have you lead them through the wilderness, without even a figurative staff of supernatural power to succor them? Perhaps he could substitute another item for the usual offering. Yes, that could work. He’d call–who? His mind sorted through recommendations Rich had mentioned only last week. The crew had been somewhat enthusiastic at the time. Well, not un-enthusiastic, anyway. He had put his phone book–where? He gazed across the room at the coffee table, weighed down like Atlas carrying the world. Was that a crack in the table’s glass top? Maybe he should move some of the boxes of stuff to his bedroom. Set them on the floor next to his college campaign memorabilia. He didn’t want to damage the coffee table.

As he picked up the first box, he nearly dropped it in surprise. The Yellow Pages sat underneath, reliable in its vocation of adding height to short things– children unable to see over the tops of dining tables, for example. He leaned sideways, shifting the box’s weight to one arm as he grasped the phone book at its spine with the other hand. The box clunked on the floor next to the table. Straightening up again, Mill noted a small rectangle of paper losing its place inside the phone book’s cover and drifting toward the floor. He didn’t retrieve it immediately–his fingers busy doing the walking through the book.  When he’d found a few options, he headed for his kitchen phone. But when his foot skidded on the scrap, he bent and scooped it up.

Fortunately Mill’s neighbors couldn’t see him raise his arms in jubilant salute–a candidate about to give his victory speech. He was lost himself in a jig of joy.  Of course he’d stuck it in the Yellow Pages. He’d done it deliberately, intending to note the organization’s number on the scrap and take with him to the meeting. Whew! He would languish no more on the shore of broken dreams. Thanks to this buy-one-get-one coupon, Mill could order extra. And the Crusaders would munch their pizza as they gave reports, brainstormed photo opportunities, and made him mayor.

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Advantages of OCD?

Sunkgarden Ever since TV shows about hoarders came on the scene, people started using the phrase being “a little OCD” when talking about their passion for order in some sphere of their life. Hoarders don’t appear to embrace neatness, but their passion for perfection often arises from the fear that to discard any piece of paper or possession will result in a crucial lost opportunity.

Mill, from my book The Reluctant Archivist, is sufficiently affected by his perfectionism to merit a  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder diagnosis. Yet Mill’s influence and loyal following continue to grow. Seem puzzling? Social workers often say the difference between an eccentricity and a disorder is the extent of its interference with daily tasks and routines.  So there must be an upside of the inclination to save, categorize and file!

I personally think I could have made a respectable career as a Professional Organizer. My ability to enter a room, view a pile of mismatched items of various sizes and shapes, and quickly visualize them arranged for convenient access in bins, on hooks or shelves is not universal.  I begin with the end in mind, savoring the simplicity organization may bring.

Mill and I would have been kindred spirits, yet like most of us, organization in itself doesn’t bring the peace he hopes for. In my book, you’ll discover how Mill redoubles his efforts to pursue his hijacked goals and eventually reclaims what is most important to him.

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Mill Fairbairn–Politician, Archivist, Reluctant detective? A Look Inside the Upcoming Book

People tend to hate elections because it whisks them into the Cynical Zone. With the gubernatorial and congressional elections fast approaching, it seems timely to note that my upcoming book features Mill, an honest-to-goodness politician who wants to be of service to his community. Of course, Mill (full name Millard, after the little known President Millard Fillmore) won’t get off so easily. Good intentions aren’t enough to glide Mill into the position he longs for–Hizzoner the Mayor. Mental illness in the family, legal woes, and opposition with deeply bribe-lined pockets careen Mill’s campaign from shoe-in success to almost-certain failure. With all these challenges, Mill has to ask himself how much does he want this job, and what will he do to get it? 

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