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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bonus Dear Jeannie: Ben, Zack, Luke and Nina on the Couch

Dear Jeannie,

Upon their fathers' deaths, two cousins each inherited the thrones of a joint kingdom made of two city-states. Ben--athletic, charming, possessed of excellent "people sense"--fell easily into a wealthy, hedonistic social world that favors the aristocracy. Zack--studious, far-seeing, maimed in his first battle--threw himself into governmental reform in favor of the growing middle class. As they grow from teenagers to men, is it plausible for them to keep their kingdom intact? Growing up, they had respected each others' strengths, but with both their personal and political lives at odds, there's a lot of room for dissent and disrespect. The merger of the two cities had been their fathers' vision, which they were each raised on, but both of their councils keep pressing for a split. At what point do old friendships and pure cussed stubbornness give way to jealousy and disillusionment?

Eaten Up in Edisto

Dear Eaten Up,

It is said that personalities only become more entrenched and pronounced through life (i.e., people are unlikely to see things a different way). Best friends frequently grow apart, especially if their interests and passions are so dissimilar. Yet, anything is possible. Depending on how you want to write it, you could have them using the strengths of the other to further their father's wishes (i.e., Ben catering to the wealthy an Zack to the middle-class) and recognizing that kingdoms have to have both to survive. Or you could have them dissolving the kingdom due to "irreconcilable differences." It seems that with both councils pressing for a split, this would be more likely....that, and the fact that you mentioned the two city-states were "warring" to begin with. Likely, emotions would still be running high on each side, b/c that kind of hate doesn't turn off with a few signatures to a piece of paper. So really, the question isn't so much of a psychological one as a what's-your-preference question. What would serve your plot and your theme better? Because the answer is that it could go either way. I welcome additional thoughts below. Thanks for writing in!

Dear Jeannie,
Luke has two families: one with legal claim, and one who loves him. His father died before he was born, and he has been raised as a half-servant/half-political pawn ever since. (His mother was remanded to slave status on her husband's death, and dies when Luke is about 12.) The other family, into which his favorite cousin marries shortly before his mother's death, are long-standing enemies of the family who keeps him. Nevertheless, his cousin's new family give him an education, every scrap of protection they can afford, and open-ended job offers. Their love saved his life, giving him purpose and direction. They would adopt him in an instant, if it wouldn't start a war. Luke, having grown up as a knotted rope in a slippery tug-of-war, has never accepted the adoption or the employment. He continues to serve his family.

How can I write Luke's story without making this sound like Stockholm Syndrome or some sort of hive mentality? As a grown man, he persists in hoping to infuse his blood family with some of the kindness and compassion of his heart's family, but is this a delusion that's going to kill him before anyone sees his perspective?

Worrywart in Wilmington 

Dear Worrywart,

Luke sounds like a typical child in the foster care system. They find the love, acceptance, and support from strangers (ideally), but would give anything if that could have come from their biological family. And yes, sadly, this is usually a that persists following disappointment time after time. The odd thing is, these children generally would prefer to be with their biological family, regardless of what that family did to them. I've pondered this, coming to the conclusion that children are hardwired to love their family, no matter what. Children who were faced with much better situations, much better opportunities, and unending affection would rather live with bio parents, who abused them, didn't value them, treated them as mistakes/ just didn't make sense. So at least you're writing Luke's loyalty to the legal family realistically. Something pretty major would have to occur for him to give up on this hopeless crusade (nothing short of the death of the legal family, almost). While his dream might not literally kill him, could. Sounds intriguing...good luck!

Dear Jeannie,

Nina's parents died when she was young, leaving her to the care of her older brother. He abused her and "farmed her out" to his friends when the authorities became suspicious. By the time the reader meets her, she is the half-starved mother of three illegitimate children, whose fathers she *never* wants to discuss. She finds work in a castle whose lady offers an education, self-defense training, and a lock on her door. The lady and Nina are both subjects of a lot of unfriendly gossip, but they never talk about things like the past. When one of the retainers starts romancing her, is there room for anything other than hostility? He's quiet and kind, but also a known sneak, so most of the castle catches on to his campaign before she does. If Nina never talks about some of the white elephants in her life, will they be destructive and permanent baggage?

Zipped Lips in Kissimmee

Dear Zipped Lips,

Oooo. Damaged. Love this. When this guy starts to romance her, she won't know what to make of it. She won't expect men to be gentle and kind, and certainly not to treat her as if her opinion mattered. She'll avoid it, but thoughts will niggle in the back of her mind, wondering why he's different. No, she won't trust him...might not ever trust him...and time would be their only ally, which means you'd have to see about the passage of time in your book judiciously. No short-term, flash-in-the-pan romance for her. These white elephants in her life will always be present. Even talking about them doesn't remove their presence, but it might take the power out of them if she does. Bottling things up can be extremely negative and impact a person psychosomatically (meaning physical complaints that can't be explained medically, etc). Nina would likely be a very sickly-type woman, as might her children, all of which is indicative of her exposure to the traumatic experiences she's been through. Best of luck writing this intriguing character!