Leopard Shoes

I bought a pair of leopard shoes. I thought at the time that this was either a fashion statement or a cry for help. The shoes sat on a shelf in my closet for weeks, saucily taunting me. Glaring at them one morning as I put on my tennis shoes, I wondered which of my female characters would buy these animal-print-opened-toed wonders. Would they react with the same ambivalence as I had?

Maggie Hill (narrator of my novels) would never purchase them, but she would stare at the shoes longingly, lovingly. She’d wonder about slipping her feet into the shoes and where would they take her? What would be the possibilities? And then she would sadly say good-bye to them.

Diana Poole (narrator of my short stories), a woman of a certain age, would think that buying the shoes was a cry for help, and then wear them defiantly.

I laced up my sneakers and started my morning walk up our hilly road.

I thought about my characters. I pondered writing in the first person, which is what I do. I love short stories written in the first, third, fifth, or sixth person. It doesn’t matter to me as long as they are good and work as a short story. But I only write in the first. When I try to write in the third or the omniscient I feel removed from my work. I lose my sense of pace and actually find myself getting bored. As a woman who has many stories in her head, I know they can’t all be told from the first person. I know that this point of view by its very nature is constricting — you can’t go into other characters heads, and it can narrow the breadth of the story.

I have written a novel both ways. The omniscient point of view is fine, but to me the first person version is the one that has heart. Maybe it’s because I was once an actor who had learned to internalize the writer’s words and then speak them. It’s a process I am comfortable with. But now I am the writer so I had to invert the process. I create narrators that can internalize my words and then speak them.

I guess that’s why I view my short stories as monologues. Yes, they have a plot, character development, and all that good stuff. But for me they are monologues. That is how I tame the structure, conquer the genre and avoid the fear of the empty page. I need to hear a voice talking.

Back to my walk … at the crest of the hill a woman in a Hummer barreled toward me. I flattened myself into a hedge and caught a glimpse of her face as she careened by. It was lifted, but no burden had been removed. She looked tired and angry. Her Santa Barbara-blonde hair was fluffed yet didn’t move. She never saw me pressing deep into the hedge to save my life. I did not exist for her. I wondered what she was afraid of. Why she needed so much protection around her. And did she realize how small and fragile she looked in that tank-like vehicle? Someday she’ll be a character in one of my short stories. But she’ll never be one of my narrators. You have to love your narrator. Otherwise you’re just putting words into a stranger’s mouth. God, I hoped she didn’t have leopard shoes on.

Speaking of which, I finally wore my saucy pair on Mother’s Day.

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