I gave myself a present this year, an Amazon Fire Stick. Last year when my AT&T land line, Internet, and TV bundle went into effect, AT&T gave me an Amazon Prime membership. I hadn’t used it much, other than for free shipping – let’s face it, I’m a writer, I buy a lot of books – until I bought the Fire Stick. Once I could connect the larger TV screen to my Amazon account it made watching the shows I’d bought (things on networks not in my basic cable package…like DOCTOR WHO, RIPPER STREET, PENNYDREADFUL) much nicer to watch than doing so on the smaller laptop screen.
It was while I was cruising the movie and TV choices at Amazon Prime the other night that I happened upon a PBS AMERICAN EXPERIENCE program on Walt Disney.
Walt was a familiar face from my childhood. I can remember being totally enthralled with the idea of Disneyland when it first opened. Couldn’t understand why my parents said actually visiting it was impossible considering we lived in Ohio and it was in California and we’d all spend far too much of Dad’s 2-week vacation from the NCR factory just driving to make it feasible. I’m sure they figured my brothers and I would kill each other before we reached Kansas. Traveling long distances was not our forte.
But we watched it all come together on TV every week in the hour long program known as DISNEYLAND back then. I did get to Disneyland at long last – my first husband took me there in 1971 when we moved to Southern California, and then again when my parents visited us, when his brother visited us on his way home from Viet Nam, when my best friend from high school visited us. Which means, I was quite a regular at Disneyland for three months that year. We lived so close to the park it was possible to see the fireworks over the Sleeping Beauty castle at night…if one stood on the toilet and looked out the very small, very high up on the wall, bathroom window. But still, I could feel linked to Disneyland.
Between then and the 1980s when I’d moved on to the second husband and had two elementary school aged stepsons, I had settled down to do what I’d wanted to do since I was 12 years old: write a novel. Granted there were lots of rewrites along the way, but I’d moved beyond the thinking and talking about wanting to be a writer to being a writer with something to flog to publishers.
While publishers might have been passing on the manuscript, my best friend loved it – in particular, she loved the hero, Ben Paradise.
Well, I did, too.
Now let’s bring Walt Disney back into the picture here. While he always felt SNOW WHITE was his greatest achievement – which it was, being the first full length animated movie, I’d never liked Snow White’s voice, so it wasn’t one of my favorites. I loved SLEEPING BEAUTY, PETER PAN, easily bought into the concept of Flubber and that it made Fred MacMurray’s old jalopy fly, or that Tommy Kirk could turn into a shaggy dog. When LADY AND THE TRAMP was re-released on VHS, I bought a copy to share with my step-imps and our dog, Trampus – he looked a lot like Tramp and I’d gotten to name him.
It had been a long, long time since I’d seen LADY AND TRAMP and as I watched it, there was something that seemed awfully familiar that had nothing to do with having seen it in the theatre long, long before. Couldn’t put my finger on it at first but then it came to me – yes, in one of those “My God!” flashes.
Tramp was Ben Paradise. Or maybe it was Ben Paradise was Tramp.
I’d inadvertently modeled the hero in my historical romantic adventure after a dog in a cartoon.
I’ve written many heroes to life in many titles since that first book – which did finally get picked up for publication – and every one of them has something of Tramp in them.
And why not? Tramp may be a dog but he’s a bad one, a stray who plays his marks well. He’s free, not tied to an owner, gets his kicks besting the efforts of the dog catchers to nab him, and he’s charming. He’s also there when Lady needs him to save the day, even though it results in those dog catchers finally corralling him to the dog pound/hoosegow. When he gets sprung, he fidgets a bit over wearing a collar and being licensed, but settles into life with Lady and their pups for a happily ever after as part of Jim Dear and Darling’s family.
My heroes get tamed by their ladies (though none of the heroines are a legacy of Lady). Well, somewhat tamed. They come home to the same woman every night – after the final page of the story has been written, usually – but they never lose that bad boy edge, the charm, or the joy of life. In other words. They never lose the magic.
A film critic once claimed that what the Disney studios was cranking out was “corn.” An associate of Walt’s asked him if the comment stung, but Disney said, “I like corn.”
Well, I guess I just might like corn as well. I certainly like the personalities of the animated heroes that inadvertently morphed into my own heroes.
What Walt Disney did was build a brand before building a brand was a “thing”. He created a formula that kept us all coming back to the theatre. I don’t remember who said it and Google couldn’t supply a name either, but someone said “no one can scare kids like Disney.” But, before SNOW WHITE, no animated bit of film had made people cry – Walt left no dry eye in the house when it premiered. He was innovative yet stayed within what became tried and true guidelines.
And that’s what we as writers need to do. Be innovative yet stay within the guidelines of the various genres, of the various genre niches.
But we also need to surprise our readers.
Which brings me to “The Beginning, The Middle and The Twist: Stun Your Readers With The Unexpected”, a four week workshop here at Savvy Authors in which I hope you’ll join me. We have four themes to cover: The Set Up, The Forked Path, Who Doesn’t Deserve What They’ll Get, and Upping the Ante. The Workshop doors get thrown open on May 16th, so register now!
While you do that, I’m going to go cuddle up with one of my fictional heroes. Maybe I should thank Walt for supplying the model.
For more information, check it out here.
Beth Daniels wears many hats. As Beth Henderson she writes romantic comedy, historical romantic adventure, and romantic suspense. As Beth Cruise she wrote for the old Saved By The Bell series spinning YA romantic comedy. As J.B. Dane she writes mystery and fantasy, and as Nied Darnell she steps into Steampunk. As herself she writes non-fiction books about writing fiction or writing college essays. Those books sprung from her years of teaching English Comp at the college level and from the over 60 different workshops she has presented online through Savvy Authors and various RWA Online Chapter groups. Currently she’s at work on a historical romantic mystery adventure, the 2nd book in an urban fantasy series, and polishing the first tome of a Steampunk trilogy. Which means she gets to hobnob with more than one guy who owes his personality to Tramp. Visit her at www.RomanceAndMystery2.com, www.Muse2Ms.com, or www.WritingSteampunk.com.
Revisit the recent past with SUPERSTAR as career dreams and love lock horns in the late 20th century (1964-1994). For Paul Montgomery those dreams are of music. For Aurora Chambers it is fashion design. Both are willing to do whatever it takes to be a success, even if their love for each other gets caught in the crossfire. But sometimes love simply isn’t enough.
And sometimes it is.