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  • Joan Schweighardt

Five Directions Press Authors Dish: Saying Goodbye to Characters (1)

Never can say goodbye, no, no, no, no, now Never can say goodbye

Today 5DP Authors are standing around the proverbial water cooler singing The Jackson 5’s Never Can Say Goodbye while they reminisce about favorite characters (not of their own making),* whom they never quite managed to let go. Our chitchat takes us from Heathcliff (twice venerated!) to a sexy Viking dude to the cast of the Netflix series Six Feet Under … and more.

*Watch for next month’s Dish to get 5DP authors’ take on saying goodbye to their own characters.

Ariadne Apostolou: Back when I was eight and children still got books for Christmas, I received Little Women by L. M. Alcott. What a gift! Here was a book about me. I was Jo. We both had curly black hair. We both were the oldest of four with a privileged relationship with our mothers. We both loved to read and write. I loved Jo for bucking convention. Her every adversity was painful to me and her every resolution, brilliant. I cried with her, and I was joyful with her. She was so honest and authentic—just like me.

At ten, I discovered Jane Eyre in all her Victorian drama. Here I was again! Definitely Jane, a forthright outsider, true to herself, bucking convention, honest and authentic. We were both attracted to bad boys.

My crush on Mr. Rochester easily transited to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. I read every novel the Bronte sisters wrote, even the dreariest ones I did not understand, just to live in that compelling bleakness. But of all the heroines, Jane was who I most felt myself to be.

I am still faithful to Jo and Jane. Rereading returns me to a more innocent self. I feel the expanse of time between then and now, what changed and what has not.

So is it true? We hold a mirror up to the ones we love, and we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the glass?

Denise Allan Steele: He is an accomplished horseman, an expert swordsman, and the best warrior in the kingdom. He was born Saxon, raised Viking, and he singlehandedly advised Alfred the Great on how to unite the warring kingdoms into what would become England, then led the assembled ragtag Saxon villagers to victory against the mighty and very tall, blond, muscle-bound, and tattooed Danes.

He has fabulous long silky but tousled hair, perfect eyeliner, and the best horses. Yes ladies, you know who I’m talking about here: Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Uhtred son of Uhtred, Uhtred Ragnarson! Be still, my beating heart!

Based on monastic records that indicate there was actually a Northumbrian Ealderman (noble) warrior called Uhtred who united the kingdoms, and on ancient myths that there was once a fearsome warrior who was both Saxon and Dane, author and historian Bernard Cornwall has given us the perfect hero in his Saxon Chronicles!

Handsome, brave, fearless, principled (if a touch bloodthirsty), and loyal, not to mention clad in those tight leather leggings and vests, Uhtred is the thinking women’s version of Fabio—the ridiculously hunky, silky-haired, and much mocked Italian Stallion who adorned the covers of literally hundreds of romance novels in the 1980s.

“I Need a Hero,” sang Bonnie Tyler in 1984. Well, Hollywood can keep Conan the Destroyer, Braveheart, Rambo, and even Rocky. Many thousands of we ladies of a certain age love the idea of riding off into the last kingdom with Uhtred Ragnarson.

Claudia H. Long: It says more about me as a teen and young adult than I care to admit, but for years I was obsessed with Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. It was the movie version I craved, not the hideously cruel Heathcliff of the book. Young Sir Lawrence Olivier in 1939, Timothy Dalton in 1970, I’ll take it.

In the days long before videotape, I went to the theaters to see the movie every time it played. I dreamed of Heathcliff, so tortured and soulful, longing for his unattainable Cathy until he got her, and then throwing her away.

Now, looking back, I wonder at the open misogyny and class division, the cruelty and self-absorption of the characters, the electric sexual tension of the stable scene. But then, all I wanted was Heathcliff.

Joan Schweighardt: When I started watching the series Six Feet Under in early November 2017 I had no expectation that David, Nate, Claire, and Ruth would become all important to me. In fact, I never would have begun to watch (I’ve always preferred one-offs) if a trusted friend visiting from NY (I live in NM) had not joked, when he saw my non-reaction to his suggestion that my husband and I watch it, “I came all the way here to tell you to watch it!” Intuitively I recognized his words as being prophetic.

We liked Episode One; Two, not so much. Three was a little soap-opera-y. And so it went, and by Thanksgiving we had watched maybe ten episodes. Then the day after Thanksgiving I got a call from the nursing home in New York where my baby sister, whose health had long been compromised, had choked on holiday leftovers and, following an unsuccessful attempt at aspiration, had landed in the hospital and was dying.

We flew to New York immediately and spent each of her last ten days at her side. While my husband, a photographer, wandered the grounds of the hospital and later the hospice facility taking photos of things—street lamps, trees—doing their best to proclaim their authenticity in the continuous fog, I talked, or read, to my comatose sister.

After she passed, we came home and learned that our beloved dog, who we’d left in the care of a dog/house-sitter, was not well. We’d noticed at Thanksgiving dinner that he wasn’t greeting guests with the same ebullience he usually displayed, but with all that happened immediately afterwards, we hadn’t given it much thought. We took him to the vet, and for the next three days the doctors kept him nourished with an IV while they ran tests. Each evening we brought him home and begged him not to leave us, but it wasn’t meant to be.

During the Christmas/New Year week that followed we stayed home and binge watched all the remaining episodes of Six Feet Under—and we became saturated. When we had to break to eat or rest our eyes, we talked about death. Between us, every single person we’d ever known (or known of) who’d died had their story retold. We cried, about our own losses and about loss generally.

Back in college, I lost three friends over the short period of one semester. Coincidentally, my World Lit teacher had decided on the theme of death that semester. We read death in Thomas Mann, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and more. I cannot count the times thereafter I said to someone, “If I had not been reading death that semester, I wouldn’t have survived it.” Serendipity is everything. Thanks, David, Nate, Claire, and Ruth and creator Allan Ball.

Images: Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and “Jo in a Vortex” public domain via Wikimedia Commons; Uhtred screen shot reproduced as fair use; Roy © 2018

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