Just Jo

Every writer has that character, that one they encountered somewhere within the pages of another writer’s work and said “Ah-ha! I have found my literary twin.”

My writing sister, Jaime Wright, and I were discussing that the other day. Inspired by her post, I’ve decided to introduce you all to my literary twin: Jo March. Perhaps you’ve heard of her. ūüėČ Created by Louisa May Alcott, she is featured in the literary classic, Little Women.

What is it about her I connect with so deeply? I didn’t grow up with a cohort of sisters. My father didn’t go off to war. There was no mysterious boy living next door to me. And I certainly never harbored a deep desire to live in the time of hoop skirts and corsets.¬†I’m happy to live in a vastly different world from Jo March.

It isn’t her situation that resonates with me. It’s her personality.

Jo is tomboyish and ambitious. She has the overwhelming desire to do something great and is haunted by the possibility that she may achieve nothing. She has an untamed wildness, a free-spirited wholeheartedness that I understood the moment I met her.

While my friends were giggling¬†about boys and dreaming of marriage marriage, I was dreaming about becoming something, about having a career, about making a difference in the world. Somehow. Some way. Sure, I thought it would be nice¬†to be married one day, but that wasn’t my big life goal. I had too much ambition to tie all my dreams to one event.

This strange contrast between my peers and me was never more evident than when, at church, we were given an evening to dress up like what we wanted to be.

I dressed up like Jo March. Not because I wanted to live in the hoop skirt century but because I, like her, wanted to be an actress (dressing up like a literary character was another nod to those ambitions) and a writer. I wanted to earn those ink-stained fingers. It was a bit of a complicated concept to explain to the other eight-year-old girls.

Somewhere around 50% (likely more) of them were dressed up as expectant mothers.Jo March - Castle quote smaller

I think motherhood is an awesome goal and I have all the respect in the world for women who choose that life, but I wanted to say “Is that really all you want from life?” It baffled me that the greatest ambition of these young humans was to create more humans. Didn’t they have dreams of accomplishing things? Changing the world? Couldn’t they¬†have ambitious dreams and be mothers?

Like Jo, I looked at the girls around me and found them to be a bit alien. I climbed trees, taking my pencil and notebook with me. I played in the dirt and I hated dresses. (I’ve since come around to dresses but man am I glad I live in a time where I can wear pants.) I devoured books and laid awake at night just imagining things.

I found the injustices of the world appalling and angering. I wanted to save orphans and battle evil. I wanted to speak up for those who had no voice. I didn’t know how, exactly. Just somehow.

I never wanted a normal life.

It’s an amazing thing, to peel open a book, expecting to find a story and discover a mirror instead. One that reflects your personality in a different time and place. But the same spirit fighting to be seen.

There’s a scene at the beach when¬†Beth compares all her sisters to birds. She compares herself to a peep, tame and content. Meg is a turtle-dove, and Amy is a lark, aiming for the clouds but always returning home. But she says of Jo: “You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone.”

I was happy to be alone, independent. But then I found another gull who didn’t want to tie me to the earth but who was willing to fly with me, much like Jo found in Professor Bhaer.

I’m still trying to find my path. I’m still striving and aiming for something, chasing down passions wholeheartedly. I think it’s safe to say Jo would approve.

the Find

February. The month of love. That time of the year when everyone thinks about romance and chocolates and flowers.

So I’m pondering¬†murder.

(Come on. Don’t pretend you didn’t see that coming.)

Specifically, I’m thinking about one of my favorite pieces of a good murder mystery, a moment I like to call “the Find.”

It’s that moment, toward the beginning of the mystery, where the body is discovered, often¬†by the main character.

What do I love about it?

  • It sets the tone of the book. Does the character trip over the body, landing eyeball to eyeball with a corpse? Then you know that humorous style will continue throughout the book. Does the heroine enter a dark room, her foot landing on something squishy with a strange crunch as chills run up her arms like baby roaches? I’m betting the rest of the book will embrace a¬†suspenseful tone.
  • It reveals vital information about the killer. Was the body carefully wrapped and placed in the ductwork? The author is showing you the killer is cunning and meticulous.¬†Was it dumped on the side of the road in a public place? Then you know they’re probably a bit reckless or were in a hurry.
  • The main character’s reaction is priceless. It tells you who they are. When faced with someone else’s death, what do they do? Run away screaming? Fight off the rats that are nibbling on the corpse? Throw up on the body? The Find is an incredible opportunity to reveal the main character’s personality, how he/she handles unexpected and gruesome discoveries.
  • Finally, the possibilities for locations are endless. I’ll be honest, it’s a favorite game of mine. Um, not murder itself, or body-dumping. Don’t run away! Let me explain: if I ever find myself bored in public, I start considering the best places to hide a body. How long would it take for someone to notice a body¬†duct-taped to the ceiling? Would a corpse fit in the cabinet over there? If a body were lying on the skylight, how many people would notice the body-shaped shadow on the ground? What would someone do if they found a body in their own trunk? (Don’t worry. I usually don’t ask these questions out loud. Not in public, anyway.)

There’s nothing quite like it, the Find. It’s the first whisper of a delicious mystery wrapped in the initial pages of book. It’s like a dark, murderous surprise party. It could be lurking anywhere. You, as a reader, have the advantage. Unlike the main character, you at least know it’s coming. But when? Where? Only the author knows…