I find myself troubled by many female characters in action novels. Many land too wholly in only yin or yang, deference or aggression. These women are either delicate, high-heeled fashion foils, serving as a mark of success for the leading man, or are stark bitches, taking on the worst aspects of the male ego and masquerading that as real strength. While these types of women do exist, I don’t think they are typical and are definitely not well-rounded. I want to overcome this limitation by presenting both the yin and yang in one character, broad and more true-to-life. My goal is to show strength in women, while still allowing them to be loving and sensitive. I’m not claiming to have succeeded in that goal, but I will continue to strive to get it right because I feel compelled to express through these characters the depth of ambition, love, and bravery the women in my life have shown me.
My understanding of women began, as with most boys, with my mother. However, her example wasn’t typical. In my early teens, as my friends and I stood waiting for the bus in the Oregon fog, cars would pull up to the stop-sign and accelerate away—exhaust pipes billowing in the cold, damp air—carrying men and women to typical jobs: admin-assistants, salespeople, nurses, teachers, mechanics. Some parents would drive by with a wave, but not my mother; she would have gone to work before dawn, leaving me to get myself ready for school. However, I didn’t mind as I felt so much pride in what she did.
As the bus pulled up, brakes squealing and wind-blown mist streaked across the side windows, my thoughts would be on her. I’d take one last look at the sky, hoping to see faint-blue burning through the December clouds, and climb the steps. As I sat down on the green vinyl seat, the heat on the bus wrapping around my face and neck, I’d imagine her walking underneath the high tail of a twin-engine, turbo-prop Beechcraft King Air, inspecting the plane for damage, streaks of oil, low tires. In the cabin, she’d greet the executives as they came aboard. Then she’d make her way to the cockpit. Fastening her seatbelt, she’d put on her headset, pick up her clipboard, and go through the last elements of her preflight. I’d imagine her popping open the side window and calling out, “CLEAR PROP!” Then she’d fire the engines, and the props would blast to life, blurring to smooth, circular sheets.
Back on the bus, the driver lurched out onto the highway, and the streaks of mist across the glass began to drain by again. But I wasn’t there, not part of the trip to middle school with its bullies, dismissive girls, and white-faced, clicking clocks. In my thoughts, I was in the right seat of the King Air, the mist on the widows blasting away as the acceleration of takeoff sank me into the seat. The wheels would track the tarmac, rumbling, jolting, and then the seat, the floor, the instruments, the whole cabin, would go vague, freed from the diminishing Earth. With the horizon below our heels, the sheet of clouds would descend on us. We’d fly into the grim stratus, grayness folding close. But the dimness held no power over the wicked turbines, and with each second, the mist surrounding the plane grew brighter. Then we’d cut free into brilliant sunlight, a flawless blue sky, and glowing cloud-tops. I’d look back down through a cloud-break to the shadowed highway and forest. From up there a freeway bound tractor-trailer was the size of my finger tip, and more importantly, so were my troubles. I’d look back at my mother, sunlight glinting off the dark-blue frames of her sunglasses, her hands guiding the plane. In those moments she showed me how to overcome and thrive, and that filled the fissures that invariably run through a young heart.
Back on the bus, that lesser world surrounded me, but held no sway. Looking out the square, split window of the bus at the thinning fog, I was seeing only the clear, blue sky.
My mother asked me once in a moment of self-doubt (which we all have as parents) “Was I a good mother?” The question seemed ridiculous to me. This from the woman who had shown me, not only her own strength, but the very possibilities of life. Whenever I see a picture of Amelia Earhart, without fail I think, “like mom.” How many sons do that? Was she a good mother? There is no question in my mind that no mother has ever set a better example for her son.
Now I have to get back to work. I’ve got character development to do…