Sidekicks

 

 

Books on writing often have long chapters on how to develop and present protagonists and antagonists. They should. After all, the struggle between the hero/heroine and the villain is the basis of our stories. But any good story needs more than that. It needs other people, people who are going to support our Hero/heroine, who are going to help find clues, listen as he/she works out the kinks in the plot, and help catch the crook. They ride to the rescue when our hero is in trouble or at least bring in the cavalry, and they give our hero/heroine the support or advice he or she needs to bring the story to a satisfactory close.

 

I’ve often thought that sidekicks were the underpaid and overworked members of a book’s cast of characters. They’re called supporting actors in the movies, and they get Oscars.  In books, they are the members of the cast that get the least attention, certainly the least credit, but we need them. “Supporting” means just that, and supporting is what they do. They back up the hero, the heroine, and the story.

 

Where would Sherlock Holmes have been without Dr.Watson? Lord Peter would never have gotten over his war nerves without Bunter. The Lone Ranger wouldn’t have been as adept at catching all those bad guys without Tonto. I’ve long suspected it was Tonto who kept him supplied with silver bullets. It’s Lula who keeps Stephanie Plum supplied with donuts but Stephanie might not catch another bail bond skip without Lula. Of course, she probably wouldn’t get into as much trouble without her either. Well, she probably would, but without Lula it wouldn’t be as much fun.

 

Because I believe so firmly in the worth of the support staff, the sidekicks, I made sure Ellen McKenzie had one, her aunt, Mary McGill. In And Murder For Dessert, it’s Aunt Mary who saves Ellen from getting stabbed to death with some pretty fancy work with a frying pan. In the latest Ellen McKenzie book, Murder Half Baked, its Aunt Mary once more who, with quirky humor and practical wisdom, helps put Ellen on the path to finding a murderer. But she does more than that. She props Ellen up when she is sagging under the weight of the many problems I’ve thrown at her, and she backs her up when Ellen puts herself in danger. We all need someone like Mary McGill in our lives.

 

So, writers, let those supporting characters loose. Let them wander through your books at will. They’ll make the story more interesting and your protagonist as well. And, readers. Nominations are open. Who is your favorite Sidekick? And why? Fictional or not, your choice. Let’s hear from you.

 

Kathleen Delaney

And Murder For Dessert

Murder Half Baked 

Both available in soft cover at an indie bookstore near you.

www.kathleendelaney.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Memory of Shea

Shea came to live with me when she was a puppy, not a baby but certainly not grown. She still had her baby teeth. I know that because I still have the ladder back chairs she used as a teething ring. Back then, she was all tail and feet and not entirely sure what to do with either.

I was living in California then, working as a real estate broker. One of my clients had a home on acreage they wanted to put on the market. They had it rented to some very nice people who had a lot of dogs, cats, goats and I believe a pony. We had to ask them to move before we put the property on the market, which meant they were going to have to find homes for most of their animals. I sat on their front porch, watching their dogs play while we talked about it. Almost before I knew it, I said, ”If you don’t have a home for the Shepherd pup, I’ll take her.”

I didn’t need another dog. I had two already, but there was something about this one—.    Shea enjoyed the ride home, but wasn’t so sure about getting out when she spied the greeting committee. The other dogs circled the car, barking and in general making a fuss. My mother lived in a small house on my property and she, too, came over to see what was going on.  She looked in the car and sighed. “Another dog?”

My son-in-law said, “Are you going to let this one in the house also?”

“Of course not,” I replied, “She’s going to be huge. Besides, she’s never been in the house, and I need a guard dog.”

He laughed, but I insisted she would sleep outside. Just shows how we can delude ourselves.

Shea did get to be a big dog, and a beautiful and happy one. She also took her heritage as a herding dog seriously. The cat was the first victim. She rapidly found out that herding cats is, indeed, difficult. She tried it on the grandkids next. They were little then, and didn’t like being pushed into a corner and held there. They protested with loud yowls until rescued. She wanted to try herding the horses but I made sure she knew they were off limits as well.

She was a gentle dog who loved just about everybody, especially kids. I have a picture of her lying on my kitchen floor, my granddaughter, who was less than two, sitting on her as if she was a chair, while looking at a picture book.

Shea loved to travel. We crossed the country three times, Shea, Laney, my Italian Greyhound and Shea’s best friend, and me. I never felt safer than when I had her with me. She wasn’t a snarly dog, but she did love her family and I don’t think anyone who tried to threaten me, or one of the kids, or Laney. would have gotten off easy. She thought motels were fun and especially liked elevators. Laney didn’t share that particular enthusiasm.

She loved our house in South Carolina. It has a wrap around front porch. However, she was given to unauthorized walks, so I had a gate build over the steps. She spent a lot of time there, telling each passerby good morning and each dog that stepping on her grass was against her law. She loved the postman. Go figure.

She died during the night, not coming into my bedroom for help, so I know it had to have been quick. I found her in the morning, lying between the coffee table and the sofa, looking as if she had returned to a favorite spot to sleep, a sleep from which she would not wake.

I was with a friend, many years ago, when her dog died. She was devastated and cried out that she would never get another one, the pain of loosing them was too great. I understood then what she meant, and certainly understand it now. The pain is intense. But, I wouldn’t have missed a minute of the time I had with Shea. She brought great joy into my life and even greater love. She was fun to be around, and an unfailing friend. You can’t feel grief without great love, and great love was what she gave me, and what I gave her back. Will there be another dog? Almost certainly, but not now, and it won’t matter. Whoever it is won’t take the place Shea had in my life and in my heart. In my memory, she’ll always be beside me.

Charlie Got A Job

Charlie just phoned me. He got a job. He’s not sure what he’ll be doing, but the city called him and asked him to come in tomorrow morning. They told him they were going to offer him a job. Offer? That always sounds as if there is some doubt. There is no doubt here. He’ll take it. Whatever it is, it’s something steady, five days a week, a paycheck and—this is the clincher. He’ll get benefits. Tonight, Charlie is a happy man.

I met Charlie after a big snow. I’d only been out of the hospital a short time, didn’t have my artificial leg yet, was scheduled to go to Duke for further tests, and was snowed in. My sister-in-law was with me but she could no more shovel all that snow off the porch than I could. We were stuck. I called some friends, and low and behold, Charlie arrived. His head was covered by a knit cap, his muffler wound around his neck, a huge smile was on his face. “This won’t take but a minute,” he said.  He was like a snow shovel machine. Not only did he shovel the snow off the porch, he kept going. Snow on the driveway flew. We made it to Duke.

Charlie left me his number and I used it. I love to garden, however that was no longer an option. I could get down, sort of, still can, but getting back up was, and is, another thing altogether. I have always picked up after my dogs, have never asked for help, but staying upright in the backyard was, and remains, a challenge I’m afraid I’ll lose. Over these last couple of years, Charlie has been a godsend. However, the little pick up work I could offer didn’t begin to substitute for a real job. We talked often about his being laid off and what he was doing to find a new job. We talked about what he did before, how he’d worked in a grocery store and was in line for a promotion when the store went out of business, how he’d worked for the city on the trash truck for a while, but hurt his back and there was no position open when he could work again. It was an ongoing saga because, as I gradually learned, Charlie has limited skills.

I live in a state that has some wonderful universities. Young people from all over come here to attend them. We also have one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation. How we reconcile that, I don’t understand. But it was increasingly obvious to me that Charlie was a product of the part of our state’s school system that was short of everything, books, desks, pencils, teachers, but not students. He was never going to attend one of those fine universities; he was never going to land a white-collar job. He was going to be lucky, in this economic climate, to get one at all. During all this, Charlie kept smiling, but, month by month, I watched his hair turn gray.

Charlie never gave up. He found out there were new openings at the city. He went down and applied. He had lost his drivers license. He’d had a couple of traffic tickets and there was no money to pay them. A driver’s license was necessary to do just about anything the city had open, or would have open. A friend of mine, and Charlie’s, took that project in hand, and after a lot of red tape cutting, Charlie’s license was re-instated. He was ready. However, the city wasn’t, the hospital wasn’t, the new restaurants up on the boulevard weren’t either. But Charlie kept making the rounds. He applied to the city again. This time, I tried to help. We wrote a thank you letter to the man who interviewed him and I wrote him a letter of recommendation. So did some of the others who he worked for. And Charlie kept going back. Politely, persistently, he took the letters in, took his new drivers license in, and took himself in, just asking to be considered. He did it on his bike, he couldn’t afford a car. He never lost his good humor, never lost his hope. He never blamed anyone, just thanked all of us who tried to help. This morning, all that paid off. The city called.

We will all give special thanks this coming Thanksgiving. Charlie has a job.