Fictional Characters Showing Up In Real Life…

 I always tuck a small notebook into my purse so I can record story ideas, interesting tidbits, strange human behaviors, cupcake places I’d like to try… But I especially collect potential characters.

(You can see why I did not pursue illustration!)

A cute grocery checker turned into a love interest in one of my stories, so did a teenager sipping a strawberry frappuccino that matched her hair… My next WIP idea sparked after a few random encounters with intriguing strangers (but I have to finish my current novel first!).

And it’s no secret that a neighborhood skateboarding hottie inspired the character of Xander Cooper in Swoon At Your Own Risk.

But I was a little surprised when he showed up at my daughter’s soccer game on Saturday. I did know that his little sister played on my daughter’s team, but he’s away at college now, and no longer skateboards down the street.

No one in his family knows that I’ve written him into a novel, and I really only borrowed his mop of curly hair and graceful skateboarding. Xander Cooper is a completely fictional character. Still–it felt so strange to sit close to someone who looks so much like the character I created…

But it was nice to see him cheer so sweetly for his little sister. (Nice guys DO live outside of books!)

My Own Relationship Advice

My husband and I are in San Francisco this weekend celebrating our 18th anniversary. He really wanted to see the Giants play, but knowing that I’m not a huge sports fan, he didn’t want to go on our actual anniversary. I said, please buy the tickets.

After 18 years of marriage, I’ve learned that successful relationships aren’t about manufactured romantic moments (or else all those couples who meet on the Bachelor would stay together). So here’s my advice:
1. Laugh together every day. It’s really hard to remain grouchy after an episode of The Daily Show, or a Snuggie infommercial.
2. Don’t blame your partner for your own personal struggles. We’ve been pretty good about keeping professional stresses, extended family strife, and personal unhappiness out of our marriage. Whether it’s been my husband’s demanding schooling, or my long, discouraging path toward publishing, I’ve treated my marriage as an oasis from my other problems.
3. Expect your partner to change. So many of our personal interests, hobbies, likes and dislikes have changed over the years. But here’s what hasn’t changed: I married an intelligent, kind, compassionate, generous person with a great sense of humor. But the teenager who didn’t understand why I hung Monet prints in my dorm room–and that worried me because it didn’t fit my “ideal guy” list–is now the one insisting we visit all the museums in San Francisco.
So we went to the Giants game–and had a really great time. We sat next to a couple on their first date, and giggled a bit when the girl came back with a hotdog loaded down with onions and sauerkraut. A clear sign that the evening would end in disappointment for that poor guy!

Dear Miss Swoon

Dear Miss Swoon,
My friend told me that another friend has been talking behind my back. She said that SHE would look better in my clothes than I do! And that I don’t know how to do my hair very well. What should I do? I’m not sure I want to stay friends with someone who would do that. –Mad Fashion
Dear Mad,
I’m going to state the obvious: there is no way to stop people from talking about us when we’re not there. We are just too interesting! And most of us give in to the temptation at least now and then to take a little bite out of someone else’s hide. It makes us feel better about ourselves to point out our superiority over other people, even people we like.
Both of your friends have played a part in this scenario. One of them said it and one of them repeated it to you. However, you’ve got to give credit where it’s due. That was a nice bit of snarkiness. She didn’t actually say you looked bad in your clothes, just that she would look even better!
But that was enough to start your own personal doubting voice.
If you will listen carefully, you will detect a rather unpleasant chatter in your mind. It’s negative, pretty extreme, and usually starts with YOU! It’s not true stuff, but an accumulation of put-downs you’ve heard along the way. What I’m talking about is the “Your hair is such a mess; you look awful!” kind of chatter we tell ourselves. That’s you being hard on yourself. It feels bad and IS bad for us. For one thing, your friend doesn’t ever have to say those things again, but you may say them to yourself another thousand times. And feel bad all over again–a thousand times!
The real answer is to stop going off on yourself! And think about why that person said what she said. Is she struggling to feel OK about her own appearance? You could think, “Yeah, my clothes would look cute on her too, because they’re cute clothes!” Or, “I like my hair, and it looks pretty much like everybody else’s.”
That’s how to handle your own feelings. Now about your friends. I say, forgive your friends for being only human. If you can’t do this, you will have to jettison a lot of people from your life, ‘cuz we all have our failings. And if you don’t like to be gossiped and snarked about, let gossip and snarkiness stop with you! Make your life a gossip-free zone (tell it to your diary). I think you will like your friends (and yourself) better if you do. –Miss Swoon
Miss Swoon is a licensed psychologist who has a special affinity for her adolescent clients.

Do you have your own question for Miss Swoon? Leave a comment or send an email here.

Dear Miss Swoon

Dear Miss Swoon:
I’ve always had short hair because I do a lot of sports–and it’s just easier, you know? But now I’m dating this guy who really wants me to grow my hair long. He thinks long hair is sexy and he’s always pointing out cute girls with long hair when we go out together. Should I change my hair for my boyfriend? It’s only hair, right? –Wondering

Dear Wondering:

How do you feel when your boyfriend points out how sexy other girls are with their long, beautiful hair? Deflated? Put down? These are emotions to pay attention to when a guy you like has offered a “helpful” suggestion.

It’s time to pay attention to those little hurts that you would like to ignore. It’s time to think about what is actually going on. Your guy is trying to get you to change your very identity. He’s not just trying to alter an annoying behavior you would be better off without (like slurping your shake). He’s trying to change a decision you made about your life because it works for your love of sports. He’s trying to get you to subordinate your life for his.

Your boyfriend is subtly testing you to see if you are willing to give up a part of yourself to please him. If you do decide to (just for this one thing), he will soon be asking you to skip practice to spend time with him. After all, don’t you love him more than stupid, sweaty sports that aren’t very feminine anyway?

These are the behaviors of a controller and they are huge red flags for a relationship. Control starts so small you hardly realize it and ends with you wondering how you lost yourself. In a good relationship your life is as important as your guy’s and he’ll be in the bleachers cheering you on, thinking, “Short hair is so sexy!” just because YOU have it. So, Wondering, it’s not really your hair, it’s your life. –Miss Swoon

Miss Swoon is a licensed psychologist who has a special affinity for her adolescent clients.

Do you have your own question for Miss Swoon? Leave a comment or send an email here.

Dear Miss Swoon

Dear Miss Swoon:

My friend and I both like the same guy (he’s like the only guy worth liking in my entire school, BTW). The problem: last week after choir practice, he confessed that he has feelings for ME. Should I tell my friend? I don’t want to ruin my friendship or make her feel bad. But I do like this guy. –Singing The Blues

Dear Singing:

There are some things best told only to your diary. This sounds like one of them. Not hurting your best girlfriend’s feelings is very kind and smart at the same time. There’s lots of wisdom out there about cherishing your girlfriends because they can last through the ups and downs as boyfriends come and go.

Take a wait-and-see attitude about this delicious news of being liked by who you like. For one thing, it won’t become gossip (a no-gossip policy will endear you to all your boyfriends) and for another, it’s the MOST fun not to rush these things! Yay for flirting!

Now I have a question for you, Singing. Do you attend an old fashioned one-room school? I’m guessing you do! That would be the only way the cutie-in-question could possibly be the ONLY cutie in school! Oh, you don’t? Then…

Are you up for some scientific research? How about this: you and your best friend figure out what you really, really like about the cutie-in-question and see just how many other boys have those qualities too. Cultivating the scientific method and critical thinking in yourself is an excellent thing. You might be quite surprised at all the cute guys that actually attend your school. And this is a project you and your friend can BOTH rock out on! –Miss Swoon

Miss Swoon is a licensed psychologist who has a special affinity for her adolescent clients.

Do you have your own question for Miss Swoon? Leave a comment or send an email here.