Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bad behavior in cheap hotels

The other day I heard two travel professionals debating the desirability of a certain group of tourists.

I forget who they were discussing or what criteria they used to determine the likelihood of a hotel guest blowing snot rockets on the shower curtain, but it reminded me of one of 1,000 jobs that helped pay my college tuition.

I cleaned rooms at a mediocre hotel, which is precisely as glamorous as it sounds. I got to handle people’s soiled bed sheets and wonder about the crusty things clinging to damp towels.

In mid-summer, we got word that a big motorcycle rally was passing through town. The hotel staff braced for the worst, picturing leather-clad bikers smashing televisions and punching holes in the walls.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

They made their own beds and picked up their towels. They left generous tips and arranged their leathers neatly in the closets. One biker even left a rose and a heartfelt note thanking me for my service.

I felt guilty for equating Harleys with bad behavior and gratefully pocketed the cash.

Two weeks later, a well-known symphony group booked a block of rooms. I prepared for more tips, perhaps an entire bouquet of roses from the well-heeled musicians.

They trashed the place.

Puke glued to the side of the toilet, unmentionables stuck to the sheets, furniture destroyed, and not a single tip for any of the maids.

In a way, it was a better lesson for me than the bikers had been. The cultured symphony folks were just as capable of bad behavior as I’d assumed the bikers would be, and the bikers were as tidy and thoughtful as I’d naively thought the musicians were. Bottom line, you can’t judge a book by its cover, a biker by his chaps, or a pianist by the fact that is job title sounds delightfully like penis.

It’s been 15 years, but I still cling to my mental picture of the tattooed biker in his leather jacket writing a poignant thank you note to the maid, or the violinist standing atop the television to urinate on the carpet.

That may be one reason my books always end up with characters who bend stereotypes. MAKING WAVES includes a former NFL tight end turned cross-dressing gourmet chef, along with a ruthless pirate who happens to be a literary theologian. The romantic hero in BELIEVE IT OR NOT owns a male strip club – something that made my editor nervous when she first read the manuscript.

I had fun mulling people’s preconceived ideas about those characters and then turning those stereotypes on their heads. Toying with the unexpected is what romance writing is all about for me.

Do you play with stereotypes in your own stories? Do you like reading books where people aren’t what they seem? Please share.

And please tell me you never touch the comforter in a hotel room. Not unless you’re wearing rubber gloves and a HazMat suit.

27 comments :

Jessica Lemmon said...

BLARGH! Eewwwwwwwwww! I think the grossest job I ever did was waitress - I had to pick up soiled napkins and used cutlery, but that is nothing - NOTHING - compaired to your tales of cleaning. *hurk*

I love that you gleaned something from it, too - stereotypes are more fun (and funny) when bent!

Linda G. said...

That's what I loved most about MAKING WAVES -- your characters are unexpected, and yet so genuine. You hit on two of my favorites in this post. :)

Re the bikers: I've never met one personally (and yes, I've met a few) who wasn't a perfect gentleman. And I've met more than a few of the "upper crust" who were perfect arseholes. ;)

Harley May said...

You should absolutely equate Harleys with bad behavior.

No, no...jokes. I think it's wonderful that you write against streotypes. We all should. This might be a touchy topic, but one WIP of mine is set in Korea and in it, I discuss racism and racial sterotypes. It's been a tricky thing to handle. Great post, Tawna.

Christi Goddard said...

I've cleaned hotels for a living, too. The worst were always the Prom and Homecoming crowds.

My second MS deals a lot with stereotypes through the eyes of one pretty judgemental teen.

Laura Maylene said...

I don't specifically set out to play with stereotypes, but in one of my short stories being published next month, the big tough security guard is actually a softy who whispers knock-knock jokes to his charge...not really a blown stereotypes, but for some reason I always liked him a lot. :)

And thanks for reminding me how gross hotel comforters are. I always try to forget...

Claire Dawn said...

Funny you should mention this...

I went to a conference this weekend, and in one of the exercise we had to think of a profession for a character and all the most stereotypical things we could attach to that profession. Then we had to change one (or more) to the exact opposite.

Also, I teach a hearing impaired kid. You'd think he'd have a lot of trouble with English as a Foreign Language, since it's listening intensive. But he's got hearing aids, and he never has a problem with the listening or speaking. BUT he has some of the worst handwriting I've ever seen. Every time I look at his book, I think, "Dude, you're half-deaf, which excuses you from a lot of things. But it doesn't give you a reason to write this badly."

madameduck said...

Ich! I already hate hotel beds....don't make me think about the comforters!

Great post though. I always prefer reading about characters that go against the typical stereotype!

Colene Murphy said...

That is awesome! I love hearing about bikers being super cool and not the destructive rude brutes they appear because it's so true that most are just really cool, nice fellas.

I worked as a housekeeper for a year and...ugh.. never again. And this was at a 5 start hotel too! Just nasty.

Characters that break stereotypes are really fun especially if you don't know about it before you start reading. That surprise is the best!

Abby Minard said...

Rest assured I NEVER touch the comforter in hotel rooms. And you validated that for me, so thanks ;p

My female characters are always strong and independent- I rarely have the "damsel-in-distress" in my fantasy stories.

I love characters that break from stereotypes.

Sierra Godfrey said...

I never touch the comforter. AND I have problems touching the TV remote control, too. And I....let's just say hotels are difficult for me.

I think the mark of a clever, successful writer is their ability to turn the expected into the unexpected, and your story is a great example (and a great story). It's one of the reasons I love the movie Juno so much--because it cleverly expects us to believe the girl (Juno) will mess with the older guy, but she DOESN'T--she's better than HIM and I love that.

Danica Avet said...

I had to laugh upon reading about the symphonic group because...well I was in band when I was in college. For some reason people believe band nerds do nothing but sit around and blow on their uh, instruments when in fact, they're probably trouble than football players AND any Animal House type fraternities...band folk are naaaasty. At least, we were. Just saying.

Anyway, yes. I love to play with stereotypes...like the Uptown girl with the $4k shoes who swears like a sailor, or the giant cyclops who faints at the sight of blood. Things like that always make me giggle. And of course, if I hadn't decided to read your books before, I have to now after learning you have a former NFL tightend who's a crossdresser and a chef. Yeah, those sorts of things make me giggle.

Matthew AT Banning said...

Yes, I love portraying certain characters as Stereotypes and then get into the story about why they act that way. I don't think any of the characters I create and write about are flat characters. Just like the people you meet, every single one of them has a story behind how they got there and where they are going to be going. Some are much more fun and writing spontaneous twists about them are hilarious.

And it's always fun to have my Barracuda (that's the nickname for my Beta-reader) snapping my head off over a twist and cliffhanger combination. ;)

Candyland said...

LOL! I prefer reading about "sterotypical" characters that don't turn out the way you *think* they will. I like finding surprises in people. Sort of like in life.

Catherine Stine said...

Good post! Speaking of the unexpected coming from biker types, a teacher in my MFA Creative Writing program walked into class with tattoos, ear and tongue piercings, and wearing leather pants and shades. I figured he could teach me nothing I didn't already know. Boy, was I wrong!!! He ended up being the most intelligent and inspiring lit teacher I had.

Jan Markley said...

I love the juxtaposition of qualities in a character and finding out that the character isn't who you thought s/he was. Makes for complex characters!

Dr. Goose said...

Fire and Beast love motorcycles and the people who ride them. They wave and holler at them at stop lights and, bar none, the kindest guys are the Harley riders.

They go from a killing look to wide, sometimes toothless, grins and big waves. The kids LOVE them!

Kristen Lamb said...

What a day! I am so glad I can always stop by your blog and be guaranteed a smile.

I love books and movies that are daring enough to break the stereotypes. I think that's why I so loved female action heroes back when I was a kid in the 80s. And I would love to give clever, witty examples, but I am down to five brain cells...and two are having a smok break. Sorry. Thanks for a wonderful blog, though :D.

Christine said...

I used to be a maid as well. Great job for future writing ideas LOL. I think Bikers are very misunderstood. Many are vets and very courageous people. I think sometimes the "richer" people are the less they tip or the worse they behave because they believe they can get away with the behavior.

I love your tilting stereotypes! I have to play around with that a little more. It's easy to get locked into a mindset. I do have a retired lieutenant colonel who reads romance novels (and he is a real person!) in my life. I think maybe the best kept secret is that those geeks in HS are really pretty amazing heroes!

Christine said...

I used to be a maid as well. Great job for future writing ideas LOL. I think Bikers are very misunderstood. Many are vets and very courageous people. I think sometimes the "richer" people are the less they tip or the worse they behave because they believe they can get away with the behavior.

I love your tilting stereotypes! I have to play around with that a little more. It's easy to get locked into a mindset. I do have a retired lieutenant colonel who reads romance novels (and he is a real person!) in my life. I think maybe the best kept secret is that those geeks in HS are really pretty amazing heroes!

Tawna Fenske said...

Jessica, the hotel cleaning was gross, but washing dogs for a groomer might've been one of the ickiest jobs I held. Ever cleaned an anal gland? Don't answer that.

Linda G, aw, thanks! Here's that twenty bucks I promised.

Harley May, all Harleys are bad. Duh.

Christi, miraculously, I never had to deal with homecoming or prom crowds. The tourists were bad enough.

Laura, that sounds like a cool story!

Claire Dawn, love that exercise!

madameduck, most hotels wash the comforters only once or twice a year. Ick.

Colene, I definitely revised my idea of what bikers are like!

Abby, funny, there's a "damsel in distress" reference in MAKING WAVES. I'm talking about the former NFL tight end :)

Sierra, I'd never thought of Juno like that, but you're totally right -- great point!

Danica, one time at band camp...

Matthew, LOL about the barracuda beta reader. I might have to start using that!

Candyland, indeed, it's the surprise that makes it fun!

Catherine, I'd definitely sit up and pay attention if a professor like that walked in!

Jan, complex characters are the best!

Dr. Goose, I do that with bikers, too.

Kristen, I always wanted to be Wonder Woman.

Christine, no joke, the maid job was excellent for writing inspiration!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Malin said...

I like using stereotypes as a mold, just to then twist them around a bit. However, I think I'm much better making the evil/unlikeable dudes unstereotypic than I am playing with my heroes. :)

And no. Not that kind of playing. Sheesh!

Squeaky said...

Egad, woman - have you never read any of Jilly Cooper's orchestra-based romps? you wouldn't have been surprised if you had, believe me! *grin*

Mommy A. said...

Love this post, especially considering I just bought my husband the Harley for which he has been begging for 10 years of marriage. Incidentally, he is a stay-at-home dad and served in the Marine Corps as a scout/sniper. We bend stereotypes daily in our home.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

This is a good blog. Keep up all the work. I too love blogging and expressing my opinions. Thanks
watch the tourist online