Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pythagoras and the Vixen toenails

As I slowly get to know the characters in my new novel, I’m thinking about the small quirks that define people.

There are a million ideas bubbling in my brain, and a million decisions to make – does the heroine’s dad hate food that’s brown? Does the hero secretly read Glamour magazine?

These may seem like tiny details, but they’re a big part of developing characters, particularly in romantic comedy.

Fortunately, Pythagoras offers endless inspiration for the sort of quirks that can comprise a human male. I thought of this yesterday when he was searching for paperwork from a knee surgery he had years ago in Montana.

We had only been dating a short time, and Pythagoras was working as a ski school director while I put my newly-minted English degree to good use tending bar at the ski lodge.

One weekend, Pythagoras took a road trip to coach several teenage ski racers for a Junior Olympics qualifier. He called from the road that evening.

“I fell asleep with my socks off,” he informed me. “The girls thought it would be funny to paint my toenails.”

Knowing many men would be horrified to be decorated with a female cosmetic product, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Wow,” I said. “What color are they?”

“Vixen,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s sparkly.”

As it turned out, Vixen was a rather disturbing shade of purple. As it also turned out, we couldn’t find nail polish remover in the boxes from our recent move. Since Pythagoras didn’t seem too concerned by the color of his toenails, we both forgot about it.
Pythagoras prepares to go to the hospital
with Vixen toenails

Then came the ski accident. Pythagoras was rushed to a tiny rural hospital where we waited for the doctor to inspect the damage.

“Oh,” said the doctor the instant he pulled off a sock. “Is this bruising, or—”

“No, it’s Vixen,” Pythagoras offered helpfully.

The doctor and nurse stared, probably trying to recall whether this was a jailable offense in Montana.

“He didn’t do it himself,” I stammered.

The nurse looked at me, then back at Pythagoras. “Who did this to you?” she whispered.

Pythagoras shrugged. “Some girl on the Junior Olympic team I coach. I was asleep.”

The doctor blinked at him. “You were sleeping? With a teenage girl who painted your toenails?”

At that point, I began to wonder if the hospital had a policy permitting medical staff to shoot patients if they deemed it appropriate. Not wanting to find out, I smiled brightly at the doctor.

“So about his knee—?”

Eventually, Pythagoras was sent to a larger hospital for surgery. Through it all, we never got around to removing the polish. The color eventually wore off, and Pythagoras’ knee soon healed.

But I’ve never forgotten the Vixen.

It wasn’t that he enjoyed wearing it. It was just that he was so blissfully immune to the rule that says men – especially men in Montana – should be horrified at having their toenails painted purple.

That security in his masculinity and general obliviousness to the “rules” is one of the things I love best about Pythagoras.

It’s also something I’m hoping to capture in the hero I’m writing for my new book.

What quirky traits do your characters or real-life loved ones have? Please share in the comment trail.

I’ll be waiting for my husband to fall asleep so I can test out my new eyeliner.


Kayeleen Hamblin said...

My husband only snores when he sleeps on his right side. It's the loudest thing I've ever heard. Does that count?

As for my characters, I have one character who only eats fruit.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

One of my male characters is a neat freak. The MC's dusty, cluttered house drives him nuts but he doesn't want her to think he's judging her so he sneaks around and cleans stuff he thinks she won't notice, like under the kitchen sink.

He does, however, refuse to allow her goat in HIS house.

Angela Perry said...

I read this post to my coworkers (what? we're having a slow day). They all laughed. Including both guys, who then proceeded to bemoan the fact that you write romance, because they wanted to read one of your books.

Candyland said...

That's hilarious! Sounds like you have all the inspiration you need right at home.

snacks said...

My husband is a tile contractor and ends up with some pretty beat up and dried out hands. Some nights he'll slather his hands up to his elbows in the most amazing (but also old-lady-smelling) hand cream and put athletic socks over his hands. He looks absolutely ridiculous and totally doesn't care. I love those moments... And the dog loves attacking the "hand puppets."

K.A. Krantz said...

I won't name which male in my family has an addiction to 90210, but I will say he's been a fan since the Brenda & Brandon years. ~cough~

Larissa said...

Pythagoras is awesome! :)

My MC is loosely based on my husband. He builds things in his workshop and hates reading. (I know.)


Unknown said...

Pythagoras is truly one of a kind....well, until we get cloning perfected....then, watch out! (i'll put in my order for one right now...)

however, i do have a friend that many of my heroes are based on...he's pretty perfect, well, except for the fact that he's gay...just goes to show you that all the good ones are either taken or gay...or both! ;)

Shannon said...

Quirky traits:

My manfriend (I'm too old to have a boyfriend and we can't decide on a ring, so it's manfriend until otherwise noted) talks in his sleep...but only when spoken to. Needless to say, we've had some amusing conversations.

My dashing male MC has an overdeveloped sense of smell and a strong gag reflex.

Linda G. said...

My...um, friend...has an endearing...uh, reflex...that I absolutely adore, because it always makes me laugh (and you know how I love to to laugh). But I dare not get specific because--no. No, I can't. *giggling just thinking about it*

But I must say, Pythagoras is a very easy-going guy. Maybe it's all that exercise.

Deborah Small said...

Patience. An absolute must with a Type A like me. My DH keeps me grounded. *s*

Marisa Birns said...

A man with such an amazingly, wonderfully unique first name. And with vixen toes. Memorable.

I wrote a short story where one of the characters loved growing and eating jalapenos peppers. Until he got too old and said he had to stop because it hurt going in and coming out.

Your post was very amusing!


Kayleen, snoring and fruit-eating certainly count as quirky character traits (both in real-life and in fiction!) Hmmm...maybe you can blend the two together!

Kari Lynn, your neat freak sounds hysterical! Would love to read that.

Morgan, you can reassure your co-workers that most of my books have been male-tested. I always try to make sure I have at least one male in my mix of beta readers, and then generally deem my stories, "not all girly and crap." Not that there's anything wrong with girly crap.

Candyland, I've barely plumbed the depths of his inspiration. OK, that sounded oogeyier than I meant it to.

Snacks, gotta love a man who's not afraid to moisturize. Plenty of benefits I can see!

KAK, cracking up over the 90210 thing. Don't worry, I won't tell!

Larissa, I'm fond of saying there's a little bit of my husband in every hero I write. Come to think of it, that sounds a little oogey, too.

Karla, I will notify you immediately when they begin cloning my husband. Maybe they can do something about the gene that makes him leave socks on the floor.

Shannon, I'm totally digging the word "manfriend." Will have to start using this in everyday conversation.

Linda G, you've kinda piqued my interest now!

Deborah, isn't it nice when you can keep each other grounded? Seems like the sign of a good marriage!

Marisa, I like the jalapeño thing! That sounds hysterical!

Thanks for reading, guys!

Lucy Woodhull said...

Haha! My best friend and I painted my now-husband's toenails in the middle of the night. We got his feet out of his socks and the polish on and dried and he discovered it only in the morning. I've not been trusted since :)

Jamie D. said...

I live in Montana. :-) And I have seen painted toenails on men, but usually black. And I live in the largest city here, so that probably makes a difference.

Quirks in my characters, hmm. My current heroine has a wig collection...

Claire Dawn said...

Truth is stranger than fiction!

Every time I come to your blog, I remember that. :)

One MC has a nervous habit of smoothing her skirt out. The other has the ROE (Rules of Engagement) about how she can and can not interact with guys.

Jennifer X said...

That story is classic, but I wonder if you tell it more than he does. It takes a real man to wear purple nail polish and wear salmon shirts! He already shaves his legs. LOL

Patty Blount said...

As the father of two boys, my husband is all about wrestling and NASCAR and hockey. There are burping contests and all sorts of "guy stuff" that send me fleeing from the room in horror. I used to say it's a good thing he only had sons because he's so good at all that male bonding stuff.

When my now-nine YO niece was a toddler, my heart just melted into a big puddle of goo when he sat for hours playing Tea Party, sitting with stuffed animals at a tiny table, sipping water from china cups with his pinky out.

This is a man I've known since I'm fourteen years old. I never knew he had a Tea Party side.