What a Character, Part II

Here's the encore of my second of three character blogs for If These Walls Could Talk. Enjoy!

Character: Camille Curry from the Bronx, New York
Novel: If These Walls Could Talk, published May 29, 2007
Setting: The Bronx, NY, October 2001

My name is Camille Curry. I’m a lifetime New Yorker, first in upper Manhattan, then I moved to the Bronx when I got married. My husband’s name is Reuben, and we’re the parents of two great kids: Mitchell and Shayla. My family means everything to me. I wish my mother could have lived long enough to see my husband and kids, but she passed away when I was nineteen, a couple of years before I even met Reuben. My father remarried, but I’m not really close to my stepmother. Nothing against her, you understand. It’s just that I miss my mother so much, and I feel cheated that she died without meeting her son-in-law or seeing her grandchildren.
My own in-laws are all right, but they’ve been getting on my nerves lately. Reuben has two sisters and a brother, plus his mother is still alive. I used to be real close to his youngest sister, Arnelle. We aren’t that tight anymore. She’s always asked to borrow money every now and again, and I never minded, if I had it – after all, I’ve got a family of my own – because I know it’s hard out there for single parents, but then she started taking advantage. She stopped volunteering to pay me back. I hate having to ask for money, but I can’t afford to donate fifty dollars here and eighty dollars there. Then, when she did pay me, she’d make snide comments like, “At least you’ve got a husband to help you out, Camille.” Like I owe her something because her baby’s daddy ran off. She should have chosen somebody more responsible to get knocked up by. Anyway, I’m walking around now with hair that needs a touch-up so bad that even my wide-tooth comb is screaming, and here comes Arnelle asking me for fifty dollars so her cable doesn’t get shut off. I told her I’m sorry, but I can’t help her. Not only do I need to get to the hairdresser, but Mitchell and Shayla are due for their dental checkups. Shayla is a picky eater, but her teeth are in pretty good condition. Mitchell, on the other hand, has a real sweet tooth, and I’m always after him to brush. He’s usually good for a couple of fillings at each checkup. Arnelle whined about how Cablevision was going to cut off her service. I told her that not having HBO didn’t mean the end of the world.

Arnelle might be the only one who asks to borrow money, but the rest of my in-laws have been annoyed with Reuben and me because their aunt recently died and left Reuben fifteen thousand dollars, but didn’t leave anything to them. I mean, are they expecting us to offer to share? I don't see why. Reuben always looked out for Aunt Mary since her only son moved out to Long Island. His siblings didn't do jack. Aunt Mary was a lot older than my mother-in-law, who was actually a change-of-life baby. Somebody had to look out for her. You just don’t leave a woman in her eighties to fend for herself, especially in the Bronx.

I admit I’m excited about the money. I never imagined in a million years that someone would die and leave us fifteen thousand dollars. That whole thought has become a stale cliché, something out of an old melodrama. And Aunt Mary never said a word to us about her plans, she’d just hug us and say we were such good children. I always thought it was terrible how Harvey, her son, left her high and dry, and I wonder if this was her way of sticking it to him. Her policy was only worth thirty-five-thousand dollars, so Reuben and I got nearly half of it. But Harvey clearly expected the whole enchilada. Who knew Aunt Mary could be so sly?

Reuben and I are still numb about it. We haven’t really talked much about what we’re going to do with it. Well, he does want to take the kids on a nice week-long vacation to Disney World and the other Florida fun parks. I don’t have a problem with that. They’ve never been there, and at six and nine they’re the right ages to go. Reuben and I will enjoy it just as much. We already decided that we want to stay in one of those furnished apartment hotels they have down there, where we’ll have our own bedroom, instead of a typical hotel room with all four of us crammed into it, me bunking with Shayla and Mitchell with Reuben. But that will only take a small portion of our windfall, maybe two grand tops. That still leaves a whole lot left. I know what I'd like to do with the money.

All my life I’ve lived in apartments. I’ve always dreamed of having a house in the country with a yard the kids can play in, on a nice suburban street where they can ride bicycles on the sidewalk. Mitchell wanted a bike really bad last Christmas. It really hurt Reuben and I to tell him he couldn’t have one. Not because we can’t afford it, but because there’s no place to ride it. We live on a commercial street near Yankee Stadium, right over a sheet metal shop. It’s noisy as hell down there, including on a lot of Saturday mornings when I’d like to sleep past 8AM. Half a block down is a junkyard, complete with mean dogs who bark at all hours. Walk in the other direction and you’ll see the Lexington Avenue El rumbling past, but you’ll probably hear it before you see it.

I can't even send the kids outside to play. There's no playground anywhere around. Our apartment is pretty nice, but small, only two bedrooms. Mitchell and Shayla are sharing a room. I always dreamed about a boyish room for my son, all plaid bedspread and curtains and a nice walnut desk; and an all-frills room for my daughter, all pink and white or maybe yellow, with a canopied bed. Instead they’ve got an androgynous space done in primary colors, with Shayla’s stuffed animals propped up in front of her pillows.
Reuben and I make fairly decent money – he’s the Grocery Manager at a local supermarket, and I’m a secretary in Marketing downtown – but the prices of houses here in New York are outrageous. And now there's talk of a recession in the wake of those horrible attacks on the World Trade Center last month. We can’t even afford to buy a co-op apartment, which in most cases are just rental buildings that have been converted. In other words, the bathroom is still in the hall and the kitchen is windowless. What I wouldn’t give to have a bathroom of my own. Well, to share with Reuben, of course.

Thanks to the money we inherited, there's a chance my dream will come true. First chance I get I’m going to talk to Reuben about it.

Read more about Camille Curry in my novel, If These Walls Could Talk, in stores now from Dafina Books. And check back tomorrow for Part III of What A Character, the last of the character blogs from If These Walls Could Talk.


Gwyneth Bolton said...

I really enjoyed that one, Bettye! These really give that extra insight into the characters. I hope you've sent e-mails to your readers letting them know this is here for them or you have links on your webpage. Speaking as a reader, we eat this kind of thing up for our favorite books... :-)


bettye griffin said...

Glad you're enjoying my characters, Gwyneth. I do enjoy writing first person. I have at least one project written that way, but it hasn't sold yet.

Oh, yes, my readers were told about this the first time around. But feel free to mention it to anyone you think might be interested!

PatriciaW said...

Bettye, did you write these blogs before writing the story? Is this part of your process?

bettye griffin said...

No, Patricia, actually I wrote these after I'd written the manuscript and turned it in (I brought galleys with me to Tampa on my vacation over Christmas and will be doing the same thing this year for my next book, since the production schedule indicates I'm to have them back by the 2nd of January . . . I guess it's those May releases). I had recently started my blog and read somewhere that authors have "blogged" in the psyche of their characters. I thought that was a good idea, and since I knew my characters inside and out, understood how they felt, it was remarkably easy. I did have to use a little imagination when it came to being within sight of where the Twin Towers once stood, and also about having sons who wanted a puppy and a bicycle, respectively, but I don't think I did too badly. The part about wanting your own washer and dryer, well, I lived that.

This is the characters' individual mindsets just before the action starts. Not exactly desperate, but longing for a home of their own very badly.

PatriciaW said...

You did a great job. Their longing came through. This kind of thing could help attract readers to your books, I think. Romance Designs sends out newsletters that contain letters to readers from the main characters. Similar type construct.

bettye griffin said...

Thanks, Patricia!