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Monday, August 15, 2011

From Screen Doors to Chandeliers

Summer and screen doors... and mosquitoes.
They go together, don't they? 
They're not always the back door, and they don't always keep the bloodsuckers out and the cool breezes in. But they're always noisy -- a singing hinge, a startling clap! -- it's usually a happy sound to announce --
I'm going outside to play! or
Daddy's home!  

Our garage was the hang out for the neighborhood kids. With its painted, smooth cement floor, it was splendid and cool, smooth to the soles of our bare summer feet, when everybody else down the street had carports with rough concrete that was hot from the parish sun. 
Mama and me and maybe my sister would stand on the inside of the slaphappy screen door, talking with my brother and his friends, or talking the gang boys out of beating up my brother and his friends. Our security was a hook and loop latch on the doorframe. We put an awful lot of trust in those two puny pieces of metal. But what really protected us was the dwindling innocence of those adolescent boys, and their fear of what their drunk mamas and daddies would do if they were to find out they had numchucks and a chain.
                                                                                                  Copyright2011©Pamela V. Mason, all rights reserved


Now screen doors are scrubbed clean and sanitized and trendy. But no matter if they're designer chic or peeling paint, they still give a house a personality.

Does a family with children live here? Running out  to catch a playmate? A teenaged girl sneaking out on a date? 
Or does a lonely old man watch the world pass by from inside, hoping to catch a sight of something interesting, or to snatch a memory as a young couple walks past...? 

True to the dichotomous nature of New Orleans, our home was also graced with a crystal chandelier.


To my six year old eyes, it was magical. Hanging in the monstrously massive (and spooky!) foyer, centered above the staircase, it sparkled and glimmered and projected rainbows on the walls at three o'clock in the afternoon.
I could be a barefoot, dirty child of summer just in from the screen door in the garage, walk to the front of the house, and transform into a princess when I checked on the chandelier.
"Chandelier still there?" Mama would ask.
 I'd nod with a solemn expression. I'd seen the Beefeaters on tv who guarded Buckingham Palace - surely we were related. 
Mama would smile within the cigarette smog at my childish delusions. "You didn't touch it, did you?" 
Touching the crystal prisms was supposedly our secret way to gauge how tall and mature and daring we were. You had to lean over the banister to pling a prism with your two fingers and make the rainbow on the walls quiver. Mama didn't want anybody plinging the prisms. 
A crystal chandelier, all the way from Magazine Street uptown, was too special to be touched by a child. "Look with your eyes, not with your hands."  
                                                                                                                Copyright2011©Pamela V. Mason, all rights reserved
Alice fell through a looking glass.
Louisa May Alcott's Little Women played dress up and spied on their neighbor from the attic.
Scarlet was forced to dress herself in the parlor's draperies.
Dorothy rode out a tornado and murdered a witch with a whole farmhouse.

How can your heroine transform herself through a screen door or wrought iron gates?
What does it say about your hero if he knows the difference between a piece of Limoges and Pottery Barn?
How do you use settings to define or inform your characters' actions?

MashUp of Character Related Posts around the web:
Psychology in Writing: Using Setting to Reinforce Character Development: http://nouveauwriter.blogspot.com/2011/03/psychology-in-writing-using-setting-to.html
What does your character think is important? http://talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com/2011/08/tests-of-character.html
Make your disagreeable characters agreeable: http://storytellersunplugged.com/blog/2011/08/09/sympathy-for-the-devils-how-to-make-disagreeable-characters-agreeable/
Conflict from an agent's perspective: http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/2011/08/conflict-most-frequently-screwed-up.html
World Building: http://freetheprincess.blogspot.com/2011/04/worldbuilding-considerations-part-one.html
HiveWord.com: Helping you find the best writings on writing: http://hiveword.com/wkb/search?q=setting

What do you mean I'm merely window dressing  for  a gambler? 
 A bientot! 



  1. Pamela, NEVER doubt yourself. Your prose is lovely and so hauntingly real. Such gorgeous memories captured - especially the chandelier. I'd love to see photos of your childhood home some day.

  2. Thank you so much Leslie!

    The house is still standing after Katrina - one of the few left in the neighborhood that wasn't demolished.
    I got to see it the year after. The chandelier had been looted away. :*(
    Six years next week.

  3. Great post! I remember thinking chandeliers were magical as a kid :D

  4. Sorry to hear the chandelier is only a memory--I have the brass and milkglass one that hung in my bedroom growing up, but the house is gone. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Leanne, They ARE magical! They're like jewelry hanging from your ceiling.

    Julee, I hope you post a pic of yours so I can see it- sounds lovely.

  6. LOVE this, Pamela! I remember a screen door in my past, but I could never say it so eloquently as you have. You are good. Keep it up.

    You've inspired me. I'm hunting for a picture of that old screen door from my childhood now.

    Now the chandelier, I only saw those in magazines or hotels. But I can totally see those crystal drops dangling. Sorry someone took it.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.


  7. Thanks Tami!

    I'm posting pics of less formal chandeliers this week- art, upcycled, whiskey bottle chandeliers.

    There's nothing like creating with and for light.


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