I'm down on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska taking a sailing course. Crummy internet so I can't get photos to load. I'm not a hundred percent sure this will work--but we'll give it a try...
I’ve established in previous essays that early days in the lawman profession can be pretty lean, often requiring another job on the side. For a time, my wife and I managed a ranch in exchange for rent.
Always rushed for time, I’d get home from my deputy marshal work and shuck my coat, tie and pistol like Clark Kent running for a phone booth so I could change into a pair of jeans, chaps and a brush-popper shirt. I kept a pair of boots beside the door. They were tall things, Tony Lama buckaroos with spurs I left on the heel shelf and plenty of caked manure on the sole. The light was always fading by the time I saddled my horse and rode out to check the cow-calf pairs in the back pasture.
One cold and windy Halloween, I heard a knock at the front door about the time I tied on my wild rag scarf—no bandana for me, no sir—and snugged down the stampede string on my silver belly Resistol. I pulled open the door to find a lady from church who was dropping by to pick up my wife and kids for a carnival.
“Oh,” she said, eyeing me from boot to hat. “You’re dressing up as a cowboy.”
“No, ma’am,” I said. “I’m just going to feed the cows.”
My wife just chuckled that her friend thought I was wearing a costume as she herded our pirate, princess, and Lion King out the door. If memory serves, my bride was a gypsy, or maybe a belly dancer. It was pretty much the same costume but I was partial to the version with more bangles and less silk.
I’ve never really been much on Halloween—except for the that belly dancer costume.
I once thought I’d like to try my hand at writing a screenplay—but then I found out how sparse that sort of writing was. I prefer the novel, where I can be director, cinematographer, set designer and costumer. What a character wears goes a long way toward defining him or her. Think Clint Eastwood’s serape, James Bond’s iconic tuxedo, Indiana Jones’s battered fedora or the unblocked crown of Captain Woodrow Call’s hat. Ann Bancroft’s leopard-skin coat and undies in The Graduate sure say something about Mrs. Robinson’s character. The character of Sandy in GREASE goes from virginal poodle skirts to skintight black leather by the end of the play/movie. When we see a certain style of clothing, we expect a personality to go along with it.
I have a good friend who worked as an undercover drug agent in Texas nearly three decades ago. As part of his persona he shaved his head and had a makeup artist give him full-sleeve tattoos as well as a couple on his neck and face. This was before body art had inched a little more main stream. It so happened that he was buying a house in the small town where we’d grown up. From his internal point of view, he was the same sweet-hearted copper with a wife and two little girls who liked soccer and good barbecue. He was talking to the realtor in front of his new home when an elderly neighbor walked up and threatened to burn the house to the ground before he watched outlaw bikers to move next door.
I noticed early in my law enforcement career that the public reacted pretty consistently to the way responding officers were dressed—particularly our hats.
As a patrol officer I was issued a round uniform hat like the ones Reed and Malloy wore in Adam 12. We hated those hats. When I went into mounted patrol my uniform was the same grey shirt but added starched black Wranglers and highly polished boots with chrome spurs. We wore a black felt Resistol hat in the winter and a white straw in the summer. On our horses we felt ten feet tall and bullet proof. When the weather was too bad to ride we wore the same uniform, responding in our patrol truck instead of on horseback. No matter how many responding officers outranked us at any call, citizens always turned to us as soon as we arrived. The guys in the big hats had to be the ones in charge—even absent our mounts.
If I’ve done things right in my books, readers would recognize Jericho Quinn by his armored black motorcycle jacket—and in TIME OF ATTACK, Ayako Shimizu’s outfits directly illustrate her character. Here are two short descriptions— one shortly after Quinn first meets her and another, later after she has developed feelings for Quinn.
--The short skirt, white blouse and knee socks were meant to replicate the look of a Japanese schoolgirl—a popular fantasy for Japanese men who hired prostitutes. Quinn couldn’t help but notice that the socks were a little too large for her tiny feet and the heels hung out of the back of her slippers. She was still able to carry off the costume, but Quinn could make out the tiniest of lines around her smallish mouth. Wide, chocolate eyes, though attractive in their own way, held a weary look that liner and makeup could not hide.—
---“I got mintaiko,” she said. “Spiced cod roe. We are known for it here in Fukuoka.”
“Sounds delicious.” Quinn couldn’t help but smile as he watched Ayako putter around the simple wooden counter that served as a kitchen in the small cottage. Her hair still hung in damp locks from her shopping trip in the morning rain. She’d slipped off her wet sweat pants and jacket to reveal a pink Hello Kitty t-shirt and loose violet gym shorts that matched the slippers she’d brought in the duffle from her apartment.
The softness of the colors reminded Quinn of an Easter egg. He wondered if she realized that though she worked each day to make herself alluring with costumes and makeup, it was now, fresh from the rain and dressed in plain t-shirt and shorts that her natural beauty shown through.
Perhaps, Quinn thought, she knew exactly what she was doing, and had expertly dialed in on what Quinn found attractive.—
Marc Cameron is a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal and 29-year law enforcement veteran. His short stories have appeared in BOYS’ LIFE Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He's published ten novels, six of them Westerns.
TIME OF ATTACK, fourth in his USA Today Bestselling Jericho Quinn Thriller series, is the newest release from Kensington February of 2014.
Marc lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.
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I've heard it said that Clothes make the man. Guess you could say that it gives people an attitude about a person. I want to get your books now that I've discovered you.ReplyDelete
Entertaining post. Dressing characters is one of my favorite parts of writing. You can explain a lot with a description of garb.ReplyDelete
Marc, as always a wonderful, interesting, and informative post. I'm never disappointed--even without the pictures! LOL Like you, I'm finding that screenplay writing is not what I enjoy doing. I like doing it ALL in my writing, and that is, as you say, too sparse.ReplyDelete
You've made me think, now. I'm not sure that I give enough detail to what my characters are wearing at any given time...I'm going to have to pay more attention to that.
Great post. I really enjoyed it.
Wonderfull post. I truly enjoyed every word. Thank you for your insights and information. DorisReplyDelete
Just got back into wifi range a few hours ago. Thanks for the comments.ReplyDelete
I have to admit, dressing my characters always happens last, and only when my critique partners holler at me for having nekkid people running around. I have been teased about this for many years. Maybe it's because I never pay attention--it's when something is different or unexpected. That, I notice. But it has to be on the page. I get that. Good article, Marc.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Jacquie. Yep, nekkid characters would draw attention. I still leave quite a bit to the imagination though and let the reader fill in the blanks. I think that's why we always like the book better than the movie...ReplyDelete
I appreciate, cause I found exactly what I used to be taking a lookReplyDelete
for. You have ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have
a great day. Bye
Stop by my page - summer