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My son, the Wrath of Khan, and writing older characters

August 13, 2013

When I was a kid, I think my uncle detested rock music. He never said much about it, but his tastes ran more along the lines of Eddie Arnold, Roger Miller, and Hank Williams. How ironic, now, decades later, that I listen to Kenny Loggins version of You Don’t Know Me (an Eddie Arnold song), the Proclaimers version of King of the Road. I never did jump on the Hank Williams bandwagon, but I have three Patsy Kline MP3s.

At the time, though, while he might have known about how to turn a car port into a pleasant summer screen house, he didn’t know anything about music.

Flash forward more years than I care to count and now it’s my son. He really likes Star Trek, but for him, it begins and ends with Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock (with a grudging nod to that old guy who doesn’t have the character quite right), and Carl Urban as Dr. McCoy. And some limey with a weird name as Khan Noonien Singh. (When everyone knows that Ricardo Montalban’s is superior.)

Ricardo Montalban and his pectoral muscles. By the way, they were real.

“Dude,” I said, “before you see Star Trek, you have got to watch Wrath of Khan. Not only does it give a lot of extra meaning to the story, but it’s still the best movie in the entire series.”

The response? Let’s just say one of these days, his eyes are going to get stuck mid-roll and I’m not going to do anything to fix it.

It was better when I was your age, is something that every generation has ignored–and then done. And I don’t really fault my son for not getting that. He’ll get his in about 30 years. And someday, a decade or so down the road, he’ll say out of the blue sometime, “I watched that Wrath of Khan and the effects were horrible, but the movie was pretty good.”

Now that was acting. Except the Shatner part

The question then, is how do you write someone you can’t understand? When I was 30, I couldn’t have effectively written a 50-year-old concerned that if he lost his current job, he’d never get another. I wouldn’t have been able to understand someone who looks at the world now, as compared to what she grew up in, and sees a place they don’t understand–and not for lack of trying. I wouldn’t have known how to get under a grandparent’s hood and see more than the kindly person who moved the pots and pans out of the drawer below the oven, so I could get to the cookies.

Even today, I don’t know that I could write an 80-year-old effectively. How do you write someone who can say, with relatively certainty, that they won’t be around in 15 years?

You can try to empathize. You can ask someone that age, or just observe them. But when I was 30, I wouldn’t have thought to do that.

Then again, I thought my uncle’s musical choices were the mark of someone really old who didn’t get it, too.

  1. August 13, 2013 11:02 am

    Reblogged this on The BiaLog.

  2. August 13, 2013 11:19 am

    Being of “your” generation, I can so relate. Luckily, my son (26) has fallen in love with the original Star Trek, if you can believe that! So maybe I’m lucky. I think the same can be said for genders. I know some female writers that you can tell they are female when they write a male, and same for the reverse. Some writers have a gift for getting inside another persons head, heart and soul regardless of age or gender. I envy that, and hope that I’m one of them! Only my readers will know, and hopefully let me know one way or the other…


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