It can be tricky creating kid characters. They can’t be adults shrunk into kids’ bodies. They can’t be too nice. I am also not a fan of know-it-all, wise guy kids. Basically, they have to act and talk like real kids. The Sweet Spot, set for a likely Feb. 1 release, has Amber St. Claire, who is 7 ½, as she reminds her mother on the first page.
I believe I have the inside scoop on kids since I have six of them, now young adults, and a granddaughter. I also teach creative writing to fifth-graders at a public school in Northern New Mexico.
So, let me tell you about Amber. She is the daughter of Edie St. Claire, The Sweet Spot’s main character, and Gil St. Claire, who was killed in Vietnam a month before she was born. She wants to know everything about her father, and there’s a touching scene early in the novel in which she brings the last photo taken of him to the town of Conwell’s Memorial Day ceremony.
The men in her life are old — her grandfathers. There’s Alban “Benny” Sweet, who runs the town dump. The crusty, old coot, who she calls Poppy, lives on the other side of their duplex. (See the post Crusty Old Coots.)
Then there’s Fred St. Claire, who owns the town’s only store. He and his wife have means and are generous with Amber.
Here’s an example. Benny fixes up a bike for Amber he found at the dump, then spray-painted it gold. Fred and his wife Marie let her choose a brand-new bike they keep at their home.
Amber is too young yet to understand about class. Her mother hopes she never is ashamed of Poppy.
Another important person in Amber’s life is her impertinent Aunt Leona. Amber spends a great deal of time at her great aunt’s house next door. (See the post Impertinent Women.)
Harlan Doyle, the newcomer who moves next door, also becomes a figure in Amber’s life. (See the post Stranger Next Door.)
Edie is a good mother. Yeah, she likes to hang out at the Do-Si-Do Bar, and she is having an affair with her late husband’s married brother, Walker St. Claire. But she does her best and wants the best for her daughter. She hopes Amber will go to college and only live in the hilltown of Conwell if she wants.
And when Edie’s affair with Walker turns tragic, she tries hard to spare Amber from the scandal’s fallout. (My next post on The Sweet Spot will be about Edie.)
There are two other kids in this book: Walker’s twin sons, Randy and Shane, who a little younger than Amber. The boys have an uneven relationship with their father. They compete for his attention, which is typically elsewhere. The one exception is baseball. (For more on Walker, see What’s Good about Bad Guys.)
Here’s a scene with Amber early on in The Sweet Spot. She and her mother are attending the Memorial Day party held at her grandparents’ fine home.
Amber was on the far end of the yard. She hung to the edge, watching the other kids joke and tag each other. She raised a hand when Amber spotted her, and before Edie knew the beer was done, so she got another. She tossed the empty in a pail.
Amber came beside her mother.
“Hey, there, who’re your friends?” Edie asked.
Amber chewed her lip.
“They’re not my friends.”
“I could tell. I see your cousins are here.”
Amber made a face.
“Shane and Randy are brats,” she said.
“They fight over the stupidest things.”
Marie waved from the patio. She tried to get Amber’s attention.
“I believe you’re wanted over there,” she said.
Her daughter nodded.
“Where’s Aunt Leona?”
“She wasn’t up for it,” Edie said. “Tell me. What did you two do last night?”
“We watched shows and played cards.” Amber screwed up her nose. “She cheats.”
“She does it to me, too. You must be getting better. Aunt Leona doesn’t like to lose.”
From the patio, Marie called Amber’s name and waved again.
“I better see what Grandma wants. You coming?”
“In a while. Go ahead. Make her happy.”
ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: This is one of the two finalists for The Sweet Spot‘s cover, designed by Michelle Guiterrez. You can find the other on my Facebook author page: Joan Livingston Author. The only difference is the placement of the words “A novel by Joan Livingston.” As I write this post, 262 people have weighed in on the two images (this version is winning by a landslide) or liked the post. Thank you very much!