People ask me if the characters in my books come from real life – meaning, did I make them up from people that I know. The answer is ‘Not really’. That is my simple answer.
The more complicated answer is, ‘Uh . . . Yes’.
Like Bella, I was a regular pioneer – or, to the uninitiated, a full-time volunteer teacher – when I was 19. And I had my very own ‘Tamsin’ as well. Her name was Vanessa, and we did everything together. We supported ourselves doing the same work, we worked with the same students, and we even slept on bunk beds like Wally and Beaver.
When I invented the character of Tamsin, I drew from my experiences with Vanessa. Like Tamsin, Vanessa used to scream and run at the least provocation. She probably still does. That was a lot of fun when we were 19. Now it just hurts.
Once, I followed Vanessa into the KFC bathroom, made sure no one else was in the stalls, then turned off the lights, telling her that I was coming to get her. The blood curdling screams that resulted nearly gave both of us seizures. When I finally turned on the lights, I found her balanced atop a toilet laughing hysterically. It was a good thing I had never entered the stall. She would have kicked me into the toilet where I would have died.
However, unlike Tamsin, Vanessa was game for anything.
Once, when we were out in the rural Ozark countryside doing our volunteer teaching, it began to abruptly flash-flood. We had one other volunteer teacher in our car, a young man who shall remain nameless. I will, however, give you a hint as to his identity. His name begins with ‘Rob’ and ends with ‘Cordell’. Anyway, we turned a corner and suddenly discovered that the rest of the road was under water. And the muddy tide was advancing toward us at an alarming rate.
At the time, I had a heavy ’67 Chevy that would float away like a tanker if I didn’t get us out of there. But there was no place to turn, and I couldn’t see out of the rain-spattered back glass to back up. So I asked Vanessa and my other mysterious un-named passenger to roll down their windows, stick their heads out, and guide me. I waited until they were in position, put the car in reverse, went straight into a ditch, and tipped the car. It seems that Vanessa kept her eyes closed because she didn’t like the rain hitting her eyeballs.
Now we were in serious danger, but, being teenagers, we laughed gaily, enjoying our clueless state, and got out into the pouring rain to survey our dwindling chances of survival. Not only was the ditch a raging torrent of floating cow pats, the car’s bumper was firmly embedded in mud.
I freed a hubcap from my car and handed it to Vanessa. “You have boots. Can you wade to the other side and dig us out?” I asked her.
Far more willing that Tamsin would have been, Vanessa grabbed the hubcap from me, intending to carefully wade through the water. She took one step and plunged in waist-high. Apparently, the ditch wasn’t as shallow as it seemed. However, she didn’t even flinch, and seconds later, mud and reconstituted cow dung was flying everywhere. I hurriedly got back in the car and gunned it in an effort to free the Chevy before we could all drown.
That was when I found out that the car’s linkage had been bent by our slam into the ditch. To make a long story shorter, my car, as a result, wouldn’t do anything except go forward at 15 miles per hour. Tamsin. . . I mean, Vanessa. . . and our other passenger tramped the hills until they found a guy on a tractor. He was willing to pull us backwards down the muddy road until we could turn the car around and head toward town. Which we did. At 15 miles per hour. It took us 3 hours to get our passenger home, and another two hours to get home ourselves.
Our passenger’s suit was nearly ruined, my car repair bill was more than I could afford, but, boy, did we have fun. . .
Here is to Vanessa, my inspiration for Bella’s friend, Tamsin!
Ah, memories . . .
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