Thursday, November 13, 2008

Friendship: The Series

YA series were clearly where it was at, so I decided to start my own. But unlike, say, every other series, I didn't limit the action to one core group of friends. Why confine myself to writing about only five or so characters when I could write about a hundred? I mean that literally: My series was about the 100 fifth grade students enrolled at Friendship Elementary School, located in the fictional town of Friendship, NY. Well, at least I thought the town was fictional—imagine my shock when I Googled it just now and found that it actually exists! Although, okay, it does seem unlikely that in a town of only 1,927, 5% of its residents would be in the fifth grade.

In fifth grade (and into the sixth) I spent massive amounts of time configuring the logistics of Friendship. Some characters I created especially for the series, and others I co-opted from books I'd already begun. I came up with names for the 51 female and 49 male fifth graders, but I didn't stop there. Oh no—I also started constructing families for them. Because what was more fun than coming up with character names? NOTHING!

If the 60 families on the "census" are representative of Friendship as a whole, there are a few things we can deduce about the town. I like to consider the following a list of Things I Never Knew About Friendship Until Now:

1. They put fertility meds in their water instead of fluoride. Of the 60 families listed, almost half have five or more children. In fact, the Smith family features a single mother with a record 12 kids. Where is Mr. Smith? Probably in a mental institution!

2. Your marriage has a slightly better chance of survival if you live there. About 60% of Friendship residents are still married to their first spouse. However, it is noted that the Lorbers are fighting, which means that statistic could drop to 58%.

3. Either judges in custody cases have no predisposed gender biases, or there is a suspicious trend of death among young mothers. There are nearly as many families headed by a single father (15%) as by a single mother (17%). Holla, Friendship dads! That means that 32% of the population are single parents, which the Interweb tells me is pretty on target for the national average. I'm thinking they should just hold a singles mixer in the caf. Who wouldn't love to snag rich Mr. Burroughs? (Seriously, he only has one kid! Mr. Winberg and Mr. Franklin each have six! And Mr. Knowles has seven! Good God, grab him while you can!)

4. Friendship is even whiter than Portland. A quick translation for those of you not living in the Portland, OR, area: That's pretty fucking white. In fact, I don't remember envisioning any of these characters as African-American. Why? (Especially when I grew up in a city densely populated by African-Americans...) I'm pretty sure it's because I was into drawing pictures of my characters and I just felt weird about drawing black people. Like, did I color their skin in with a marker? Shade it with a pencil? Opt for a crayon? Not knowing the proper etiquette made me very uncomfortable, so I circumvented the issue entirely by leaving black people out of the books. Popular YA series only had, like, maybe one black character anyway, so surely I could get away with it too. And I imagined Friendship was in western New York, an area I frequented while visiting relatives—and in which I saw nary a person of color.

[Horrible, I know. I promise you, in sixth grade there are TWO black characters in a single book! Really!]

It is worth noting, however, that there is at least one Asian family (the Yungs—they operate a Chinese restaurant, what else?). And then there are the Estaucias, who have six daughters, named Coral, Noraina, Lanira, Bonita, and Ranella. I assumed for many years that they were just white hippies, but I'm starting to think they might be Latino. Um, Bonita Estaucia?

I had absolutely NO IDEA about the correlation between name and ethnicity. I remember my mom commenting that the Mendols must be Jewish, and inwardly I was all, "Wha...?" But I probably played it off like, "Yeah... I mean, totally. Jackie's already studying her Torah portion."

Speaking of which, there are a handful of Jewish families: Along with the Mendols, there are the Greens, the Stones, the Zaners, the Dorfs, and the Rocklins. But most Friendshipians originally hail from the United Kingdom. There's a lone Italian family (the Manitellis), as well as several families of indeterminate origin, i.e., I totally made their names up: The Kheeches? The Tomleens? The Alzones? The Onnleys? The frigging Burnings??? Wait, maybe the Alzones are Italian too. Alzone sounds kinda like calzone.

I made alphabetized class lists and even mapped out a chart of the fifth grade social circles. You can totally tell who the losers are because they have only two members in their group. Angie "Duck Feet" McCall and Rhoda Delacore, I am totally looking at you.

I have resisted transcribing the class roster—seriously, it's 100 names—but I will give you the proposed titles in the Friendship series (some of these I mentioned in my first post; asterisks mean I have at least the paltry beginnings of the story) as well as the character they are based around:

Syra Cuse* (Syra Cuse; as you will learn, Syra's name is the bane of her existence)

My Life As A Pre-Teen*
(Samantha Rhodes)

In the History of the World*
(Loni Hopkins)

Adria Tyler, the Girl Who Had Something More Than Nothing
(Adrianne Tyler. This story was never written back in 1989, but I, uh, may have turned its premise into a screenplay in college. Or the first two-thirds of a screenplay, because I seem to be unable to finish any sort of large writing project. Hypothetically.)

Cynthia, The One Who Hates The World* (This one's about Cynthia Tyler, the younger sister of Adria Tyler, the girl who had something more than nothing. Occasionally I branched out and wrote about the older or younger siblings of the fifth graders. However, I did decide to cut Cynthia from my screenplay. Allegedly.)

Kimberly and Adrianne* (Kimberly Fielding, though you can see I give second billing to the Tyler family member)

Nobody's Perfect (Heather Dobbins)

Being Me
(Ellen Irving)

My Diary*
(Jennifer Scott)

Don't Be Yourself
(Gloria Gilford. This one has a folder, but it actually contains...)

Living In A Princess's Land... When You're Not a Princess
(Which is about Patsy Gilford, Gloria's little sister. The alternate title is Baby of the Family.)

No Way To Spend A Summer*
(Co-narrated by Melanie Tibbets and Elaine Foster, who are TOTALLY NOT FRIENDS)

Life After Death
(Melanie Tibbets)

Second Chances
(Michelle Brewer)

Ivy Twists*
(Ivy Swanson)

Me, Super-Girl
and Super-Girl Flies Again (Sara Doone narrated two books that were never written! I think I just liked the ring of Super-Girl Flies Again.)

You Can't Be Serious
(Narrated by Barbara Manitelli, the class clown. Get it? Get it???)

Angie (Duck Feet) McCall
(Guess who?)

Take-Out Order*
(Narrated by Lisa Yung, the Chinese girl. No stereotypes here!)

One Of The Best Friends You Ever Had
(Regina Grubble)

Again and Again
(Elizabeth Robbins, who I have absolutely no memory of. Wait, could she be black???)

(Carole Bakerwitz)

Silvie, Open The Door
(Priscilla "Silvie" Evans)

I'm Elaine
(Elaine Foster)

If The Shoe Fits, Wear It
(Anne Montgomery)

Who Needs Another Mother?* (Narrated by Erin Kronheimer, the older sister of Justine Kronheimer)

Caitlin Says* (Narrated by Allison Mitchell, but the titular Caitlin is Caitlin Alzone, sister of Allison's beloved, Rich Alzone. This folder contains the oddest assortment of items ever. Like typewritten "love tests" for Allison and Rich, and cartoon drawings of sexy rabbits. I'm totally serious. I cannot figure out what the rabbits have to do with anything.)

And of course Friendship (the book), which was like my version of a Super Special.


NEXT TIME: Kimberly and Adrianne, which is basically an excuse to introduce as many of my characters as possible in a 12-page span.


zanne said...

I am impressed with how much work you put into these characters! Oh & that is funny that there really is a Friendship, NY.

I really like some of the titles, especially "Adria Tyler, the Girl Who Had Something More Than Nothing" and "Take-Out Order."

Fear Street said...

I have to go with Zanne here--impressive!! I was never half this creative...

BadKat said...

Do these single parents date the other single parents, then drink the fertility water and create mixed families with 30 children?

Yum, Calzones!

Love Tests? Scandalous! Sounds like some gossip might be coming…

Anonymous said...

Syra Cuse? Sounds like Surri Cruise.

Bard Girl said...

That's pretty impressive. There are some strange town names out there like Weird which is where I should live.

halle said...

i had problems as a child distinguishing ethnicities as well. perhaps it is genetic. i could never understand as a kid how someone could look "irish" or that "carmella" sounded "catholic". even as an adult when i volunteered at the free clinic and stacy marina (who was black) was my supervisor...for some reason we had to code the ethnicity of each patient and we never wanted to ask. so we had our own category of MYSTERY ETHNICITY.

Sada said...

Whoa! I use the term "mystery ethnicity" quite often, but I never knew you did!

My friends and I thought we coined it many years ago. I think we first used it to describe the child actor portraying the supposedly biracial offspring of (white) Bessie Potter and her (black) boyfriend, Bodie, on Dawson's Creek.

NoseInANovel said...

"Anne Montgomery" ... ?

Green Gables thief!


Sada said...

But note how I combined the names of protagonist and author:

Anne Shirley + L.M. Montgomery =
Anne Montgomery

That's not thievery, it's creativity!

Deathycat said...

I just discovered your blog. This is awesome. I am very impressed by your dedication as a child. And I agree, naming characters is so much fun. ^_^ I created a series when I was ten. It never had a name but it was about a small core of characters and their adventures dealing with evil spirits, alien monsters, cults, and haunted houses. I named the thirty-three kids in their class and I even named the fake actors who would play them if it were a show.

It's so cool that the place really exists. My fake town was New Haven, California. I haven't found one but there is a New Haven United School District out in CA. ^_^

Looking forward to Kimberly and Adrianne. ^_^

Deathycat said...

In fact, I'm inspired to write my own article on my blog and maybe post snippets from the atrocity I wrote in sixth grade. ^_^

Anonymous said...

All the stats you could want and more on Friendship Central.

Anonymous said...

I happened to grow up in Friendship, NY! Here's some trivia about the town:

The quaint little town's original name was "Bloody Corners" and it has a very rich and interesting history. There is some documentation showing that Friendship, NY was the birthplace of the Republican Party.
It was also supposedly a stop on the underground railroad. There is a house in the village that had tunnels between the house and barn where runaway slaves reportedly hid.
Until the 1970's/80's, Friendship was a very self-sufficient community. There were 2 grocery stores, a bank, post office, several churches, a pharmacy, a country doctor who made house calls, a dentist, hotel, a women's dress shop (which my grandmother owned in the 1940's/50's), a tailor, hardware store, furniture store, lumber yard, barbershop, several beauty salons, a handful of restaurants/bars - one of which had 2 bowling lanes in the back. Most of those businesses are now gone and the residents now travel 10-25 miles one way to shop for their basic necessities. Most of the industry that was there in those days has closed, leaving this town extremely economically challenged today, and sadly, a shell of its former self.
Friendship Dairies is still there and many of your readers on the east coast have likely enjoyed their products in the forms of Friendship Cottage Cheese, or Friendship Sour Cream.
This is probably more than you ever wanted or needed to know about my hometown, but thank you for allowing me to contribute!

Sada said...

Are you kidding? That was amazing! Thank you! And I can tell you unequivocally that had I known all of this when I was 10, one of my characters would have lived in the house with the secret slave-hiding tunnel.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sada,
It's me again - the chick from the 'real' Friendship, NY. So glad you enjoyed my commentary! Ironically, your characters and outline of the town's structure are very close to reality, even if your numbers might have been a little off.

I graduated from FCS (Friendship Central School) in 1984. My class had 37 students. The school's total student population in that year was 470 students (K-12). The school consists of one building with two wings - one for K-6, and the other for 7-12.

And yes... the town was whiter than white! There were 3 or 4 families 'of color', all of whom were related to one another (aunts, cousins, etc.). The one black girl in my class? Her name is ELIZABETH.

You were also dead-on regarding the existence of unusually large families in Friendship. I have 3 siblings, my father was one of 6, as was my mother. My sister in law's father (who still resides there) is one of 14 children, one of my former neighbors came from a family of 12, one of my uncles had 8 kids, and another aunt had 7, and a childhood friend's father was one of 18. In such a small town, everybody knew everybody and/or were somehow related to them.

I'm curious to know where you visited in western NY as a child? That is where Friendship is located, and perhaps you passed thru there and you subconciously made note of it?

Getting back on topic, I don't recall any asian families, but for a brief time during my childhood I remember there being a Native American couple who lived in a teepee in the woods a few miles out of town. As and adult, I am ashamed to admit that we, the townspeople, referred to them as those "indian weirdos up on the hill". There was however, the "Young" family, and they are my cousins. LOL!

You were on the money again, with your reference to there being a sole italian family. They had a son who was close to my oldest sister's age. I don't know his real name, but everyone called him "Dago"... and still do. It has never been considered to be a racist remark. That's just what he got nicknamed - probably in elementary school. (Friendship was never exactly what you'd consider to be "PC".)

A trip to Friendship, NY, is like a trip in a time machine going backwards. The house I grew up in was about 3 miles out of the village. Cable TV wasn't run that far out of town until after I graduated high school. It was a treat to go to my grandmother's house in town after school to watch Sesame Street on PBS!

My mother passed away 5 yrs ago and we sold the house my siblings and I grew up in, complete with the rotary dial telephone that was hardwired into the house, still fully operational.
The town is located in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains and is in a valley. There are huge rolling hills with rivers and creeks running throughout. Because of the terrain, cell signals are spotty and dead zones are prevalent.

While I now live in Rochester, NY amid all the perks of urban life with everything I could ever need or want at my fingertips, I must admit that I do miss the serenity of Friendship. It's a place where the nighttime offers you a chorus of crickets, and a lightshow of fireflies in trade for the city's sirens and streetlights.

My brother and his family still reside there, so I do make a trip back there a couple of times each year for family gatherings.

Thank you again for allowing me to contribute some information about the reality of your fictional community. I'm amazed at the correlations!

Kind regards,