Five Things My Cool Older Sister Tina Turned Me On To That Inspired Me T0 Write
Your siblings are your first peers. In many ways, you are who you are because of them. Pushovers are often a product of a domineering brother or sister. Overachievers usually became that way because of their superstar hyphenate sibling who not only was an All-Conference power forward, but also played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and won the state science fair by proving excessive social media use is linked to the development of vocal fry. And, of course, all “only children” believe they are the center of their own dazzlingly narcissistic universe. The point is, social training begins at home and, as soon as children are able to toddle and carry on even part of a conversation, they are influencing each other more than their parents. My sister Tina was, arguably, the coolest chick I knew from the day I was born until she passed away at sixteen. She may have lived a short time, but her influence has stuck with me for the long haul. Here are five reasons why.
1. The Joy of FEAR. From very early on, Tina was completely obsessed with everything that could scare the crap out of her and anyone around her. She loved horror movies, comics and books, scaring my parents half to death with insane pranks, Ouija Boards, séances, Voodoo dolls, vampires, zombies, the hounds of Hell, demonic possession, Night Gallery, The Twilight Zone, and the list goes on. Through her, I learned to love the rush of being afraid. It’s addictive and she dealt it like some kind of terror hustler. Because of this, I love sneaking up on readers with scenes that pull the rug out from under them and freak them out, like one of the scenes in Hostile Takeover that made Boston Globe reviewer Daneet Steffens say, “at one point, I actually screamed…”
2. Rock ‘n Fucking Roll. Tina was the first in our house to get a “Hi-Fi” for Christmas and it was glorious to behold. It was one of those all in one receiver, tape deck, and turntable numbers with cool faux wood grain speakers. I’ll never forget the day she told me to come into her room to listen to a record. It was AC/DC’s Back in Black and it totally blew my mind. Before that, I had been listening to shit like The Partridge Family and Barry Manilow, so with that first chunky guitar riff, I was HOOKED! Rock ‘n Roll is important because it got me really interested in music, which got me really interested in singing, which got me into bands, which helped me learn dynamics, which I use all the time in my writing. A good book should be like a good rock song – loaded with great head-banging hooks and dynamics.
3. Ass, Cash, or Grass. Tina always had the coolest boyfriends. They were quarterbacks, guitar players, BMX riders, and skaters and I got to hang out with them because Tina was cool that way. She could mess with me but if anyone else tried it, she would go ballistic. So, I always had the Big Men On Campus trying to curry favor with me to get some Princess time with Tina. One of her boyfriends, a skater named Todd (he skated pools!) pulled out a joint once when we were all hanging out by the dry creek where people went to drink, make out, and, you guessed it, get high. Tina smiled, knowing I would be afraid to take a hit. She gently implied I would be damned to squaresville if I didn’t take one puff and her word was law so I hit that shit. I was 13 and had never even had a drink, so the Acapulco Gold Todd laid on me sent me into oblivion. But, being the cool chick she was, Tina walked me home and helped me even out with a barrel of cheese doodles and Little House on The Prairie reruns. After a bit, we were laughing our asses off at the Laura Ashley nightmare on TV and our glowing Agent Orange fingers. Since then, I have used weed (only on occasion as it’s known to cause zombie mind and donut fetish) to enhance comedic spitball sessions and to survive Disney On Ice.
4. Sweet Jesus H. Christ. Through all of this, Tina was very religious, but, as you can imagine, in her own cool way. To her, Jesus was a hippy prophet who just wanted us to enjoy ourselves and didn’t judge. All he asked was that we were nice to each other in exchange for all he gave us. Simple, right? Totally worked. It was weird thinking about God as benevolent and kind versus standing by to bury us in fire and brimstone if we had impure thoughts. I’m not really into Jesus anymore, specifically, but Tina gave me a foundation for spirituality versus religion and I am always thinking about deeper character needs that might help them fulfill their lives on a higher plane that what Apple, Netflix, and Frito-Lay have to offer.
5. Funny Business. Much of what Tina did in her life was oriented toward generating laughter. If she was pranking you by putting a bucket of ice water over your door or slipping a styro wig head with a garish painted on face on your pillow while you slept, it was all for a laugh. I’ll never forget when she and I ordered “cigarette loads” from the back of a horror comic and stuffed them into the end of my Grandma’s Doral 100. Of course, Tina didn’t trust they were as strong as described in their little ad box next to the Potato Gun and rubber dog crap, so she insisted we quadruple the dose. The subsequent blast was so powerful it literally blew my Grandma’s cig apart banana-peal style, and nearly gave her a coronary. Tina and I laughed so hard I ended up puking, which made her laugh so hard she fell on the coffee table and broke it into kindling. My dad was so pissed he gave us both a spanking, but I could hear Tina laughing while he did it! Because of her, I search for that all-powerful laugh as well. My books have a lot of violence and gore, but equal measures of humor to break tension along with the breaking bones.