“Here is a secret. A very important secret. And it will change your perspective of Angela Warthog. I see you are able to judge her very easily by the mention of her odd name, and you may not have much of a perspective yet, but here it is: Angela Warthog is a long wanted criminal.”
–Angela Warthog in California from the Warthog Chronicles
From ages two to ten, one of my favorite pastimes was playing with dolls (with some attention to my brother’s trucks, Hot Wheels cars, and even toothbrushes). I created characters out of each one of them, put them in families, made something terrible happen for a story, and let it play out as I dramatized each character’s voice and actions. It was like a real life movie, but without a script, actors, or a camera filming it.
It started with the Fisher Price dolls, but since they looked like real people, we called them people-toys and often refer to them as peeps. Of course, the “playing with people-toys” got passed down to my younger siblings, and sometimes all three of us would gather around the 3 1/2 tall Costco dollhouse, choose what two people to play with our two hands, and improvise on some story in which each people-toy was involved. Sometimes we’d be serious and really get involved, sometimes we’d turn out the light, hang up small toy Halloween skeletons and scare the younger audience, or just say the most random nonsensical things that made us all laugh till our sides ached. There were even large Christmas singing contests (which actually got put on several times a year). Then my brother got real serious with his point-and-shoot, and started filming us playing and put it together to film scores as if it were a feature film. Those were the good ol’ days, and I wish I didn’t have to grow out of them.
I was around 13 when my sister ordered more Fisher Price people toys. These came in a set, however, and one of them was older and looked out of place among the newer people toys. In fact, this little yellow-short haired lady got thrown in the Goodwill bag a couple times, but we always loved putting in new characters; so my sister decided to play with her one day as a lady who kidnapped the children, and since she was just a temporary people-toy, she made up a random name for her right on the spot: Angela Warthog, the funniest, most random people-toy we ever adopted into our little town of “Deluxeburg.” From then on, Angela Warthog said goodbye to the junk pile; she was there to stay.
“Mr. Garb hurriedly ran to the window, and pulled the blinds aside, just in time to see a figure below, no other than that of Ms. Angela Warthog, silhouetted against the moonlight.”
–Big Susie in a Storm
My brother (Michael Jr.) and I started getting serious about writing right around then, and we wrote short stories together about the small 8-family town of Deluxeburg, based off of our peopletoys. Each character had a different personality and it was fun to create little consequences and make a story out of it (we would take turns writing a page or a paragraph, without any solid storyline, and of course I relied on my brother to help with the ending). Our first successful story was “Big Susie in a Storm,” which was a big hit for Michael and I, and it featured Angela Warthog for the first time as not only a traveler to Deluxeburg, but a thief, who stole a large, red, plastic jewel (The Geode) from Ms. Polly Ester’s Shop. Over a period of many nights, we would read the story out loud to the family. Thus began the birth of a new and unique character.
Michael and I loved Angela Warthog. As each of our stories increased in number and grew into the series Even in a Small Town Big Things Happen, Angela Warthog grew more infamous as her character changed and became more developed. Mr. Garb II (there are three Garb families, the Garb IIs is the main family) is the policeman of Deluxeburg, and is also well known around the other cities of Pennsylvania. In each story, Mr. Christopher Robin Garb II chases after Angela Warthog and gains fame nation-wide as Warthog gains infamy nation-wide. Sometimes 12-year-old John and his older brother Randy adventure with him and help (and sometimes do not help) their dad catch her.
“We can sneak up on her and—see, tie her down with, um, our hands and then…uh, mom can call 9-1-1, and then—ta-da! We’re heroes! I mean, what other kids could catch thieves? Especially Angela Warthog?”
–The Mind of a Warthog from The Warthog Chronicles
Then we decided to get really serious about Warthog’s character. As our writing matured, we quickly wrote out a short story in The Becoming on the background of Angela Warthog: a young lady who lived in the poorest houses of London, of the name Angela Marschescal, whose parents depended on her low-paying job as a ticket collector at the underground subway. Struggling to raise enough money to house herself and her parents, Angela experiences high bills and taxes and it all ends with her parents dying of poor health, her old junk of a house taken away because of no money for rent, and Angela finds herself stealing from a baker as she flees the town and the police squad in the rain. From that moment on, Marschescal’s heart changed and she became Warthog.
Thus began the birth of a new series, The Warthog Chronicles, which does still incorporate the families of the small town of Deluxeburg. Recently, a couple years ago, Michael and I split up and wrote our own separate stories for Warthog, his “Angela Warthog in California” and mine “The Mind of a Warthog,” stories that have started but have not yet been finished. Our most recent Warthog story is “Who’s in League with Warthog?” when Warthog accidentally kidnaps John Garb II and persuades him to help her in her thefts, and it’s up to John: Will he help her with the promise of being returned to Deluxeburg, or will he stay out of crime and theft and never see his family again? Thankfully his dad, Police Garb II, his brother Randy, and Lewis Johnson come to the rescue and take John back … but Warthog once again slips from their grasps, opening up another opportunity for yet another several future Warthog stories to add to the Chronicles.
“She knew that addressing Ms. Warthog with her last name would somewhat upset her, and she knew how her guest liked to be distinguished.”
–Big Susie in a Storm
Angela Warthog grew in development and uniqueness even after we grew too old to play with her. My sister continues to write comedy with Angela Warthog, my youngest 5-year-old sister plays with the people-toys, and though Michael and I are both are currently writing our own separate novels, we all frequently talk together about the stories from the old days when Warthog was only just beginning and take more seriously the possibility of publishing, indie or traditionally, an anthology of stories about the infamous thief, Angela Warthog, and the citizens of Deluxeburg.
Who would have thought that such character inspiration could come from an old, cheap, plastic toy who we were originally going to get rid of? Somehow, simply playing with dolls as a little kid helped develop the writer in me later on. The smallest things you never suspect in Life could later become a work of art or a passion.
“She, being a well experienced thief could do anything, you say now, but that just couldn’t be true. Here are her trials, her errors, her triumphs, her devastations, and her successions put together in front of you. And this is her story.”
-The Mind of a Warthog
So what about you? What small things have given you inspiration in your writing, or, say, anything? I’d love hearing about other peoples’ “Angela Warthogs” and how it has stimulated their work and passions. Because, especially if you’re a writer, each character you create came from something or someone in your life, even if it was the smallest memory in the dusty bookshelves of your mind, even if was just a doll to throw away.