The Workable Quirk

As an author, I’ve been told that characters with quirks will appeal to readers more strongly, because we ALL know people with quirks. Maybe we had an aunt who made the sign of the cross when passing graveyards, even though she wasn’t Catholic and never attended  services. I once worked with somebody who ordered grill cheese sandwiches at every restaurant because a grilled cheese sandwich is safe, fast, cheap, and filling. My mom could grow African violets that seemed to bloom ALL THE TIME.

We remember quirks, which helps build a character from an authorial standpoint, for two reasons. First, odd behaviors stand out–I don’t know anybody else who can grow African violets like my mom did–and second, there’s often a story attached to the quirk. The home where I and six sibling grew up was a fairly utilitarian place–big dining room, five bedrooms (one of them huge), enormous yard that backed up to a woods, and our dining room chairs were “radar” style patio furniture because that stuff is indestructible (and sixty years later apparently worth a mint, alas). But the house also had ten floor-to-ceiling picture windows, which meant a great deal of light all year round and significant solar gain even in winter.

So Mom beautified our dwelling with house plants, and making cuttings from African violets is a cheap way to propagate a flowering plant. The African violets were for pretty, but also cost-effective, and that reflects two realities of my mom’s version of raising a family: Her needs often came last, and one salary for nine people was a tight squeeze in a good year.

Trenton Lindsay confided in his horse because he’d grown up without friends and continued that isolation into adult life. Who else did he have to talk to? Eleanora Hatfield, heroine of next week’s release, Forever and a Duke, is fanatic about finding missing pennies, because she was raised with no pennies to spare  in a family full of shysters. Stephen Wentworth always greets animals because when he was a little boy with a game leg, nobody greeted him.

An interesting characteristic of a quirk is that from my perspective, my quirks are sometimes normal and it’s the rest of the world that really makes no sense. When writing, I am highly intolerant of noise for example. I get annoyed by the sound of the ballast humming in the florescent light in my kitchen. Crickets distract me, though I love them. Most writers thrive in a coffee shop environment, which turns out to be in the ideal zone for the sort of white noise that typically fuels creativity.

“A coffee shop?” I think. “People write in coffee shops? Human people intent on generating good books write in COFFEE SHOPS?! How can this be?” But of course this behavior is normal, to the point that you can download an app that will re-create the hubbub of a coffee shop to boost your writing productivity.

Do you have a quirk or know somebody with a memorable little habit? Is there a story  behind that human foible? To three commenters, I’ll send signed author copies of Forever and a Duke (international comments welcome!), but for those who aren’t print-readers, the pre-order price for this new release is $3.99. Get ’em while they’re hot!


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64 comments on “The Workable Quirk

  1. I think I’m quirky, but maybe I’m not. Most of my *supposed* quirks aren’t that quirky but…….I go to concerts for the MUSIC, not the socializing. Maybe that makes me quirky but some think I’m aloof. I like seasonal thing IN THAT SEASON–so while I do like strawberries, I don’t like them in the middle of winter. My kids think it’s quirky I read the actual paper newspaper. And I can name the title of a song from almost any musical from the 1930s through the 1980/90s. And I have about a dozen African Violets myself–different colors–and while they don’t always bloom at the same time, they do bloom in waves…..and I’ve been known to give leaves to friends so they can propagate their own.

    I take pride in being quirky and I like quirkiness in others too.

    • My mom had that last quality–she was particularly drawn to and tolerant of eccentricities in others. Made for an interesting childhood, and also I hope made me more tolerant of human foibles in myself an other people.

  2. My friends say my home is quirky and that I am a little accentric.It is that I see things differently now I am older and don’t go for things that every one says I must have because they are all the rage and some how make me a more respected person.What a load of tosh,Honesty and simplicity in life for me makes it all tick over nicely,I like who I like ,I eat what I like,I enjoy my hobbies,I love my home(even though it’s upside down)My lounge and kitchen are upstairs.I sleep downstairs.My life now is less complicated and free from stress overload.I am retired and earned my time of being quirky or odd,I am not harming anyone so let me be.It’s raining but not cold so I’m off for a walk along the seafront for fresh air.Might meet another odd soul.

  3. My daughter and I have similar aversions to noise, but of course it is more pronounced in my daughter. From infancy she made her preferences known. She could not nurse if there was any noise. She’d even stop and cry if I turned the pages of my book too loudly. I read a lot of books as a new mommy, even if I did have to turn the pages slowly.

    Moving forward, we’ve recently discovered that our daughter has Central Auditory Processing Disorder. Her hearing was out or synchronization, which meant she was hearing double, louder, or sounds out of order. Teacher says Rainbow. Daughter hears Rice Milk. Background noises were amplified to far past the point of distraction into zones of overwhelm/dysregulation.

    There is a fix for this. My daughter wears an ear filter in her fast ear now so that both ears are in sync. She tells me, “Mommy! Your words match your lips!”

    She says “I don’t hear the lights buzzing anymore.” We think life to our daughter might have been like airplane flight for the rest of us. That constant/loud/exhausting background noise that wipes you out. Or we think life might have been like those TV shows where the sound is off and the words don’t sync with what people are doing–frustrating and annoying. And the scrambling translated to a lot of anxiety and having to work twice as hard to just keep up at school and feeling constantly behind/confused.

    We are so grateful that there was a fix and a simple one at that (her ear filter is not mechanical and not electronic and not thousands of dollars. A cool $200).

    But back to quirks. And my neurodiverse kiddos have many. It is just how you say. Often the quirks are brilliant coping strategies for problems that the rest of us don’t have.

    The cause of Central Auditory Processing Disorder isn’t know yet. Trauma (multiple ear infections, car accident, etc.) Is one possiblity. So is genetics. I wish there was a way to get everyone screened and ears checked for synchronization. I wish there was a way to get the word out that a lot of kiddos on the spectrum have CAPD and unlike the autism support (which is a long, slow, labor intensive process at least in our house to see even modest progress), there is a quick, simple fix.

    • Amy, my son also has an auditory processing disorder. His manifests mostly as being unable to learn through hearing; he needs to read the subject matter. Multipart spoken instructions were also difficult. He wasn’t particularly sensitive to sounds, played video games with annoying sounds through middle school grades. He was originally misdiagnosed as ADHD.

    • Now this is odd, because every kid in my school WAS screened for auditory problems, but I don’t recall my daughter ever being screened for them. I’m wondering too about how a daughter with auditory processing disorder copes when her brother is a particularly loud or garrulous individual. Me? I’d be hiding under the sofa every time baby bro came on stage.

  4. Everybody has quirks! I’m glad I don’t know which of mine is most likely to drive those around me nuts- sometimes ignorance is bliss, huh?!
    I too am not tolerant of noise, like you, Grace. It boggles my mind that people can work in coffee shops without headphones blasting white noise. An open office concept seems like my definition of hell. I have a couple of playlists labeled Classical for Reading that I can listen to in order to drown out noise, because after using them for so many years, my brain now files the songs as white noise, and I can concentrate through them.

    • Susan Cain, the Wall Street attorney who wrote, “Quiet,” has a litany of reasons why the open office plan is a really stupid idea. Sure, it saves on heating and cooling and raises the number of employees you can cram into a space, but from a human resources standpoint, it makes us sicker, less productive, unhappier, and more likely to quit in a hurry–and no, it does not foster collaboration. Just the opposite. It fosters sales of noise-canceling headphones.

  5. I work with computers, and one of my quirks is that it helps to talk (out loud) as I work through whatever the current problem is.

    I also love trees dearly, and grew up literally hugging trees as my childhood home backed up to the woods. There is a feel in a forest unlike anything else.

    I’m not a print reader anymore (hand issues) and have already pre-ordered your book – looking forward to it!

    • Writers are funny about talking. It’s supposedly an extrovert trait to enjoy “talking through a book,” or getting your plot organized by discussing the tale with another writer. I am about as introverted as they come, but I occasionally need–NEED–to talk through a book.
      Other writers feel if they recite the plot and explain all the motivations, they will lose all creative compression, and the book will never be written. They feel this way for reasons. Many different roads to Rome…

  6. Mom had to have the A/C or heater in the car either all the way on high or OFF. No using the thermostat to set a comfortable temperature. If she was going to burn precious gas on climate control, she was by God getting her money’s worth. So we’d run the A/C until snow came out the vents, then she’d switch it off & we’d sit until we boiled. In winter, we’d parboil until sweat ran down our faces & our toes were roasted, then switch off & wait until our toes went numb from cold & our teeth chattered.

    She also believed turning the A/C on attracted lightning, so the house got steamy on stormy days during the summer.

  7. My quirk(s)??
    I am too patient and too concerned about fairness.
    I asked my husband and he provided these answers and I agree.

    My job requires me to problem solve. Patience is key. I research issues and resolve monetary issues over the phone. I need to able to listen, really hear the person I am speaking with. I can talk the stock market, sports and all about New England to people. My manager loves my approach and I am successful in working out compromises.

    As the oldest of three, I knew I wasn’t my mom’s favorite (sister) or dads (brother). I was the oldest and more was expected of me. My husband says I am overly concerned about being fair….with him, our daughter and the dogs. I can break a candy bar into 1/3 and cut brownies so everyone gets one. I remember cutting brownies so my husband, father and brother got the same amount of treats. It’s a crazy thing…not wanting to disappoint people.

    I am watching football with my husband and my 13 year old corgi. I have been spoiling Rose over a year. She is my kitchen dog and at this time the last corgi of my breeding program. Her sisters, niece and parents have gone to the rainbow bridge. So sometimes fairness goes out the window.

    Have a great week…bundle up!

    • And it’s interesting that your offspring went into the legal profession, where we try to work toward fair procedures that generate fair outcomes. Fairness is a cardinal virtue to a lawyer, because–we’re told–if the process is fair–people are much more willing to live with the outcome, even if it’s not favorable to them.
      I think, Sue, if you have to have quirks, too fair and too patient are probably great quirks to have, but that you grasp the origins of both makes them doubly interesting.

  8. I am also a quiet-loving person. When I am reading (my favorite activity), I tend to get into the book enough that I don’t hear the music so I stopped even putting it on years ago. Unfortunately, I’m also in an “opposites attract” relationship and have to remind my partner NOT to talk to the computer, or me, unless I say it’s okay (we share a single room for our desktops). He also has to have the TV on even if he’s not watching it. This morning he was looking at and listening to something on his phone but when I suggested turning the TV off, since he obviously wasn’t paying attention to it, he insisted he could do both. I call BS on that! If he was a writer, I’m pretty sure he would be at the coffee shop, while that would drive me crazy. I think my need for peace and quiet might be a response to my growing up as the eldest of 5 children, all born in less than 6 years (with no multiple births), being an introvert, and always having to share a bedroom with my next sister. I do have one sister who’s also an introvert but the other siblings (including the one I had to share a room with) are all extroverts so it was a noisy household.

    • I think we’re increasingly bombarded with electronic stimuli, to the point that many of us can no longer focus on a single stream of input. We need to play solitaire while listening to a podcast (AHEM, Grace) or we get mentally restless. It’s not multi-tasking, it’s being fractured and thinking that’s normal.
      Maybe you Sig O is different, but for me, to do a thing well, it needs to be the only thing I’m doing.

      • Well, although I don’t do much that’s considered multi-tasking, I do play Solitaire while listening to the one podcast that I listen to (My Dad Wrote a Porno). I play Solitaire everyday (Microsoft has a Daily Challenge that I do) and once a week, I combine the two. Mostly that’s because only sitting and listening to the computer talk to me is kind of boring (that’s even though I’m actually laughing at a lot of the podcast). And, it’s not like it’s an intellectual exercise that requires much concentration. Don’t know if I’m contradicting myself and/or not making any sense, but I reserve the right to not make any sense whatsoever!

    • I would say the same. If left on a desert island (or a dessert island!) with only one kind of literature, I’d go for histrom, with well written biography a short swim away, and historical mystery on the closest island. So many good books, so little time!

  9. I admit I’m quirky – maybe just weird. I dislike store bought tomatoes and rarely get full sized ones despite not being able to have a garden or access to a farmer’s market for several years. What can I say? They lack flavor. After growing up eating garden fresh tomatoes and then having my own veggie garden, most store varieties just do not measure us.
    In addition, I am not a complete pack rat, but hate to get rid of anything that is still in good shape and can be used. I will donate items to Goodwill or another charity if possible, or hold onto it until I find someone who can and will use them. I recently got yelled at by the owner of a ‘my little free library’ because I left a few books and didn’t take any. (Yeah, really.) There was plenty of room and I wanted people to be able to read some books for free that didn’t make my keeper shelf since I am trying to make some space. We were not rich growing up and I learned the value of saving and money long before reuse, repurpose, and recycle became a popular thing. I am not so quirky about saving money as my father and stepmother who will shop at multiple grocery stores on any given week depending on the sales and regular prices. However, I do love a sale on products I need and will use.

    • My husband did just remind me that most people don’t have cats that are allowed to ride on their shoulders most of the time in the house. I guess both the cat and I are quirky that way. 😉 But both my hands are free and I can carry a book or kindle and read while she is cuddling.

    • This is precisely God invented porch tomatoes, because you are abso right that tomatoes designed to look good, withstand thousands of miles of transport, and have long shelf lives are NOT GOOD TOMATOES. They are a travesty of a tomato, and not to be borne.

      A couple containers of vintage porch tomatoes will stand you in very good stead next year. Promise.

  10. Food is REALLY important to me. Hanger (hunger + anger) is very real. I think it’s partly because my family don’t often say “I love you,” but my parents expresses their love through good food and always making sure I’m not hungry. Dinner time is family time, so perhaps I’ve subconsciously associated food with love. Now that I am living far from my home, away from my family and friends, food is becoming even more important to me. I am penny-pinching, sick of my own cooking, and sometimes lonely during meals.

    Please pick me. I’m in Hong Kong now. The situation is depressing, and your book would really cheer me up! Thank you!

    • Hangry is a thing, and so is emotional eating. I’m sorry you’re so far from home and home food, because that’s a thing too. My Mennonite friends are especially familiar with the concept of home food–mention of shoo fly pie can make some of them misty-eyed, and what they see in scrapple I do not know but it moves some of them to raptures.

      Hang in there!

  11. Happy Sunday! I have worked with someone who refused to deal with people born under certain astrological signs. It made for an interesting team dynamic. Thank you for your great books! Have a blessed day! ❤️❤️❤️✉️

  12. I can’t drink up the last drink in a cup or glass. I have to have the covers tucked up around my ear to sleep. I have a habit of turning the radio down when I need to see more clearly in traffic -apparently noise interferes with my vision. I tend to straighten magazines and chairs at doctors offices and places like that. I also tidy up the lanes (candy, magazines, etc) while waiting in line at the grocery store. My daughter says my worst quirk is not ‘peeling’ string cheese but just biting it, but I think that’s fairly common

    • Well, you know, we do see better in silence, and hear better when the windshield wipers are whipping back and forth before our eyes. Has to do with the brain processing reality in serial rather than parallel. Never heard about peeling string cheese. Who’d a thought?

  13. My mother was a green thumb maven. She would place bits that fell off plants into water and they would grow. We had big picture windows in our kitchen and she had my Dad hung a ton of planters – so much so that from the out side it just looked like greenery. Even birds though so. They often hit the glass (during certain light conditions) and were stunned. Then we would rush out and put a planter pot on them upside down so that cats would not discover them. Then after awhile we would lift the pot to see if the bird made it and get startled by a bird taking off.

    • Birds and picture windows… not a good combination. I do not have a green thumb for house plants, but I surely do like to play with my yard flowers. My neighbors probably regard that as a quirk. My porches are in disrepair, my house is several years overdue for repainting, and I’m spending hour after hour with yard flowers. Okay, lady…

  14. I have many, MANY quirks, but one of the oddest is calendars. I have three on my work desk: the desk pad/ blotter style, a wall calendar (currently Hubble photos), and a day planner. I cannot change any of them to the next page until that next time span arrives. I makes me physically nauseated. So November will not be changed to December (even if December 1 is on a Saturday when I am not at work) until it is at least December 1. And my planner will not flip to the next week until Monday (the 1st day of the week in this planner) arrives. It’s like wishing your life away to update them early. It’s bizarre, but there it is.

    • Calendars must have symbolism for a lot of us, because I also know people who won’t change the calendar until a couple weeks into the new month. And what’s up with all of us who don’t change the car clock to sync up with daylight savings?

  15. I hop off of escalators at the end. When I was little (like 2 or 3) I was afraid of getting caught where it goes back in, so my mom told me to hop over that part. It turned into a fun thing, so I still do it now as an adult.

    I also MUST leave a piece of straw wrapper on my straw. My mom did that to tell my straw and hers apart when we shared a drink.

    My mom is alive and well, and I see her regularly (several times a week), but I still cling to those early childhood traditions 🙂

    • Those are exactly the sort of quirks that an author could use to make a character more real and believable. Harmless, human, rooted in childhood and there to stay. And I was recently navigating a Brooklyn Target with a pair of little boys, who both hopped off the escalators…

  16. When I was a child I always covered my ears so no one would steal them, I have no idea where the thought came from. The quirk is that I am 82 years old and cannot get to sleep unless my ears are covered? Jan Dunlap

    • Steal your ears… I can hear some well meaning aunt or uncle telling a very young Jan that her ears were cute enough to steal, or something. Kids are literal, but I’m glad nobody has made off with your ears!

  17. So, on our stairs we have light switches at the top and bottom. The one at the top has two switches and controls both the light on the second floor and the light in the foyer. They have to pointing the same direction or I will go and change one so that they are.

  18. I always tell my kids I will be there for them no matter what because I always knew my Mom is there for me. I am pretty sure it is trait that got handed down from her Mom.

    • My mom used to tell us that if we “went out and committed murder,” the first place we were to turn for help after that was home. I’m not sure I conveyed the sentiment to my own daughter in those very words (nor while brandishing a paring knife, which is how I recall Mom), but I hope I did pass down the general idea.

  19. I’m a thrift shop junkie with what my kids fondly style as a “pot habit.” I collect cookware of various kinds. I’ve gotten to the point where if a new pot catches my eye, an old one has to depart or else I’ll be crowded out of my kitchen.

  20. I am that annoying person that is always early. Thankfully, I am married to another early bird. Always. Ha ha Is that a quirk?

  21. I’ve collected all the Lonely Lords, the Windhams and the True Gentlemen this month. Looking forward to collecting a new series. You’re serious trouble for my pin money, I’m glad to say!

    Loving them all. But I’d love to know if there is a chronological reading list for the series mentioned above because I read them in the order listed on the family trees but that’s not correct time-wise. If there isn’t then I’m going to make one 🙂

  22. I asked my husband if I have quirks and he just smiled a smile that indicated he was trying to contain his laughter. However, he refused to elaborate.

  23. I was applying for a new job 5 years ago. One of the requirements was an online test consisting of math and a personality profile. The test results showed I have excellent math skills and that I am “quirky”. I never learned what exactly that meant but I was hired. Plus I got some good material out if it. My foibles are now chalked up to my quirkiness.

  24. I think what may be a most unusual quirk is that at times I was able to “shut my ears” to all extraneous noise when I was working. My first full-time job was in a small steakhouse within walking distance of where I lived. During meal times it was always loud, the jukebox playing loudly, people talking, dishes rattling, and other sundry noises. Sometimes it was difficult to hear a patron give me their order so I learned to close out everything but that one person’s voice so I could get their order correct. I still do that sometimes when I’m reading and it helps me to concentrate. Strangely enough though I still want some type of background noise like the radio or fan as it helps me block out other noises.

  25. My biggest quirk is that I will reference Arkansas and the Arkansas Razorbacks every chance I get. I live in Los Angeles, so I feel like I’m doing people a service. My hubby disagrees!

  26. I smiled when I saw the picture of the patio chair.I have not seen one in decades. Some people might see my trying to avoid sitting under a ceiling vent shooting out cold air as a quirk. It is not that I get cold but that cold air on my head or face gives me a headache. When I worked in an office once the fluorescent light was above me and there was cold air shooting out of the edges. Maintenance personnel told me all the lights did that but thankfully they were able to fix it. The buzzing was also noticeable but I was able to live with that.

  27. I don’t watch tv… at all. Don’t own one. To the point that my very young granddaughter remarks on it (if daddy were here, I could watch tv… but NOT with grandmama here!) I think it grew out of my love of reading… why waste time with other people’s interpretations when you can read and create your own?

  28. My quirk is that I don’t talk to anyone before I have coffee in the morning. You can talk all you want but don’t expect me to remember what you have said or to reply. Some people find that annoying!

  29. I know I’m rather late on this post, but decided to share anyway. I have recently noticed that most every comment, reply, or question, as well as various other verbal responses from me, begin with the word, “Well… ” Varying inflections of my voice or length of the vowel during it’s utterance bring impressionistic “shades of Kay” to the words. I don’t know when this started, and I can’t say why most sentences coming from my mouth have this precursor, but I am now wondering if those nearest and dearest to me have noticed this little tendency, which I would classify as a “quirk”. And do they often use it when repeating things I say or doing an imitation of me to other family members? (We all do this, whether we admit it or not, with varying results.) These wandering perambulations now cause me to indulge in another quirk- that little upturn of one corner of my mouth, allowing the private humor this preponderance has caused to express itself in some private, quiet way. As quirks go, I believe this will not be the making or breaking of me at this stage in my life. But perhaps I should start thinking about trying to rein in these “Weeeeeelllll…” tendencies. Not sure how that would be accomplished, or even if it should. It’s these odd and precious details that make the difference in life, wouldn’t you say? Happy quirking!

  30. Trenton Lindsay. Such a good name. (I’m married to a Mr David Lindsay, so I’m biased).

    My quirk- whenever I hear a ‘big’ word, my brain starts (or try) to spell it immediately!

  31. I guess my quirk would be I want everything to have its place, and be in its place so i can find it. AND my dearest late grandmother had African Violets all over her home. When she passed, we had a casket spray that held a dozen or more African Violets potted plants. It was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen! She had a green thumb, she also had an Aloe plant that weighted at least 50lbs! Sadly, I don’t have a green thumb and I killed it