What happens to your characters after you leave them?

what hapns

This, I admit, has been my dilemma lately.  You see, I am completing my novel SILENT BIRD (which will be available in paperback and e-book by the close of this year).  And these characters have really gotten under my skin.  Pilar and Jeannot, best friend Monique and the mother Alesia…and the troubled and enigmatic father.  The story behind the story, most of all; that is, the love behind the mask; passion and adventure bravely confronting pain.

These invented people are Not-Me’s and Me’s–as all characters are for every writer, at least in my experience.  Novel people are anagrams of family and friends and enemies and strangers observed on the street; shreds of real people and moments in real time, slowly stewed in imagination. 

I started getting to know Pilar Russell and Jeannot Courbois when I was 24 years old.  Over the years since early adulthood, I put this manuscript down, picked it up, put it down, up again and then aired and shared with writers’ groups and contests and conferences and agents and editors, and back down and up and so forth.  The book won one contest, was a finalist in another, and went through enough constructive criticism and sometimes outright rejection to send me skidding back to the drawing board.  A roller coaster for poor Pilar and Jeannot and their love, if you ask them, which no one did.  I simply dangled these two lovers as I dangled and grew and learned and crafted and matured. 

You see, I started this book at a critical juncture in life.  The story idea was born of my brand new social worker self, my culturally confused self (a transplant from New York to California via the South of France?), and my burgeoning adult writer self.  I knew the tale I wished to weave—about intimacy and lack of, sex and disguises of, American identity and the layers therein…But how to tie it all together in one story?

After moving to San Diego from France at age 24, I thought in French, acted like a diluted New Yorker, and lived the lifestyle of a Southern Californian.  I was an ex-journalist, a new social worker, an obsessive scribbler.  I’d been shocked and moved by clients’ struggles, particularly in the area of sexual abuse.  I also felt strongly motivated to write about overcoming struggles in general, including prejudice and culture shock and just plain growing up.

Back to my characters.  I’ve known them a long time (but they barely know me; kinda like a therapist?).  I’m privy to their thoughts and feelings.  I know their unknown selves.  Now, when I am so firmly NOT 24 years old anymore, SILENT BIRD has come to an end. 

It is completed. 

YAHOO, I first thought. 

Then I felt…what?  An echo of loss?  The grief of lives finite but well lived (at least in my head)?  A parent’s agony and pride of releasing something to the universe?

Maybe this fiction stuff makes us writers a little, well, nuts.  Certainly I have had some nutty dreams that actually included my characters.  For example, I once dreamed that someone named Rory called me on the phone.  I picked up the receiver and said Hello and he said Hi, this is Rory and I said I don’t know any Rory and he said Yes, you do, FROM YOUR BOOK—and I screamed ahhhhhhhhhhh!  Kind of like a Stephen King novel. 

Anyway.  I haven’t had any phone calls from Pilar or Jeannot, at least not yet.  Maybe characters don’t call long distance.  Or maybe they are truly at rest now, in fiction terms, because they have told their story.  They’re done, as am I with them.

This blog is a farewell to these folks that have peopled such a big chunk of my life.  I so much look forward to seeing the book cover and releasing it and them and their story to the universe.  I will visit them in my mind but I probably won’t reread the book.

Because if I do, I may end up rewriting the darn thing and spending more years with and for and through Pilar and Jeannot.  Which also means I won’t meet and get better acquainted with new friends, new characters, such as Jess and Charlie and Rikki and whomever.

Go on your way and be well, Silent Bird.  Carpe Diem.

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