Dear Unnamed Character
I see you.
Well, not completely. It’s more like I see shadows of you. The other day, as I was surfing through the news sites (why, you ask, Great question, I answer back, because nobody needs to know half the stuff that’s on there, but, lo and behold, I still get notifications from multiple sources. AP, in particular, likes to make sure I scroll a couple times a day. It is what it is), I came across a New York Times archeology article (Archeology? you ask with raised brows. Read “Clan of the Cave Bear” and then tell me you don’t suddenly have a burning sense of interest in pre-historic times, I answer back. Do you look this stuff up? you ask. No, but my computer KNOWS me. All I have to do is THINK something and, suddenly, it’s like magicians conspire to make articles and videos pop up on my Newsfeed, in Yahoo! and AP News and virtually everywhere else I look. Spies. We live amongst spies, I answer back wryly. When was the last time you slept? you ask; I ignore) about a trio of children, ages 4 to 15, whose mummies were perfectly preserved thanks to the icy and dry conditions of the Andes Mountains.
You shimmered in my mind; I could feel your restlessness. This was the fourth time recently that you’ve made your presence known. (I’m not restless, you say. You’re not? You seem restless, I answer back. No, I’m just settling in. The best stories take time, you reply. Me, warily, How much time are we talking here? You: smiles) I don’t know (yet) what you look like but I have these vague, shadowy-like, incomplete pictures of your parts of your story. After reading about the children’s deaths, I fell into a rabbit trail that led to researching more about Capacocha which is an ungodly sad sacrifice where the child of a chief is murdered to appease the Sun god and ensure connection between the Sun-God and the Emperor. The child is given alcohol and, in the case of the Lightning Girl, cocoa (from which cocaine is derived), supposedly to ease the discomfort and/or fear of dying. Most have blunt force trauma to the back of the head. I don’t think this is your story (I really hope it’s not) but, for some reason, you stirred, which makes me both nervous and excited.
Are you a girl, or a boy? (Does it matter? Me: Nope. You: Good answer) What is your age? Will you be tough like Taya or funny or strong? (Can I be all of those things?) Do you live in America and, if not, where? Are you from the ice age or today? (Probably not back in the Ice Age, you say. Me: That’s good to hear. You: Is it? Me: ummm. What?) What kind of research is your story going to demand, what kind of memories are you going to provoke? What do you care about, what question do you want to ask, what point do you need to make? Will I tell your story in third person or first? Can I use an outline or are we going to off-grid in a zigzag pattern that makes me a little loopy for awhile? What makes your story different? Do you know Ash? Lots of people probably think I’m loco because I talk about you as though you’re flesh and blood, fully alive. While I know you are a figment of my imagination, you feel quite real. I get excited because it’s really fun watching you do you: I’ve had goosebumps race along my spine when characters say something particularly brilliant as I’m writing. I’ve cried while writing virtually all of the books. I’ve laughed too.
Whoever you are, whatever your story is, you’re a character. Although I wrote stories as young as seven, I don’t remember most of them. The first characters I remember are the friends in the Mickey Series. From then on, characters like you have always been with me. They haven’t always been in abusive situations; in fact, most of the 120 or so books are not centered around abuse because I didn’t tell my story until 2003 when I was pregnant with Breathe. I couldn’t write about my memories; it was a wall I couldn’t break. So I wrote about the Orphan Train, the Holocaust, groups of friends, teenagers taken hostage in the Middle East, a few love stories, racism. And my characters, they never left me. I don’t know how old I was but I remember feeling panicked because I was being held down; I was crying so much I started coughing and choking. He didn’t stop; he didn’t care. As I was trying to get through those terrible minutes, I saw Mickey. Mickey was the “leader” of the “Mickey series, and I saw him and the others reenacting a scene I’d written earlier that day, clear as a movie screen. It pulled my focus away from what was happening and allowed me to get control of my breathing so I didn’t throw up. Later, Michael. Michael was a character in my “Friends” series. He was eighteen, older than I by seven or eight years, and he had a girlfriend who had abuse in her past. Victoria was the first character I remember writing about who had sexual abuse in her history; she also struggled with eating disorders. Michael and Victoria were my favorites amongst the Friends group. And suddenly I saw Michael and the others, a scene I’d written earlier, clear as a movie screen. Between the two, whatever book I was writing on, the characters in those books showed up when I needed them to. I started looking for them when he’d come to the room because watching them kept it from hurting as badly.
In 2009, when I wrote The Character, my life was different. I’d told my mother, he was in prison, and I was 23 years old and, for the first time, felt truly safe. I didn’t recognize what I was writing as a book because everything about The Character was different. It was in first person, some of my actual memories leaked into the book, it was written without an outline at all, it was written completely out of order, I didn’t edit hard scenes out of it, and Ash was there. I’ve already written a letter to Ash, but his character is really, really special to me. He was the first “imaginary” character I’d ever written and he was perfect. He symbolized the care, the love, the support and the friendship that all of my characters have given to me; his friendship helps build Anna’s confidence, his friendship helps Anna have a happily-ever-after. Just like each of my characters have done for me.
Haven , the most recently published book (until November, when The Storyteller, appears, anyway) is like that. She matters, and that is a book I didn’t think I’d ever write because it’s ultimate point hints at the little girl that I still have trouble talking about, the one who got left behind. While I was writing her story, Ash showed up again. He stayed with me through the writing of that book because he knew I couldn’t finish that one alone, and Haven was too close to the little girl to bring me comfort. He also showed up while I wrote Dance For Me. He kept making cameo appearances until he asked the inevitable question: Was I in Auschwitz, leaving me no choice but to put him there, breaking my heart as I did so. See, the books — yes, they’re really fun to write. I love the process, I love having you, the character, in my head because it makes me feel a little less lonely. It’s fun to create dialogue and, when there is a love story involved—my heart melts. But, also, it’s really hard because it’s raw and forces me to relive really painful events and examine really, really painful thoughts. It helps me heal, but sometimes, like while I was writing The Storyteller or Haven, it takes me to bleak places.
So, when I realized your shadowy presence is here, my heart warmed. Because you are my friend. I don’t know what your story is yet, and I don’t know how long it will take you to move from a shadowy, shifty thought to a figure with a personality and a form, but I’ll wait. Characters like you have taught me, and given me, more than I ever say. You’ve given me a voice. You’ve given me hope. You’ve given me escape. You’ve given me companionship. You’ve allowed me to dream, and you’ve given me a sense of confidence. You’ve opened doors to public speaking. And the meaningful conversations you’ve inspired has facilitated my healing. You inspire me by reminding me that hope is at the end of every dark tunnel. I believe each story and every character is God-sent to me at a time and with a story that I need and ultimately I hope to show how He can take something awful and turn it into something of light. It is especially inspiring since I know that every, single person breathing has such a gift, a God-given gift, to tangibly help overcome the insurmountable. We just have to find, recognize and cultivate it.
I’m glad you’re here; I always need a friend. I promise to let you lead the story because it is yours to tell, and I’ve just dealt with Dusty; I can handle whatever you’ve got. Anyway, I wanted to write this to you because it’s really hard seeing flashes of you but not enough to grasp hold of (yet); I wanted you to know I’m looking forward to writing whatever scene of your life that you want to share first and getting to know you. Also, it struck me how, most of my life, I’ve just wanted to be seen. I strive hard to make sure that those in my life know I see them. Having a new character floating in and around the peripheral area of my mind again warms my heart because, as silly as it sounds to everybody else, it feels like an old friend telling me, “I see you; I’m back.”
So, I really only have one question: What do I get to write first?