Friend Claudia (the writer whose novel Seeing Red is the first to be serialized on the Huffington Post, and the person whose blog MyStoryLives is posting my book The Spiritkeeper on Tuesdays and Saturdays), raised an interesting question…
Where do characters come from? Where does a book begin?
Claudia tells this story:
“It started in February, when I was sitting in my friend’s living room with my son, then about a year old,, on my knee. We were drinking tea and suddenly I looked out the window into the grey trees and I was staring at this woman character. She was so so real to me, and she turned out to be Audrey X, the grandmother in the novel. She was wearing this long grey coat and she had long silver hair, a blanket of it there on her shoulders. I had no idea who she was or what I was supposed to do with her. I let it go.
SIX MONTHS LATER, I was standing in the yard with the three kids and I looked out onto the road and there again I had another vision: I saw a couple on a motorcycle, a young man and holding onto him, a young woman ABOUT TO GIVE BIRTH. Candace it turns out was Audrey’s granddaughter, but at the time I had no idea what I was seeing.”
Ask me the same question, and I’m not sure what I would answer.
Spiritkeeper started with an image from life: my reactions to a lost pet killed at the side of the road. Where did its soul go, this poor thing that should have been loved somewhere? Who looks after it now?
My first book, The Eye of the Mind, started with a question: What if there were people who could predict natural disasters? And the second book, Sleep? A question there, too: What would happen if one’s sleep was a living thing inside, that knew everything you did—and everything you feared?
Ask me that about the book I’m working on now…not so sure what the answer would be. Something simpler, perhaps. One word.
And characters? Do they appear before you know their faces? Or later?
In “Eye”, Karel was, from Word One, a famous pianist whom I adored.
David Emory started out as a thought—but his face arrived a split-second later…the face of a musician whose name would be familiar to you. A face to which I ascribed a whole bunch of imaginary characteristics. Face thievery.
What is the practice of other writers? Do others carry around photographs of faces as I do? Do others decorate their desktops with those photos for easy access? Face Time is, for me, one of the most continuously evocative and inspiring tools in the imagined world. Because there ain’t no story without good face.