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I know some. Not all. Not yet.

I know the sound of your voice.

And the shape of your body as you stand.

I know why you smile. I know when.

I know you, fingertips and feet, and the gray in your unshaven face.

I know you in the morning, your eyes across the pillow.

I know your silences and your guilt and your mistakes;

your secrets and the mask you hold against the world.

I know what you do in this world—I know what you intend there,

although I don’t yet know why.

I know the passion you will not confess.

And your resistance and refusal and the generous you.

I know what will shatter your world,

and the assassin role that authors play.

 

To write, we must first love.

And hope that our plot obeys that love.

We must know the character down to the faintest breath,

and still hope, always, to be surprised.

To imagine completely, love helplessly, ruin willingly,

is a control, a luxury, that real life does not permit us.

Did we see these moments clearly and remember them well,

in the hyper focus alive behind the writer’s eye…

or did we  merely imagine them?

The adoration of  characters in a created world

elevates our private silences, and yet spoils us for so much else.

It sours us for the mundane, even as it exalts the fleeting and the ordinary.

And, in our most closely held honesty,

we know we have surrendered the truths of the beating-heart life

for something that will never keep us warm or hold our hands;

the friend that a solitary grownup can cherish,

perfect, outlandish, imaginary, and undeniably real.

 

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Can one love air?

No, not the breathable stuff, but an essential substance of a different kind: the beings that live in our personal ether. The creatures of our imaginings.

I’ve confessed before in this space that I am in love with a flesh-and-blood man I have never met. I admit reluctantly that I bear a great and impossible affection for a another breathing being of slight acquaintance. And, too, I hold close an enduring love for a being made of nothing more than the air between my ears.

I am in love with the man I am writing.

I do not entirely know this enigmatic being. I know only what he chooses to show me. And yet, I love what I see.

A cruel and a bizarre truth, this—carrying an imagined life; feeling as full of mourning and loss as if he were a mate far from me. And stranger still, this is, in all its cheerless truth, a relationship more satisfying than all the encounters of online dating so far.

And no, I am not insane. Is any writer?

If the writer loves an unreal being with all her heart, is he alive in the alternate universe of us? Can we, like Pygmalion, animate our beloved out of wish and vision? Can we, in the absence of real love, live in our heads and not wind up as pathetic life-wannabes?

I choose to believe so. I choose to believe that human interactions can and will live up to my imagined ones…eventually. I believe it, I hope it…but I don’t hope too hard.

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Perhaps a better model—a less melancholy one—is Elwood P. Dowd, friend and companion to a six-foot tall, invisible rabbit named Harvey. Elwood was unconcerned about who might not believe in the unseen creature that walked beside him. He was content in a friendship, a love, that was real to him. The rest was interpretation.

So perhaps I’ll just continue to live my enduring, breathtaking affection for the creature of my creation. My Elwood’s Rabbit. At worst, he is an idealization of a never-to-be-known love. At best, he is an expressions of love for myself. I’ll take the truth, either way it comes.

A question: Do we make our best writing decisions by living the story or by standing outside it?

Living characters are, I think, created from an eye-to-eye vantage. From our close-in perch, we understand them down to the pores of their skin. Close-in lets us feel their breath and warmth; their heartbeats. The high view, on the other hand, gives us perspective; it lets us see the characters and their movements through the tale as if we were in possession of Harry Potter’s magical map.

Both views, you say. We need both. And yes, we do. But given the asks and the tasks of the work, the two views are not created equal.

Take the problem  I’m trying to solve now. The main character is still something of a mystery to me. Getting to the deeps of him has been an illusive assignment. I know what his fate is. I know why what happens will happen. I know how he feels about it. Still, he does not want to reveal himself; and yet I keep trying to get under his emotional skin. Other characters have come more easily: The surprising, step-up hero, for one. But not the man after whom the book is titled.

I think I understand why I’m having such trouble seeing him clearly. He is a mystery to me as a writer because he is a mystery—albeit a wonderful one—to my POV character. It follows that he would be to me what he is to her. The question that grows from the previous one wants to know whether this is perhaps not a good thing…whether this is a mystery worth preserving, in the face of just so many possibilities (and so many clichés among them) that have helped to make him what he is.

To be or not to be: it’s not a question—it’s a Mobius loop.

Characters, for me, need to be experienced from the inside. If their mystery is part of their wonder, does one best leave the mystery alone? And is that where the 3000-foot view comes in? Such are the voices that wake a writer at two in the morning. Such is the climate in a writer’s head: sometimes the sun shines. And sometimes it’s just damned foggy in there.

Enough about the moving saga. At least for now. Time to find the writer again. And my reintroducer after a week away is one who does not surprise me at all:

David Emory.

David, for those who are unfamiliar with this space, is the heart of The Spiritkeeper, a man of deep courage and deeper passion, endless acceptance and a bottomless capacity for love. He has flaws. He must. David will not permit himself to express anger, to his detriment. He has learned not to share what is in the nature of humans to share. He was created out of people I have known and one in particular I have not. He became for me, in short order, the perfect man. And therein lies the rub. And the question.

David is not the first character I have loved. Karel and Stef from The Eye of the Mind…to a lesser extent Matt Wicker from Sleep…to a greater degree, the not-ness of Terry Marsh in Everything: I loved them, too. David, however, may be the first character I have loved as if he were real.

We are Pygmalions, writers are, falling in love with the things we have created; Svengalis once the creating is done. We are Phantoms of our own Operas. We pluck Athenas from our own foreheads. Not surprising, then, that they should take on lives. We wrote them alive, so they continue to live.

David Emory is my special case. He has taken up residence in my heart and body and mind much as the souls of the lost inhabit his. And in that residence a strange thing has happened….

David comforts me.

He is with me when I wake in the night with a racing mind. He is the repository of my own passion; my own quiet faith that all will be well. The place I turn when I need to fill my tapped-out spirit.

He gives me back me.

For writers, the measure of a character’s success might be found here…how alive they are…how alive they continue to be after the story is done. A great character can make a lesser work. A great character—to be more than obvious—sits in the room with the reader just as he/she has done with the writer, and quietly commands the attention.

The question is this: Does the character create the story or grow from it? Or both?

I do know that David has changed me; grown me. He inhabits my soul as other souls inhabit his. He is a giving gift who will be a hard act to follow in flesh and blood. Until I write him again.

That’s me. Where I live. Who I am. A State of Mind—or the lack of it. After such an intense weekend at the page, it’s also a description of exhaustion. Spent the weekend at a very tough technical passage that feels right, but is far from being finished.

Being at once so close and so far from the end of the book (and a very challenging conclusion, at that), I thought that this would be the perfect moment to step back from discussing the actual work, to consider the stages of the writer’s thinking from which the thoughts come. To let a little air into the closed room, so to speak.

Stage One: Preparation. This is cloud surfing. The taking of notes from the high inner place. The realm where formless thinking happens. Playground brain.

It’s fun. No jeopardy, here. No stern critical voices of better judgment are allowed to intrude. We get to know the characters. We learn to love them. We play in the green garden of language. We fly.

Stage Two: Chapters. Sooner or later, as the notes reach critical mass, the book says “Time to write me.” It says this without my permission. The characters insist. I may not know where the work is heading, except in a very general way. This is a time for faith; the knowing that all will be clear…sooner or later. Outlines for chapters happen here. Arcs for characters start to be apparent. This is, to borrow a construct from the current work-in-progress, cresting the hump of the big-boy roller coaster. Nothing needs to be perfect; nothing needs to make sense. Yet.

Stage Three: Begging & Pleading. A lot of wandering in the wilderness, as the book decides where it wants to go. One lives in moments of stark terror, standing back from what made lovely sense yesterday, finding that it’s utter dreck today. This is the bargaining stage: “Dear brain,” one tells one’s self, “give me just a little something, and I’ll promise to be good. I’ll try to make it work.”

Stage Four: Backtracking. The work moves in multiple directions—backwards as much as forward. This is the world of “Why didn’t I think of that before?”…the development of richer turnings of plot and character that require living in multiple dimensions simultaneously. By now, there are moments in which I am sick to death of my words, myself and everything around me. A lot of knee-jerk faux-technique gets used, with the understanding that I’ll work it out later. I feel as if I’m using the same 15 words over and over again. Critical judgment is out the window. This is the state of every woman for herself. Lots of stuff to work through. Later.

Stage Five: Terror. The book is nearly finished. I hate it. I love it. It’s stupid. It’s wonderful. People will love it. They’ll hate it. I’ll never find an agent or a publisher. No one understands me or what I’m trying to accomplish. All these feelings, all at the same time. And how—HOW—the hell am I gonna pull off what the ending will ask of me?

Stage Six: Mourning. Finished. Done. The lover has walked out the door. I could call him back. But I am half relieved to see him go. The book is complete. There’s nothing more to be done.  I could spend another year of my life trying to polish the thing until it’s smooth like a river stone…but I’ve done that already, haven’t I? This is where I sleep a lot. Cry a lot. And go straight back to Stage One for the next work.

It’s an impossible, ridiculous way to live. And did I mention that I wouldn’t have it any other way?

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