Falling in Love with Your Own Characters

I have just had the most amazing experience. I am slowly reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing – and thoroughly enjoying it. It excites me (because I have written a novel and I have actually experienced more than one of the things King writes about) and it terrifies me (because I have written a novel knowing such a tiny fraction of what there is to know). Anyway – King advises writing a first draft and then locking it away in a lower desk drawer for at least six weeks. Only after this time in the dark do you take it out, dust it off, and re-read what you wrote. He says you will feel as if you are reading something someone else wrote, but at the same time it will all be so familiar.

This has just happened to me – exactly as he described. Almost two years ago, I wrote up 25 single-spaced pages of notes for a story called, The Jennerville Women’s Chamber of Commerce & Knitting Club. This story revolves around the lives of five women, all in their forties, who live in the small town of Jennerville – once a prosperous forestry-based community; it has now morphed into one of those funky/bohemian/artsy/kitschy tourist towns that dot the landscape of the Pacific Coast. These women find themselves un-partnered and engaged in various types of businesses that contribute to the tourist atmosphere of their small town. Amanda Guthrie owns the Jennerville Hot Tubs and Coffee House; Charlotte Brunner operates a Laundromat out of a storefront on main street; Gwyneth Brookdale, a big city artist, manages The Gallery off Main; Lindsay MacDonald has turned her home into a pizza place; and Catherine Jenner has converted the three-story Victorian mansion that has been in her family for generations into a bed and breakfast. She is the great-great granddaughter of the town’s founder – resource baron, Jeremiah Jenner.

The inspiration for this story came from a trip my husband, Bruce and I took to Northern California. We stayed over at a small town on the Coast and discovered a funky house on the main street that had been turned into a hot tub and coffee place. The large, backyard held eight hot tub enclosures. Each private tub was open to a canopy of trees above. The center of the area was devoted to a beautiful garden complete with outdoor tables where you could enjoy a cappuccino or chai latte after your dip in the tubs. The place was pure magic and as our trip progressed my mind kept working away at the memory of being there. I kept imagining what kind of story might take place in a small town where so many people had converted their homes to tourist businesses. This one small town combined in my mind with two or three others we visited – one had the most awesome art gallery. When I got home I wrote as fast as I could and got the basic outline of the story in place.

I’m not sure what happened then – why these pages went into a drawer and never emerged for two years. Having just re-read those 25 pages I am itching to write this story. It’s filled with interesting characters and situations. It’s a story of lost love and redemption. There’s even a ghost thrown in there. One character description caught me so much by surprise that I choked up when I got to the last line. Here it is:

Joel was always thin but now he’s really thin. The muscles on his arms stand out like well-defined ropes. His hands are artist hands with long slim fingers – perfect for guitar and piano playing. A pair of faded button fly Levis hang on his hips – mostly held up by a brown leather belt tooled with a Mayan design – something he picked up somewhere. He usually wears a black Tee-shirt but he’s always cold, so he throws on a faded jean jacket to complete the look. Joel looks exactly what you would think an aging rock star would look like – a bit gaunter due to the drugs, a bit paler than usual due to recovery and illness, but he still exudes something of that sex, drugs, and rock and roll aura. But there’s quiet desperation in his eyes and a slight tremor in his hands.

Around his neck he wears a gold chain with a pendant that consists of two gold block letters – JC – and underneath these letters the tiny gold word “forever”. Over the years the fan magazines and interviewers have asked and everyone has speculated about this pendant. Religious conclusions were obvious, but Catherine knows that isn’t the case. It gives her a funny feeling every time she reads about Joel’s trademark necklace, or sees it swinging against his bare chest in a photo or on a music video. She had given this necklace to Joel – a birthday gift that last night, the night before Joel left for LA. Neither one of them knew he would never come back – he was going down to see if he could get some sessional work. He had a few songs he was going to shop around – he was going to be back before the end of the summer.

Joel was in the right place at the right time. He arrived at the sessional gig for Spartan Revolution’s new album to be greeted by the band’s bass player, Reuben Josiah, who was so over the top high he could hardly stand. Amidst the mess, Joel grabbed his guitar and began picking out one of the band’s new songs straight from the sheet music, singing some of the vocals as he went. He was killing time and trying to warm up a bit. The drummer started to jam with Joel and the rest was history. Reuben Josiah was off to treatment and Joel was in. His talent quickly moved him up to front stage – his blonde and blue-eyed look a perfect foil for lead guitarist Steve Ashley’s dark almost satanic look. Two of his songs were featured on the next album and once he started touring with the band he never looked back – or so it seemed, except he never took the gold chain off. It was a bit of a loose thread that Catherine found irritating, but she knew if she ever picked up a magazine or saw a clip of Joel on the TV and that chain was gone she would feel devastated – Joel and Catherine forever.

Wow – where did this come from? I’m already in love with these two characters. Well – that is how it is for me as a writer – the characters become real. Can you love your own characters? Can you help it? I don’t know, but I have to get back to Jennerville and soon.

The inspiration for the Jennerville Hot Tubs & Coffee House

2 comments on “Falling in Love with Your Own Characters

  1. Great descriptive writing and characters that I’d like to read more about. Enjoy the writing and let us know when the book comes out.

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