Many of my readers ask me questions about Pauline, the character in The Toll Road North that starts off as a sultry teenage vixen, and returns a much-changed woman in the final chapters. Whenever I get this question, I cringe with hesitation because it reveals a truth about being a writer: I don't have a plan when I start writing. My characters sometimes just show up in a scene.
Go ahead - pause here and ask if I'm okay. It sounds like I have mental breaks with reality as a writer, and you know what, I do. This month, I was blessed to hear from two of the most successful writers in modern day, Celeste Ng and Lisa Jewell, that they have this same experience when writing.
When Celeste Ng was in Portland recently on tour for her beautiful novel, Our Missing Hearts, she said something about having a character in your head that leads you into a story. I almost jumped up and started clapping (another sign I'm not completely stable). And then, I read Lisa Jewell's newest novel, None of This Is True, and here's what she has in her acknowledgements:
"I'd also like to thank my sister, Sacha, for the chat in her kitchen back in February when I said, 'There's an old man in a window at a laptop, and there's someone in a room down the hallway behind a closed door and I don't know who it is yet,' and she said, 'What about a teenage girl, who's a gaming addict?' -- immediately bringing the whole thing to life in my head."
There is nothing more encouraging and comforting to a new author than hearing the pros put into words how you feel when you write.
So, how DID I meet Pauline? I knew Frank and Blackie were childhood friends and I was trying to create the right atmosphere for the county fair. In the midst of describing the midway, Pauline was there. It was like a spotlight was on her, and everything else faded to the background. I had no idea who she was or what she would bring to the story, but I knew she was critical. So, I followed her closely for a while....and readers know what happens between her and Frank that night. I literally sat back in my seat and said, "Oh my God, she's Dee's mother." That was the moment I could see the entire rest of the story. It was coming so fast I had to get a huge piece of paper (actually a photo backdrop) and cover my wall so I could do a timeline and make notes, draw connections.
The good news is....I'm feeling like I'm on the brink of that moment with my second novel!