Friday, November 21, 2014

My Imaginary Friends

As far as life experiences go, mine are not that exciting. I've never climbed Mount Everest or learned to scuba dive; I've never hiked the Appalachian Trail or stared down a tiger. I've never had my heart broken or made an enemy (that I know of); I've never been in a fistfight or a screaming match; I can't even hold a grudge (I've tried, but I'm so easily distracted...) 

Um, where was I? Oh, yeah, leading an ordinary, unexciting life. So, what makes me think that I have something to write about? How can I possibly write a novel about someone else's adventures when I've had so few of my own? This is where an imagination would come in handy--and I wish I knew where to buy one. The truth is that we writers spend a lot of time working alone, trying to fend off our inner critics; is it any wonder we’re plagued with self-doubt? But, we all share the same fear: Can I pull this off? Can I speak in the voice of a ten year old child, or a nuclear scientist, or an alien from another dimension, and not be laughed out of town? 

Being a writer takes a leap of faith and the support of your inner circle. It takes a thick skin to withstand the barbs of the impossible-to-please crowd. And, more than anything, it takes a love of the craft, the joy you find in your characters who are very real to you.  When Charles Dickens was writing "The Old Curiosity Shop," a friend stopped by to find him sobbing at his desk with an inkpot smashed against the wall. The friend hurried over to ask what was wrong. Brokenhearted, Dickens replied, "Little Nell died!" I admit it, I cried for Little Nell, too.

It is the flawed and broken characters in literature, like Anna Karenina, or Madame Bovary, or the obsessive Captain Ahab, and the doomed Othello, who help us define our world-view. Their struggles become our struggles and we love them because of their flaws, not despite them.

Which brings me to my characters. Writing the Jamie Quinn mystery series has been challenging, but fun, because I truly love my characters: the reluctant attorney, Jamie Quinn, who keeps finding herself in the middle of murder investigations; her best friend, Grace, who is both smart and funny; her eco-hero boyfriend; Kip, and the drunk but well-meaning P.I., Duke Broussard. Although my characters insist on talking to me at the most inconvenient times (usually in the middle of the night), and not always coherently, I have no trouble forgiving them. And on those days when I am struggling with self-doubt, I just think about Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson, two women who rarely traveled, had no adventures, no mortal enemies, and only a small circle of friends, yet they found plenty to write about. Then I smile and get back to work. 
(reprinted from my guest post on

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