Where it begins

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People are often curious about where writers find their characters and if their stories are based on events in the author’s actual life. This is different for each writer, of course, but in my case the characters are not based on real life people. Rather, my muse brings them to the party; they appear with the story – fresh and new to me.

As the story begins to take shape, the characters sort of appear, like butterflies emerging from their cocoons. They become the voices through which I hear the story. And then for each one, I create a complete back-story so that they have fully formed personalities and can react authentically within the story.

And my stories are generally not autobiographical. I had the good fortune to experience a relatively happy childhood. I grew up in a large extended family with cousins all around and endured unspectacular successes and only minor disappointments. Though they probably seemed desperately weighty at the time, the highlight reel of my younger self is both short and mostly free of tragedy. And I have had an overly generous life partner for a very long time. So my past is light on anguish and angst. Good for my nervous system but harsh soil for brooding novels. My muse however seems to have lived in a parallel universe and brings plenty of attitude.

But there are exceptions. One of the minor characters in my novel Turning Stones is based on a dear aunt, actually one of my great aunts, and part of the story line in the novel I’m working on now finds its origin in an actual life incident of a friend we had back in Delaware.

This incident impressed me so much that it grew to become the central idea around which the story developed. Can’t blame my muse for this one.

A neighbor of ours lost his wife to cancer. She was a sweetheart and we were all sad when she passed. A few years later our friend began dating and then ended up marrying someone he ran into at a college reunion, someone who had been his college sweetheart many years before. I forget how long ago they were first together but it must have been like his 35th or 40th reunion.

I was mesmerized by this wonderful story, and later began to imagine what the dynamics of this reuniting might be and where it could lead. Thus, this latest story. It does not follow his life events but his experience was clearly the origin.

The story begins in darkness. Here is the first paragraph:

“In the time it takes a butterfly to flap its wings everything can change – the entire landscape of life may shift – light and dark falling in new places. For Allen Frasier, shadows invaded his world when two police officers knocked on his door to inform him that an accident had just taken his wife, mere blocks away from their home in suburban Philadelphia.”

In the meantime I have found, much to my surprise, that this is not all that unusual, this reconnecting with past lives. More common than I had considered possible. And the ones I have come to know about have been wonderfully successful.

But in my story the questions that drew me were things like: did the issues that came between the couple back then revisit them now? Or, while they still feel an attraction for each other, would life experiences have shaped them in ways that they are such different people now, unable to bridge that gap? But most importantly, and central to my story: were we our own selves back then, or were we living out other people’s expectations? And what about now? Are we sure who we are or are we in many ways still living by others’ lights? That plays out in fascinating ways for the characters.

The working title for the novel is Taking Chances, but after checking Amazon there are dozens of books with that title. Who knew? So I will need to come up with a better title. Maybe something about butterflies.

 

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