A friend of mine recently sent me this message.
After reading two of your books and your third too, as you release the chapters, I hear in my mind your voice in the main characters. I sometimes feel compelled to ask you about things they said or did. I mean, rationally, I realize they are not you. But it’s really odd. You are sort of mixed in there with your characters in my imagination. Isn’t that absolutely bizarre?
Admittedly it was late, and she recalled them as “befuddled ramblings” the next morning. However, she gave me permission to post her thoughts on the topic (I’m not outing her; she can self-identify if she wants to).
But this isn’t an unusual situation at all. My wife firmly believes that you have to be seriously deranged to write creepy scenes; you can’t just imagine them. She’s talking about horror, which I don’t write (yet!). But I write a lot of demented prose.
It’s a particular hazard when you write in first person. We in the trade call the narrator “the I character,” which is NOT the same as the author. But when a book is really speaking to you, we appreciate that it’s sometimes hard to separate author and character. Poets have it even worse (although to be fair, when a poet write “I”, more often than not it actually is the poet speaking rather than a separate I character).
My first face-to-face experience with this was during our book group, which did me the honor of reading Return from Avalon (and Points West) and then discussing it like a normal, regular author had written it. I didn’t lead the discussion–the wise and sensitive poet Hallie Moore volunteered to do so–and I never answered questions about “why did you do this?” It was a very fun and enlightening experience.
But . . . at some point in the discussion, one of the readers brought up how rudely the hero Arnie had talked about a waitress. “It’s like he dismisses her as a second class citizen. Why would you do that?” I was so taken aback, I didn’t realize until later that when she asked, “why would you do that,” she wasn’t talking about why I had written it, but rather why I had treated the waitress rudely.
The answer to that question is, of course, he did it because he is flawed. All interesting characters are flawed. More so at the beginning of a book than at the end, hopefully. But who wants to read Superman novels? He’s so much better in comic books.
So . . . how much of me is in my characters?
A lot, obviously. They all tend to be geeky intellectuals who would rather observe the world and offer a witty commentary than jump in and save it (maybe I should have a T-shirt made: WARNING: Geeky Intellectual. If the world needs saving, look elsewhere).
But none of them is really me. I’m not actually like that, I just see myself that way.
So on that basis, what I write is fantasy.