In my household, we always say that my husband, a nonfiction writer tells the truth, and that I get to make things up for a living. Or maybe I get to tell the deeper truths. Whatever way you want to think about it, for me, writing is all about creating new worlds, and making them so real that I don't doubt for a moment that they exist. And what is more truthful than that?
I've written 9 novels so far (well, my 9th is coming out from Algonquin), and I still sometimes am sure I see my characters out in the real world. I see a glimpse of black hair that I'm sure belongs to Rozzy, the mentally unbalanced beauty from Meeting Rozzy Halfway. I see a terrified runaway, and I think, "Oh, that's Lee from Into Thin Air." Sometimes, I see a certain shirt and I know that one of my characters would wear it. Last week I saw a contractor unloading his truck and I thought for sure that any moment I would see Charlie, from Pictures of You. (And even though I knew he wouldn't be happy, I still wanted to see him.)
It's not always easy making them characters and worlds come alive. There's a lot of grunt work involved, making lists, scrapbooks, hanging photographs and drawings of my characters all over my walls until they look like wall paper, and of course, those 15 to 19 to 25 drafts until the line between created being and real being ceases to exist. But want to know when I really know that my characters are real?
When I hear their voices talking to me, incessant, unwilling to be stopped or silenced. When I feel them traveling inside my body. When they invade my dreams and my thoughts, even at the grocers. When I cry when they cry, or suck in my breath at their surprise.
It's like a possession.
Thirteen years ago, I was desperately ill. In a coma for weeks, in the hospital for months, given memory blockers, I swam on morphine and I began to believe I was in an imaginary town. I knew where to buy groceries, where to go to the movies, where the best places to walk were. I felt the ground under my feet. The air in my lungs. (It smelled like pine!) And even though I knew it was imaginary, I knew it was real, too, like a kind of parallel universe.
That's what writing a novel for me feels like. I initially jumpstart the world, then it breathes on its own, and I hang on and inhabit it.
So what would I like from others at Red Room? I could use some company. I want people to read. Not just my novels, but everyone else's novels. Go to readings. Support other writers. Support other readers. I want people to ask me and other writers questions about process, I want readers to feel that my characters are so alive they might just pop up and ask for a cup of tea--and readers would want them to. Writing can be a solitary business, but these worlds keep me company, and I want to open the doors and invite everyone else in, too.
Causes Caroline Leavitt Supports
The Writers' Strike Writers Against the War PETA