An imagination is a wonderful affliction to have if it’s nurtured and used carefully with consideration of others. Unbridled, uninhibited and unrelenting, it can be a vivid force of imagery and thoughts. I guess you’d need to crawl inside the head of an artist to truly understand what the heck is going on inside there.
Right now, there are a number of women who affect, effect, and impact my life. There’s Sharon my wife, Melanie and Amy, my daughter and daughter-in-law, my wonderful granddaughters, Maya, Samantha, and Charlotte and finally Vida, my editor.
It was much different for me back in the early days. Initially, the silver screen held two of my favorite heartbeats. First came Rhonda Fleming and then as I grew a little older, it was Connie Stevens. At about the same time these manicured, polished icons of the silver screen were tugging at my heart strings, a couple of classmates caught my attention. It was Elaine and Maureen in grade school that provided plenty of distraction from those boring lectures. Granted, it was a total cliché but it fit.
Before finding ‘the one’, there were some wonderful women who came in and out of my life leaving an indelible mark on my consciousness. Diane, Claudia, Joyce, Sheila, Marti, Snow White from Canada, Tina from Denmark, Lorrie, Pat, Susan, and a few others, unnamed but not forgotten.
Now new and exciting women have entered my life for the first time in a long time. Over the past several years, I’ve developed intimate relationships with a number of them. They’ve clawed at my consciousness with their beauty, brains, tenacity, boldness and vulnerability. To me, they’re as real as any woman I’ve ever known.
One of the biggest challenges for any writer is creating the characters that inhabit their world of fiction. It’s often the culmination of trying to reimagine those elusive memories of people, places and events that made a significant impression on them. For me, it’s the art of encapsulating enough of a memory bubble to help recreate an avatar out of my past.
Yet there is always one major obstacle in creating such an avatar. The challenge of separating the reality of who I thought those people were from the reality of who really were. It’s like playing checkers inside my head, jumping from real to fictional, trading imagination for reality. The length of years passed only adds to the challenge of searching through the fog of time to gleam their true identity.
But since mindset often colors personal experience, my recollections about that person tend to be less than completely accurate. Usually they’re reactions or prejudices based on limited knowledge or smeared into distortion by the passage of time and age and past conditioning.
Like most writers, I don’t know how to divorce my past lives, relationships, experiences, prejudices, life-altering incidents, failures and successes from my story telling. That certainly is true when it comes to creating female characters for my stories.
The female protagonist, with all of her inherent complexities, is always harder to create than her male counterpart. Who am I really thinking of when I create a female character? My avatars aren’t always women I have known. They could be a movie character or stage persona that struck me with their unique characteristics, real or fictional.
At times, it might be a compilation of several people that I’ve known or met in my past life even if I can’t identify with whom and or when or what exactly happened back then. But something did happen that scratched a memory scar on my brain that only now, through the creative process, is being uncovered as its multiple layers are peeled away.
It could be someone I never really knew that well but nevertheless left a strong impression on me. Like the dark-haired woman sipping her demitasse in Montmartre, Paris. She looked right through me with distain and disregard. Maybe it was that Canadian girl (I labeled Snow White in her tight turtleneck sweater) whom I meet in a hostel in Belgium.
It could have been Maria from Denmark yearning for her Spanish homeland or the amorous Danish student who wanted to take me away for the weekend. It could have been Tina and our late night cerebral rendezvous in some nameless village in Denmark. A few years ago, it could have been that homeless old woman I met at Starbucks on Times Square.
|Photo Credit: Jerry Hoffman|
I’ve met a lot of people through a lifetime of living and they’ve all left multiple impressions on my mind even if it wasn’t readily apparent at the time. Yet by wandering those dark dusty pass-ages of my memory alleys and byways, their personality traits/quirks/ flaws or subtle enounces often come to surface once again.
If, in fact, my avatar is someone I used to know then I have to gleam the most memorable incidents that defined that person. Yet that process is never cut and dry. It took me six chapters before I figured out who Katherine really was in my novel “Follow the Cobbler.” I was a bit shocked at first but then it really made perfect sense that this woman would bubble up to the surface and burst forth on my written pages.
Granted, I realize that this ‘girl of my dreams’ is an enigma. She’s an illusion of times past; a collision of cathartic illusions with fiction writing that propels me through a field of psycho-somatic emotions. It is this strange phenomenon of falling in love all over again that whenever I create a new story and become enmeshed in the lives of the fictional characters who inhabit it. In my reality, these women determine what they say and do, I’m only channeling them.
The genres stretch across the literary landscape. Charlotte and Claire in my western novels. Colleen in my ‘coming of age’ storyline. Feisty Miranda in Palm Springs and Katherine (with a K) in my epic journey around the world.
Then there is Laci, skirting danger with my protagonist, in Big Sur.
It doesn’t happen in just the novels I’ve written. You can also add Sage, Medbh, Brook, Agnes and a plethora of other interesting women in my plays, screenplays and novellas. Together we have surfed the icy waters off Lake Superior, traveled across country on a bicycle, attended a class reunion and had a love affair for the ages.
It’s a new love affair every time I sit down to write. It’s hot and passionate and all-consuming. That is until we come to the conclusion of our story and it has to end. Then I’m left with an empty feeling that something wonderful just happened but now must fade away. Like life itself, the world keeps turning and we must both face a new reality; me as a finished storyteller and her as a lost love. But, as the clichés go, we both have our memories of a love since past. Something we can share together.
Just don’t tell Sharon. She’s not really the sharing kind.