WHERE'S MY PROTAGONIST?
I searched for Hedi Peacock for two years and when I found her, she was – quite predictably – in the last place I looked. A lot of writers start with a ‘what-if?’ premise. I’m perverse. I started with a ‘who is she?’ question.
I knew I wanted to write about a young person. Probably because my kids had flown the coop, and I was missing them. Not just their faces or their laundry. I yearned for their youth, their restlessness and vitality. Truthfully, when my darlings left it felt like the house had exhaled and forgotten to take another breath.
Okay. If I was going to write a book, it was going to be about a young person – no older than twenty-two. That decision being made, I immediately became aware of an itty bitty problem in terms of creating an authentically youthful voice. I’m older than dirt. Talk about a levelling insight. I never even saw the crow’s feet coming. One day I was a hot young thing, and by the next I was well past it – standing in front of my bathroom mirror, two fingers poised on either side of my temples, applying upward pressure to get a preview of what I’d look like post face-lift.
This was a serious issue. In this world of texting and sexting, how could I write a character who would behave in a believable manner? I’m the woman who jabs at the icons on her mobile wailing, ‘I don’t understand! It’s not working!’ I did a spate of deep thinking and came to the conclusion that Hedi had to be someone removed from society. A girl whose relationships with people her own age had been severely limited.
Seriously? I was going to write about a virgin? Oh, the irony.
Draft one had her as a time-traveller. But that storyline soon petered out. Next, I squandered twenty thousand words experimenting with the idea of her being a witch. Which was kind of fun, but once again, I soon ran out of the woo-woo juice. Finally, I decided she’d have a Fae mother and a werewolf father. I wrote 64,000 words based on that premise. However, the timing was terrible for this effort – I’d just finished a creative writing class titled ‘Intro to Writing A Fiction Novel’ and was achingly aware of what qualified as good or bad writing. Every single word in that draft was pushed out through the sphincter of literary pretension.
Hampered by that, Hedi was muted. She had a touch of snark but she was polite in most situations. (Oh, so Canadian). And she was cautious (ditto). And she didn’t really take the bit between her teeth. (No comment). Hedi sucked.
I needed a character intervention and fate promptly provided me with one. Cue the ‘Important Convo.’ Have you noticed how all the really important conversations seem to take place in one of either three places – the bed, the car, or the bar? I was standing at a hotel bar inIndianapolis, talking to a group of Charlatans (a fan club for Charlaine Harris). Rachmr95 turned to me and said, ‘Leigh, I always read your posts on Charlaine’s loop, because they always make me laugh’. I think I said a vague thanks, but unbeknownst to rachmr95 I’d just experienced a rather massive light bulb moment.
Could it really be that simple? I wondered.
‘If she likes my writing when I write like me, then why am I trying to write like someone else?’ That insight truly unnerved me – I took a pause for a long, deep, fortifying sip of my wine. ‘Geezus,’ I thought. ‘Why the hell don’t I just write like me?’ On the plane homeward, that’s all I could think. Write like me. Write like me. As soon as I got through the door, I kissed my husband and the dogs (not necessarily in that order), and walked straight to the computer. I stared at the screen and blew on my hands for luck. And then … I listened.
I didn’t try to smother. I didn’t try to squash. I very deliberately lifted my finger off the edit button. This is what I heard: ‘What do tree-huggers call it? Karma?’ I grinned and wrote it down. I’d found my girl. After two years of flailing around, I’d found her. Like Dorothy’s scarecrow pal, I already had what I needed. Hedi had been inside me all along.
Sometimes, there’s no place like home.