People always ask me where I get my ideas for stories. The second most asked question is ‘where do I get my characters?’ Generally the questions instill a measure of discomfort within me. Because the truth is hard to explain. Or maybe, I just don’t have enough faith that the answer will be well accepted. Or believed. And, after all, they’re aren’t many of us who want people to think we’re weird.
My answer to both questions is usually some sort of vague ‘Oh, they’re just there.’
Not much of an answer, I know. And yet, it’s the complete truth. I don’t have a trunk in my attic filled with ideas, or people, or even costumes for people to wear. I don’t have a diary, or a ledger, where I make lists. I don’t go anywhere or look anyplace for the stories that fill my pages, or for the people who live and breath between the covers of my books. They’re just there. They always have been.
I believe that the ideas, and the people who fulfill them, are given to me by a source that is greater than I am as an individual – given to me as a part of the talent that I was blessed with to write. I am most comfortable telling myself that I am merely a conduit, a partner in a collective job, so that I don’t have to worry about ideas or characters. I just have to listen, and to put on paper the things that I hear. And describe the things that my mind’s eye shows me.
And yet, through the years and over the course of fifty books, I hear again and again from people who know me about things they recognize in my books. Mostly they are things they recognize about me. As though, parts of me leak through every story I write. Makes sense, I guess. It also makes me uncomfortable.
When my heroine is making a sandwich, my mother knows what kind she’s making before she reads it on the page. When a scene takes place in a meadow many of my family members recognize the place before I’ve described it. A male character gave some advice one time – it was the same advice my sweet husband imparts when things get tough.
And now, there’s Kelly Chapman. (She’s the expert witness psychologist I told you all about last month.) She’s an inline skater. When something is bothering her, when she has a decision to make, when she has questions, she skates. Skating takes her out of the every day world, quiets the noise in her mind, so that she can get in sync with the deepest parts of herself. So that she can hear the still small voice that speaks ultimate truths. She finds clarity when she skates.
I skate, too. I skate because I am addicted to the feeling of strength I experience flying over cement with the wind cooling my face. My skates are a part of me. I am comfortable with them. I feel invincible in them. And it’s often when I’m skating when I hear the stories clearly. When I see the people that will inhabit them. Whole scenes fall into place. People introduce themselves. Life’s truths – a necessary part of storytelling if you are to bring your readers satisfying conclusions – become clear.
So, like a lot of the things in my books, Kelly stole a part of me to make herself. I’m good with that. Mostly. You see, Kelly, unlike any other characters, took a vital part of me and then messed it up. She skated alone. On the path I frequent most often. It’s a converted railroad track out in the country, surrounded by corn fields and little else. Women shouldn’t be out there alone. Not in today’s world. Kelly thought she was invincible on skates, too, I guess. And something bad happened.
I’ve been avoiding that stretch of path ever since. I’ve skated it. I’ll skate it again. But it’s a struggle every time. I keep feeling things at my back. I can’t relax. My breathing isn’t rhythmic. But, like Kelly, I’m not giving up. Or is it that, like me, she doesn’t give up?
Either way, Kelly’s hard at work. In The Second Lie – the second of her upcoming four books – she takes on a fourteen year old client and finds herself on the trail of a possible pedophile. You can rest assured. Neither one of us give up on that one.
If you pick up any of The Chapman Files, Kelly and I would love to hear from you! Write us at email@example.com.
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