Parenting a Novel
Guest Post by Michael Chavez
A few days ago I received a telephone call asking if I would do a live radio interview on my novel, CREED. There had been a last minute cancellation and the interview was to take place at 8 a.m. the following morning. I agreed. Having never done an author interview before, I could sense anticipatory anxiety beginning to set in.
Early the following day I was up and drinking coffee to try and purge the morning murk. I arrived at the appointed location thirty minutes early. The radio host was a youngish woman. She was warm and friendly. As we went live and she threw out each question, I tried to answer as best I could. It’s hard to know how cogent and lucid I came across as the podcast hasn’t been made public yet. I shudder to hear it when it does. But, as I was driving back home afterward, one of her questions kept ruminating in my mind. It had to do with the development of my CREED characters. I think I responded that my characters were a composite of people from my past. But that response was so trite and simplistic.
Devising characters for a novel is far more intricate, difficult and personal. It’s probably like a mother raising quintuplets. But, it would have taken the entire twenty minute interview to explain how an author creates his characters.
The protagonist in CREED, Theo Jaquez, was developed from Janice (not her real name), a friend. Janice was someone I became acquainted with not long ago. Despite her horrific childhood, Janice is one of the gentlest souls I have ever known. Abused and neglected by her family, Janice was placed in an institution where she grew up. Today I know her as remarkably introspective and literate. And despite chronic medical issues, her nature and temperament is serene and uncomplaining. Janice is unassuming and unpretentious. Yet in many respects, Janice remains a mystery to me.
Drawing from her character, I devised a history and personality for Theo. I spent a great deal of time with him. Soon I grew acquainted with his mode of dress, his movie and music choices, his food likes and dislikes, and his manner and demeanor. Theo had a passion for life and expressed it in his chosen vocation. He was selective in choosing his friends, and was loyal and devoted to them. What he sought in return was an unconditional commitment. That was why he chose friends like Patrick and Jude who were mature, knowledgeable and experienced. It took a great deal of time to know Theo. And despite the story outline I had drawn for CREED, too many times Theo deviated and decided to take a different path. I inquisitively followed along to see where he was leading me.
Then there was Ilyas, David, Fr. Bonafacio, Lt. Kerry Snyder and all the other characters that I became acquainted with. Each one of them tugged for my time and attention. As I sat perched at my desk staring out the window for long periods, it was them I chummed with and listened to. It was these ghostly conversations that became the impetus to constantly revise the storyline in a way that accommodated each of their personalities.
I think the reason I enjoy writing so much is because these characters draw from me deeply emotional feelings. I share their anger and pain and joy and pleasure. I recall one day I was washing dishes after dinner and suddenly tears began wetting my face at the thought of Theo’s heart breaking when he drove home from the airport after leaving off Ilyas. My spouse gave me a weird look but said nothing and continued drying dishes. Then one day I woke up, got out of bed, turned on my laptop, and brought up the manuscript. But the story was finished; all the noise in my head had suddenly quieted. It was dark outside and the house was entirely still. I grew lonesome. I missed them. And for days after I felt depressed.
On the day I received a copy of the CREED book in my hands, I felt like a first-time father. These days I sometimes pick up the book, randomly pick a page and begin reading. It gives me a stirring sense of comfort and joy having known those characters so well.
Capturing Love’s Uncommon Footprints
Michael Chavez is the author of CREED. He lives in a small New Mexico village high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Aside from writing, Michael loves to read, travel, golf, hike and rub elbows with the village locals whose juicy yarns provide fodder for colorful fiction storylines. You may visit his website at: www.mjchavez.com.