Hi there. Gerry here, talking about some people who are like family. You sit down with them most days, have long chats, ponder their pasts and dwell on their futures. You take pride in their accomplishments, cringe at their blunders, worry about them when they stumble. You know their best qualities but also their worst. You try not to be too controlling, knowing that there is a point when you just have to let go.
And then, one day, sure enough they’re gone. No more daily conversations. No more wondering what will happen with them next. If you see them again, it won’t be soon. If ever.
I’m talking about characters, the people you form out of the clay of imagination and then play with for 300 pages or so. Trot them around the backdrop that you created just for them. Like a matchmaker, you introduce them to each other. Sometimes they hit it off. Oftentimes, especially in the kinds of books we write, they don’t. Sparks do fly. And worse.
But good and bad, minor and major, characters are a writer’s companions. You sit with them for hours during the day, go to bed with them at night. (I might want to rephrase that.). They fill your daydreams. Come crashing into your life at the oddest moments. And then with the typing of just two words—The End—they’re gone.
I’m at that point with a new book called ONCE BURNED. It’s the 10th Jack McMorrow novel. I finished it last week and, yes, there will be a bit of revision, some editing, but it’s not the same. The bunch of people I’ve been hanging out with the last few months just said they’re moving on. See you around.
I’ve got to say it’s sort of an empty feeling. Lasha and Harold, Don and Tory, Davida and Derosby—I’ve gotten pretty fond of them. Mr. Penney, an ex-cop with dementia, and Beth, an emotional wreck, violent one minute and fawning the next, about as predictable as Russian roulette. Beth really grew on me. I was rooting for her to pull out of her tailspin. And I was really enjoying time with Lasha, an artist drinking her way through her divorce, her husband having run off with the next best thing. But Lasha knows what’s what and she’s not afraid to say it. She was too good for him. I told her that.
Even the bad guys (I won’t ID them here) were good company. Fast-talking killers with their sights on their next victim. See you, fellas. It’s been real.
This is my 12th book and I never get used to this stage of the process. In a few days, I’ll stack up my notes, flip through my notebooks, consider discarded plot twists, characters who ended up on the cutting room floor. All of that will go in one pile on the table in the study, like the belongings of someone who skipped out on the rent.
So this is the quiet time. Nothing happening in the study. Walking around without a real sense of purpose. A gnawing in your stomach like you’ve missed a meal. A distracted nagging in the back of your head.
But after a few days the pile of ONCE BURNED stuff will be pushed aside and be replaced on the desk by a new notebook. A fresh page of notes. A single idea. A growing list of characters to hang out with for the next few months. A couple of them are already knocking on the door. The plot is coming out of the mist.
And then off we go again. New pals. New people and places to get to know. We’ll be the best of buddies for a time before we move on. It’s a fickle business, this writing thing. But if you’re like me, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Boy do I know how this feels. I wrote the first Joe Burgess as a kind of dare with myself…let’s see how fast I can write a book. I wrote ten or eleven hours a day for 4 1/2 months and wrote 485 pages. The book ultimately got slimmed down by more than a hundred pages. But in the days after I typed: The End, I got very depressed, and I realized it was because I’d spent so much time with these characters they’d become my people. I had to go back and more slowly, and sensibly, write the next book to get that back into balance.
Thank you for the lovely insight into your writing life.