I once heard someone tell a story amid a group of people that ended with, "That literally killed me." As an author, I try really hard, in situations like that, to be a good guy and keep my mouth shut. Sometimes, it doesn't work. That particular time, I simply replied with, "I'm not sure 'literally' means what you think it means. That's been several years ago. Today, it all came rushing back. Today, I know exactly how she felt as I wait for the third book of The Ghost Between Us trilogy to be released.
Writing a book is challenging. Hell, coming up with an original idea is challenging. When pen touches paper (or fingers touch the keyboard), an author goes on a journey. It's a journey into the imagination; the unknown and undiscovered. My mother once said, "Always tell the truth because when you lie, you have to remember twice as much. That's a lot like fiction writing.
The journey begins in our minds. Perhaps, it's a situation. The Ghost Between Us series was, essentially, developed from the deepest level of appreciation I have for Kris, my wife. "What if," is how it began. What if one of us had to carry out our promise of, "Till death do us part?" What if I had to carry out our life goals by myself. It was the moment of creation. A literary big boom that created a fictional world.
I sat in silence, sometimes at 3:00 a.m. imagining that Kris wasn't asleep in the other room, but she was gone. I believe this is the most appropriate time to tell you I have a vivid imagination. It's also the appropriate time to tell you that it really sucked to "get there" in my mind. A poet says, "I wrote with glassy eyes." An author says, "The tears streaked down the sides of my face. Each wipe with the back of my hand proved to be a futile attempt as another fell faster." I say, "Damn, I cried A LOT."
My imagination began to create characters that helped the main character get through the struggles. Those characters had a past that readers will never know about. The random coffee lady in the ER waiting room in the hospital is put into the scene to express the anxiety of the main character and nothing more. When I imagined the coffee lady, I imagine so much more. She spends every day wheeling a cart around the hospital, ensuring each station is clean and has fresh coffee. She sometimes consoles family members and outwardly does it with a smile. She walks hunched over and slowly. The cart offers her relief from the pain in her hips and knees. On the inside, she was screaming because her husband was at home and there was no place in the world she'd rather be then with him--in bed--with an oxygen tank and catheter. She hoped every day was the day he'd be able to get up and walk again after his legs were crushed. I never figured out why his legs were crushed, but the journey I took for that character was far deeper and wider than how she shows up in the book. If it's ever made into a movie, her character credit will simply say, "Coffee lady."
When we, as authors, create characters or settings, we sometimes imagine places that never existed. In our minds, we can picture every detail of a setting we create. Not all of it makes it into the books we write. My main character was walking along the side of the road once and didn't pick his foot up all the way when he stepped forward with his right foot once. His foot grazed the top of a rock that rolled along the length of his shoe and he felt thankful that it wasn't a marble on a smooth floor. Unfortunately, that was during a scene that set up the climax, and would have taken away from the tone of the scene.
Imagination like that is mentally exhausting, but required for us to write a good story. Our journey continues throughout the writing process and long after. More about that in the next entry. Until then, pick up your feet when you walk and always be kind the coffee lady.