Despite the fact that it sometimes feels as if everyone has written, or plans to write, a book, I have just one writer friend. She also writes fiction. Had my friend Rachel not put Rebecca and me together, I doubt we’d ever have met. Even in our small valley each of us tends to stick with routines that limit the people we run into.
“You’ve both written novels- you need to get to know one another.”
Thanks to Rachel, we did meet and did indeed enjoy getting to know one another. I was new to the world of fiction, agents, writing workshops and meetings. She wasn’t and chuckled when I told her that I was impressed that she had an agent. “Don’t be, I fired her.”
When she asked if I’d attended any of the writers workshops in our area, hesitantly, I said “No, I’ve tried to talk myself into attending but something told me they’d be a waste of time.” At that her laughter was hearty, almost raucous. “They are. Follow your instincts.”
A couple of years ago, Rebecca and I spoke at a local event for writers and artists. Her remarks to the audience about why we write were thoughtful, provocative and incisive. Rebecca’s face glowed as she grabbed the lectern and earnestly explained to her listeners about the thrill of writing fiction:
“Our stories force us to confront characters we may prefer not to know. The nuances of a personality that is both heroic and cowardly; brilliant and inept; noble and wretched.
Our research takes us to far-flung places as we grapple with the complexities of new stories and protagonists.”
It’s been a while since that event so I’m paraphrasing. A lot.
But her fervor and passion were tangible things, the audience was riveted on her explanation of why we write.
My smile is broad as I reflect on her words because that fervor of hers has ensnared me as Claudia and Lucius Pontius Pilate reveal themselves on the pages of I, Claudia. These two infamous historical figures forever trapped in the crucifixion of Christ.
During her brief talk, my writer friend was speaking just about writing fiction, not non-fiction. The two are similar but in at least one way, wholly dissimilar. The dissimilarity is the intimacy between the characters and the writer that occurs in fiction.
For there is no other word than intimacy. It is a fact that there can be no boundary left unexplored between the author and character. The thrill- and it is indeed- a thrill of creating a person who compels our exploration in places we’ve never thought of going. Of watching the person take on muscles, sinews, presence…until he takes up residence in my heart and will sit on the couch beside my readers.
At the time I was listening to her words, I was struggling with a new character in the Lindsey McCall medical mystery series, Joe Cairns: I was grappling with that most fundamental question for all authors. How did he get here, a hired killer?
Now, I am asking and answering that same question about Lucius Pontius Pilate (and his wife Claudia.) Surely, his dream from the time he was a little boy was not to grow up to be the man who authorized the crucifixion of an innocent man- even, perhaps, one who was Something Greater?
For this new book, my technique is vastly different from the others for two reasons:
- I don’t know these two. During the evolution of now four novels, I know Lindsey McCall and her husband Rich better than I know myself and my husband John.
- Unlike Lindsey and Rich, Pilate and Claudia are historical figures. Consequently, there exists a daunting assortment of published opinions about who they were and why they did what they did- fictional and historical. But a lesson I learned well during my many years of writing nonfiction was how to decode that word history. How to break it down into just another story- his or her- story.
As always, thank you for reading.