Characters Who Show Up

Spoiler Alert: This post contains woo-woo content. If that is not your thing, I understand. But this is my writing life.

With every book. I am a brainstormer and an outliner. However, when I start writing a book linearly, characters always pop up and demand their time.

I've already written a post on Margaret, the grandmother in Joy Returns!, who commanded me that she had to be a character, and she had to appear in the first chapter. I tried to ignore her. After all, I'm the writer. In my opinion, this character needed to respect my authority. But Margaret won out, and I'm glad that she did.

Then there were the horses in Kate and the Horses. I dreamed a whole another horse story one night. I even woke up in the middle of the night with the story intact in my head, but I told myself that I didn't have to write it down, I knew it, and went back to sleep. You can imagine the rest of the story. I woke up with just the knowledge of having dreamt a horse story. And for a moment, I crashed into despair, but then I heard these voices in my head of horses I'd known in my childhood. I had never heard them before, but it was immediately clear to me who they were. They told me not to worry. “We have a story for you.”

For The Loudest Meow, coming out this September, there's a grey cat who I've never known before who just appeared in ink while I was writing out a scene. I hadn't even consciously thought of her, but my pen knew, and there she was, a beloved character who I think about all the time and sometimes think I see out in this “real world.”

Right now I'm writing the second of that talking cat fantasy series, tentatively titled Here Come the Kittens! I've been thinking about it for months, and I told myself that I would start writing it linearly once all our summer guests had left. A voice in my head scoffed, “You have way too many other things to do! You won't be ready.” I responded, “Let's see.”

On that Monday after they all left, I found myself in my writing bed with my hot pink composition book, the delegated notebook for Book 2, writing Chapter 1. And then a character showed up. Alasdair had been in Book 1 but only in reference or on the other end of a telephone conversation where we never heard him actually talk. I had him in my outline for this book, but I didn't think he would show up this soon.

And this is the place where I issue the warning. In my current imagining of this character, Alasdair is an academic blowhard. He imagines himself high up above the common cat (i.e., everyone else). When he made his request to be in Chapter 1, I okayed it. It made sense to me. But then in real life, I had a very unpleasant encounter with an Alasdair-like person who did not respect my thoughts or my feelings and basically tried to squash me like a bug. I didn't make the connection at the moment of that interaction, but later on, when I wrote, I understood what happened. That day I began writing Alasdair into the chapter. Before that occurred, he visited me.

“But I already said you could be here,” I told Alasdair. “Why did you have to hit me over the head with a sledgehammer?”

I'm still not sure. I have some theories. In these books, I have a character who idolizes Alasdair and another who has learned the hard way that she has to learn how to work with him. I had basically fallen in with the cats who find him ridiculous. Perhaps this was Alasdair's way of reminding me about his claws, his bite. It will be interesting to see how we work together on this book.