Back in 2005, when I had finished the first draft of Faking It, I read a sample chapter to my freshman composition students at the end of the semester (something I used to do to show that I, too, had messy first drafts, and that when it came to writing and revision, I practiced what I taught). No sooner had I finished reading the scene in which Devin and Andi meet at Junior’s did a female student blurt out, "Oh yeah. I’m in love with this guy. I want him."
The class and I laughed, of course, but I nodded my head and added, "Me too." And later, when a reader told me how much she was in love with Sam, I nodded and replied, "Me too."
In fact, if you total all the male protagonists and supporting characters I’ve written to date (including my latest work in progress), I’m completely in love with almost a dozen men. Every single one of them. And I may have a crush on a few women, too.
Like characters in dreams, almost every character I write, male or female, embodies some aspect of me, be it my greatest fear (like flying), strength (writing, or teaching), weakness (who, me--weak? never!), or attribute (thoughtful). That’s not to say that they’re autobiographical, but it certainly opens the door to my empathy for them. Some characters show confidence in certain abilities or aspects of themselves that I’ve never had, while others are completely insecure in ways that I am not. Some have done things I’ve never done, like play jazz or own a coffeeshop. Others share my taste in music and books and TV shows. Some are people I’d love to hang out with, date, or even be. Not a single one of them are even close to perfect. The fun in writing these characters is the ability to make them say or do or be anything I want.
Except I don’t.
At some point, the characters take on a life of their own, and instead of my putting words into their mouths, they’re whispering in my ear. Instead of my telling them where to go, they’re three steps ahead of me. My characters constantly surprise me, and there always comes a point when I know I have to just get out of their way and let them be. I may not always agree with their actions, and I may be shocked by their secrets, but in the end I love them dearly and would stand by any one of them.
The other day, my hairdresser (who’s been reading my latest novel, Why I Love Singlehood) said to me, "I just love Kenny. Was he based on anyone you know in real life?"
"No," I replied, "but if you ever meet someone like him, let me know and give him my phone number." --Elisa Lorello