My Characters: I Can’t Let Them Go

Someone at a recent writer’s conference reminded me of something that I thought was a personal problem. After the book is finished, I miss talking to my characters, thinking about them, wanting to know more about them, imagining how their life thread will spool out after the story is over. I can’t seem to get these people out of my head.

Suzanna in Dream Chaser continues to remind me that second chances at love can occur, and remaining open to the possibility is something I should consider. Gillian in Gillian’s Do-Over repeated the same message, even as her son—unlike mine—tried to run her life instead of trusting that Gillian could take care of herself. Her white-water rafting adventure was far less fun for her than it was for me when I tried my hand at avoiding getting thrown out of a raft. But having experienced it meant it was easy to imagine her there.

Another single title, Package Deal, allowed me to relive through Amanda what it’s like to be a newly-minted college professor, intent on building a career while raising a child. In Amanda’s case, two men complicate her life, one I loved to hate (Carlton), I adored (Marcus). And so does spunky nine-year-old Cecelia, who is convinced from their first meeting that handsome Marcus would make the perfect dad. After all, like her, he has blue eyes!

Dannilynn in Concealed Attractions, a New Adult Novel, allowed me to relive how scary college can be when one is away from home for the first time and how events there can impact one’s life far into the future. Making her home on an island, set apart from the more sophisticated mainland, mirrored how her family sheltered her. Thus began the Cedar Island Tales series.

Meeting long-time lovers Joel Taylor and Angela Wright in that same story compelled me to focus on their evolving story in Heartstrings precisely because I wanted to know if they would ever get together again and, later, if they could weather what often is thought to destroy marriages. Theirs is an example of the statistic that most marriages—after such betrayal—remain intact.

Jane in Family Bonds, another New Adult Novel, was the compilation of several young women I knew in college who had to go it alone following their parents’ death, and who then found love but lost it when they unearthed unexpected, often ugly, family secrets. Jane deserved a happy life in the face of those discoveries and the support Chet provided endeared him to me. I so wanted them to be happy, which is why their story ends with an unexpected twist. In Family Bonds, I also fell in love with the delightful little town of Evergreen, Washington—a fictional place that became the setting for the On Geneva Shores series, where so many different characters have added flavor to the town.

A friend encouraged me to write what I know and at the time, I was still deeply involved in the real estate industry. Evergreen seemed the perfect place to explore one realtor’s experience. Thus was born Granddad’s House, set in various neighborhoods of Evergreen, where Olivia Brown, a real go-getter realtor, thinks she has life by the tail until she agrees to list and sell her beloved grandfather’s home. The man who intrudes in her dreams and her office, Beau James, swept me off my feet, too, when he entered that big Victorian. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him, wishing at times I’d met someone like him: Southern accent, sparkling eyes, and all.

Olivia and Beau were such a great couple that I was compelled to follow Sally, Olivia’s best friend, and Paul, Beau’s younger brother, in Just Friends when several women I know—nearly all survivors of breast cancer—begged me to tell their story through Sally’s eyes. I couldn’t let her miss out on the life she’d always wanted and feared she’d never have.

Melanie in Choices was brought to life again after a brief introduction in Granddad’s House because I couldn’t leave real estate agents alone, particularly those new to that particular game. Her children, too, like so many of the younger set in my stories, captivated me. Melanie’s teens and her 5-year-old tagalong enabled her to experience a happily-ever-after with Sam, the detective with a heart of gold, who was just too darn slow to propose. Thank goodness for Jeffrey’s “goof” in stating his and his siblings’ unanimous decision!

The men in my novels have intrigued readers and several have asked me what I thought of them. Jonathan in Dream Chaser was the kind of man—a rancher and an academic—whose complexities immediately captured me. That he was good-looking was an added bonus. I’ve already mentioned southern charmer, Beau. His brother, Paul, was less a romantic heartthrob than someone whose demons drew me closer as he struggled to heal, emotionally and physically. Then there was Matt in Gillian’s Do-Over. Sigh. Another man I’d love to meet in real life. He had to deal with big issues, too. Fortunately, Gillian took the initiative when I was afraid he would hesitate. And, in spite of his big mistake, Joel Taylor remains a favorite of mine. He’s always worn his heart on his sleeve when it comes to Angela and his children. He’d die for them, those sweet twins and baby Grace.

Which brings us to my most recent book, Safe Beside You, soon to be published. Like me, Carrie thought she knew what she wanted in a relationship with a man. Brian’s friendship kindles feelings that cause her to question her future. I could easily see Brian’s shoes under my bed. But will she?

My characters are a part of me. They live on in my head, prompting questions yet to be explored in future stories with new characters not yet identified or only briefly mentioned in previous stories. The ones that appear in more than one title are a clue to those men and women I feel most close to, even as those in the single titles remain cherished friends. Perhaps they, too, will surface elsewhere.

I am a serial careerist!

What is retirement? Am I now retired? The question arises out of my most recent action, in which I chose—a key word, I think—to stop doing what I had been doing in favor of other work that has occupied only a portion of my waking day, but numerous dream nights for several years.

Ruminating about my experience, and that of others who’ve had similar adventures, convinces me that I haven’t retired. Rather, I’m simply in my newest career.

Think about it: in my parents’ and grandparents’ time, they often began a career and ended it in the same business or occupation. If changes occurred, it was to climb the ladder from a junior to a more senior position. But they continued to be defined by that same occupation.

Among my peers, a different pattern has emerged, what I prefer to think of a serial careering. We began our working lives slinging hash or selling souvenirs at a summer job and went on to our first “real” job; that is, one that had at least an inkling of a future that included more pay and benefits and a climbing of the corporate, or similar, ladder. Whoohoo!

Many of us, however, also learned—often, the hard way, as we endured recessions and cutbacks—that working for the same employer was unlikely to be our life experience. Some of us began second, third, or fourth jobs with other employers, often in occupations unrelated to where we first began. And still others of us decided to create our own futures in our own businesses, one of the reasons why small business is the rule rather than the exception in these United States.

So, where does that leave us? With serial careers, which we will continue to enjoy far into the future, well past the usual retirement birthday of sixty, or sixty-two, or sixty-five, or later.

I now count myself among those who have enjoyed a series of occupations. I’m on my fifth and am happy to report that each of my career experiences informs my view of the world. A bonus: my fictional characters’ occupations are often ones I, too, have enjoyed at one time or another!