Writers spend a lot of time with people who don’t exist. We listen to the voices in our heads. We often talk about these voices--our characters--“taking over.”
Fortunately, we have a socially sanctioned excuse for this behavior. We’re supposed to believe in these imaginary friends of ours, make them come alive so we can share their pitfalls and pratfalls, their triumphs and tragedies, with others. Sanity is all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?
I’m often asked why I chose to write about a Chinese American protagonist. I’m never sure what to say. The question presumes that this was my choice, my decision, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like Lily Yu just showed up, carefully keeping the heels of her new black pumps from a pool of sticky blood while she studied what was left of a young man’s face.
From that point on, my job was to figure out who this Yu person was. I’ve been doing that for six books now, and am madly trying to finish the seventh.
What is my relationship with my characters? No more confusing, ambiguous, changeable, and profound than any of my other relationships, I suppose. And no less.
My characters are not me. They arise from me, they dwell within me, they draw on parts of me . . . all the me’s that don’t quite exist, but might have. If I’d been born Chinese American and able to taste magic on my skin, I might have been like Lily Yu. If I’d been born male and able to switch skins and was the heir to a werewolf clan, I might have been like Rule Turner.
But these maybe-me’s always end up going beyond the merely-me. They say and do things I don’t expect. They balk if I try to move them in a direction I consider logical, even inevitable, and won’t let me proceed until I listen to them. They enjoy different music than I do. Rule loves opera, which I cannot listen to for long, even for him. Lily likes classical and pop. Cullen is all about drumming and rock ‘n roll, while Cynna Weaver is into metal, hard rock, and rap. I can’t stand rap, except when I’m writing Cynna.
They see the world differently than I do. Lily Yu is a devout agnostic whose mantra might be: “We don’t know, we can’t know, and I don’t want to talk about it.” Her mate, Rule, sees deity in the feminine, though he belongs to a race of men and only men--for in their world, werewolves cannot be female. Yet another character—Cynna, the one who likes hard rock and rap—is a practicing Catholic. And Arjenie Fox, from my current work-in-progress, is enthusiastically Wiccan.
Yes, they see the world differently from me, these people of mine--and from each other. Somehow they manage to get along anyway, to tolerate and even celebrate their differences . . . most of the time. A psychologist might have a lot to say about that.
Me, I like to think this is the one magic I’ve been granted in my ordinary, waking world—the chance to be a co-creator of reality, to bring these people into their own sort of being, even if it isn’t the being-ness we usually recognize. What’s my relationship to them?
It’s a mystery. I like it that way.
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Eileen Wilks is a USA Today best-selling author, multiple RITA finalist, and winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times. Her current release, BLOOD MAGIC, is the sixth book in her World of the Lupi series.