The children darted through a clustering of yards known as Long Vista, a throwback neighborhood, intimate and almost urban. It had been Nina French’s turf since the year before when her Mother, freshly liberated from her clueless husband, moved the two of them into a small two bedroom Cape on Kline Street. Today Nina was trying to hide. She knew Marky Guildstein was an exceptional seeker and right now he was “it”. Time to risk it, she thought, push the boundaries of the game, like her Dad had said once.She had immediately started down Huddleston Road, the outlet to the rural sprawl of town, when she remembered the old Knowles house. There it sat as if some spiny weed sprouted from the blackest earth. Five gables and one crooked conical spire with a nautical port window from which it was told the specter of Spencer Knowles waited still for his children to return. Nina felt at once emboldened: in part by Marky whom, she’d promised herself she would finally defeat; in part by a new feeling, a funny pressure that seemed to draw her nearer to the murky and decrepit edifice bordering the sanctuary of Long Vista. There was no creaky gate for Nina to push open, instead she pushed one open in her mind. She tiptoed over the sunken slate walkway that led to the Knowles front porch. Here she paused, What if the steps aren’t safe, if they collapse, or maybe some family of rabid raccoons are swarming around in there just waiting for someone like me to jump on with their sharp claws. But it was as if the house itself took hold of her hand and with the kind caress of a maiden aunt saw her in through the jagged yaw of the forgotten threshold. Stepping into the darkness, Nina French considered herself hidden, not even Marky Guildstein would find her now.
Hunched over the vat of used motor oil, Scotty and Osman watched intently as a black ant struggled to escape its unforgiving viscosity. The doomed insect slowly sank and the boys, cousins, regarded each other, their mouths describing rubbery toroids. Scotty was a bit awed by his older relative from Yonkers and Osman was grateful, happy in the July heat, to be amid the freshly mowed grass and tree forts of the Jersey suburbs. “Go get another one, wait… make it two” Osman directed “We’ll sink them together.” Later Scotty sacrificed some of his plastic army men to the crush of unsuspecting car tires along the main road that fronted his parents home. His mother chastised the boys for this, “…and your father bought you that set for Christmas,” she’d added. The boys chuckled as they inspected the maimed green figures. During a July heat wave when he was 23, a motorcycle crash took Osman’s life. Broken bits lay littered across a tarred and shimmering landscape in Westchester county. He and Scotty were never as close as during that one week when they were young and free and unencumbered; the one they spent together in New Jersey, when it was enough to simply be boys with supreme power over ants and army men.
To all the writers out there, would-be or published:
While listening to an NPR books podcast in which Arun Rath interviews Douglas Coupland about his latest book, Worst Person Ever, I was struck once again by an author asserting how a fictional character can write itself.
The thing about characters — and this is weird, I mean, I’ve been doing this for 14 books now — is you start writing a book, and then about a quarter of the way in, usually the characters basically write the book itself and you’re just sitting there channeling it.
I have experienced this phenomenon personally. It tends to happen not only through a very strongly defined character, as above, but also while commandeering a cogent plot. Although technically one has control over what one writes, in these situations one cannot create without consultation. If you don’t really know how your tale will end (or even if you do; if you’ve planned it out carefully using outlines and story boards) your characters will chime in, they’ll insist.
Use the force, listen to these voices, agree with them; they spout the truth. Usually, if you try to shove in any other direction the story will ring as discordant as a tone-deaf chorister. And speaking of sound, it’s an important mode of recognizing a false tone. Read your work out loud, if it sounds spurious, it is. If you write whatever, novels, stories, blogs, and this hasn’t happened to you, don’t fear, it will; and when it does you’ll agree that the phenomenon is otherworldly, spiritual, the shit, however you call it, just remember to open up your mind and listen to your characters. Before you know it, you’re a channeler.