She Reads Co-Founder, Ariel Lawhon, Brings Us: The Impatient Character

I feel a special kinship with anyone who has started a website or blog or community for the benefit of writers and readers. I’m honored to have Ariel Lawhon here today, the co-founder of She Reads, a national on-line book club.  

Please welcome Ariel to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

She Reads Co-Founder, Ariel Lawhon, Brings Us: The Impatient Character

My biggest reading surprise of 2011 came in the form of Diane Setterfield’s gothic masterpiece, The Thirteenth Tale. Though published in 2008, I somehow managed to miss this novel until last summer when my family took a 1500 mile road trip. I packed five novels in the hopes that one of them would be good. I never made it past the first. And I’m not entirely sure if I spoke to my husband at all during that trip. I was consumed.

In her novel Diane Setterfield introduces us to Vida Winter, a prolific, reclusive author who chooses to tell her life story to a young biographer by the name of Margaret Lea. Vida Winter is one of the most memorable literary characters, and certainly the strongest female character I’ve ever read. She says something in the novel that felt so familiar to me that I’ve never forgotten it:

My study throngs with characters waiting to be written. Imaginary people anxious for life, who tug at my sleeve, crying, ‘Me next! Go on! My turn!’ I have to select. And once I have chosen, the others lie quiet for ten months or a year, until I come to the end of the story, and the clamor starts up again.”

I have experienced that demanding character, but never so intensely as while finishing my recent novel, The Rule of Three.

For months a new story had been nagging at me, creeping in during those moments when my mind was quiet. A long shower. That stretch of thought before drifting off to sleep. The dream that comes in the stillness before waking.

I recall writing a scene from my newly finished novel. It was a particularly tense argument between my Hero (her name is Stella) and Opponent that took place in an old, Jazz-era bar. There they were, leaning across the table in a dark, corner booth, both of them reaching for a tattered envelope containing a long-kept secret. I paused for a moment, fingers lightly touching the keyboard as I mulled a piece of dialogue. And then…

In the far corner of the bar was a woman delivering a baby! Of all the strange and bizarre things, the character in my next novel had walked into my current novel and set up shop. I could see it in my mind, like a fuzzy TV station that’s been caught between two channels, superimposing one face, one story, over another.

Vida describes that sensation best:

And every so often, through all these writing years, I have lifted my head from the page—at the end of a chapter, or in the quiet pause for thought after a death scene, or sometimes just searching for the right word—and have seen a face at the back of the crowd.”

I knew who this character was, of course. Her name is Martha. She’s a midwife. A mother. A diarist. A strong and capable woman if ever there was one. But in that moment she was an intruder. So I gave Martha her own notebook. I scratched down what she was frantically trying to tell me, and I politely escorted her from the premises. Then I shook off her specter and went back to the bar, and my characters bent in heated conversation.

The scene turned out well in case you’re wondering. As did the rest of the novel. But now it’s done. My mind, so battered after wrestling that story to the page, is finally rested. And Martha has renewed her protests, filling all that recently vacated space. It’s time to open her notebook.

There are other faces in the shadows behind Martha of course. A carpenter. A hoarder. A tattoo artist. They are waiting patiently. For now.

Ariel Lawhon is a novelist, blogger, storyteller, and life-long reader. She is also the co-founder of She Reads, a national online book club. Her latest novel, The Rule of Three, is based on the still-unsolved disappearance of a New York State Supreme Court Justice 1930 and is the story of three women who know what happened to him but choose not to tell. Ariel lives in Texas with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

The Little Writing Retreat That Wasn’t

Back in November, I had the best of intentions.

My sixteen-year-old daughter would be away (and safe and happy – essential for my peace of mind) for two-and-a-half days (my son is in college).  I stocked up on coffee and half-and-half (also essential) and snacks and coupons for take-out.  I replenished the dog-treat stash.  I devised a plan that consisted of reading and writing and watching movies based on books.

What did I really do?

I talked on the phone to friends and watched reality television.

And…it was fabulous!

I guess I needed a break.

Who knew?

The fact is, I knew.

My daughter will be away again this weekend.  Friday I’ll finish a freelance editing project.  I’m waiting for my edits from my editor.  It would be the perfect weekend to light a fire in the fireplace and open up my works-in-progress and flesh out some ideas that are pinging around in my brain.

But instead I’ve made plans with friends and have episodes of Downton Abbey to watch.

While I’d love to know that I’d hunker down with the laptop and get a lot done — I have much coming up (those edits, mind you, and I can’t wait!) and it’s not often I get a weekend to myself.  So I’m thwarting the should and embracing the could.  While I can!