If my characters were actors…

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It’s been almost a month since I’ve sat down to write anything of particular note. With the holiday season and inevitable stress that accompanies “the most wonderful time of the year,” there just hasn’t been time. That, and I have come down with the worst head cold I’ve had in a long time. Not only does my head feel like it has been stuffed with cotton, but I’m pretty sure that my brains have oozed out of my ears somewhere along the way. Most wonderful time of year indeed! Try most infectious time of the year, though I highly doubt Andy Williams would have sold many records had he sung that.

Rantings about holiday lyrics aside, I have been sick, and it was sometime this week in one of my fever riddled dreams that I suddenly became aware of a problem. I had left my characters in my second book in a rather uncomfortable situation. Though I hadn’t thought of them in weeks, I became instantly worried about them, knowing that both of my main characters are impatient and dislike being idle for large stretches of time. I so wanted to write and conclude the scene that I had left them in, but was too exhausted to even move from bed, let alone write my characters into neutral ground. I wrestled with this dilemma until a NyQuil and Sudafed induced hallucination came to me and whispered, Think of them as actors.

Grasping onto that thought like a sick woman to the last box of Kleenex in the house, I floated into a hazy slumber, comforted by the thought that my characters were merely actors awaiting a new script in their dressing room while I, the writer, took a much needed rest. I imagine their conversation went something like this…

Evie huffs loudly in her impatience and pulls on her wrapper. Twirling her long hair, which has been dry for ages at this point, into an expert bun, she approaches the door that Alfred had stumbled through so very long ago.

“Alfred,” she whispers pressing her cheek against the door. “Are you still there?”

Silence greets her whispered inquiry. Flinging the door open, she finds Alfred standing outside the door with a look of complete shock on his face, his arm slightly extended as if he were about to place his hand on the knob to reenter the room.

“What have you been doing?”

He remains motionless and silent.

Evie stomps her small foot. “Come on, Alfred!” she yells in exasperation. “It’s been ages since anything has happened, and I’m bored!”

“Unlike you, I’m staying in character,” he grits out through clenched teeth.

“What?” she asks incredulously. “You mean to tell me that you’ve been like that since She stopped writing?”

He nods his head slightly, but otherwise remains as he was.

“You have got to be exhausted, Alfred!” Closing the distance between them, Evie places a small hand on his extended arm, which, she notes, has begun to shake, and lowers it to his side.

“Damn it, Evie!” Alfred huffs, though he makes no move to resume his earlier position. Instead, he takes his other hand and massages his stiff arm. “I was ready to go for the next scene!”

She’s not going to be back for awhile, Alfred,” Evie pats his shoulder sympathetically. “I received a text message from Her apologizing for the delay because apparently, She’s been pretty sick.”

He whips his head around and pins her with a fierce glare. “How do you have a phone on set? This is a period piece, Evie. That means no phones or devices of any kind.”

“Look, Freddie,” she explains. “I know you’re this big shot method actor and have toured across the country doing Shakespearean theater, but I’m not. This is my first job, and I’ve been so bored this last month waiting for Her. You can be as authentic and disapproving as you want. I’m keeping my phone.”

Alfred sinks wearily onto the floor, his back supported by the wall of the room Evie had just left. “Did She say when we’d have new lines?”

“I think a couple of weeks at the most.”

“I could have been skiing in the Alps this holiday,” Alfred mutters under his breath.

Evie snorts highly doubting that Alfred could be coordinated enough to make it anywhere but down on his bottom, but quickly hides her amused smile at Alfred’s narrow-eyed gaze. Quickly changing the subject, Evie asks, “What do you think of the script?”

He shrugs. “Predictable at this point.”

Evie bristles at his dismissive tone. “I like it. Besides, you shouldn’t be so hard on Her. It’s only Her second novel.”

“I suppose, but you realize that we’re probably going to end up together by the end, don’t you?”

She rests her hand on his knee and squeezes lightly. Stifling a giggle at his startled jump, she asks innocently peering up at him from underneath her eyelashes, “Would that be so bad?”

Alfred coughs and flushes bright red. Drawing little circles on his leg above his knee, she can’t help asking impishly, “What did you think of that last scene?”

If possible, Alfred flushes even redder. Pulling his tie away from his throat, he manages to strangle out, “I did not realize that there was going to be nudity.”

His eyes skitter around, anywhere but to Evie’s face. “Why Alfred,” she laughs, “if I didn’t know any better, I’d say I made you uncomfortable! Here I thought method actors were prepared for anything.”

Gulping loudly, he pushes himself to his feet and strides stiffly away. “I’ll be in my dressing room. Fetch me whenever She gets back to work.”

Evie’s delighted laughter follows him down the hallway and is the only response he receives.

Why I Write

I used to be a writer. Back in the days before anyone called me mom or sweetheart or maestra, I used to call myself a writer. I scribbled poems in the sides of my spiral notebook and jotted down dirty limericks on the backs of napkins. When I was supposed to be writing papers on existentialism and morality in 19th century French authors, stories would fill my head and I would work feverishly into the night bringing life to the characters that danced through my mind.

Once I even took a beloved Christmas carol and turned it into a girl empowering break up song about my ex. I detailed several…shortcomings of his in the bedroom. The girls in my house loved it because every one of them at one time or another had had a boyfriend like that boyfriend. Writing like this was a way for me to express my emotions in light of the changes that occurred as I grappled with the looming responsibilities of adulthood.

But then all that changed, and I entered the world of academia. I became a public school teacher and had to crank out standard aligned lesson plans and reflection papers outlining rationale for my classroom pedagogy. When I returned to school for my Master’s degree, my writing became even more analytical and less innovative as I wrote papers entitled, “The Effects of Commercial Literacy Programs on the Language Acquisition of Second Language Learners.” Even now, the title of that paper makes me want to yawn (and I wrote it!), but at the time, I enjoyed the process of writing it and found that I had a talent for academic writing.

Soon I was writing program plans, educational policy and immigrant orientation guides which were being used across the state and the Midwest. I received phone calls and emails from districts hundreds of miles away asking to use and adapt my writing for use with their language programs. It wasn’t too long and I was speaking at conferences and giving workshops based on my expertise with second language learners. I even wrote a book based on my experiences as an ESL teacher called “The ESL Field Guide: Everything I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Teaching.” Writing had now become a way for me to receive academic recognition and professional advancement in my field.

Somewhere in all of this, however, the scope of my job changed. New legislation and more demands on teacher time had me unable to do the activities that I had excelled at for years. Additionally, a more difficult and demanding student population took up all of my time and energy. Quite simply, I was burned out, and I had no way to escape. Over the years of writing academic texts, I had lost that spark of creativity that had driven me as a young woman. No stories came to me anymore late at night. No poems lined the sides of my papers at staff meetings. And inappropriate lyrics set to holy music? Forget about it. I was lost. Writing had disappeared from my life.

Or so I thought.

About a year ago on one of the coldest days of the year, I was home with the kids on a snow day. Deciding that I couldn’t handle watching Frozen yet again that day, I sat down at the computer and started typing. It wasn’t much–just a couple of words that had been floating around in my head for a while, but that was enough to start a new story. By the end of the day, I had written ten pages and I was invested in my characters and their lives. Over the next several months and into the summer I wrote. When the new school year started and my days became even more hectic, I wrote. When my husband had a cancer scare and my preteen needed to start therapy, I wrote. When students became violent and I started dreading going to work, I wrote. And one day not long after that, I finished my first novel, Little White Lies.

My book is no literary masterpiece; I know that. It’s a romance, a light story into which people can escape their daily lives. I don’t know how good it is (my mother-in-law likes it, but I think she might be biased) or even if anyone will buy it, but it is the most important work I have ever written for this reason: when I was adrift and overwhelmed, writing found me and gave me back my voice.

I may still be called honey and mama and teacher, but once again I can call myself writer.