…or not? Recently discussing Dana, the viewpoint character in Kissing the Bee, of whom I am truly fond, I was taken somewhat aback — OK, really aback — by a friend who whispered to me later that it was “immodest” to go on and on about how swell she is: “Since you’re the one who made her up,” my friend said, “it sounds like you’re backhandedly praising yourself.”
That was unpleasant news to me, but it did make a kind of sense, except in my head. My method of creation, insofar as I have one, is a combination of accretion — of snippets from everywhere, memory, magazines, stuff I see on the street — and the indirect processes of the unconscious. Without getting all twee and arty-farty, something I have always loathed (“Oh I just don’t know where the characters come from, why my goodness they just take over, they practically ravish me” — gag), it is true that I don’t have conscious, hands-on “control” over any of my stuff. Often I discard my first ideas in favor of other, better ideas that occur as the story progresses. Often I’m surprised by the way a book grows. I never know the end before I start. Sometimes I don’t even know the middle.
What this requires is a high degree of trust in the process itself, and a little bit of faith in experience. Not every book reaches fruition; I have several unfinished novels stuffed in the hallway closet, as well as novels that, while technically “done”, still seem unsuccessful in that what needed to be said was not. So they go on that stack, too. I don’t rework. And I don’t reuse characters; I wouldn’t know how.
So when I’m praising Dana, what I’m really praising, I guess, is the thing that came to birth under my hands: as a gardener would praise a glorious flower, knowing that she’d put everything she had into it, her best skill and effort, remaining aware at all times that either it grows on its own, in its own way, or it doesn’t. And that all the tricks and talent in the world can’t “make” a thing come alive. Create the conditions: it’s all I can do.