I wrote a story.
This image came to me and the characters in it were so compelling that I had to know more. I had to know their story. So I began to write.
Every image, every conversation, they all played out in my mind. I edited those images and I wrote their story. Six years had passed that their story played within my mind. Three books were written and still the story continued.
I had never intended to write a book in the first place. I just needed to know where their story took them and getting it out of my head seemed the only way to uncover the truth behind the mental movie. In the process I had fallen in love. These characters told me their thoughts, allowed me to watch their struggles, their hope, and their lives play out. I loved them all, perfect and wonderfully flawed as they were.
Finally these stories found their way out of my computer and into the hands of readers, who to my pure joy, fell in love also. Readers led to agents, agents led to publishers, and publishers turned my stories into novels which were sent forth into the reading world.
How did this little spark of love, this strange obsession with an image of a child abandoned in the night with preternatural gifts and a pain I could only begin to sense, turn into these lives lived out in print? How did this story even come to me? Why did I feel as if I couldn’t really take credit for these lives? It had all played for me in my mind and I was only a viewer, blessed to bear witness to their story of never-ending love enrobed in dark pain and the brightest of hope. Yet now I had somehow come to own it all. It was mine, yet somehow it owned me.
Another book in the series had been released and I was in the midst of yet another book signing tour. Tonight it was Seattle, close to home, but tomorrow it was off to San Francisco, then L.A., then San Diego. The list and dates and interviews went on and on. At least my agent was good at helping me arrange these things by state as much as she could. I was fortunate for that. But tonight they wanted a reading!
I hated readings! In fact I had always told myself that I would refuse to do them should I ever get published at all. Even the thought of reading aloud brought back those memories from childhood, sitting in class as everyone took turns reading a paragraph, counting down as my turn approached. Ok, which paragraph would be mine? If I read it ahead maybe I won’t make mistakes when it is my turn. Oh shoot, where are they now? Did they skip someone? I pre-read the wrong one! By the time it was my turn my head was swimming, my cheeks were flushed and I was sweating in some grotesquely inhuman quantity!
Ok, now I was already starting to panic as I approached the small book shop slash café, one of a dying breed. I would get through this as always, I coached myself as I entered. I would read the lines aloud which described the movie that still played endlessly in my head, feeling all the while that I had secretly stolen the words from those whom I loved. I would sign my name a hundred times, if I was lucky, and smile until my cheeks hurt. I would answer all the same questions over again which always came up at these things. Yes, I had always been fascinated with vampire stories. Yes, it was true that Anne Rice was my favorite from the time I was sixteen. Yes, I know it’s unexpected given my own personal religious beliefs. Yes, it was hard for my parents to accept and still to this day I draw much backlash from the religious community because of the genre. Yes, you should always continue to write as long as you have a story to tell, even if your audience is only one. Yes, the whole process of getting an agent is daunting. Blah, blah, blah… The list of standard questions went on and I always longed for some clever and unexpected dialog to redirect the trend.
This evening ended far later than expected. The crowds here were always large since the Seattle scene tends to embrace anything or anyone they can claim as their own. I lived on the Eastside, that was true, but my heart was usually elsewhere. Sun Valley, Santa Barbara, Hawaii, my heart followed them to the places that they called home. Those were the places where I longed to be.
It was hot in the city tonight. Late July was usually beautiful and warm in this city that was supposed to see rain 360 days a year. Another Seattle myth. I had stuck around the shop until well after closing to insure that the crowed had dispersed. A call to the husband, then I could finally head home for at least a partial night’s sleep before my flight tomorrow. Tired, yet still pumped with the adrenaline rush of the crowd, I headed out back to my pickup.
“Excuse me.” A voice from behind startled me and I jumped as my heart raced, skipped, then raced some more.
I turned to see a man step out from against the wall where I saw the heavy steel door click shut, locking me from an escape back into the store. Oh shoot! This was not good. An obsessed fan? A crazy vampire loving lunatic? Maybe just someone who wanted to rob and kill me? Any way I imagined it, it was bad.
“I heard your reading tonight, but there was a question I didn’t get to ask. I hope I didn’t startle you just now, but I was hoping to catch you so that I could get a chance to ask.” He paused after taking just a couple steps out from the brick building and now stood in the full glow of the adjoining street light. I got the distinct impression that he did this on purpose, to somehow make me more comfortable.
“Well, I really should be going, I’m expected somewhere and I’m already a bit late. But, I suppose, since you waited and all, just one question can’t hurt.” I really should just be finding an instant escape at this point, but for some unhealthy reason I always feel this need to be polite, even at times when it is not such a smart thing to do.
“Thank you, I really appreciate this.” He smiled widely now and I realized for the first time how handsome he was. I was sure I had not seen him earlier in the store or I would have noticed him. He was not super young and definitely not my normal fan. He was probably 30ish, about my age I would say, well dressed, and well, a he, which made him not of my usual fan base. “I just wanted to know where your inspiration for your novels comes from?” When he finally came out with his question it surprised me.
“Well, I’ve spoken about that a lot on my website and in interviews. It’s actually quite a common question. I guess I don’t know exactly what more I could tell you.” I was a bit upset that he had delayed me and scared the heck out of me for information which was readily available online.
“Yes, I’ve heard your general answers on the subject, but I felt there was something more to the story. There’s something just below the surface which you never really touch at. Is there more to it?” His voice was so unalarming, low and calm. I could have taken his insinuations wrong, but something about his tone told me that I shouldn’t.
“I don’t know where these inspirations come from. I never have claimed to know. I just know that these stories exist in me and play out before me. I don’t feel a claim to them really, I just describe what I see. I don’t know what more I can tell you.” I stared at him, a bit confused by what he wanted, as he studied the ground.
“These are the first books that you’ve written?” He took a step towards me and I hesitantly let my own feet slide back a little. I don’t know how that extra space could help me, but somehow it comforted me knowing it was there. I could read in his posture that he had made note of my slight retreat.
“Yes, these were the first.” I answered, still unsure of his line of questions.
“But you have written others since then?”
“The same genre, but different characters?”
“But these characters are different, aren’t they?”
“Well, yes they are. I feel more connected to them I guess.” I shrugged a little.
“You love them?”
“Yes, I have always stated that.” I was beginning to get a little frustrated with his ‘one’ question now.
“Why do you love them?”
“I don’t know. Why do we fall in love with the people we fall in love with? I could give you traits I admire, but I don’t honestly know. I think we choose those things to love after the love already exists. It’s a way for us to explain or justify something which is actually beyond our comprehension. I don’t honestly know ‘why’ I love them, just that I do.” I could tell that the tone of my voice was beginning to sound short, but maybe that was ok.
“But you must know why.” He took another step towards me and this time I took a more obvious step back.
“I have to go. I really am expected somewhere.” I took one more retreating step before I had a thought that might get me out of this situation. Quickly I produced a business card from my bag and a pen. I jotted down my personal email on the back, then taking a bold step forward I held it out to him. “Listen, here is my email, if you have more questions I would be happy to try and answer them for you. I promise that I will respond if you take the time to write to me.” I stood for a moment with my arm extended towards him.
Slowly he took long steps toward me until he was within arms length of the card. His movements were graceful and smooth, almost beautiful, which is so uncommon amongst men. Slipping the card from my fingers he inspected both sides. “I’m sure you will. Thank you and I’m sorry if I kept you too long.” He bowed slightly and then extended his long arm once more with his hand outstretched.
Taking a fearful, deep breath I reached out once more, slipping my hand into his as he gave a gentle squeeze. Another slight bow and he slipped his hand from mine, turned and walked slowly around the dark corner of the building. After his shadow disappeared from view I hurried to my truck, climbing in then closing and locking the door behind me. Something about the situation told me to be freaked out. Yet something about him made me feel reassured. I had no idea what his questions or unexpected appearance from the dark meant, but for some reason I felt certain that he meant no harm. I trusted him, yet I realized I had no basis to do so. What would make most people fear more only stood as reassurance for me. I always did tend to trust the feelings that didn’t make any sense. If they didn’t make sense, then they must not come from my logic. If they weren’t coming from my logic then they must be coming from another source, part of some greater directional compass that moved me along an unknown course. This I trusted.
It was late when I got home and the house was dark as I had expected. I assumed Matthew had gone back to bed as soon as I had hung up the phone. He probably hadn’t even noticed the delay that that strange encounter after the signing had caused. I was fairly surprised to find the kitchen lights on and him waiting for me when I stumbled in with my bags.
“Took a while.” His usual tone greeted me, familiar yet indifferent.
“Yeah, I was delayed by a fan of sorts, kind of strange really.” I was going to tell him about the odd encounter, even though I knew it would only cause him to chastise me and my idiotic behavior once more. But I didn’t even have a chance.
“Well, I’ve been waiting. When I got your call I thought you were leaving.” With the same indifference he interrupted my story. Not that any of my stories mattered to him really. Not that he had ever read one. But he had put up with my writing them for years now, so I suppose that was support enough.
“I’m sorry Matthew. It was unexpected. I would have called after, but I thought you would be in bed.” Apologizing, always feeling like a five year old being scolded once more.
“It’s no matter now. It went well then?” He tried to change his tone after he had put me in my place, my submissive role again.
“Yeah, fine. Usual.” I knew he didn’t really want details, it was all just niceties.
“You go off to California tomorrow morning, don’t you?” I nodded in response, trying not to make eye contact now. “There’s something I needed to talk to you about before then. Remember the last time I went on a business trip to Florida? I went on that little cruise out to the islands and, well I was just really taken with them. I’ve decided to retire and buy us a little retirement place there.”
“What, now? But you never even mentioned this. Were you going to talk to me about it?” What was he thinking, just changing our lives like this?
“Well, you’re so busy now, how often do we even see each other, let alone travel together? I mean I’m not saying you can’t come, I just figured that while you’re so busy with all your book stuff I would really like to get away, relax, enjoy these years. I mean we don’t have kids, and there’s nothing tying me to here, so I just figured…” He stopped there and started to get his indignant face on.
“So you’re just going? What to look for a place? Maybe I can change my schedule if you just give me a little time. I mean, I wish you had told me you were feeling this way. I’m sure we can work it out if we’re a little flexible.” My mind started trying to think of all the ways we could work out both of our schedules, relocating our home spot, keeping up with my work, all the scenarios.
“Christine, no. I don’t mean any of that. I just want to do this myself. It’s already done. I found a condo, I bought it already. I’m going there next week to complete everything there then I’ll probably move my stuff there by the end of the month.” He was so matter of fact now.
“What about your job? Are we selling the house here? When do I need to be ready to move?” I was in shock, I was fairly certain.
“Christine, you’re not hearing me. You’re not moving. I’m moving. I mean, I’m not leaving you, I just want you to stay here and continue with what you have been wanting to do here. There is no need to change all of your dreams or throw away everything you have accomplished. You’ve become really successful, you deserve it all. I just didn’t want to wait, this is what I’m ready for now. Do you understand what I mean?” He was standing now and his face was looking a bit disgusted at me again.
I felt so small there. What was I supposed to do, try and fight for him, for us? Why didn’t I find the words to do that now? I just felt so small and so tired. What was even the point? “Matthew, why did you marry me?” Why did I ask him this question now? I had been asking it for over fifteen years and the response was never what I hoped. Some word about my character, some declaration of love, some sign of my worth to him. But no, it was never these.
“Christine, why must we always do this?” He was so indignant. “You were cute. You were fun.”
“But those things fade, don’t they?” It was starting to come together now.
“It’s not like that. I’m not leaving you, there’s no one else. I just want to do my thing, like you’re doing yours. We’ll see each other, nothing will really change. Why are you making this such a big thing? I mean, I’ve supported all this time wasting book stuff for years and now you’re going to try and burst my dream? Well, it’s already done, so that’s a pointless waste of time too. Why don’t we just forget it for now? You’re off tomorrow anyway and I’ll see you when you get back into town. I’m going to bed now.” He turned a cold back on me and walked out of our kitchen, out of our past, out of our future.
That was the longest night of my life. By the time early morning had come only one thing was clear; he had made up his mind and there would be no changing it. I drove to the airport before he was up, got onto my plane and headed off to California.