You may notice that I'm posting late today--that's because I spent the greater part of my morning . . . digging. Dirt. With a shovel and (because we're in a drought and our Texas soil is sunbaked) a good sized pick axe. So that I could plant four new shrubs under the oaks at the front of our house, white salvia, and a couple of purple Mexican Sage, both with blooms that attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. I started with a pre-breakfast trip to the Home Depot garden department, then ate my oatmeal quickly, pulled on some grubby clothes and my sunhat, slathered on the SPF 50, and headed outside. Trust me, between the humidity and the pick-axe swinging, I got my heart-rate zipping along as well as I do at the YMCA. Southern Woman Glow. Lift-chop-shovel, lift-chop-shovel. Fill the hole with water from the hose, suck down some iced green tea, then lift-chop-shovel some more. Digging holes in our rocky, sun-parched soil big enough to comfortably accomodate those tender shrub roots. And all the while imagining hummingbirds and butterflies and a beautiful morning view from my office window, or a slice of late afternoon leisure sitting beside hubby on our shady front porch. And because I'm a writer, I was also thinking about my work on THE HEALER'S HEART. It struck me--somewhere between the woozy humidity and the resounding thunk of the pick axe--that writing this book has required some digging as well.
Meaning that I found myself digging down deep to make the characters' conflicts seem human and real. And universal enough that a reader would feel the tug of "Oh, yeah, I have SO been there myself." And how exactly does an author do that? By putting some of herself into that character; it's the only way. In effect, then, I have walked in the shoes of all of my characters to some respect. Nurse Sarah Burke, desperate and self-destructive after a painful loss; Claire Avery crippled by doubts of her competence after a horrific trauma, Dr. Logan Caldwell pushing people away,viewing emotion as "weakness," nurse Erin Quinn afraid she'll never trust anyone with her heart. Each of them, in addition, struggles with issues of faith, wanting the peace that comes with knowing they don't face life's challenges alone. I know I've been there--and don't know many folks who haven't at one point or another.
So, yeah, epiphany from one grungy, shovel toting author: Creating human and believable characters is a lot like planting shrubs--you have to dig down deep, bare a few roots. Nuture them along . . . let them grow and blossom.
And, hopefully, they'll attract . . . readers, just like my salvia and sage draw hummingbirds and butterflies.
Note: I have no garden analogy for the activity of that amazing green chameleon watching me work today--tipping his head, climbing to ever higher vantage points, watching my every move. Almost as if it were his assignment to oversee that I dug deeply enough, tossed out all the weeds, avoided rocks, spaced the plantings correctly, and . . . wait.