The past few days, I’ve been experiencing a terrible lethargy. I don’t seem to be able to get off the couch, and I’ve been sleeping almost around the clock. I’ve been blaming my medication, but this morning, I realized what the real problem is: I’m grieving.
That’s right: grieving. I no longer wake up in the morning and think, “I wonder what Otter and Sun Song and Wendy will do today?” I no longer bounce out of bed, eager to get to my computer and wake up my characters. Their story, The Storyteller’s Bracelet, is done; they’ve moved on to where they now belong—to my publisher, Vanilla Heart Publishing, where they are in the process of being edited and formatted and safely tucked between the covers of my book, which is set to be released June 23.
This was my goal, of course. Doesn’t every author want to finish their book, to say goodbye to their characters? To move on to another project, and create new characters?
I read a quote somewhere that said something along the lines of, “Children are the only thing we acquire during our lifetime with the sole intention of eventually letting them go.” But if you’re an author, that’s not true. We create characters. We write their stories, and when we finish, we set them free, send them out into the world.
And just like we miss our kids when they leave the nest, we miss our characters. I remember feeling these exact same emotions when I finished On the Choptank Shores. I saw Grace and Otto and Miriam everywhere. I longed to visit Virginia and reconnect with Elizabeth and James-Cyrus and Cora when I finished The Cabin. I especially grieved characters who died in my books. And guilty! How could I have sent such wonderful people—I mean, characters—to their deaths?
So I grieve for a while. But then, my publisher sends me a galley to look over. She sends me bookmarks to pass out, publicizing the new book. And slowly, the grief gives way to excitement, to an ecstasy, about the release of a new novel.
My beloved daughter Robin is moving out of the house in August to attend University of California—Irvine, where she’ll be a junior in their theatre program. I’m going to miss her terribly when she goes, as I miss her older brother, who lives in Chicago. It’s okay for me to miss my children when they are gone. It’s to be expected; I gave birth to them. They are a big part of me.
And for now—for a few more days, or weeks, or however long it takes—I’m going to allow myself to miss Otter and Sun Song and Wendy, because they, too, are a big part of me. My children may be the creation of my body, but the characters in my books are the creations of my mind. And while my children have an entire lifetime ahead of them, my characters’ story is finished, and I can’t wait to hold a copy of The Storyteller’s Bracelet in my hands when it is released in late June.
Of course, I have more characters in my mind who are itching to have their stories told. Clarissa in The Madame of Bodie, my latest work in progress, is highly indignant that I shoved her and her story aside to finish The Storyteller’s Bracelet. She’s been reproaching me from a corner of my mind for months now, and I know that, soon, I’m going to have to start listening to her, letting her story flow through my mind and out my fingertips and onto paper. (Okay, onto my computer, but that just doesn’t sound as prosaic.)
I know I will soon fall in love with Clarissa and her cast of characters, and Otter and Sun Song and Wendy will take their permanent places between the covers of The Storyteller’s Bracelet. I won’t love them less because I’m not working with them each day. After all, they’re my children. I created them. They’ll always hold a special place in my heart.