The situation was serious. Her husband lay upstairs, losing ground to the disease destined to kill him. In a nearby town, a search had begun for a local youth trapped in a collapsed mine. And through it all, her own son, spared death in the Great War, grew ever distant, unable to shake his ghosts from the front. Whatever could be done to break the impasse?
There was only one solution. Rising from my desk, I grabbed my keys and headed toward the door, pausing briefly to fish my iPod from the entry table.
An hour later I found the answer. Hiking in Rock Creek Park, a forested reprieve from the bustle of DC, I stumbled upon William Coulter’s “Rain into Snow” and placed it on repeat. As strands of plaintive guitar filled the time and space between us, my character began to speak. Elisabeth shared her life, and lamented the toll extracted from years of bending to the will of family members she loved dearly yet at times resented. More shocks were coming, things I knew which she didn’t, things that would hurt. But I at least had an idea of where to start. In a seemingly premonitory moment, she would choose to wait for them, perched on the porch as a winter storm descended upon her mountain home. With the image secured, and a fresh understanding of my character, the scene came quickly. By nightfall I had my first draft.
Jewels from the Music Box
Like many writers I know, some of my characters arrive fully formed, revealing themselves with little prompting. It had been like that with my first protagonist, with whom I shared commonalities. I too had once been a closeted young man in the military so I could understand his reticence, the constant tussle in his mind. That link kept me tethered as I probed his deeper fears and desires. It had been different with his mother Elisabeth, who had remained an enigma, at least until I discovered her music, our music, which finally bridged the gap between us.