Three years ago when I was deep into my own grief, I started writing a book about a grieving woman. It’s been so long since I worked on the novel that while I remember the story, I don’t remember everything I wrote. Today I discovered something interesting. (Interesting to me, anyway.) Apparently one day I couldn’t think of anything to add to the story, so I interviewed the character. Here’s part of that interview:
Pat: Who are you?
Amanda: I don’t know. Isn’t that your job? To create me?
Pat: I was hoping you’d do it for me. Writers always talk about how their characters take over and do things the writers never intended. It’s never happened to me, but I thought perhaps this time things would be different.
Amanda: Different? Why?
Pat: Because you’re me. Or part me. The character of a grieving woman is based on me since I only know grief from my point of view, but the story is not my story. Well, it is my story since I’m writing it, but it’s not the story of my life. That part is made up, though I’m hoping some deeper truth will emerge from it.
Amanda: What sort of truth?
Pat: Hey! Who’s the interviewer here? I’m the one who’s supposed to be asking the questions.
Pat: The true sort. The universal sort. A truth that will mean something different to everyone who sees it.
Amanda: Clear as a bell.
Pat: Good thing you’re not the writer—clichés are so passé. But we’re getting off course here. Will people believe that a woman grieving her husband can love another man? Won’t they think that new love negates grief?
Amanda: Seems as if it’s your responsibility as a writer to make people believe what you want them to believe.
Pat: The problem is that you’re boring. How do I make you interesting? I mean, you sound like a whiner, always screaming, “I can’t do this.”
Amanda: But if you notice (and you should since you’re the one who wrote it), every time I say I can’t do something, I do it. Isn’t that the point you’re trying to make, that I don’t know who I am? That even though I’m in my fifties (cripes, couldn’t you have made me forty-something? Fifty sounds so old), I’m a chrysalis, or maybe I mean I’m in a chrysalis. I’ve been alive a lot of years, but never lived. I’ve defined myself by other people — first as a daughter, then wife, mother, and now cyber-lover. I need to learn how to define myself by myself, to find my home within me now that David’s death has stolen my home from me. He was my home, not the manse we lived in for the past fifteen years. I have to leave the manse, too, since I’m no longer the preacher’s wife. And anyway, the church is selling it.
Pat: I never asked you if you wanted to be a preacher’s wife. Would you rather be a different character? A cop, perhaps, or a CEO?
Amanda: I don’t know what I want to be — isn’t what the story is about? Me finding out who I am? A coming-of-age in middle age story? For that purpose, a preacher’s wife is as good as anything. Also could explain why I led such a sheltered life. A CEO probably wouldn’t have defined her life by her husband’s life. A preacher’s wife, by definition, defines her life by his.
Pat: I just thought of something — how about if I make you the preacher?
Amanda: Wouldn’t work story wise. I wouldn’t get kicked out of the manse when David died, I wouldn’t have defined my life by his, and I’d probably have been too busy to have an online affair. Until David got sick and was forced into idleness, he never had much time. I guess I’m stuck being the preacher’s wife until we can figure out who I will become.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.