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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I'm NOT crazy. I promise!

Hi, I’m Virginia Smith. My friends call me Ginny, and I hope you will, too. You can read about me at my website – www.VirginiaSmith.org. I’m honored to be Tiff’s guest this week.

Since I have your undivided attention (assuming your office door is closed and the phone is not ringing and your spouse is in some other part of the house keeping the kids quiet for a moment), I’d like to confess something.

My characters talk to me.

They really do. They make demands on my time just like the other members of my family. When I’m working on a book, these made-up people become real. They’re not very polite, either. They interrupt everything I do and insist that I focus my attention on them. No place is sacred; even my children were trained that when Mommy is in the bathroom with the door closed, you don’t bother her. Not my characters. They traipse right along with me and keep up a running monologue the whole time.

They’re demanding, and occasionally one of them tries to take over the story in which he or she has been cast in a supporting role. At the moment I’m being hounded by a preacher’s wife who is charmingly insistent that she receive a starring role in every scene I write. I try to tell her, "Margaret, you’re a sweetheart, but you’re not that important to the plot." She just gives me that patronizing smile and tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about, and who cares about the silly plot anyway? She’s charming, and my readers deserve to get to know her better.

I have to admit, sometimes my characters know more than their author. In Just As I Am, two minor characters created a big enough stink about their limited page space that I gave them starring roles in the sequel. And turns out they were right. Their stories demanded to be told. Yes, I had to rein them in for a while, but they became real in my mind, and their stories became important and interesting and alive.

I attended a conference a few years ago and heard two well-known writers, Silas House and Joyce Carol Oates, talk about this very thing. They both described the way a work of fiction will take an unexpected turn as the author writes, something completely unanticipated by even the most dedicated Plotter, something not in the outline. They talked about it like it was a normal, everyday occurrence. House called it, "the mystique of writing." That was the first time I heard presumably sane people admit that it happens to them, too. I felt a huge sense of relief. Maybe I’m not crazy after all.

That mystique is what keeps me going. It’s what lets me know that the Lord really is involved in this process. He knows every book I’ll ever write, and I have no doubt that He is giving me hints, laying trails in my mind right now for the next book. Or the next. Or the next. Who knows? Maybe one day Margaret will have her own book.

If you’re a writer, who is your most insistent character, the demanding one, the scene-hog? I’d love to hear your story!

9 comments:

amygary@mis.net said...

I loved this interview!
I haven't written much but completely understand about the characters "talking to you". It always causes speculation for me if there is some alternate universe - a home of ideas and concepts - that become flesh in this earth in print at the choice of the recipient/author.
Okay, Ginny is not crazy...but maybe I am?
God bless you both, Ginny and Amber.
Amy Barkman

Kristy Dykes said...

Great post, Ginny. Thanks, Tiff, for it.

Kristy, who's off to church

Cindy Sproles said...

Ginny Smith's characters do have a mind all their own and I can only imagine what her closet looks like! (smile) There must be tons of characters hanging on hangers just waiting to be given their "fair share" of her attention.
Her writing is crisp and comfortable. Reading is easy and enjoyable. I THINK SHE THE SPIFFY-EST!

Anonymous said...

The characters become so alive that you feel like you know them as they relate to real people. They also make you realize that everyone needs to understand how much God loves them regardless of the circumstances surrounding them. The book, "Just As I Am", holds your attention until you finish it.

Anonymous said...

Kristin Durrans from SLC, Utah says...

Ginny you do know your characters as if they lived with you..I know I've been to your home and understand the thought process and your writings. I must however look in your closets next time I visit to see the new characters.. Just a peek! Love Just AS I Am, can't wait for the next and the next.

Anonymous said...

I just read JUST AS I AM and have ordered it for our Christian college library. Our students will relate to the blend of realism and humor, and the challenges of how to be accepted by secular friends and maintain Christian lives while not antagonizing nonbelievers with a preachy attitude.

Patricia W. said...

I'm just learning to plot, which is helping a lot, but was thinking I was not very good at it since I couldn't seem to stick with what I'd outlined. Good to hear that very experienced writers allow their characters to come alive and move the story in unexpected directions.

Kelly Fordon said...

Sure wish my characters would do that! Maybe I should try cultivating more of a dialogue with them. I don't think you're crazy, I think you're blessed! Kelly F

Virginia Smith said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I'm thrilled that some of you have already read JUST AS I AM - and liked it! Now Mayla will be alive in your mind, too. She'll talk to you if you let her. And she can be a pest, let me tell you.

Amy - Ok, Mom, the secret's out. We're both crazy!

Kristy - how was church?

Cindy - thank you! I've never been called SPIFFY before.

Anonymous - THANK YOU! I'm so glad you liked my book!

Kristin - STAY OUT OF MY CLOSETS! No telling what you'll find in there!

Anonymous college person - THANK YOU! Wow, Mayla's going to college!

Patricia - Sounds like you've got a lively story going on. Let those characters have some room!

Kelly - I've heard you read one of your stories, and your characters ARE talking to you. You just need to listen harder!

Thanks to everyone, and especially thanks to Tiff. This has been a FUN interview!