My characters knew who they were before I did.
by Robert Hill for Roof Beam Reader
When I started to write my novel, The Remnants, I had only the vaguest idea about whom the people in it would truly be. All I knew was that I wanted to write a story that would capture life among the last members of a small, isolated town, a group of very senior citizens at the end of the town’s days and at the end of their own. Yet, while fleshing out their individual and collective pasts, traits began to emerge as randomly and organically as if my fictional creations were born of the womb. Eccentricities and genetic oddities made their way onto the page and marked every family line. Dark deeds found their way into every family’s home. Humor arose from the most unlikely moments. But what surprised me the most, were the relationships that took shape without my planning for them.
In creating backstories for the three protagonists (two men, one woman, all of whom are in their 90’s) and other townsfolk as well whose stories are woven throughout, I found myself dredging up a rite of passage from my own youth that suited the small town story well – the rite of passage known as the circle jerk – and used it to exemplify a kind of freedom of exploration that growing up in a small town sometimes makes possible (more often than not, in fiction only).
I’m a gay man and I’m a writer, but I don’t self-identify as a gay writer. Yet, as I delved into the childhoods of the two main male characters, and had each of them furiously gripping themselves during this “innocent” rite, over and over and over and over and over and over again, the two boys loosened my grip on their creation and decided for themselves that their youthful curiosity about each other was more than a curiosity.
Fictional characters, like real people, are born. And like people as real as Cole Porter, or Michael Sam, or too-numerous-to-count Republican Congressmen, or myself, fictional characters are sometimes born gay. I love my characters for having had the (fictional) balls to tell me who they were and make me honor them.
At the core of the novel is the evolutionary desire to find love, and although I may have been coy at first about writing a relationship arc between two men, my characters would not let me cheat them out of their truth. Nor, for that matter, would other characters in the novel whose relationships also took unanticipated turns – some of them surprising, others disturbing, and one downright weird. (But who am I to judge?) All were born from the womb of my imagination, and I love and respect them all equally for their defiance against all odds and conventions to find love in a doomed world. I hope readers find these characters as surprising as I did.
Robert has generously offered one paperback copy of his book, THE REMNANTS, to a lucky winner! Please comment on this post with your email address if you’d like to be entered to win! Good luck!
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