I am not shy around people, though I am more of a listener than a talker, particularly when they are discussing subjects of which I have no interest or knowledge, such as celebrities, TV shows, high profile court cases. Even when people are talking about things I can speak of, I generally don’t fight for the floor except when the conversation sparks a new idea and I want to give it voice.
My propensity for being the “designated listener” has never been a problem because most people seem to prefer to talk, but things are different now when people discover that I am a writer. My silence makes them wonder if I am studying them to use as characters in a book.
Strangely, this never occurred to me. I spend so much time alone that simply being with people is a treat. I bask in their words and the camaraderie no matter what the topic of conversation. I know this is not the case with other writers. They do study people to learn more about how their characters should/could act. They also use people they know as characters in their books. As Anne Lamott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”
My characters rise out of the needs of the story. If the character needs to be shy, I make him shy. If she needs to be interested in the minutiae of everyone’s life, I make her so. Occasionally, I base a character on an actor in a movie, especially if I need to describe the character to someone. For example, Greg Pullman in A Spark of Heavenly Fire was loosely based on Jack, Bill Pullman’s character from While You Were Sleeping. I wanted Greg to be movie-star handsome as well as nice, and I named him Pullman to remind me of these two characteristics every time I wrote about him. But for the most part, the character of Greg evolved to fit the needs of the story. The same thing happened with Mary Stuart, the hero of Daughter Am I. I based her loosely on Lisa Walker, the character of Mary Stuart Masterson played in Bed of Roses, and I used the name Mary Stuart for my character to remind me that my Mary, like Lisa, was both strong and vulnerable. The name was supposed to be a working name — I planned to change it when I found a better name, but the character and the name evolved together, and could not be separated.
So, if you are ever in a conversation with me, and I am silent, you never have to worry about appearing in one of my books.
Well, hardly ever.
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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.