First of all, Gentle Readers, allow me to beg your forgiveness for leaving the ol’ blog on such a sour note. I wasn’t thinking straight at the time....
Anyway, I recently came upon Kendra’s blog, Knitted by God’s Plan, and have been inspired by her Character Encounters. These are basically short stories in which we writers “encounter” our own book characters somewhere in the Real World. They seem like a good way to get my rusty creative writing skills back in shape after a looooong slump.
I was thinking of going back and doing the previous ones (from about December of last year to the present), but the link-ups are closed, so I couldn’t add my contributions to them. Plus she’ll probably be doing other CEs in the coming months, so I’ll just wait for those. This month’s CE takes place at a “sit-down” restaurant. I’ve chosen one of my favorites as the setting for my “interview” with Ciaran (pronounced like “KEER-an”), which I wanted to share with you-all. Enjoy….
* * *
It had been one of those days. The kind where my head was full of cotton-wool, and I felt like I was sleepwalking all day. By God’s grace, I was able to get accomplished nearly all the tasks I’d set out to do that day, but I did them in a kind of zombie-mode. Reading my Bible, doing the dishes, making lunch—even when someone was speaking to me—I just couldn’t focus. My mind kept wandering, tuning out the Real World and gravitating towards…people. My people. Characters from books I’d started, books I’d finished but been unhappy with afterwards and wanted to revise, even a couple that were no more than a few hastily-typed notes in a Word document. I’d been feeling for a long time that I needed to get out of this uninspired, unmotivated stage I’d entered almost a decade ago and start seriously writing again. Tell the stories of all the fascinating folk of all shapes, sizes, tribes and walks of life—and in some cases, species—that lived in my head. But it seemed that, whenever I’d try to write, inspiration evaporated so quickly, I got bored with a thing before I’d finished a paragraph. It didn’t help that my characters seemed so alive and real in my head, but once converted into cold, hard text, they seemed flat, dull, lifeless and stereotypical. Yet here they were—as though banded together en force with one goal in mind: Getting my attention. Well, they had it, all right, but I kept telling them my attention had to be on other things just then. They didn’t listen. It was just as well we were going out to eat that night; I shudder to think what disasters I’d wreak trying to make supper in my mental state!
Even on the drive to the restaurant, when at other times I usually craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the river, or the trees and flowering shrubs along the highway, I felt so sleepy and stupid that my interest in scenery approached nil. If there’d been a pillow in the backseat, I’d have laid down and slept right there in the car….
We entered the Home Town Buffet just before a crowd of hungry patrons. After the nice greeter showed us to a quiet table, we headed for the buffet to feast on the tempting variety of foodstuffs. It took me a bit longer to reach the food-tables, as they stood clear across the room, and the “Dinner Crowd” (as my brother dubbed them), having chosen a table right next to the buffet, cut in front of me as I followed Mom and Bro. As I waited in line (a little ticked off at being separated from my family, it must be confessed), I suddenly heard a pleasant tenor voice behind me saying, in a lilting Scottish or Irish brogue:
“Beggin’ your pardon, lass, but since we’re both of us stuck in line for a spell, methought perhaps ourselves could get acquainted?”
At first, being so addressed by a stranger made me tense up and afraid to move. I had always been nervous around strange people—especially of the male persuasion. But something about this fellow’s voice—his delightful brogue, its cheerful, friendly tone—calmed my jangled nerves. I turned around to face the speaker, so as to be more polite…and just about fainted from surprise at what I saw.
If a blacksmith had heated up a thousand tiny corkscrews to a brilliant red-orange, you’d have a pretty clear picture of the stranger’s hair. He let it grow long enough to show off its natural ringlets, but kept it short enough not to look like an unruly mop. That is to say, what I could see of it, since most of it lay under a brown tweed cap, the sort you’d see country-folk belonging to another era wearing on their way into town. His broad, high-cheekboned face beneath it was the color of ivory, sprinkled liberally with light golden-brown freckles, and boasted finely arched, auburn eyebrows and lashes to frame the stranger’s twinkling eyes. Their color reminded me of meadows in Springtime —brilliant green and flecked with white and yellow. The stranger stood a good head and shoulders taller than myself—about six-foot-three, I’d say—with broad shoulders and a slender, well-toned frame that spoke of strength. He was clad in golden-brown trousers and a short-sleeved, goldenrod-colored dress-shirt. His shoes—loafers, the kind with little leather tassels—shone like melted chocolate, as did his belt, and he even had a bright-green pocket-square—a rare enough thing among the male population these days—in one shirt pocket.
The man smiled—a broad, boyish grin that crinkled the corners of his eyes and made irrelevant the question of his being handsome or not. “Allow me to introduce meself,” the stranger continued. He quickly removed his cap and bowed gallantly from the waist, revealing more of his gloriously red hair. “Donald James Ciaran McSpadden at your service, m’lady,” he said.
For half a second, my heart leapt up into my throat; the next half-second, it dropped down into my shoes. Of course! I should have recognized him—the old-fashioned-yet-impeccable dress code, the fiery curls, the Donald O’Connor smile—the image of my ideal man, which I’d dreamed up at the tender age of twelve and been slowly developing in the years since. It was the name that clued me in—the name I’d recently given to my imaginary suitor, under the guise of my alter ego’s best friend in The Pirate-hunter… although he’d been cropping up in other books, too. This fellow wasn’t real! It must be my fuzzy, half-asleep brain and overactive imagination playing tricks one me.
Donald James Ciaran McSpadden’s boyish grin softened into a sympathetic smile.
“Ah, so you recognize me, then.”
“Yeah,” I blurted. “You’re—you’re a phantom.” I clapped a hand over my mouth. “Omygosh! Did I say that out loud?!” I gasped.
He laughed. What a pleasant, jolly laugh he had, too! “Aye, that ye did, lass,” he replied. “But be assured, I’m no’ the least wee bit offended. Come!” he continued, “the line’s movin’ on now; let’s fetch us some vittals, aye?”
I trotted up to the salad bar and grabbed a plate. Truth be told, my appetite had evaporated when I learned the fascinating gentleman now at my elbow was only a figment of my imagination, however, I soon found it hard to be depressed with him beaming at me and speaking in that delightful, musical accent (I have a thing for brogues, can you tell?).
As I measured out a pile of lettuce onto my plate, I looked at my companion out of the corner of my eye. “Ciaran—or is it Jamie?” I asked.
“Ciaran, lass,” he returned. “Always Ciaran with you, ’cos that’s the name you like best.”
I lifted one corner of my mouth. “I do, at that. What I wanted to ask you was, how is it I can see you—hear you—so clearly? Most of the time, I only really see you in dreams, and aside from a couple times, even then you weren’t as real as you are now.”
A sudden thought occurred to me. I grabbed his smooth, freckled arm just as he reached for the cucumber-tongs. “Ciaran,” I hissed, “tell me the truth—am I dreaming? Or have I finally flipped?”
He gently freed his arm from my grasp and gave my hand a reassuring squeeze. “Och, don’t ye be worryin’ about that, lass. You’re no’ headed for the loony-bin by a long road. Nay, as it happens, I’ve been sent here by our mutual friends—a sort of ambassador.”
I lifted one eyebrow. “Mutual friends?”
“Aye. You know—like a certain pirate-huntin’ lass who goes by the name o’ Tom, for instance.”
I chuckled. My alter ego. “Speaking of which,” I shot back, “since you’re from that story, shouldn’t you be dressed in knee-breeches and buckled shoes?”
“Aye—in The Pirate-hunter. But methought it better to dress like me modern incarnation for this visit. The one you’ve been musin’ on for fifteen years—Jason West, I b’lieve ye called me then, was it?”
“And may still, if I ever write the West Family series. I haven’t forgotten them, you know. Especially Phillipa.” I smiled as I thought of my redheaded tomboy character.
“An’ what o’ Gil the Green, Ciára Littlefoot, the Tempest, Barona an’ Talíra?” Ciaran prodded. “Or Sir Hobbes an’ Lady Cashmere? Perin Strongbow? Anna Johnson an’ her faithful Jesse—or is it Henry now? An’ we mustna’ forget Pádma! She’d be havin’ me head if I forgot to mention her.”
“Characters from my other as-yet-unwritten books,” I remarked with a wry grin. “You’re forgetting Fintan and Fiona the Twin Detectives.”
“Och, well, they’re new; I’ve no’ got to know them as well as the others.”
“I suppose you’re here to tell me how they all want their stories written?”
“Nay, lass, only to beg you to write them—not to give up on them.”
“Oh, I could never do that—not entirely,” I assured him. “I’ve just—well—hit a slump—writer’s block, you know.”
“But ye havena’ really tried to push through it, have ye?”
I focused my attentions on a particularly tempting slice of honeydew melon just then. I’d already taken one and wondered if I dared take another. It kept my mind off the guilt Ciaran’s words stirred up inside me. He was right; I hadn’t really tried to overcome my writer’s block.
“I wouldna’ chance it, lass,” said Ciaran, dissolving my reverie.
I blinked at him stupidly. “What?” I demanded.
He pointed to the melon I had just grabbed with the tongs. “That’s honeydew melon, aye? One slice is your limit, lass. That second one’ll be givin’ ye a sore throat in the mornin’.”
I dropped the fruit in question back in the serving dish with a sigh. “You’re right, of course, but how did you know about my allergy?”
“Don’t ye mind* that I’m livin’ in your head?” He winked. “Besides, that’s how ye dreamed me up to be—observant. Able to study your habits, listen to your words, read your body-language. And have the God-given wisdom to take all that information and know exactly how to be relatin’ to ye. Or rather, that’s how I’ve developed in your mind all these years. But I have to ask, my lady,” he continued, in a mock aggrieved tone, “why you be givin’ me modern self such a spotted past of late.” * Remember
“Oh, you know,” I answered breezily, as I sprinkled croutons on my salad, “every character has to have faults. Your rocky youth keeps you from being too perfect.”
“Aye, aye, I can see that,” he allowed. “But why in the name of all things decent must I be havin’ a big Celtic dragon tattooed all over me back?”
“Oew.” I looked up at him sheepishly. “I haven’t decided for sure about that,” I offered. “Guess I thought it’d make you seem kinda tough.”
“Tough, is it!” he ejaculated.
“Well, I guess I was afraid, if I wrote you as you are now—in a modern setting—with your snazzy dress code….” I shrugged.
“You were afraid folk would be thinkin’ me a dandy—or worse—because I give more’n half a thought to me looks, aye?”
I shrugged again, unsure how to respond. Sometimes, when these inspirations come into my head, I don’t really think how they’ll fit my characters in the long run. “Now that you mention it,” I admitted, “dragon tattoos and Ivy League threads don’t really mix too well, do they?”
“Nay, that they don’t. But on t’other hand, it’d be a good contrast between me Christless youth and Godly present life, aye?”
“—if I ever write it,” I snorted.
“You will, lass.”
I smiled at him. “Yes…now that I’ve seen you—talked with you—I feel more inspired. And I think—I think another part of it was, I let my sewing projects and wardrobe designs become an obsession, and it dried up my creativity. But with God’s help, I’ll get that back in its proper perspective and under control. Then I won’t be so distracted from writing your stories.” I knit my brows together in a scowl. “Well, that was random,” I muttered.
But apparently Ciaran paid no mind to my ramblings. “Good for you, lass!” he grinned, patting me on the back. “T’other folk will be pleased to hear it.”
By now I’d built myself a rather larger chef salad than I intended and turned to head back to our table and sit down. Ciaran looked over the booths and tables and spotted Mom and Bro at the other end of the room.
“Ah, looks like your folks have got their food and are waitin’ for ye. You’d best be joinin’ ’em afore it all gets cold.”
I cocked my head at him. It dawned on me then that his plate had disappeared. “Aren’t you joining us for supper?”
“Nay, lass,” he answered, “though I thank ye for th’invitation. I’d best be headin’ home, meself.”
“They can’t see you, can they?” I murmured, glancing back at my family.
“That they can’t.”
“Then I guess I won’t urge you to change your mind,” I remarked. “It’d be a bit odd for me to be making conversation with an invisible dinner-guest, wot? They’d say I’d definitely gone off the deep end then!”
Ciaran laughed again, and I found it impossible to resist laughing with him. His laughter infected me like few people I’d met in the Real World. Despite that fact, however, a sudden sadness crept over me at the thought of his leaving. His form blurred before my eyes as tears formed.
“And what might be the matter now, lass?” he asked gently.
“I’m sorry,” I groaned, wiping my eyes. “It’s just—I’ve enjoyed our conversation, and—and I hate to see it end—and…garn, I hate crying!”
“’Tis no sin to shed a few tears when partin’ with a friend,” he soothed. “Come, lass,” he beamed, holding out his arms, “give us a hug afore I go.”
I set down my ponderous salad and wrapped my arms tightly about his waist, burying my face in his shoulder. “Will I ever see you again—like this?” I asked, my voice thick with suppressed emotion.
Ciaran gave me a little squeeze. “That’s in God’s hands, lass,” was all he said. He released me from his embrace, but kept his hands—twice the size of my own tiny appendages—on my shoulders. He looked me steadily in the eye, smiling gently as he spoke. “Keep up the good work, lass. God’s given ye a marvelous gift—trust Him to help ye put it to use. All ye need do is ask Him, an’ then obey what He tells ye. Write the words He gives ye, an’ let Him worry about whether or no’ they’ll ever be published. But you knew that already,” he concluded, straightening up.
I nodded. “I will; you have my word on that,” I said. I tried to smile, but what with the tears now running freely down my cheeks, and the sobs in my throat fighting for release, I made rather a poor job of it. Ciaran gave me one last grin before dissolving into mist and vanishing altogether.
I blinked a couple of times to clear my eyesight…and found myself back in the car. In fact, we appeared to have just arrived at Home Town Buffet.
“Shall I wake her?” Mom was just asking Bro at that moment.
Bro glanced in the rearview mirror on the windshield. “She’s awake,” he observed.
Mom turned around and smiled at me. “Did you have a nice little nap?”
“Uh—ye-yeah.” I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “How long was I asleep?”
“Since just after we crossed the state line. You must have been tired. Are you hungry?”
My stomach growled, much to my embarrassment. “Well, I guess that answers the question for me,” I quipped.
We climbed out of the car, locked the doors and proceeded towards the restaurant. In a way, I wasn’t too surprised to find my time with Ciaran only a dream. It wasn’t the first time he’d visited me in a very real-feeling setting. Nor was the slight disorientation I felt on waking new, either. But, dream or no dream, I resolved not to forget Ciaran’s words—keep writing, don’t give up, push through Writer’s Block. And most importantly, leave my future—and that of my imaginary people—in God’s hands, obeying His direction for each story as He gave them.
…and I determined not to heap my real salad so high!
* * *
…and if you think that was a bit sappy, you should have seen the first draft! :-P
Until next time, Gentle Readers,