Have you ever fallen in love with a fictional character, someone who IF only existed…? On the other hand, when writers imagine their characters, do they ever create their “ideal?”
In the summer of 1973 I fell in love. Hard. This was no schoolgirl crush, no scribbling his initials and mine on my fabric covered three-ring notebook. In a way that I didn’t fully understand, this was it, was real, was grown up.
I was 13.
That summer I read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for the very first time, and along with all the other emotions the book elicited in me, on some level, I also realized that Atticus Finch was my dream man. And this was before I’d seen Gregory Peck playing him on screen (that pretty much sealed it for me, though, when I did).
Atticus was a good man. He strove to do right even when everyone around him told him it was wrong. He loved his children. He was smart and funny and believed that most people were good. He wanted to make the world better.
Now, my passion for Atticus didn’t keep me holed up in my room all through high school, pining for a man I could never have. No, I fell for crooked grins and dimples, sweet smiles and piercing blue eyes . . . most of it unrequited. And, I always had my worn hard cover copy of MOCKINGBIRD at the ready to dive into anytime I needed the comfort of what had come to feel like home.
Ten years later I got married (what was I thinking? I was only 23!), had babies and began playing adult. Dreams of writing and of Atticus collected dust while I nursed my boys, did the laundry, cooked the meals and created a home for my family. On rare (very rare when you have two active little boys!) occasions I’d get a few moments to myself and I’d grab a book to read, sometimes reaching for the comforts of Maycomb and Atticus Finch.
Twenty years later, I was a single mom to those same two sweet little boys, feeling a bit stunned and shell-shocked to be an ex-wife. Eventually, I would try dating again, hopeful that I might find Mr. Right, but doubting he really existed, at least for me. My mantra became “hope for the best but expect the worst.” Once, after another bad first date, I was bemoaning my situation to my best friend who looked at me and said, “You’re looking for Atticus Finch, aren’t you?”
I was, of course, but had never admitted it to anyone, even to myself. And it occurred to me that perhaps I’d set the bar a tad too high.
I had a full life and I knew I was lucky. But, as I wrote about my main character in ALL THE NUMBERS, “Fortunately for Ellen, her life was full of family and friends and work. But sometimes her bed seemed too big for just one person. And sometimes she wished for a welcome home hug and kiss from an adult.” This was true for me, too.
I found time to chase the dream of becoming a novelist, and I poured many of my hopes and dreams and frustrations into Ellen. And, through the magic of fiction, I created her (and my) in the character of Bob Hansen, a lawyer who helps her after the death of her son. He’s patient and kind and good-looking. He’s smart and funny. He’s Ellen’s Atticus.
And I wanted him, too. But, like Atticus, he existed only between the covers of a book, and in my case, a book that hadn’t yet been published.
Flash forward another eight years, to 2001. Almost thirty years after I’d met Atticus; two years after I’d created the character of Bob Hansen.
My own Atticus Finch/Bob Hansen walked into my life, my REAL life, a life that existed not in the pages of a book I loved or a manuscript I hoped would someday be published.
A funny, smart, kind man who adored his children and mine, was respected as a lawyer, and wore glasses just like Atticus and Bob. A man who made me laugh, kept me on my toes, and had those great crinkles around his eyes when he smiled.
When my book was published five years later. Our friends (by then, we’d been married for a year) teased us that he was Bob Hansen. The character in my book. They didn’t believe me when I explained I’d written him, described him in the pages a full year before we met. The dark hair, the eye crinkles, the intelligence and kindness. All of it was John . . . but I hadn’t met him yet. In my toast to him at our wedding, I said he was my Atticus, and my best friend, my matron of honor, the one who all those years ago had said that’s what I was looking for, smiled through her tears as did I and as did John.
Who knew I could write the man of my dreams in my book and less than a year later he’d be standing on my doorstep, taking me out for dinner?
So, when I say that writing my book and having it published was the fulfillment of a dream, it’s true on so many levels.
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two signed copies of Judy Merrill Larsen’s debut novel, All the Numbers. Please leave a comment on this post before tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m. EST to be entered into the random drawing. The winners will be announced in Thursday’s post.