Writing Rose, the character I didn’t want to know

Writers control the story. So why choose a main character I didn’t like? Simple answer: he did, my male lead Jack, years ago, when I wrote my first book, Finding Maria. Rose was his love, his choice, and ultimately, his source of heartbreak when suddenly she was gone. To love Jack, which I do, hence the series of books to explore his life, I had to at least acknowledge the woman who made him a husband and father, and over two decades evolved to be the centre of his world. His heart had made its choice. To do justice to his story, I had to share hers, and that meant getting past the prickly habits and annoying weaknesses to the heart and soul of this woman. I didn’t have to like her, but I did have to understand her.

There is a deeper answer, though, on why I resisted engaging with this character. I detested her, I told myself, yet that was to protect myself. In reality, I knew the opposite to be true. My heart would be engaged by this character, and it would be devastating. I could see it, and I could feel it: the more I came to know about her, the more I would admire her, appreciate her, perhaps, even, be fond of her. I would get to know her. I would bring her to life. Then I would kill her. Because that is the path the story needed to follow. As much as she and Jack loved each other in life, it would be her death that would elevate them both to a higher form of love, one where she released him to finish his life on Earth, and he released her from the pain and limits her earthly body placed upon her.

I pretended to dislike her so I wouldn’t fall into the same agonizing ritual Jack did: to learn to love her, only to have her taken.

I returned this past week from the Toronto International Book Fair, where among the gems of the weekend was a discussion by Margaret Atwood in which she told an aspiring writer to ‘go to the dark, write from the pain.’  I did that two years ago, when I started committing Rose’s story to paper. Now that the book is finished and in hand, I am thinking of Rose not as a dark spot or a character I disliked, but a woman who did what she had to do for someone she loved – get her story on paper, so his story could move toward completion

Floating atop her grave, she lifted to the heavens the only power she seemed to have left. How do I reach him? she prayed. How do I put his heart back together?Her answer appeared as a memory, the harbour of her childhood, fishing boats lining the wharf, an island in the harbour’s centre, a finger of boulders jutting toward it but faltering partway there. Jack’s life, a link partially finished. As the memory took form so, too, did a bridge, completing the link not with boulders, but with words.

Enter Song of the Lilacs. The next chapter in Jack’s story, from his wife’s point of view, for there are things he would never realize, let alone tell, without her. And ultimately that is why I came to love her, too. I hope you will find the time to get to know her, too, and be glad for it.

Thanks for reading.