Last night author Margot Berwin and I spoke about our recently published novels at the Westport Public Library in Westport, CT. As was the case a few weeks ago when we both appeared at the Wilton Library, it was great to be able to sit alongside Margot as we discussed our books, the publishing process, and writing in general. Knowing very few authors, I look forward to the opportunity to swap stories with writers and am always surprised to discover how many simultaneous similarities and differences exist in our professional lives.
In addition to talking about our books and reading a bit, Margot and I took questions from our audience. Ironically, I was asked the same question that I asked Nicholson Baker just a couple weeks ago: Do your readers project certain characteristics of your protagonist upon you? In Baker’s case, I was specifically wondering about THE FERMATA, the story of a man who can stop time in order to undress woman.
Baker’s answer was a qualified yes (the ability to stop time in order to undress women was Baker’s adolescent fantasy), and mine was an unqualified absolutely. Friends, relatives, newspaper reporters, and even a few readers who have taken the time to write to me have asked me if I have ever engaged in burglary in the past, and a handful have openly doubted my innocence.
But I also admitted that projecting certain aspects of my protagonist upon me makes perfect sense. Martin, Milo (who you will meet next summer) and Wyatt, the protagonist in my current manuscript, all possess certain character traits that are my own. Some are written about intentionally, but others, as improbable as it may seem, were unconscious in the making.
For example, as I think I’ve written about before, many of the strategies that Martin utilizes in his career; his excessive planning, his methodical routines, and his constant vigilance, are qualities that I developed while dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. But as I imbued Martin with these characteristics, I was blind to their presence in my life.
Martin and I are also about the same age, and Martin lives in the same apartment that I lived in back in 2003.
Martin has a father who he has not seen in more than twenty years. Until recently, I also had not seen my father in almost twenty years, yet this similarity in family circumstance went unnoticed by me during the writing of the book, as impossible as that may seem. And in a bizarre fiction-meets-reality scenario, like Martin, I was recently reunited with my father, partly because of the book.
Even our names are unintentionally (though my former therapist might argue subconsciously) similar.
Yes, my readers project certain character traits from my protagonist onto me, and yes, they rightly should in many cases.
How many similarities do Milo and I share? I’m not sure. Milo is facing the prospect of divorce, and several years ago I went through a divorce as well. We both love our dogs. We both love hot dogs.
As for the rest?
I’ll wait for people who know me better to illuminate me on other, unintentional similarities next summer when the book is published.