The thing I’ve discovered about writing a novel like A Habit of Hiding is that its presence is always with me. Even when I’m not writing their stories, I’m thinking about my characters. They progress through joy, pain and growth, just like I do. And in the process, we all get close. Because I care about them so much, I want them know they’re always with me, and I haven’t abandoned them. So I wrote my characters this letter.
Dear Helen, Char, Mick, Jillie, Jack, Dave, Fiona, Spence and even Ray,
Just because you haven’t heard from me today doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about you and what you’re all hiding from in that lonely place you call home.
In fact, I think about you all the time—your trials, your challenges, your happiness and what will help you succeed. You are in my blood like holy wine, as one of my favorite songwriters famously said, and in my head like a melody I can’t forget.
Last night, in that loneliest of moments just before sleep came for my consciousness, I was warmed by imagining how you fell for Ray, Charlene. You were so naive and too young, and I worried for you when you met that tall drink of water with the winning smile, his black cowboy hat tucked low over his right eye and a flask outlined in the back pocket of his work jeans. I could see that he was too old and even a bit too dangerous for a small town teen like you, but I understood the sweetness you felt when he swept you out of your boots and into the back of his pickup with just a country song, a two-step and a wink. You were aching for something to lift you from that tired trailerpark of a town you came from, anything at all, and he stepped on to your dance floor. Now I ache for the troubles that lie ahead for you.
I’m thinking about you and Jack, too, Char, just so you know there’ll be better times to come. When I was driving yesterday, my mind was on you and Jillie and how you’ll handle motherhood again this second time, now that you’ve lived the heartaches you’ve lived, and I hope you’ll be braced by the strength of the characters who love you, too, oh yes they do. Don’t ever doubt it. Not just Jack, but Helen, Fiona, Spence and even Mick. You’ll just need to feel worthy of their love, as Jack will tell you. Just that. Hard for you to, though, I know.
And dear Helen, you are a work in progress and I never doubt you’re going to rise up to field whatever is thrown your way in that provincial little prairie town you’re entrenched in. Your doubts surface readily, but your heart is good, and the universe has sent you a gift to help melt away the guilt that’s gripped you like candlewax dripping on to its holder. While I was getting a massage last night, my thoughts turned to you and Dave and how much you deserve the sweet relationship you’ll have with him. If only you can confront your buried past, and confront those whose vitriol and dishonesty get in your way now. I don’t worry about you, though, given the strength and good sense of your character, the way I do about little Jillie and her big brother Mick.
Those kids have had the toughness of their parents’ lives passed on to them, like any generation will do to its next; I’m sorry for Jillie and Mick that the worst of it clings to them, and not the better parts. The best thing I can do for you two is to buoy you with the love of the characters around you whose hearts are as good as their intentions. You two make everything possible for my story, and no matter how things work out for you, I’m grateful and I’m doing my best by you. Sweet dreams to you, little Jillie, and please try to have them too, Mick.
Fiona, Spence, and the rest of you—I drank a glass of wine yesterday, and thought about the novel you’re a part of. I hope you realize I enjoy your company enormously, and know you are the kind that remain steady and strong no matter what. Fiona, you and Spence are such a great couple; I like to imagine I’m sitting at your oilcloth-covered kitchen table, listening to Spence’s tall tales and licking my fingers to get the last tastes of your fried chicken, while Goldie waits patiently for charity next to my chair. Maybe Char will come through the screen door, laughing and followed by the scampering wet feet of Jillie and Mick, happy but shivering and not yet dried off from a swim; and from outside in the motel parking lot, Jack will whistle for Goldie to ride shotgun in his truck into town. I’ll suggest that Helen and Dave might enjoy your fried chicken, Fiona, and you’ll dial the telephone pronto to ask them over for supper, leaving your flour prints on its black receiver when you hang up, aiming your widest grin my way.
I’m smiling with all of you, ready to get back to your story, my dear characters, to see what happens next. Thanks for being in my life. Never doubt me; I’m always by your side, and I’m gonna miss you when you’re gone.
Until we meet again,
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