I’m one of those readers always looking for parallels between protagonists and the writers who create them. The extent to which writers use autobiographical information (or not) interests me. I know writers who take the “write what you know” advice to the extreme and write themselves into the story in a way that almost borders on memoir. I’m not saying this doesn’t make for great fiction: it often does.
Here’s my deal… I spent a lot of years writing poetry. My style was very narrative, very autobiographical, “confession” style poems. A lot of it was pretty dark stuff. And very self centered. I was mining the most difficult periods of my own life for material, going back and reliving them, and doing my best to turn these moments into art.
So when I turned to fiction, the last thing I wanted to do was write about myself. I found it incredibly freeing to just make stuff up. To leave myself behind and enter this whole other world where anything goes. I was sick to death of the me, me, me world that had been my poetry. I wanted to inhabit someone else’s nightmares, broken love affairs and strange afflictions.
The protagonist of Promise Not To Tell, Kate Cypher, is clearly not me. I’m not a school nurse. I didn’t grow up on a commune. My best friend wasn’t murdered. There are a few things Kate and I do have in common: we’re ex-smokers who occasionally relapse; we need coffee to function; we have what some would consider a slightly dark sense of humor; we’re close in age (though back when I started the first draft of this book, 41 seemed old and far away — now it’s not nearly so far.); we are both haunted, one way or another, by our childhoods.
But the ways we differ outnumber our similarities: Other than the occasional cigarette and glass of bourbon, Kate is a bit of a health nut—she watches what she eats and jogs. I, on the other hand, am eating homemade chocolate truffles as I write this post and the only exercise I’ve gotten so far today is chasing my daughter through the grocery store. She’s straight, I’m a lesbian. But perhaps the biggest difference between the two of us, the one crucial to Kate’s story, is that she is a natural born skeptic. Me, I consult a pendulum and Ouija board when making major life decisions. When Kate is confronted with the possibility that her best friend, who was brutally murdered in childhood, has come back as a vengeful little girl ghost, Kate refuses to believe. She lives in a carefully ordered world of science and reason. If something goes bump in the night, it’s no doubt a branch on the window, not a visit from the other side. She is constantly finding rational explanations for things.
Me, I want the not so rational ones. If I hear a bump in the night, I immediately start wondering which terrible thing it could be: ghost, demon or serial killer?
Kate, with her logical problem-solving, makes a reliable narrator. I, on the other hand, am not so reliable. Kate is a skeptic. A scientist. I am a flake. If it had been me in her shoes, I would have been having séances, pulling out the Ouija board, trying to make peace with the spirit world. And you know what? To make matters worse, the Kate-as-Jennifer character probably would have mined the whole experience for a poem or two. Egad!
4 Replies to “Me, Myself and Kate by Deb Jennifer”
You think you’re a flake, Jennifer? Well, I can’t imagine a “flake” being able to create and give life to someone THAT opposite. It sounds as though you had fun with Kate, goodness knows you were certainly living in parallel universes while writing her story.
I have questions, but will wait to be introduced to the three other protagonists before asking…
Homemade chocolate truffles? Feel free to send some my way, anytime. Especially since I consider the same multiple choice answers when I hear a bump in the night, too. Ice chest, which was balanced precariously on a stack of boxes in the laundry room, falling over? Nah. That possibility (the most likely one) doesn’t even cross my mind. But the other three …. they’re on speed dial in my brain!
I love your flake self! Also if you are sending out the chocolate truffles- I am far closer than Mia. You can trust me to send them on to her after. Really.
Forget those girls. I’m wa-ay closer. I love that you’re a Ouija girl. I loved Ouija but am scared to have one in my house.
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