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I call myself a writer. But there are days when I wonder at the justice of my calling myself such. I wonder at the truth of it. Oh, certainly I have a facility with the written word, but when it comes to writing fiction, it is seldom that I am working hard at writing. Instead, it is as if the characters appear in my head. They shout, “Write this down. This is my life. Let your people know who I am. Let them know who I was. Let them know that I existed, if not in your world, then in another.”
You may call it imagination. I imagine these characters with all their foibles. Some are essentially good people. Some are drunks. Some are bored. Some grow through their stories. Some are out-and-out sociopaths, manipulating people and perpetrating horrors.
At least one of the sociopaths is quite proud of himself, too. Sir Hortensius Aurelius would probably write an autobiography if he didn’t know that he would be arrested for most of what he has done in his life. His main business is as an art dealer who traffics works that have been “liberated” in times of war. He corrupts and seduces young people. He takes delight in the pain and even terror of those he thinks deserve it. He is happy to issue threats, and even carry them through. Of course, he thinks of it all as perfectly reasonable and doing good in the world. Could my imagination really create someone like this? Or am I somehow just channeling a real person from another world down onto the pages of my books? Most of the stories he appears in are stories of the lives of others. It is not like I am writing stories about him. But, there he is, being useful in his way here and there through the stories. I wouldn’t want to write a story about him. I’m not sure that he would change, which is one element a writer wants in a good protagonist. Yet, there he is in my imagination, laughing as he reads over my shoulder and knowing that I am horrified by him and his actions.
“Oh, my dear old fellow, I’m not all that bad. Were someone not around to pick up loose art in times of war, it might be burned and destroyed. Let’s face it, most of the soldiers have no taste. If it’s not obviously gold or edible, it’s just kindling for the fire. I save works of art. I bring them to people who appreciate them after their owners have abandoned them just because of battles nearby. Is that really so bad?”
Needless to say, I would rather hope that this is not just my imagination. Imagination is a part of us, and I don’t want to think of Sir Hortensius as part of me. Instead, I prefer to see it as an ability to tap into parallel worlds where these people must really exist. I am merely a seer, a speaker for those who were never born to this world.
Is it just me? Or do you also have characters populating your imaginations, too? What is your theory regarding them? Are they “your” characters? Or are they characters someone else first developed, such as Batman or Superman?