And Then Letterman Said. . .

You know how you can be doing something totally mindless, like washing the dishes or putting laundry in the dryer, or chopping vegetables– and then all of a sudden you realize you are humming, and there’s a song roiling around in your brain? Well, this is the song I’ve been warbling for a while:

My default song, though, is this, which can get stuck in my head (there’s no discernible way out!) for years. Not joking. Give me a minute alone with some dishes and a scrubby, and The Girl From Ipanema slips out. Or this. If I get drunk enough, though, I sing this version. For reals. Seriously, I totally corrected somebody who said they liked Kurt Vile. I told them he pronounced the W American-style, and they were very nice about and humored me. What nice friends my husband has.

Also, sometimes I daydream that I am getting interviewed. It used to be David Letterman, once in a while Craig Ferguson, and now it’s Graham Norton. I will fold laundry in real life, but in my head I’m totally getting interviewed on Graham Norton’s red couch, and we’re all having a grand time– Graham (we’re on a first name basis, we’re THAT close), me, and assorted UK celebrities.

I know that other people do this, and that’s why I’m mentioning this phenomena. It’s the closest thing I can think of to how I feel when I’m developing a character.

A few posts ago, I mentioned how I’d answered questions about some characters for Project 2 and the exercise was helpful, because I was able to crawl out of my comfort cave and purposefully and determinedly take these people in a different direction. But I’d be totally lying if I said I could just answer questions about them, and Whoomp!, there’s a character. Instead, it’s more like a combination of The Girl From Ipanema getting stuck and swirling about in my head, and then a constant question and answer, back and forth, like my interview daydreams.

And so lately, I’ve been developing not the Project 2 (1920s English Country House Cozy Mystery, fluffy) characters, but the Project 1 characters, and I find I can’t leave them alone.

You'd think she was saying, "Please stop singing The Girl From Ipanema!" but really she's just asking for kibble.

While I’m washing the dishes, I think, “How would Iris wash the dishes? Would she set them to dry in the rack, or would she dry them with a tea towel? Which tea towel?”  Of course, I’m probably not even going to show Iris washing dishes at all, but it’s the principle of the thing. I need to know how she would do it, because the little details are revealing.


And when I’m listening to my husband test pedals out (see above Soundcloud insert), and reconnect them with patch cables or something, and jam a bit, then fiddle with the settings again, I think, “Would Jens do it like that? No, I don’t think he would. I think he wouldn’t be quite so painstaking about it. He might even go all acoustic. Wait, does Jens even play? Maybe Jens sucks at guitar. He has a standard issue Squier Strat.” Sorry if you have a Squier Strat. Please don’t take that personally. Also, get with the program and get a Jazzmaster.

It’s like I’m living with them, and they are on repeat in my brain, and if I don’t write about them, I will go off, like dangerous mayonnaise on a hot day. It is the hardest thing ever to know you want to write–and not have anybody to write about because they’re just not answering. Kind of like when someone gives you the silent treatment. I grew up with  a lot of oversharing, a lot of women talking, and I am much better equipped to tune out excess noise than I am to wait for the other conversational shoe to drop.

What I’m wondering is, what do other writers do? Is it a lot of questions and answers? Do you not know until you scribble or tap them onto the page? Do you base the characters on real people, or just a facet of a person? All of the above? And do non-writers have a version of this, too? And if so, why do they do it? I also wonder what our subliminal loops say about us. I think mine says I listened to too much KJWL as a child.


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