Characters Who Haven’t Quite Left Me Yet by Nancy Star

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[Note from Frolic: Today, we welcome author Nancy Star to the site> She’s exploring how some of her characters might react to quarantine. Take it away, Nancy!]

Despite having a muscular imagination, I never envisioned this: that my novel about a beloved online advice columnist whose deepest longing is to be left alone, would be published during a pandemic, when home stay isn’t optional and everyone is hungry for advice. But here we are, hunkered down in our apartments and houses, without answers to basic questions like, how long will this go on and, how exactly will it end and, is there anyone who can tell us how to navigate this new landscape of our lives?

A brief digression: we spend a lot of time, as readers and writers, parsing out how much of a writer’s life is threaded through the lives of their fictional characters. But there’s another side to that question: how long do characters voices remain in the writer’s mind? Does the narrator’s voice linger, like vapor from an airplane, or mud dragged in after a walk in the rain, long after the manuscript is off the writer’s desk and out, in book form, in the world?

Writers don’t become their characters any more than Clare Danes turned into Carrie Mathison after Homeland’s final episode aired. But in the same way that Clare Danes can speak with authority about how Carrie Mathison would behave in a pandemic—she answered Stephen Colbert’s question about that by laughing and explaining, no way Carrie would ever obey a home-stay order!—I know how Lane Meckler, the advice columnist who’s been living in my head for the past three years, would respond to questions about our lives now. I imagine pandemic questions coming at a fever pace, everyone asking the same things over and over, and through the prism of all the feelings: humor, grief, hope, despair.

Here’s a taste of what I can hear, loud and clear, from the characters who haven’t quite left me yet, confronted with the new world they never got a chance to live through in the novel.

Welcome to the Ask Roxie Column: Coronavirus Edition.

Dear Roxie,

Yesterday a neighbor I never met before called me a psychopath because I cursed at him when he whizzed by too close to me on his motorized skateboard, and my 2-year-old decided dropping toys down the toilet is a hilarious way to find out what sink or swim means, and my wife claimed she was on a work zoom call in the closet but I heard her crying so that wasn’t true, and the lady upstairs from me finally quit her online flamenco lessons only to take up tap, and my parents won’t stop going to the grocery store even though they are both in their nineties, and I meant to order two bottles of toilet bowl cleaner but instead I ordered two cases, and my tooth aches but my dentist is closed, and my refrigerator door handle fell off and is now duct-taped back on, and my 17-year-old nephew wants to move in with us because he’s furious with his parents for reasons no one will explain, and I am basically losing my mind and my question is, if I’m not sick and I have food and a roof over my head, how can I complain?

Yours,
Howling

Dear Howling,

Let’s think about this for a moment. Just for the sake of argument, is it possible that your motorized skateboarding neighbor is an emergency room nurse who needed to blow off some steam? If you don’t know the answer to that, maybe it would be better to at least start out with a gentle request before moving to full-fisted rage. And could your wife have retreated to the closet so she could stream Beaches and have a good old-fashioned ugly cry, by herself? Maybe ask her? As for the lady upstairs, why not give her a friendly call to let her know you can actually hear every one of her heel, brush, step, heels and see if she’d be willing to confine her tap dancing to a specific time of day so that know when to put on headphones, or to conduct a family singalong, or to join your wife in watching Beaches, with the volume turned up high? While we’re on the subject of family, I recommend you go online for tips on child-proofing a bathroom. As for your nephew, that’s a tough one. You can’t say yes until you know what’s going on. If he’s in a situation that’s not safe, take him in. If safety is not an issue, tell him right now is not a good time. Because that’s the truth. And then remind him, this won’t last forever. Because that’s the truth too.

Yours forever or at least for now,

Roxie

I imagine Lane rereading that answer and then going back for one more pass. Only this time I hear my own voice in her words. “I forgot to answer your question about whether it’s okay to complain since you’ve got your health, and you’ve got food and shelter. That’s because question has your answer in it. So long as we acknowledge that being irritated by our neighbors and our families and our jobs means we’re lucky to be healthy and safe, then sure, go ahead. Complain away! Howl if you want. This is hard! But it won’t last forever. Better times await!

Stay safe everyone!

About the Author:

Nancy Star is the author of the bestselling novel Sisters One, Two, Three, a Publishers Weekly top ten print book and Amazon Kindle bestseller of 2016. Her previous novels, which have been translated into several languages, include Carpool DiemUp NextNow This, and Buried Lives. Her essays have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York TimesMoney, and Family Circle. Before turning to writing fiction full-time, Nancy worked for over a decade as a movie executive at the Samuel Goldwyn Company and the Ladd Company, dividing her time between New York and London. She now lives in New Jersey and Martha’s Vineyard with her husband. For more information, visit www.nancystarauthor.com.

Rules for Moving by Nancy Star, out now!

From bestselling author Nancy Star comes a deeply moving novel about the truths we hide from others and the lies we tell ourselves.

To the outside world, beloved advice columnist Lane Meckler has all the answers. What no one knows is that she also has a secret: her life is a disaster, and it’s just gotten worse. Her husband, whom she was planning to leave, has died in a freak accident. Her six-year-old son, Henry, has stopped speaking to everyone but her. Lane’s solution? Move. Growing up, that was what her family did best.

But when she and Henry pack up and leave, Lane realizes that their next home is no better, and she finally begins to ask herself some hard questions. What made her family move so often? Why has she always felt like an outsider? How can she get Henry to speak?

On a journey to help her son find his voice, Lane discovers that somewhere along the way she lost her own. If she wants to help him, she’ll need to find the courage to face the past and to speak the truth she’s been hiding from for years.

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