Old Friends by K.D. Miller

K.D. Miller, visiting writer at the 2019 Festival of the Arts, talks about the fun side of writing.

K.D. Miller

We don’t hear enough about the fun side of writing. Too often, the process and the life are depicted as creative martyrdom, fraught with dead ends and disappointments. I’m not suggesting the down side does not exist. But I remember years ago hearing the late Marian Engel describe in an interview how much fun she had making stuff up. Well, of course. Who doesn’t cherish those magical childhood phrases, Let’s pretend and Once upon a time…?

I have published four collections of linked short stories. In each case, I have come to regard the characters as imaginary friends – a community I work with and get to know and miss, once the manuscript is in my publisher’s hands. Any writer will tell you that a fictional character has a life of their own, and exercises more than a bit of control over what happens to them.

Whenever I’m working on a collection, there comes a moment when someone playing a minor role in one story convinces me that they deserve to star in a narrative all their own. In All Saints, Gail, a church receptionist who is briefly mentioned in “Still Dark,” takes centre stage in “Spare Change,” demonstrating that there is more to her than somebody who types and files and picks up an office phone. In Late Breaking, Eliot Somers treats Jill Macklin cruelly in the title story, seducing then ghosting her. I always knew I wanted to give Eliot the opportunity to explain, if not exonerate, himself. That opportunity arose in the story “Octopus Heart.”         

Occasionally, though, time runs out and a minor character never gets that breakout role. I was still making notes for a story starring Dwayne, a troubled man who haunts public libraries in All Saints, when my publication deadline arrived. But I’m hoping to include him in Alice Drive, the collection I’m working on now.

And that’s another thing. Characters don’t just migrate from story to story, but from book to book too. I was pleased to welcome Kelly into two of the stories in All Saints, twenty years after she made her debut in my first collection, A Litany in Time of Plague. It was fun to find out what she had been up to, and what was going to happen next. Right now, as I’m working on the title story of Alice Drive, I’m getting reacquainted with Pete Aspinall. Pete had a brief mention in All Saints’ “October Song,” then a major supporting role in the same collection’s “Heroes.” A lot has happened in seven years. He retired from teaching, met René, the love of his life, and is now mourning René’s untimely death. Add to that the fact that his house seems to be haunted…

But I’ll let Pete tell you his own story. Once he’s finished telling it to me.

Kathleen in her work space

3 Comments Add yours

  1. ronaldmackay says:

    Sensitive and practical thoughts on the long term, enjoyable side of writing fiction — seeing characters and their circumstances develop over time.

  2. kimaubrey says:

    I love that you enjoy spending time with your characters, Kathleen, and letting them surprise you. I find that my characters are good company too and allow me to have all sorts of virtual experiences, which expands not just my thinking but also my reality.

  3. Such an interesting post by K.D. It’s so true, making up characters and storylines can be great fun. And characters become friends (and a few become enemies that you still try to understand unless they’re very minor). I’m glad K. D. hopes to revisit the bad guy character in Late Breaking.

Leave a Reply