When I realized that this reader was asking me less about the possibility of reincarnation or sex-reassignment surgery than about how I create and develop fictional characters for my short stories, I started an answer in my blog of 7 December 2012. This is a continuation of that answer.
We lived in Eagle Rock from 1986 to 2006 and whenever I needed to buy paint for a home- improvement project, I’d shop at the Home Depot on San Fernando Road. Every winter we battled erosion from the hill that rose up behind our house. We solved the problem by installing a cinder block retaining wall, but it made the view from the kitchen and the patio reminiscent of something you might see from a cell in a state prison.
I decided to paint the wall. I had recently returned from a trip to central Mexico and the amazing colors that bring so much beauty to villages in the state of Queretaro were fresh in my mind.
I selected the colors I wanted from a wall of samples: a fuchsia; a midnight blue; and a sea green and handed them to the clerk. She wondered what I was planning to paint. I told her. She said she liked the colors but was surprised I could “get away with it.” Where she lived, it would be impossible. She said that she took her dog to the Silver Lake Dog Park and there was a house on the way that was brilliantly painted and just looking at it made her smile. I thanked her and headed to the cashier to pay.
Something about that brief exchange touched me and it was enough to get me started. Over the next weeks, I thought about that clerk and the insight her job might provide into the lives of her customers. People looked to her to help them find expression through color.
In general, I knew the kind of personality and range of challenges I wanted to write about, but to do it, I needed a real life. So I named my character “Clarisse” and began to give her a biography; a life story. It was only when Clarisse came to life for me as a person that I knew the shape her story should take. Eighteen months later, Clarisse was born and eventually published in my first collection of short story fiction, Gone to Ground.
I often think about Clarisse and recently decided that it’s time to bring her back. I want to know how things are going for her.