One of the best parts of being a novelist is you get to fall in love with anyone you want. You have to! It’s part of the job.
When I was working on my debut novel, THE FICTION CLASS, I knew a central element of the plot would be a love story. I had the protagonist pretty well worked out: Arabella was in her early 30s; attractive, but not preoccupied with her looks; hard-working; funny; caring. She taught a fiction class in Manhattan and liked her adult students, yet I sensed a wall up around Arabella that would make it impossible for her to truly connect with anyone. She’d spent a large part of her life caring for her difficult mother, and that had made her bitter. Why did the people she love suffer so much? Why were other people having such a good time?
I wanted Arabella to find love, but I had to test out a lot of men before I got there. Someone like Mr. Darcy would have been nice, but I thought he would be too polished for Arabella. Maybe a doctor, who could help her navigate care-taking issues? But I didn’t want anyone too strong. I wanted Arabella to be able to flourish. But not anyone too weak either. I didn’t want her having to take care of someone else. I thought about it for a long time; thought about it so long that the novel stalled. But I had to find just the right man.
When I’m stuck like that, all I can do is let my mind float. So I spent my days wandering around Manhattan, looking at various men on the street, trying to figure out if Arabella, or I, could fall in love with one of them. (Of course, someone like my husband was another possibility, but I’d already fallen in love with him once and wanted to find someone new.) One afternoon I saw a man who reminded me of a man I’d met briefly in Texas, a long time before. He bought me a drink. I truly didn’t know him at all, except that he seemed both charming and vulnerable. I began to build on that in my mind. I imagined a good man, but one who’s often chosen the easy way out. A man who wants to be something more than what he is. Gradually I built up Chuck Jones, and Arabella and I both fell in love with him.
Now I’m working on another novel, but the character’s completely different. I need a whole other love interest. So if you catch me looking at you in a speculative way, it doesn’t mean anything; just that I’m trying to figure out if I could fall in love with you.
Susan Breen is the author of THE FICTION CLASS, published by Plume, a division of Penguin. Her short stories have been published widely; she’s also a frequent contributor to THE WRITER magazine and she teaches at Gotham Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan. You can read more about her at www.susanjbreen.com.
Follow Susan Breen on Twitterr: @SusanjBreen
The Fiction Class - On paper, Arabella Hicks seems more than qualified to teach her fiction class on the Upper West Side: she’s a writer herself; she’s passionate about books; she’s even named after the heroine in a Georgette Heyer novel.
On the other hand, she’s thirty-eight, single, and has been writing the same book for the last seven years. And she has been distracted recently: on the same day that Arabella teaches her class she also visits her mother in a nursing home outside the city. And every time they argue. Arabella wants the fighting to stop, but, as her mother puts it, “Just because we’re family, doesn’t mean we have to like each other.” When her class takes a surprising turn and her lessons start to spill over into her weekly visits, she suddenly finds she might be holding the key to her mother’s love and, dare she say it, her own inspiration. After all, as a lifelong lover of books, she knows the power of a good story.
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