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Imagination and Me

Imagination and Me
By Amanda Kabak • Issue #3 • View online

One of the top-ten questions I get asked from readers about my writing is how much of me is in my characters. The answer, in case you, too, are curious is: a lot and none at all. My characters come through me and are influenced by my experiences, but they aren’t of me, if that makes any sense. This is where imagination comes into play. In the most important ways, fiction writers like me are conduits for our stories. The muse works through us if we let her, and our minds open to a different realm where ideas come from.
But since we’re conduits, everything that flows through us picks up molecules of our internal plumbing, like water through lead-lined pipes–but hopefully in a good way. How we write a story that the muse has guided us toward is influenced by not only our understanding of how to craft fiction but also by our accumulated experiences that line our synapses like arterial plaque, but, again, hopefully in a good way. And now I’ll stop with the plumbing metaphors.
There are things that I deeply know through direct experience, things both decidedly specific and widely general. I know what it’s like to make music through an instrument and with my voice. I know what it’s like to swim in a pool as well as open water. I know how to design and write software and sit in a cubicle in a large office building. I know what it’s like to be in a relationship for two decades, to cook a lentil stew, to gain and lose thirty pounds. I know what it’s like to be in a small minority in multiple different ways. I know what it’s like to live in Boston and Chicago and (for better or worse) Florida.
These direct experiences can help me deepen and particularize my writing, which can then help readers get caught up in the fictional dream and suspend their real life long enough to involve themselves fully with my creations. So my characters have been swimmers and engineers and cooks and partners and cube dwellers.
But I’ve also met many people and read many, many books, so I’ve accumulated a whole lot of indirect experiences as well. I’ve lived on the moon or in the south during the depression or in an apartment block in Seoul, Korea. I’ve been an elite athlete and chronically ill. I’ve lost a great love and found them again. I’ve been immortal.
My imagination has been engaged while interacting with other writing or told stories, and this has imprinted those experiences in me, planting seeds of curiosity and wonder, which then sprout and grow and eventually bear fruit when the muse comes along and sets up a resonance inside me that I find I need to set down on paper. So my characters have also been visual artists, mothers, widows, business owners, and men.
Since I’m a writer of fiction, my characters are not me, not if I can help it. Sometimes I disagree with them completely and hate what they insist on doing. They find their own way through the obstacles I put in their path, and it is never, not once, how I would have done so myself. This is what is incredibly fulfilling and difficult in writing: getting myself out of the story I’m telling, erasing my desires for the plot and characters and letting them become who they were meant to be, which I imagine to be a pale approximation of what it’s like to be a parent.
It is now just two months until the release of my romance Training for Love. I’m down to reviewing the author’s proof, and I know the book is done because I feel nauseated at the thought of reading it again, looking for the last mistakes to snuff out before it goes to print. Since you met Charlie in the last newsletter, I thought you might want a brief introduction to the other half of this romance.
Elizabeth realized she was still poised vulture-like over her desk and flopped back into her expensive ergonomic chair. It wasn’t just her neck that bothered her; her back was tight, and her heart had taken to revving into overdrive at random moments, like Justin adding one more thing to her already overloaded calendar. How was she supposed to run this company when she was always off promoting it? Or at least sharing knowledge at industry events, hoping that the exposure would turn into dollars. Technical consulting was a dog-eat-dog world, and her boutique firm competed with ones ten times its size. And helmed by men, who, by the nature of having a dick, had their words taken as gospel without any effort at all—forget about needing to rack up the kind of experience and success Elizabeth had managed in her fifteen years in the business.
Her heart would not knock it off, and its beating set off a headache, the third one this week. She didn’t have to wrap her arm in a cuff to know her blood pressure was through the roof. Her doctor had warned her about it a few years ago, which was a major reason she hadn’t been back since. Slow down were two words Carmen had put on repeat since they’d been roommates at MIT, finally finding each other after barely making it through their first year without drowning in the sea of guys in their respective majors: computer science and biology.
The sky still had an inviting brightness despite how late it had somehow gotten. She stood at her floor-to-ceiling windows and looked out over the cityscape of the Loop, her favorite place in the world. Instead of going to Silicon Valley or landing at one of Boston’s many startups like most people in her class, she’d followed an opportunity (not to mention a girl) out here after graduation, one where she could be a big fish in a small pond and put herself truly on the line with totally new technology—not just a new way to package searching, buying, or advertising. The girl hadn’t lasted, but the job had catapulted her to the bleeding edge and kept her there.
And now she was a face in the industry, representing women’s ultimate capability in this male-dominated field. She bore responsibility for more than herself and her firm but also for the women that came up to her at events or networking groups or at companies she consulted for, asking advice, confiding about discrimination, expressing admiration. As a result, Elizabeth always had to have her best foot forward, be put together both physically and mentally, get everything right.
This conference would be a boon, but it was also one that required all new material and days of prep. After so many years of long hours and draconian effort, Elizabeth watched lights wink on in the skyscrapers around her and admitted she was getting tired. This moment of weakness crashed up against the thought of her still-crammed schedule and made her chest seize up. Her vision faded, then sharpened, then faded again, and she sagged against the window, her breath squeezing out of her in a shout for Justin.
Yes, that's Chicago in the background!
Yes, that's Chicago in the background!
I am winding down my employment at my current company, which has allowed me to devote a little more time to reading and writing. A couple weeks ago, I plowed my way through the memoir Untamed by Glennon Doyle, which has the essential and awesome message that we all must learn to listen to ourselves and let our imagination of better things lead our way and our decisions. Oh, and it has maybe the best description of love at first sight that I’ve ever read. Much of it concerns erasing the brainwashing that happens to a lot of girls and young women about who we should and shouldn’t be, which I’m fortunate to have sidestepped, but just as imagination can bring stories and characters to life out of thin air, it can also bring our best selves and lives out of hiding. So go forth and imagine!
But also maybe go forth and review Upended while you’re at it? It could use some love on Amazon or Goodreads.
Upended: Kabak, Amanda: 9781948559577: Books
Upended: A Novel by Amanda Kabak
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Amanda Kabak

Writer of software and literature - Novels: UPENDED and THE MATHEMATICS OF CHANGE. Denizen of the in-between. In ardent pursuit of making an impact.

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