I had lunch with a writing friend a few weeks ago. She said I had once told her: “I don’t have writer’s block, I have life block.” I’ve had people misquote me before – sometimes horrifyingly so. But as it happens, my friend was spot on.
I do feel completely comfortable in my make believe worlds and pretty awkward in my real life. Even that expression “make believe worlds” has a tinny ring to it. My characters are completely real to me. They don’t seem the least bit “made up.” It is only for fear that someone will be committed in a lockdown ward that I am forced to use the term: “make believe”.
Sometimes a critiquer will recommend I make a change to a character. In a novel due out in 2020 it was suggested that I should make two of the characters brothers. I laughed out loud when I heard this. I can’t arbitrarily decide to make two people brothers, anymore, than I could walk up to a lady in the grocery store and say, “Oh by the way, they want us to be sisters.”
It isn’t just me who believes my characters are real. I get letters from kids who are just as certain as I am. It isn’t that they think I am writing nonfiction so much as they believe in their hearts that these characters exist. But inevitably the next question is always: what happened to Moose after Al Capone Throws Me a Curve ended? Or what happens to Lizzie and Noah after the last page of Chasing Secrets? Then, I’m forced to admit I have no idea.
I feel a bit fraudulent disclosing this to my readers. I mean if I believe these characters exist, why can’t I do a better job of keeping up? What kind of a friend drops you the day after the biggest epiphany of your life? Maybe I should have a Facebook account for my characters? Instagram? Twitter? Some way to keep in touch.
The other question kids ask is . . . are you writing a sequel? I generally have a sense when I’m writing the first book that the idea is “fat” in other words, there are more books than just the one in the idea. Sometimes the concept itself feels like it has room to grow. And other times it is the complexity of the characters. One book just isn’t enough to completely understand them. It is the difference between getting to know a person really well on one cross country flight versus your cousin who dips in and out of your life for a lifetime.
As for why I don’t feel comfortable in real life? Part of the problem is I really am eleven on the inside. And outside, I am clearly not eleven. So there is this uncomfortable discord between my outsides and my insides. I have learned to hide the fact that I’m eleven years old extremely well. But that takes energy and effort. When I write I can dispense with all pretense and be the person I really am.
Gennifer Choldenko is the New York Times bestselling and Newbery Honor Award-winning author children’s books, including Notes From a Liar and Her Dog, If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, No Passengers Beyond this Point, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Al Capone Shines My Shoes, and Al Capone Does My Homework and One-Third Nerd. Read more about Gennifer by visiting her website www.gennifercholdenko.com.