Introducing Marlene Lee: As a newcomer to Missouri, I attended a Columbia Writers Guild meeting last September and met another newcomer, Marlene Lee. Since then, Marlene and I have signed with the same publisher and we’ve become good friends. She writes literary novels, and is working on a series of mystery novellas featuring the lovable character, Humboldt Denton, his wife, and their friends. As her friend, I’m lucky that I get to read her new novellas as she is writing them, and I think they’re wonderful.
For my first Guest Blog post, Marlene will talk about her experience writing the novellas:
Here in Rehab
I’m rehabilitating a character I created thirty years ago.
My editor likes a mystery novella I once wrote in which the character Humboldt Denton appears. He’s asked me to write two more stories to fill out a collection.
I find myself reading and re-reading the novella to even remember Humboldt, not to mention the world he inhabits, which is the Southern Oregon coast where I haven’t lived in thirty years.
I explore each old sentence for weather, sights, habits, and something illusive: you could call it simply the times.
Bringing an old, forgotten character to life is like reupholstering an heirloom chair discovered in the attic. It will take time, be expensive, run the risk of looking lumpy, and perhaps the new fabric will look silly with the antique frame.
But then again, it may turn out to be the chair that everyone loves and wants to sit in. Still, the man Humboldt Denton is not a metaphor. I can’t remember why he once interested me so. The story he appeared in is no longer alive in my mind. How can I feel the urgency for him that I once felt?
Not by listing his characteristics and appearance. I’ve read “how to write a character” advice about listing qualities, experiences, traits of the imagined person.
No, he has to settle into that pit of longing, lyrical joy, self-doubt, pleasure, regret that is my—and I apologize that it’s not a brighter picture—self.
Humboldt must seep into the self that is my current self. I must develop a contemporary relationship with him. Yet he’s required to be the same age he was thirty years ago because the plan is for the three novellas to take place within the same time period.
Here is the difficulty: Humboldt can live through thirty years without getting older, but I can’t.
When I first wrote him, he was much older than I. Now I’m older than he is.
So I must make myself thirty years younger. It’s not Humboldt who has to change. It’s me. What I’ve written so far sounds okay. The language is working. But do I have Humboldt Denton right?
I’m not sure yet. I need a little more time here in rehab.
About the Author:
Marlene Lee’s novel The Absent Woman was published in April, 2013, by Holland House Books. A novel told in stories, Rebecca’s Road Trip, is due out at the end of the year. The mystery collection, in which Humboldt Denton is a major character, is in the Holland House Books pipeline. Marlene lives in Columbia, Missouri and has an apartment in New York City. Her two sons and daughters-in-law have kindly provided her with four grandchildren.