I arrived home from the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop inspired and ready to write, only to find that the main characters in the novel I'm writing had left me without giving a forwarding address.
These were the same main characters who talked non-stop during the seven-hour drive to Dayton. The ones who dared me to jot down legible notes in the blue-black, pre-dawn of western Illinois. The ones who taunted me with plot points, punctuated by lightening strikes and torrential downpours in central Illinois. The ones who carried on lengthy, meaningful, insightful conversations as I navigated the hair-raising Indianapolis traffic.
These were the main characters who whispered frantically during the workshop sessions, like naughty students sitting at the back of the classroom:
“Describe the smell of The Bar – how the brick walls marinated in cigarette smoke for more than 100 years, and now they subtly diffuse that acrid scent, like a forgotten, cardboard, pine tree air freshener in a '76 Pontiac Bonneville.”
“Make sure our pitch represents us well! Mention the 80-year-old pole dancer. And the motorcycle. Don't forget the motorcycle!”
These were the same characters who mumbled discontentedly on the drive back home, accusing me of ignoring them as I fought the gusty winds to keep the car on the road. They hinted at inconsistencies with the back story. Like spoiled children they quibbled over which was my favorite. They questioned the entire narrative, and my ability to represent them accurately.
Now I was home, “ass in seat,” ready to write, and the little bastards were nowhere to be heard.
At the first sign of a tickle in my throat, they packed their bags for vacation. Or maybe they were forced out of my head when my sinus cavities swelled up to five times their normal size. All I know is, by the time the elephant sat on my chest and poured Tabasco sauce down my throat, they were on their way to the airport.
Those imaginary characters have an instinct for survival. I'm sure they are right now living it up on some fictional Florida coastal beach, having fun in the sun with their toes in the sand and margaritas in hand.
Meanwhile I've been left behind to shiver in my sweatshirt, head on my pillow, tissues in hand.
It's been cold comfort to find that other Erma-ites are suffering similar symptoms. I hesitate to admit that in the week before I left for Dayton I marveled at the fact that I had not succumbed to the crud so many others had suffered from this winter. It is precisely that kind of Pollyanna thinking that makes you a prime candidate to become Patient Z – because I am starting to think this could be the Zombie Plague and not just the flu.
So, while I wait for the aches, chills, hot flashes and coughing to subside – or until I develop a taste for brains – all I can do is wait patiently for my errant characters to drop me a postcard or two to move the narrative along. Maybe when they get tired of making things up on their own they'll come back to me. Maybe they'll even bring me a souvenir, like a nice t-shirt. Or a nice, tidy resolution to their story.