In The Wild Man, I include a "Notes and Acknowledgments" that tells the biography of how I created this novel. It took me 30 years to get the right handle on it. Most of that time, the book was dreaming in my bottom drawer.
I'm always amazed at how the subconscious and the creative imagination can go on working on a literary project even when the conscious mind is not focusing on it. Sometimes this span covers only 12 hours — I go to bed at night pondering something in an article or a book chapter that doesn't work, and wake up in the morning with the solution. Other times it takes months, or years, to know what's wrong with an approach... what's need stylistically, what's needed in the story line, where a character wants to go. Over the years, I've learned to trust this mysterious and alchemical process. My bouts with "writer's block" are few.
My novels are very character-driven. The characters are real and alive in my mind and imagination. So writing about them really begins with a process of listening to them... hearing them talk in my mind's eye, seeing them move, and most important, seeing things through their eyes if they're narrating in first person. Jose, now in The Wild Man, was someone that I didn't know what to do with for many years, except maybe put her in my autobiography. The moment came when she whispered in my ear and said she was Antonio's twin sister. When I get it wrong, the characters stare me in the eyes and tell me so. "I would NEVER do that!" Or, "Put me in a different situation, and I'll move the story there." Early in the game when writing Harlan's Race, I thought that Harlan Brown and Chino Cabrera would never be sexually interested in each other. Whereupon they grinned at me and said, "Oh yeah?" Listening to them more carefully, I psyched out the narrow parameters within which this attraction could happen.
People sometimes ask me how I create my characters. Antonio and Juan, Jose and Serafita, seem to swim at me out of a collective consciousness of all humanity, which all artists are surely tapped into. They ask me to recognize them, and they assert their beingness. At the same time, I'm aware that they're all parts of myself — different voices of my experience, my past. Indeed — since I think that all of us live many lives on this planet — my characters tell me of past lives of my own, and share their spirit wisdom. When living in Spain, I had a profound feeling that I had lived through a cycle of lives there — compared to some other countries on Earth, with which I feel no personal karma at all. I felt this way seeing the bull burst into the ring for the first time, and remembered a strong connection I'd felt on first reading about bullfighting, when I was 13, in Hemingway's Death In The Afternoon. Like Antonio, I would have given my eyeteeth to see Belmonte do one veronica... and probably I did see him.
So the connectedness of the narrator, Antonio Escudero, to the Spanish land, to the weather and animals, to the history and art, to the searing history and religious conflicts, to his own karmic past, are perhaps anciently my own.
This kind of experience has taught me that a book is more than just a construct of words on a page, more than a single person's imagination. Unlike a film or painting, which commands you to see it the way the painter or director saw it, is a world that the reader can completely personalize, and imagine in his or her own way. Indeed, in some corner of that landscape of collective humanity, their own open doorway somehow connects the author's imagination and a reader's imagination.