Aside from a devoted family, there is nothing quite so precious as a loyal, trusted friend. I’ve heard the saying many times, that if you have one good friend, you are truly blessed; I have been blessed infinitely in this area, since I have many dear, loyal friends whom I know have my best interests at heart. One of them is the real-life inspiration behind the character of Elyse Lombard, my beautiful, blonde “adopted sister”, Theresa.
Being the fiercely protective Mama Grizzly (or perhaps more accurately, Big Sista Grizzly) she is, Tre wasn’t shy about expressing her disapproval with my plan to contact the real Ken to apprise him of the nature of the book I was getting close to releasing on the internet. In fact, she was pretty adamant about not going there, offering some pretty compelling reasons to back up her assertion.
And being the strong-willed woman I am, I listened patiently and then determined in my mind to make the call anyway for reasons I mentioned in my last post. This led to a series of emotionally charged conversations, punctuated with a few serendipitous revelations.
After checking out the Water Signs website (which I’d given him on the first call), I received a voice mail message from Ken, who appeared to be rather flattered, surprised and even a bit shocked by what he’d read in the synopsis on the home page:
Madeline Rose is a sweet, sheltered and eternally youthful young woman of 25-the youngest child of a prominent Philadelphia neurosurgeon. Despite the unending support of a loving, close family, she battles formidable insecurities, thanks to a recent, bitter break-up with her first real boyfriend and a turbulent adolescence characterized by a few extra pounds. Unsure of her future, she struggles to live up to her potential as well as her highly educated pedigree, given her fortunate placement in an impressive ancestral heritage.
Still adjusting to civilian life after four years in the United States Navy, handsome, affable and ambitious Ken Lockheart has two goals in life: to rise above his blue-collar Shore town roots and to marry his true love. Though the epitome of the classic, all-American male with his boyish good looks, six-foot frame and broad, muscular body, he retains a basic humility borne of a relentless work ethic and an inner drive to succeed.
When a chance encounter in a Somers Point nightclub initiates an unexpected relationship, neither one of them is prepared for the ensuing odyssey of heartbreak, personal growth and spiritual development that fuels their individual life lessons and leads them full-circle to a Divinely guided conclusion.
Although at that point in time the nearly complete, unpublished manuscript was still in a Word doc in my laptop and on a securely hidden CD, the synopsis description alone was enough to affect “Ken” fairly deeply; when we actually spoke, he noted how accurate my description of him had been, how I’d captured the essence of who he was and what he was trying to accomplish in his life.
I can’t recall if it had been that same conversation or one that followed shortly thereafter, but during one particularly heart-wrenching discussion, a few interesting things were revealed — things that seemed to confirm my intuition when crafting dialogue for the characters and/or expressing their thoughts and feelings.
For example, in Chapter 30, as a newly reunited Ken and Madeline are enjoying a cookout in Ken’s new house, they reminisce about past events and resolve previously unsettled matters. Of particular import is Maddy’s memory of a significant holiday they’d spent together:
“That was the best New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had in my entire life,” she confessed softly, thinking back to all of the fun they’d had dancing and joking around with her siblings and their dates at The Media Inn.
And as an author, I invoked creative license to have Ken respond with, “Me, too.”
I had no way of knowing if the character’s human counterpart felt the same way; in fact, I was pretty certain that after 16 long years, he’d probably experienced at least a few New Year’s Eve’s celebrations that far outshone the one we’d spent in a little town in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. After all, in South Florida there’s no shortage of glamorous locales from which to pop the bubbly and make out at midnight. Perhaps he and his wife had once taken a luxury cruise or a trip to the Caribbean to welcome Baby New Year?
Interestingly enough, I’d just completed this chapter when the real Ken and I had this particular phone exchange, prompting me to test the validity of character Ken’s response to Madeline’s statement. Keep in mind, the book was still unpublished at the time; there was absolutely no way he could’ve read this chapter — or any portion of the book, other than what was posted on the website. And that consisted merely of a synopsis, testimonials and an author bio — I hadn’t even gotten to the point of loading selected chapters for preview yet.
So I decided to conduct a little “test” to see if my creativity had unknowingly contained a kernel of truth by telling the real Ken (quite sincerely) that our New Year’s Eve was the best one I ever had. I think I might have even prefaced it by admitting, “As pathetic as it sounds…”
And without missing a beat, flesh-and-blood Ken replied, “It was for me, too.” Which — needless to say — sent shivers up and down my spine, for a myriad of reasons.
Did he actually mean it?
In that moment, I believe he did, although there’s always the possibility he was simply affirming what he thought I wanted to hear. In any case, the fact that he hadn’t read any portion of the book, yet repeated a line attributed to his character verbatim did leave an impression.
Another interesting enlightenment came when I shared my bout with panic and anxiety disorder, only to discover that he’d also experienced the same problem, concurrent with me. He even related a story about driving down I-95 on his way to make a big corporate presentation, when all of a sudden, overcome with an acute attack of sheer terror (pounding heart, etc), he had to pull over to avoid an accident. I listened with empathy as he noted (paraphrasing), “Here I was, this blue-collar kid from New Jersey about to stand in front of a bunch of corporate bigwigs, feeling I had no right to be there. Who did I think I was?”
“Ken” seemed a bit rattled (as was I) by this entire exchange, during which he’d also noted “We’re a lot alike, you and I” and announced that he didn’t even think I was that attracted to him, since I tried to avoid being alone with him and maintained some strict boundaries when we were. As a 25-year old young man with “raging hormones” my behavior had been a bit perplexing.
But knowing my family, he understood when one of the many reasons I offered for keeping him at arms’ length was my absolute terror about accidentally becoming pregnant and bringing dishonor to my parents. As I told him, it was probably the most disgraceful, hurtful thing I could ever do, though they would’ve forgiven me (us) eventually. However, with this kind of mood-killing mindset, there’s no way I could’ve simply relaxed and enjoyed it, even if we’d used every type of contraception on the market.
“Can you imagine their reaction if I’d gotten pregnant?” I asked.
“Yeah, your dad would’ve taken me out back with a shotgun,” he laughed.
Which is probably an accurate statement, though I’ve often thought my father would’ve been the calmer parent in this scenario. I could be wrong, of course. And to this day, even at my age (assuming it could still happen), I’d never want to test my theory. 😉
More intrigue to come in my next post.