Readers often ask me how I come up with the names for my characters. Some of them, come from some deep cave within me, a place so unfamiliar to even me that I cannot possibly identify the reasons why I chose that particular name (or scene). There are writers who claim that this is one’s imagination. I don’t know about that. Imagination seems too lofty a notion for the type of writing I do. Is it imagination to think up a chicken pecking out the eyes of a dead person? Or is that some deep-rooted warping of what happens to people who turn all their focus inward? Who can say for sure? All I know is that rarely does anything I write feel like imaginings. Most all of what I write feels more like digging in hard earth for a jeweled brooch long-buried. All those things others suggest as imaginations feels crusted over in the palm of my hands.
Wheedin was such a name.
I have no idea the source of it, although I can give you the backstory on how it was I come up with the idea of making her a one-armed woman librarian.
If I were to write another book in this series, as many have suggested, it would be Wheedin who I’d most want to write about. I don’t feel that she got the treatment she demands. She’d undoubtedly agree with me on that. I might say the same about Thomasina, whose name I also couldn’t identify the source of, but whose backstory I could also explain without pause.
Nailing down Zebulon Hurd’s name is a much easier process. I got his name from the Bible. I think that’s one of the things that future generations will miss out on. The Bible, besides being the Word, is also a document of great literary merit. Every Creative Writing student should be required to read it for the poetry and storytelling alone. I know of no other work that can pack such a narrative punch in so few words as the Bible.
One of the translations for the name Zebulon is “Dwelling Place.” For those of you unfamiliar with my novels, all three books deal with this issue of how community can help heal the alienated. In MOTHER OF RAIN, I deal with the alienation of the mentally ill and disabled. In BURDY, I address the alienation of race. And lastly, in CHRISTIAN BEND, I address the alienation of those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So Zeb’s name is very fitting.
At the time I gave Zeb his name, I was not aware that there was a town in Georgia named Zebulon. I didn’t learn about that until my son alerted me a while back. When the good people at the publishing house asked if I’d be interested in doing a program in Zebulon, I didn’t even blink. Of course! I’d love to share Zeb’s story with the good people of Zebulon.
A few weeks and thousands of miles ago, I met the effervescent Rosemary Bunn, the librarian of the J. Joel Edwards Public Library, at the Decatur Book Festival. Rosemary lives in a way back place called Experiment, Georgia. If you have seen the Hunger Game movies, you have been to these places, albeit you may not have known them by those names. Rosemary is a natural storyteller herself. Dr. Seuss, she says, saved her life. And if you so happen to hear the stories from her own mouth, you’d be inclined to agree – Dr. Seuss really did save Rosemary’s life.
Books have saved a lot of our lives.
The J. Joel Edwards Library is a delightful and bright place, just across Highway 19 from the high school, the elementary school and the middle school. What better place for a library, or as I like to call libraries – institutions for higher learning? And should you drop by there this week, it is even more delightful thanks to the efforts of Bill the artist, who came up with all the detailed and thoughtful renderings of my novels.
Those of you who have read the books, should be able to identify the scenes that Bill sketched out. It’s difficult to choose a favorite, but I loved seeing Zeb stand at attention in the Zebulon library.
One of the things I look most forward to in heaven is the unlimited access I will have to co-create with others. I wrote about my vision of heaven in BURDY and it does not include a gated community of like-minded people. What would be the point of an eternity if you could never create anything again? Seeing Bill’s renderings reminded me of the power that is ours when we create and inspire others to do so.
I doubt that Rachel Field ever imagined that the book she penned in the 1920s about a doll named HITTY would reemerge in a World War II Appalachian story some 85 years hence. (Field authored numerous works, including the poem Something Told the Wild Geese, which became a popular choral piece). We often consider how the wrongs we do will lead to hurt and confusion and further damage, yet, we often fail to consider how the small good we do can lead to much greater good. The equation works both ways: Create and you will inspire others to. Destroy and you will compel others to. The choice is always ours.
As the librarian, Rosemary makes space for creators. She invites the community to be co-creators with her. A person doesn’t have to wait till they die to engage in creative pursuits. One only needs to visit one’s local library. Your local library is the perfect place to find community, a healing place.
Libraries are gathering places for storytellers and musicians, for artists and historians, for educators and those seeking to be educated. Google might offer you immediate information but it can’t understand your sense of humor. Google won’t get your inside joke. Google won’t look you in the eye and nod its head in that knowing way that Rosemary does. If it’s healing you seek, as well as knowledge, you’ll have to find a community of people willing to swap stories with you. People like Rosemary and Bill.
We met in Zebulon, too.
At Pike County High School’s library, where I spoke to two of her English/Lit classes about Place as a Character. Mostly we swapped creepy tales of local lore. Students told stories of encounters they’ve had with ghosts or spirits. Gena, who grew up in South Carolina, and I swapped stories about the Irish Traveler community. I rarely run into anyone who knows anything about the Irish Travelers.
And it was at the same library that a student raised her hand after I finished reading the section of MOTHER OF RAIN when Maizee walks out the back door and discovers her mother dead between the lilacs and the bluebells.
“That happened to my aunt,” she said. “That very thing.”
Including the part about the chickens.
And you all thought I thunk that part of from my warped imaginations.
If fiction is any good at all, it should reflect real life.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND, a novel. (Mercer University Press).