Characters on the Couch: A New Project & My First Guinea Pig

Greetings, fellow writers, readers, and blog followers! I bet you’re surprised to see something from me pop up in your reader windows, and all I can say is that I hope you’re happy to see me there.

First, my very big exciting news:  my dream of becoming a published author is finally coming true. I’ve signed with Samhain Publishing, and my editor is the amazing Holly Atkinson. We’ve just been through the entire round of edits for my first book The Mountain’s Shadow, which will be coming out October 15. Here’s the cover:

Pretty sweet, huh? The whole editorial process has been relatively painless and even kind of fun. Holly recently offered me a contract for the sequel, which means I’m now an author on deadline since I need to have it finished and back to her by the end of August.

The other big news is that rather than just promote my book by constantly tweeting and Facebooking about it, I’ve decided to work on some good karma with my writing communities and start a series called Characters on the Couch. Once a week (if I get sufficient interest), I’ll answer psychological questions about characters that writers might be having trouble with. I have to give credit for the idea to Cheryl Hart of the Five for Fiction blog. She asked at one Georgia Romance Writers meeting if I could help her with a character since I’m a licensed and practicing psychologist. She later posed the following question:

Harper is in her mid to late 20s. Her mother died when Harper was 9. After her mother’s death, Harper’s father turned to alcohol and became bitter and verbally/emotionally abusive to Harper through the years. Harper stayed with her father—even after she was old enough to move out on her own—because she felt he wasn’t able to care for himself. They led a nomadic lifestyle—due to his inability to keep a job for long. (odd jobs, maintenance, construction, etc.) Harper grew up with very little – so doesn’t care much about material things.

The story opens at her father’s memorial service. He died as a result of his alcohol abuse. Harper finally feels free – but yearns to be content. She feels something in her life is missing. She ends up going back to Georgia – where her grandfather lives. The only ‘constant’ in Harper’s life is her maternal grandfather (the wise mentor in my story.) He’s kind, fair, and believes in her. She only wants to stay for the summer because everybody knows everybody else’s business in the small country town and she feels she could never ‘reinvent’ herself there. She plans to move to a big city where nobody knows her past, where she can’t reinvent herself, and be self-sufficient. (Culinary school.) 

Would you please give your input on any personality traits you think she might have with her kind of upbringing? Goals/desires? Strengths/Faults? Is there anything in my notes that sounds offbeat? 

This was great fodder for me because Cheryl gave me just enough background and information to get a good sense of her character. Obviously she’s been thinking about Harper a lot. Here’s what I responded:

Your story sounds interesting, and your heroine is fascinating. There’s nothing like losing a parent at an early age to (reason omitted per Cheryl’s request) to mess with someone’s head. Then, to grow up with an abusive alcoholic — wow! Yeah, she’s got some stuff to overcome.

What I’ve noticed with my patients who are adult children of alcoholics is that they tend to be hyper-responsible. They also have trouble with intimate/romantic relationships, often finding that they want more than the other person can give and end up taking care of the other person. They also stuff their emotions because they were never given the freedom to express them, and so it’s really really hard for them to confront other people.

Your heroine’s goal to go to culinary school makes sense because it’s a way for her to take care of others in a nonthreatening way. Maybe she does or doesn’t want to move to the city, although I can see the appeal for her because it would be a fresh start and a way to get away from the stigma of being the alcoholic’s kid.Your heroine’s strengths, which can also be weaknesses, might be organization to the point of being very distressed when something is out of sorts, helpfulness, and selfless giving to the point of exhaustion. She’s the guest who’s jumping up to do the dishes at the end of a dinner party in her honor. She’s also likely hyper-sensitive to the emotional states of others and may misinterpret intense emotional expression, even positive emotion, as threatening. She’s going to be looking for stability and security and will likely feel that she’s solely responsible for creating it. When she doesn’t, or if it’s harder than she thinks it should be, she might feel like a failure. She may also shy away from taking risks.

Some resources:

Adult children of alcoholics:
http://www.adultchildren.org/

Characteristics of adult children of alcoholics:
http://voices.yahoo.com/adult-children-alcoholics-acoa-13-characteristics-5654488.html

So there you go. Do you have a character who just won’t let you figure him or her out? Do you need to send that person, animal, magical creature, etc. to a professional? There’s room on my couch. In order to submit a question to Characters on the Couch, please email me at cecilia at ceciliadominic dot com (no spaces, use @ and . rather than at and dot) with the subject line “Character needing your couch.” All I ask in return is that you consider helping a fellow author out by liking my Facebook page, following me on Twitter, and/or interviewing me or allowing me to guest post on your blog sometime around one of my book releases. Or, if none of the above appeal to you, perhaps pay it forward by helping out a fellow writer through your area of expertise.

12 Comments

  1. Hi Cecilia. I found this post from the comment you entered on my now archived blog A WRITERS EDGE – unfortunately Blogger won't display it for others to enjoy. I had no idea who Random Oenophile on Twitter was! Glad to have the confusion cleared and discover that another sister psych is having success with her fiction. Tweet me @GLHancock about this project & I'll give you some buzz!

    Georganna Hancock
    writers-edge.info

  2. What a fantastic idea! I'm working on a character for a sequel to one of my books. Maybe I will send her to your couch. lol. I can't wait to read more about Harper.
    On another subject…I love the cover art for Mountain's Shadow. 🙂

  3. Hi, J.M.!

    Yes, please send your character on over. 🙂 I'm looking forward to reading more about Harper, too.

    Thanks for the compliment on the cover! I really wanted that artist to do it, so I'm very excited the publisher picked her.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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