Revising Leah

June 20, 2008

Leah’s Genealogy

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:48 pm
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Working on this novel and once again spending time with its main character, Leah Nells, has gotten me thinking a lot about the genesis of that character and her story. I wrote the original draft of Leah when I was in college (which probably explains a lot about why the 1996 edition of the novel didn’t turn out so well), but the main character herself was created when I was still in high school. Back then, I was writing stories all the time, often at the cost of my schoolwork. I’m not sure when, exactly, I created Leah Nells, but it was probably when I was in the 12th grade.

Leah Nells emerged as a composite of three individuals, both real and fictional:

  1. Myself. All of my main characters are extensions of me or some aspect of my personality — and I suppose most writers would say the same thing about their own character creations. I’ve always been an introverted person. I’m not really shy — I’ll talk to people when I need to — but like Melville’s Bartleby, I would prefer not to. Perhaps one reason why I really like Leah as a character is because it is one of the few times, in all of the stories that I have written, that I have given full expression to my introverted personality, bringing it forth and personifying it in a story.
  2. There was a girl in my high school who was living Leah’s life about as much as a real person can. I barely knew her at all; in our four years of high school I think I only shared three classes with her, but she clearly made an impression. She was shy, had no friends from what I could tell, and was occasionally picked on by bullies. One of the classes that I shared with her was our 12th grade study hall. I usually sat in class and wrote stories while she sat and read books. For a couple of weeks, she even spent her time reading a big book of trivia questions.
  3. In the 11th grade, my English class studied American literature. One of our reading assignments was The Glass Menagerie, a play that I liked so much that during the summer after 11th grade I went to a bookstore and bought my own copy, which I still have. What I liked most about the play was the character of Laura, whose crippled leg caused her to retreat from the world and live in isolation. I found the character fascinating because I hadn’t encountered anyone like her in any other stories that I had read.

So Leah Nells is an amalgamation of these three sources. Her character first appeared on paper in a pair of short stories, one written during the 12th grade, and the other written . . . well, I’m not sure when, but certainly before I started the novel. In fact, I do know that the second story was as much a character sketch as it was a story. I was probably considering writing a novel about the character, and I used that second story as an opportunity to see if I really could pull it off. As I’ve mentioned before, Leah is a difficult character to write about because she interacts (or doesn’t interact) so differently from other characters that I’ve created. Her story arc is principally an internal one, and so the novel relies on prose narration a lot more than I would prefer.

As a writer, I always end up forming an emotional bond with my main characters, no matter who they are; they’re a part of me. I don’t have children so they’re the closest thing that I have to offspring. I feel obligated to them in a lot of ways, and that is a big reason why I am revising the novel. Since the first edition was published, I’ve felt guilty about not placing Leah in the best possible story I could write. Hopefully, the new edition will live up to my expectations.


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