It’s Time for New Main Characters

It’s the morning after I watched an act of insurrection play out in front of me live on Twitter, and I can’t stop thinking about Grant and Emilia. Full disclosure: they’re not real. Not in the social security, birth certificate number sense, but as real as characters in my manuscript can be. Their stories take place in Washington, D.C., an actual location with actual people, and yesterday, their home was attacked by its own citizens. And since I never know where to find shelter when things like this happen, I’m going to tell you a little story about them.

Some background on Grant. Born and raised in D.C. with his twin brother Nathaniel. Worked as an EMT until a knee injury made it too painful for him to continue. Now he chauffeurs for a senator’s daughter. Given his age, and the time period this is set, Grant would’ve been in high school on 9/11 and likely had his school shut down during the sniper attack a year later. He’s resilient, ferociously loyal, and a lot self-deprecating.

Then there’s Emilia, a transplant from North Carolina who followed a college friend to the city and aspires to be a civil rights attorney. Presently, she’s an executive assistant for a tech mogul and saving up for law school. Emilia has seven siblings. She loves to bake. She grew up sheltered, pigeonholed, a little naïve, but she’s a fierce defender of justice and there isn’t anyone she wouldn’t help.

I’ve thought about what they would’ve done on January sixth as marauders stormed the Capitol Building. Since Grant’s employer is a senator’s daughter, his first inclination would be get her to shelter and out of the downtown area. He would also be thinking about his mom, a postal worker, his brother, an accountant. Wondering if they were okay. Checking in on them. It would probably trigger memories of September 11th, when his school was evacuated and his hometown was under siege. Grant is protective of his city, which has now been invaded by outsiders looking for destruction. This would infuriate him. He would pace a lot, watch Game of Thrones as a distraction.

Emilia might have been at the downtown office near the Smithsonian, which has a clear view of the National Mall. Her first thought may have gone to Grant, panicked about where he was, concerned he was stuck in a gridlock of traffic trying to get out of the city while a mob descended. Then she would’ve worried about her roommate, Ryan and her fourth grade students. Her anger over the injustice and indignities of those raiding a federal building would overwhelm her. She’d rage internally at men in tac gear taking the spoils like trophies, faces out, fully exposed, wide smiles, taking selfies, bragging about it on social media. She would’ve wanted to lend a hand to someone, somewhere, aggrieved by the helplessness she feels. She would likely stress-bake a pan of brownies to cope.

For me, it isn’t hard to imagine these people and the microcosm of their endless universes. That’s the beauty of writing and reading. Seeing perspectives unlike your own. Wiggling your toes in someone else’s shoes. Lifting human beings out of stark text. When I immerse myself in the lives of my characters, I get to know who they are on a granular level, and in some ways, I feel like I belong where they are. Whether it’s Erie, Pennsylvania, or Chicago, Illinois, or Washington, D.C., I have a sense of respect and fealty to the places where my characters live and love and grow and flourish. Those are sacred spaces. They’re places people call home.

The world is full of Grants and Emilias, and that’s who my heart goes out to today. The drivers, the EMTs, the executive assistants. The cleaners, the hotel desk clerks, the Amazon delivery workers. People who show up every day in cities and towns all over the country and toil in relative invisibility, woven into the fabric of society. Those who beg people to wear masks at a mall store while being filmed and spit on and laughed at. Who say yes to the most demeaning and ridiculous requests. Who are just trying to get to work so they can pay rent and fund their hopes and dreams.

I write stories about average people. They won’t be profiled in The New York Times or allowed print space for op-eds. They don’t get the privilege of reaping the benefits of a country through grift and political posturing and arrogant pseudo-religious rhetoric they don’t even believe. Because average people are interesting. They’re the ones who keep the world stitched together.

I am tired of hearing stories about people who are just here to harm and degrade. I’m exhausted by the silent majority who seem to never shut up. I’m done with powerful people whining about being canceled–as told from their podcasts, and TV appearances, and six-figure book deals. And I’m furious about those who are permitted and welcomed to have a voice when others are silenced.

It’s time we find new narrators.

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