The definition of Yearning is, “a deep longing, especially accompanied by tenderness or sadness.” It is a thing beyond wanting, and even hope. Think of the crying voice of Bill Medley in “Unchained Melody,” or Martin Luther King Junior’s pleading voice when he begged America to realize his dream…it’s a desire, a knowing, and a far away dream that the one who longs for it will never fully convey to anything outside his own skin. It is relentless, and cannot be created,and often exists in pure spite of logic.
I’ve been working on my latest writing project for about four months now, and today I started pondering where these characters come from; a question I’m often asked in regards to my writing. Even though I’ve always had answers to this question, that usually pertain more to the development of the characters as to the origin, I never actually stopped to consider where the actually come from. The real answer…they are just there. I never sit down with a pen in hand with the goal of brainstorming new ideas. I blushingly admit this, because I probably should do writing exercises more to grow ideas. The truth is, I promise with all pretensions aside, that these characters have always been with me to some degree. Many of them, first appeared in glimpses in childhood. They are almost manifestations of different facets of my own personality. The common thread? They yearn.
At first glimpse it doesn’t seem like I have all that much in common with my protagonists. The main character in my first novel is a meek, 6-year-old, 19th century southern aristocrat from Brunswick, Georgia. The lead in my latest book-in- the-works is a poor, 12-year-old white boy growing in the black blues bars of Charleston. What do I, besides living in the south, have in common with these characters. The truth is I’m a typical suburban-grown, chain store-shopping, prissy once-upon-a- time cheerleader, technological-age product of modern America. I’m not a damaged soul trapped in a world of tyranny I can’t escape from (though I tried my damndest to be when I was younger). However, the thing I have in common with these characters is that we are all yearners. Emmaline Randall, from my first book, yearns to find her autistic sister who has been whisked away to a sanitarium. Unbeknownst to her, the person she really finds on her journey is the person she is destined to become. Grant Tilley, from my current project, yearns to become a legendary blues musician, battling all the greats around the era in America that gave birth to rock n’ roll. Both characters not only want, but need the thing they hurt for. They yearn, just like anyone who knows passion has experienced. When I write their journeys I yearn, and what comes out of me becomes them. They have been with me always. The details of their lives are different, but with those details stripped away, are souls drawn in the same likeness…mine.
I’ve said it a thousand times. I wish I knew the feeling of contentment a lot of times. However, I don’t know if I could handle not being able to squirm. I’m never happier than when the hook is looped crudely through the middle of my stomach. That feeling reminds me that even if I never publish, and only write to an audience of crickets I have known a thrilling hunger that keeps my heart pounding. The adrenaline alone is worth it.
I write what I know…and I write about hungry, bat shit crazy southerners that are half a step from letting the ordinary take them over from simple mental exhaustion. The only things that keep them alive are the things they can’t sling off their bodies if they try…the things they cannot help but to yearn for. They, like me, wear them like a bright scarlet “A” front and center, proudly, yearning everlong for the source that distributed them.