In my dream, I walked into the snack bar of the student union of my alma mater. Daniel, the hero of my first novel, sat at one of the tables. He melted me with a sexy megawatt smile and purred, "Hello, Penn."
The awake part of me cringed--Penn was the heroine's name--and muttered, "You're going over the edge, Byerly. Writing IS a form of schizophrenia."
"Uh..., hello, Daniel." I sat down beside him and decided, to heck with mental illness, I was going to enjoy myself.
Even after many years, that dream remains vivid. It was my first encounter with the gray shadings between fantasy and reality in a writer's life. I know the difference between the two, every writer must. I've also learned their interplay enriches my characters and my life.
Parts of me litter my novels like confetti at a party--Tony Chaucer wore the ratty man's bathrobe I refused to stop wearing, Ariel at five snuggled with my teddy bear, and David had my vermouth dry sense of humor. Those parts help my characters live.
But each character is more than just chucks of me. They have thoughts and wisdom I've never had.
I've borrowed Daniel's genius for quick puns and dear Nelson's serene wisdom and faith when my own was sadly lacking. In this manner, my characters have given back as much as I've given them. Almost like real friends.
Are you wondering what happened in that dream about sexy Daniel? We sat and discussed his own college days. You see, fantasy like reality doesn't always have the expected ending.