“Here in Rehab” is a slightly changed essay that originally appeared in the blog susansbooks37.wordpress.com. The web site belongs to Susan Finlay, mystery writer and friend, who has given me permission to reprint the essay here. Her books are In the Shadows: an Outsiders Mystery and Where Secrets Reside: an Outsiders Mystery. Expect sequels soon.
I wrote the essay before beginning the second and third novellas, Always On Thursdays and Recesses of the Mind, in the recently published collection Scoville.
Here in Rehab
By Marlene Lee
I’m rehabilitating a character I created thirty years ago.
My editor likes the mystery novella, Three Blind Mice, I once wrote in which the character Detective Scoville appears. He’s asked me to write two more novellas about the detective to fill out a collection.
I find myself reading and re-reading the novella to even remember Scoville, not to mention the world he inhabits, which is the Southern Oregon coast where I haven’t lived in thirty years.
I explore each old sentence for weather, sights, habits, and something illusive: you could call it simply the times.
Bringing an old, almost forgotten character to life is like reupholstering an heirloom chair discovered in the attic. It will take time, be expensive, run the risk of looking lumpy, and perhaps the new fabric will look silly with the antique frame.
But then again, it may turn out to be the chair that everyone loves and wants to sit in. In any case, Detective Scoville must be brought back to life. I can’t remember why he once interested me so. The story he appeared in has almost faded from my mind. How can I feel the urgency for him that I once felt?
Not by listing his characteristics and appearance. I’ve read “how to write character” advice: make a list of qualities, experiences, traits of the imagined person.
No, he has to settle into that pit of longing, lyrical joy, self-doubt, pleasure, regret that is my—and I apologize that it’s not a brighter picture—self. Detective Scoville must seep into the self that is my current self. I must develop a contemporary relationship with him. Yet he’s required to be the same age he was thirty years ago because the plan is for the three novellas in the collection Scoville to take place within the same time period.
Here is the difficulty: Scoville can live through thirty years without getting older, but I can’t.
When I first wrote him, he was older than I. Now I’m older than he is. So I must make myself thirty years younger.
It’s not Scoville who has to change. It’s me. What I’ve written so far in Always On Thursdays and Recesses of the Mind sounds okay. The language is working. But have I recaptured Detective Scoville?
I’m not sure yet. I need a little more time here in rehab.