Divorcing your characters

by Pari

Why do relationships end? Are there fundamental disasters sown in the first rites of spring? Do we crack the foundation with expectations before laying the first brick? And does any of the endless analysis and questioning result in better future relationships?

Hell if I know.

What I do know is that I’ve had a long-term relationship with Sasha Solomon*, my main character in my published mystery series, and it has been severely tested in the last five years. The most recent test came with the first volley in my husband’s proposed property settlement. He wants “One half of the community interest in the literary Copyrights of Pari Noskin Tachiert” (Yes, the typo was there; it added a little insult to the whole endeavor.)

When I read those words, I thought, “Okay, then, I’ll just never do anything with Sasha again.”

After that initial infantile reaction, I started looking deeper. That’s one of the dangers of being introspective and not particularly interested laying blame at other people’s feet. Though I could sense the intent behind the request, the stab at my self-identity, the stink of malice, in the end did it really matter?

Is my 17-year relationship with this character so shallow I’m willing to end it over someone else’s actions? And who would I be hurting if I did? The deeper I went, the more questions I had.

How much of our relationship — Sasha’s and mine — sits on shaky ground? How much has been in reaction to
*  The people who said I’d never get published?
*  The limits of being with a university press and trying to “break into the big time?”
*  My desire to be unique, interesting?
*  My insecurities and worries about self-worth?

I also wondered about how easily I could get thrown off track. Do I still love Sasha or have I just been using her for years? Have I been holding on to her because I was scared to let her go?

Deeper and deeper I’ve gone.  Why I haven’t written creatively in nearly 8 months? Is it really because I’m letting my wounded creativity heal quietly, to hibernate, until I can embrace it with the love of a true friend? Or is it because I’ve wanted to hoard it in, to hold it close, because I don’t want my husband try to possess any of it?

Wow. Is that weird or what? It feels so petty. And, frankly, a bit stupid. The only one getting hurt in this is me . . . and Sasha . . . and, maybe, readers who still want more of her stories.

Do other writers have these kinds of literary existential crises? I sure hope so.

So my main questions for today are these:

Readers & Writers:  Have you ever been faced with this introspective questioning?
What did you discover?

Writers: Did you ever divorce a long-term character you created?
Or were you able to get literary marriage counseling?

* the website referenced above was created by B.G. Ritts as a kindness years ago . . .

10 thoughts on “Divorcing your characters

  1. thelma straw

    No, I have not gotten to the point you discuss here, but I have such a bond with some of my characters they are as real to me as real people – maybe more so. They know me and I know them and feel how they feel, think how they think. This is a wonderful state to have with people, who lead more dramatic lives than I do and have deep thoughts and complex feelings. I kinda feel sorry for people who write their characters with a lighter touch and toss them off like old paperbacks! Thelma Straw, MWA-NY

  2. Pari Noskin

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I wonder if the experience is different for series writers as opposed to others who write one book with particular characters and then move on to the next?

  3. Sarah W

    There's nothing stupid or petty about self-protection or hibernation, Pari, and no reason why this can't be both. Sasha will be there when it's time—and if she decides to retire, I'm sure she'll give you a glowing reference when your next characters do a background check.

    (sorry, the metaphor got away from me . . . but please never feel bad about taking care of any part of yourself)

  4. Pari Noskin

    What a kind comment. Thank you. I'm doing just fine. Don't know how Sasha is right now, but suspect she's on a beach somewhere enjoying the break.

  5. PD Martin

    Hi Pari. I haven't written a Sophie book for about two years now. And after writing her consistently (and only her) for 5-6 years, it does feel a little strange. But I guess it feels more like I haven't caught up with an old friend for a while, rather than the finality of divorce. One of these days I might come back to her. There's nothing to say you can't leave Sasha for the next book, or even the next few books, and then come back to her one day.

    Also, I don't know what the US laws are like, but your ex should only have claim on the work you wrote while you were in the marriage. So if you start a new book now (Sasha or another character) he shouldn't get any % of the copyright.


  6. Fran

    It seems to me, Pari, that Sasha is more a child of yours than a creation you can divorce. You may want to limit your interaction with a character over time, but there's always a part of you there. And I don't think your reaction to your ex's insistence on having part of Sasha is unrealistic. He's asking for "custody" of your baby; I'd be livid.

    I hope we see more of Sasha in the future. I really like her. But if not, I'm pleased to have met her!

  7. Jake Nantz

    Pari, it sounds like your husband is doing whatever he can to get under your skin, and he knows going after Sasha will do it. Kind of an asshole thing to do. If you need, I might know a couple'a guys with lead pipes and a bicycle chain….just sayin'.

  8. Pari Noskin

    I like you're perspective on Sophie.

    I've actually written the remainder of the first draft of the next Sasha book but haven't edited it. I liked being with Sasha. But I'm holding off on more work b/c of the copyright issues. The other three Sasha books were written & published while we were married . . . and, technically, we still are.

    I think you've got a point about Sasha as a kind of child. I hadn't thought about her that way, but it's more accurate. And I don't think I'm done with her yet. It also explains my visceral reaction to my husband's request and his feeling like he has a right to it though he never cared for the child herself. Oh, man, I could really go wild with this analogy. There's a lot to think about . . .

    Yeah, it's definitely designed to get under my skin. Fortunately, most of his other comments/requests are in the reasonable range. I'll just be relieved when it's settled.

    I also appreciate the offer. Who knows? I might take you up on it <g>.

  9. Kate Gallison

    Lawyers foment this kind of thing. Mine advised me not to have any work published while I was still married to The Beast. (Like the publishers were beating down my door.) Fortunately Sasha is not an actual child, and the three of you won't have to be dragged into family court. What the divorce lawyers do, or what they did forty years ago, is to propose some perfectly outrageous demand in the settlement so they can make a concession of it in return for some concession from you. Your lawyer will advise you in this matter. Sasha is your own, of course. She will never say to you, "I want to live with dad."

  10. Reine

    Oh, Pari… xoxo. Me, introspective? No, although people think I am. I search for solutions more than reasons. My solution might have been to say, "no." I hope your self-searching settles down a little so that you can relax and enjoy what's out there– whatever that is for you. As far as writing goes, I've enjoyed your books. I will always enjoy your writing, with or without Sasha.

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