In both my next two novels, the work in progress, Empress & Soldier, and the planned last book of my series, Empire’s Passing, death and grief play an important role. In Empress & Soldier deaths transform my central characters in different ways. For both, deaths are the pivots that change the directions of their lives. One grieves in ways he cannot articulate (he may not even realize he is grieving); one is forced by circumstance to pick up the pieces of a shattered life far too soon.
The personal relationships of the characters of my Empire’s Legacy series have always been a metaphor, or a reflection, of the political relationships among their countries, their creation of an unusual ‘found family’ and the depth and expression of love among them echoes their work towards understanding and cooperation among their nations. The loss, in Empire’s Passing, of two of these central characters, deeply loved, deeply grieved, will also reflect the fragility of the political alliance; both families and political unions can be strengthened or destroyed by catastrophic events.
I am 64 years old. In my life death has, of course, touched mine. But not yet the deep, life-changing grief of losing life partners that my characters will experience. My parents died at 93 and 99: I mourned them, miss them still, but life didn’t change in any significant way. My brother’s too-early death came closer, hit harder, but I wasn’t left to find a way forward alone.
So I turned to others accounts: CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Personal accounts, too: friends, family – not interviews, but remembering what they said or described. Listening, squirreling away words and concepts, as writers do.
I know what my characters do, in response to their losses. The challenge is entwining the feelings, the mental response, the confusion and darkness and irrationality with their actions in a way that is plausible and to some extent explanatory. Grief is universal but intensely personal, and in what I am attempting I am conscious I am not writing from lived experience, but from research, imagination, and empathy. Will my characters, who live only on the page and in a world that has never existed, express their pain and grief and love in ways that speak to readers? I will find out in time, I suppose.
Featured Image: Stele of Titus Fuficius in Split Archaeological Museum, Split, Croatia
2 thoughts on “Research, Imagination, Empathy”
Curious: did you ever read A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken (assuming I spelled his name correctly, which I probably didn’t since it looks wrong, but it’s been too long since I saw it to remember how)?
I haven’t read it; you spelled his name correctly, and I will now look for it. Thank so much!
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