The character is a gay teen in the 1980s who moves to the Castro District of San Francisco and experiences the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. He's brought a book title with him, an incredibly strong voice, a compulsion to tell his story and even a plot structure. He's also brought an in-your-face challenge: "Are you, Cindy, willing to learn what you need to learn to tell my story? Are you willing to really get to know me and my world?" And I don't know the answer.
He was so insistent that I pulled my car over to the side of the road while I was driving back from this writing retreat and wrote 500 words in his voice, 500 words that appears to be the opening of a YA novel. Then, when I got home, I started a Scrivener file for this project. If you know anything about Scrivener, you know that step represents a certain level of commitment. I even started an outline.
It's clear this kid has pull, this kid who won't tell me his real name but simply says "Call me Ishmael." This kid who believes the story of the fight against AIDS is the gay community's epic struggle, on a par with GILGAMESH or the ILIAD, or MOBY DICK.
I remember the AIDS epidemic. I know this kid's big feelings about that epidemic come from a deep place inside me and from my own experience and my conviction that this story needs to be told for a YA audience. It's a part of history that isn't making it into the history books young adults encounter. But my experience was not as deep as this kid's. I was more of an outsider, a straight woman in the theater community with gay friends and relatives who died. I've tried telling the story from a POV character closer to me. It's not working. Then along comes this kid saying, "Hey! This is my story, damn it! You need to tell it my way." What am I supposed to do with this?
Perhaps this is a time to apply my own advice from one of my recent posts and say "Yes, and ..."
Have you ever had a character grab you with this level of insistence, a character whose story you feel you have no right to tell, might not even be able to tell, but the character has other ideas?