One of the critiques of an early draft of BEGUILED, offered by screenwriter Lem Dobbs (my nephew Lem Kitaj) was that Miriam, my protagonist, was not a sympathetic enough character to take center stage. I took that critique very seriously, not only because Lem is a seasoned and successful writer, but also because the protagonist needs to be complex. She needs to show that she can learn from her experience, that she can let new information enter her awareness. I’ve worked hard to craft her personality and life trajectory in such a way that anyone could identify with her.
The story evolved into one that could be called a “coming of age” tale. Miriam enters our awareness in Chapter One, having left her abusive husband, carrying her 2-year old son, and returning to the stultifying atmosphere of her parents’ unhappy marriage and her grieving mother’s constant criticism of her only daughter. It’s the end of a disastrous chapter of her life.
In subsequent chapters, we get to know the child Miriam, who revels in the attention of her beloved pop, but who constantly has to be on guard, lest her mother shatter her dreams, her self-esteem, her mood. I grappled with the idea of creating a character with a toxic mother, as this is so overplayed in psychological literature (I’m a psychotherapist) and in fiction. But, since the muse for this story was the life my mother could have had, if she’d had the gumption, I wanted to stay true to the stories I’d heard about my maternal grandmother, Rose Brooks. I knew nothing about this grandmother’s history, but surmised that since she came to America to escape the pogroms in Russia, that some of the things that Miriam’s mother later divulges did, indeed, happen to Grandma Rose.
So, how to build a sympathetic character in Miriam? I wanted the reader to truly understand and accept her choices, even though some were unconventional and frowned upon, even now, let alone in 1920.I wanted to convey her strengths as well as her need for attention, her self-absorption. But, I also wanted to demonstrate how she matured as a mother, daughter, friend, and lover. I strove to show how Miriam was ahead of her time, yet a product of her time. How her dilemmas were modern, nevertheless, and that any woman faced with her choices would have similar ambivalence, guilt, and exhilaration.
I hope you’ll tell me how successful I was, once you read BEGUILED. And I’d love to have you Comment here and review on Amazon and Goodreads.