I think writers have to love all their characters at least a little—even the villains. But we love them in different ways. For example, there’s the title character in my novel Brute. He’s big, he’s ugly, he’s uneducated, but he’s brave and loyal and stubborn and sweet. I loved him from the very start, and so do most readers. We want to wrap him up and give him hugs. Or there’s Drew in Speechless. Rendered mute in an accident, he fights so hard for his dignity and independence. How could we not admire him? We want to talk to him, to tell him how well we understand him even without words.
But it was a different story with the characters in my newest novel, The Tin Box. At the beginning of the book, I’m afraid William Lyon is not terribly lovable. He’s uptight, rigid, and not very friendly. In the middle of a divorce and working on his dissertation, he appears perfectly content to take a solitary job as caretaker of a former mental hospital. As it turns out, he has good reasons for being like this, and as the story progresses he begins to loosen up. I slowly warmed up to him as I understood his pain and realized what a struggle it was for him to change. I love him for his courage.
Then there’s Colby Anderson, who works at the nearby general store/post office. Colby’s a ray of sunshine—bouncy, sparkly, joking. He’s pretty to look at and undeniably a lot of fun, but it would be easy to dismiss him as shallow. He’s not, though. As William gets to know Colby, so do we, and we find out he has some surprising depth. I love him for his big heart, even when his own life has had plenty of sadness.
And finally, there’s Bill. We know him only through a series of letters he wrote his lover in the 1930s, when Bill was committed to the hospital for being gay. William discovered those letters hidden in a tin box. Bill is steadfast and true, and he ripped my heart to little pieces. I love him for the message he sent across decades.
When I finished writing The Tin Box I was depressed for days. It took me a while to realize why—it was because I missed William, Colby, and Bill. As much as I love all my characters, I think I might love these three the best. I hope you decide to read about them, and you fall in love with them too.
The Tin Box is available from all booksellers, including Amazon and Dreamspinner Press.
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William Lyon’s past forced him to become someone he isn’t. Conflicted and unable to maintain the charade, he separates from his wife and takes a job as caretaker at a former mental hospital. Jelley’s Valley State Insane Asylum was the largest mental hospital in California for well over a century, but it now stands empty. William thinks the decrepit institution is the perfect place to finish his dissertation and wait for his divorce to become final. In town, William meets Colby Anderson, who minds the local store and post office. Unlike William, Colby is cute, upbeat, and flamboyantly out. Although initially put off by Colby’s mannerisms, William comes to value their new friendship, and even accepts Colby’s offer to ease him into the world of gay sex.
William’s self-image begins to change when he discovers a tin box, hidden in an asylum wall since the 1940s. It contains letters secretly written by Bill, a patient who was sent to the asylum for being homosexual. The letters hit close to home, and William comes to care about Bill and his fate. With Colby’s help, he hopes the words written seventy years ago will give him courage to be his true self.