As some of you know, I’ve completed another novel, The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Up, that features Tillie, also the main character in Freefall: A Divine Comedy, the last novel I published. I thought I was finished with Tillie, the main character, but I’m not. Her life has become inextricably intertwined with my own, and I can’t turn my back on her, a family member now. Not only have I created her, but she’s creating me.
Tillie, who starts out as a spunky, confused young woman, was born in Canada and is seeking her identity in both the United States and her home country. Homeless at fifteen, she leaves Calgary with not much more than what she’s wearing. She travels light, trying to find her place in the world, but her childhood shadows her. Though she becomes street wise, she keeps a certain innocence.
Tillie resembles me in some ways. A few details of my young self served as seeds for both Freefall and A Ripening that I’ve fleshed out in these novels. Like Tillie, I also left home at fifteen, not out of choice but from necessity. And in my late teens, I traveled to Toronto, seeking adventure and chasing the rock and roll scene. Later, I moved to San Francisco, though I was twenty-three when I arrived with my son, unlike Tillie who was eighteen.
But unlike Tillie, I kept the child of my first pregnancy, a boy I gave birth to after turning seventeen. Having a child to financially support and care for rescued me from what may have been a life lost to drugs, sex, and all the Sixties’ excesses. A single parent with no support from my son’s father, I had to be somewhat responsible. I couldn’t just flake out.
Tillie didn’t have this anchor, and at the end of The Ripening, she must descend into herself before she can get on with her life—before she can have a life—as suggested by the basement dream that closes the novel. Over the years, I, myself, have made many such descents through therapy and other mediums. And much later in life, I find that those plunges are still necessary. I must keep facing my depths and embracing my fears to continue the quest for my deeper self. I must continue growing since “growing up” isn’t an end state. If we’re truly vital, it’s something we do all of our lives, coming to age as well as coming of age.
And so with Tillie as my partner, my fictional sister, I continue to go back, to investigate what has contributed to the self I’ve become, so I can go forward.