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The Truth Is . . . I Hear Voices
by Stephanie Lessing

Ever since my first book, She's Got Issues, got published, the first question everyone asked me was, "How do you think up your characters?" At first I lied. I said, "Um . . . I don't know, I guess they're a composite of people I've met over the years." I thought that sounded good. I've heard other authors use that line, so I figured, what the hell.

But the truth is . . . I hear voices. I can easily imagine how frightening that must sound to people who don't. That's why I typically keep that information to myself.

A while ago, I just couldn't take it anymore so I went into my bathroom with a tape recorder and put together a tape of voices that are constantly vying for attention in my head. You can't imagine the racket I live with on a daily basis. But I never complain. Mostly because I'm so grateful that my affliction never developed into the other kind of "hearing voices." Schizophrenia has got to be infinitely more distracting.

When I made my CD of voices, I started with cartoon characters and then I moved on to friends, relatives and neighbors. Before long, I had a little story going about someone who was eavesdropping on their neighbor's conversations which were accidentally being picked up on their baby monitor. The idea of me making a tape of voices started out as a joke. The next thing I knew I had a CD and my husband was playing it at parties as soon as I left the room. He's much funnier in person.

Anyway, once I got the voices on tape, one by one, they all seemed to disappear. But then, another whole crop of voices took up the little vacancy and before I knew it, I was putting them down on paper. My whole book is about people talking to each other. I take full credit for writing it but the truth is all I did was write down what other people were saying.

Chloe, the main character of She's Got Issues, came to me first. She had been rummaging around her closet looking for something to wear and quite frankly, she was talking to herself. Since it was in my head, I heard the whole thing. At first I didn't answer her. I didn't want her to clam up. I just sat there quietly listening. After a while, I couldn't help myself and started laughing at her right out loud. She had no idea. It suddenly occurred to me that I could go so far as to call her names and she couldn't hear a thing. I found this fascinating and began to will her into whatever ludicrous situation I could think of just to see how she would manage to get herself out. What I learned is that she can get out of anything simply by lying her ass off. As fate would have it, I grew to love her so much I gave her a really cute boyfriend and a ton of candy. I felt it was the least I could do after I made her push the wrong button on the elevator, get out on the wrong floor, interview for the wrong job and then get the job -- only to find herself saddled with a boss who was a dead ringer for Betty Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? except in the crack head version.

The next voice I heard was her sister's. Zoe was a pain in the ass from the beginning so I tried to ignore her as much as possible. Unfortunately the girl never stops talking. I tried to keep her quiet but she's relentless. Eventually I had to write her her own book. This was done purely out of guilt. I mean the girl is five feet two and I gave her a thirty-six DD chest and not one friend.

Chloe's boyfriend came next. The problem with Dan's voice was that it was not only in my head but in my bedroom. Dan and my husband have the same name, so I used to get those two confused like everyday. Sadly, I'm equally attracted to both of them but I only sleep with my own Dan. Any kind of sexual encounter with a figment of my imagination is just plain masturbation in my book.

Then came Courtney. Talk about a slut. She was clomping around half naked in those high heels morning, noon and night until I finally gave her the part in the book I knew she wanted -- Psychiatric Social Worker turned Make up artist/Mental Health Editor. I tried to pry out of her why anyone with a master's degree would give it all up in favor of putting lipstick all over people's germ infested lips. As it turns out, she honestly believes makeup artistry is the only true helping profession. After hearing her out, I agree -- wholeheartedly. I mean, who needs psychiatric help when you're looking your best!

And then of course there was Ruth, Chloe's boss. The one I so affectionately gave a moustache and bunions the size of fully matured testicles. Man did she mess me up. Every time I went to the kitchen with an idea of what I wanted to eat, by the time I got there, it was gone. I had no other choice but to start feeding her Chloe's lunches just to get her off my back. Oh quit whining, Chloe needed to lose a few pounds anyway. The girl was eating M&Ms and Twizzlers like they were going out of style.

Jen was more of the silent type. I really had to listen closely to hear her speak. Very repressed. Other than her fear of being an alcoholic I never really got to the bottom of what motivated her. I tried to knock back a few beers myself to get more in touch with her fear of being a drunk but then I realized what that huge wall was that she erected between us. Turns out she was a faker. No wonder our relationship never progressed beyond that of casual drinking buddies.

Rhonda, on the other hand communicated via foghorn. At first I thought she was Fran Dresher but she turned out to be, of all things, an illustrator in the art department. In the end, I gave her a huge promotion and not only because she was so good to Chloe. The truth is I believe anyone who wears a girdle deserves whatever it is they want in life.

There were others of course, but who really has time for this. Suffice to say, the next time someone asks me, "How do you make your characters seem so real?" I'll just tell them, "you really have to live with someone to get to know them."

Copyright ©  2005 Stephanie Lessing