On the Outside, Looking In

This week I’ve been busy answering a bunch of interview questions for bloggers who are hosting me as EVERY PERFECT GIFT,  the last of the Hickory Ridge books releases. One of the more prevalent questions is “How do you connect with your  main character?”

That question reminded me of a Halloween party the year I turned thirteen. We lived in a small Southern town where everybody knew everybody and kids felt safe at whatever house they they happened to visit. This party was my first “teenaged” party and I had a terrible  crush on a boy a year older than I. For weeks I obsessed about what to wear, how to wear my hair, what I would say if HE actually spoke to me.

I got to the party a little late. Everybody else was already there, seated in a tight circle around a bonfire. I ran over, looking for HIM…and there he was, his gorgeous head bent toward that of an equally gorgeous girl. They might as well have been on another planet for all the attention they paid me. Or anyone else. Soon I saw that  the whole group was playing a version of spin the bottle in which the girls spun the bottle and walked around the outside of the house with whichever boy the bottle landed on. I didn’t care about taking part, since clearly HE was already taken,  but I desperately wanted to be invited into the circle. It never happened, and after a while I went home, feeling miserable and invisible. Those were the feelings I drew upon in writing my character, Sophie Caldwell, who grew up an orphan hiding a secret about her heritage.Feeling that she is somehow inferior and unworthy.

As writers we often find ourselves on the outside looking in–someone else’s book wins a prize, or is optioned for a movie, or makes the NYT list while we stand with our noses pressed to the glass, wondering why our struggle is so difficult. I don’t have an answer.  But as I was revising my new book the other day, I realized that sometimes disappointments return to us as blessings, if we are patient.

Have you ever felt like an outsider looking in? How have you handled it? What have you learned from it?