Imagination's Incubator

I gave birth this year.

I am fifty-six years old, yet I produced not one, not two, but over twenty human beings.

And a dog.

The extended labor was intensive and, from my perspective, the births were nothing short of miraculous. 

Just as Athena sprang forth in full armor from Zeus’ head, the people of my clan clawed their way from my mind and onto the computer screen, emerging as adults who had gestated in the womb of my brain for many months.

Some of these children are older than I am. Some of them are more fully developed than their counterparts. Some are more difficult to love than their siblings. And spoiler alert: some have already passed through my world and departed.


A friend asked me what it was like to create characters. Do I feel as if I know them? she asked. Are they based on real people?

I’ll admit I had given little thought to the process until she posed the question. Like a teenage tryst in the backseat of a Chevy, it just happened. Characters who hadn’t existed before were suddenly alive in my imagination, taking shape and adding layers of flesh and personality with each passing day.

I focused on them a lot—still do. When I go to bed at night, they sometimes keep me awake with their conversations, their problems, their dreams. As I drive to the store, they confide their deepest desires. It’s somewhat akin to being diagnosed with dissociative disorder, I suspect, except that I am never engulfed. They are with me, but they are not me.

And that brings me to the second question: Are they based on real people?

To a degree, I suppose they must be. How could I create human beings, even fictional ones, without knowing and internalizing human qualities from people in the real world? 

Callie Cassidy, the protagonist of my Rock Creek Village Mystery series, shares a few traits with her creator. Her idealism sometimes results in despair, and she occasionally struggles with impatience (all right, more than occasionally). Sometimes when Callie speaks (especially when she is being sarcastic), I hear my voice. But the similarities between us are less obvious than the differences. Callie proceeds more boldly than I do, and she makes choices I would never even consider. She is as unique as each of my daughters; like them, she may have initially learned how to look at the world at my knee, but I raised her to think independently and to make her own decisions.

Maggie, Callie’s mother, is about the same age as my mother was when she died, so it is understandable that traces of Mom’s quirkiness bubble into Maggie’s psyche. When Butch, Callie’s father, runs outside in the freezing winter weather to warm up her car, it’s something my father would have done. And the gentle good-naturedness and smoldering good looks attributed to Sam, Callie’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, obviously evolve from my own long-suffering husband. 

So the short answer is this: if I am acquainted with you, part of you either has or will someday worm its way into one of my characters. Whether that should serve as a source of anticipation or apprehension, I leave to you.


While characters incubate in my imagination, I try to remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.” I hope you’ll come to experience my Rock Creek Village children as I do: a group of flawed people who are trying the best way they know to wrest a modicum of happiness out of life. 

Some of them just find more socially acceptable—and legal—ways of doing that than others.


I can’t wait for you to meet them. 

Lori Herbst1 Comment