I had never felt so desperate to find my inspiration until it was time for me to incorporate the character of Leah, back in 2011. I had just launched the first book of a series of two novels. Livro de Joaquim told the male’s point of view of a love story, and now I was preparing to write about Leah and give my readers her side. As I was still working on the first book's promotion, I got stuck with Joaquim's character, trying to find Leah’s voice to no avail.
I silently started to get very worried about it. My publisher had given me an advance for both books, and I had a deadline. Graphic designers were working on both covers, and the PR had the concept of selling the books almost back to back. But I was still in love with Joaquim while I needed to fall in love with Leah. But how do you fall in love with a character?
Leah's Element: Air
Not knowing what to do, I called a friend who is a great acting coach, to ask for advice.
“I need to get away from my previous character,” I said.
“Oh honey, that is kind of impossible. He will forever live in your soul. You need to find the new one so you can suppress him.”
“Where is she? Where can you find her?”
“Oh, many places far away. She lived in Berkeley, in Hiroshima, in Saint Petersburg, in Fernando de Noronha, in New York. All around.”
“How about you go there?”
I paused for a while. Would I really have to travel in order to find my character’s voice?
“What is her nature element?”, he quizzed me.
“Air. She flies away. Joaquim is water, she is definitely air”, I assumed.
“So fly there. I am sure you will find her in the wind. But fly. Really fly, I mean it!” he said, hanging up too quickly and leaving me with one too many question marks.
Fly there? I could not afford another trip! And which of her places should I visit?
As I deepened my research about the character, I got an invitation to go back to LA and work on a script that I was shopping around. The job was underpaid, but all the costs were covered, and it was my original script. I would have to diverge a little bit from my original plan of starting to write the second book right away, but that would hopefully give me enough time to find Leah, that outsider that was escaping me. In other words, I got the chance that I wished for in order to start writing.
Broken GPS Directions: Use Your Intuition!
Once I settled in Los Angeles, working on the script, I decided to drive up to San Francisco. I hadn’t been there in ten years, even though I would constantly fly to Los Angeles. Kana, one of my best friends, invited me to stay with her. The crazy thing is that Kana and I are like soul sisters, we have a very deep connection that borders mind reading. And no matter how long we spend apart, we pick up right where we stopped.
It was very early morning when I left Los Angeles to take the monotonous Interstate 5 to San Francisco. I wasn’t worried about the trip, I just wanted to get there and reconnect with my friend and that city that represents so much to me. But my GPS failed to work halfway into the road. I had to stop and buy a map – yes, a map! It took me one extra hour to figure out the way into the Bay Area, but as soon as I got there, I stopped at the rental company to have my GPS replaced. Waiting there for me was a single flyer, just one, on top of the counter. “Hot Air Balloon Ride – the experience of a lifetime,” it said. It had the picture of rainbow-colored balloons flying over the Napa Valley area. I immediately remembered my acting coach friend saying that I would find my character Leah in the wind… up in the air!
On my way to Kana’s house, I had already made reservations for both of us to ride during the upcoming weekend, without knowing if she was afraid of heights or completely against the plan. Seeing my friend was magical, we maintained contact for all those ten years, first by letters, then email, then finally some social media that was popping up. She looked as young as when we had last seen each other, her house was a little bit bigger than in my memory, and I could retrieve images of her study, her big bedroom, the Tokyo subway map in her bathroom.
“Hey, how do you feel about riding a hot air balloon with me? I made reservations,” I just said, hoping she would embrace the idea. “I need to find my character up in the air, for my new novel,” I went on, explaining.
She smiled, “get out of here! Laurinha, this is crazy! I have a blog called hot air balloon, letting go of all the things that weight you down! I have been wanting to do this for ages, I can’t believe this!” she said, ecstatic.
I was the one who could not believe it: not only I was about to find my character, but I was reconnecting in a very deep level with one of my best friends ever. I mean, could it get any better?
Moments of that trip, a puzzle that let me to finding Leah - and rescuing my inspiration!
Yes, it could, and it would! Everything went on perfectly. The day of the ride was completely magical. We woke up very early to drive up to the Napa Valley region and board in a big basket with random people in a giant, beautiful balloon. Up we went, motion in silence, something I had never experienced. Every single flying device I had been on made a lot of noise. The balloon was different: vertical and mute. All I could hear was the atmosphere, the fire burning like a small dragon around my neck, the absolute lightness of peace that comes from above.
The wind caressed my face like God’s hand. I finally got Leah’s call right there. Up in the air. When I drove back to Los Angeles, just after three days, I was completely transformed. I could not get enough of Leah, and she demanded I do something crazier... fly to Russia!
*keep posted for my Saint Petersburg adventure