February 9th is Cecelia’s birthday! Woo hoo! To celebrate, I thought I’d write a little bit about Cici–her character and what it was like writing her in the Shift Series.
I said in Cecelia’s character study that she came to me almost fully formed–no exploratory writing required–and that’s pretty darn true. On the surface, I knew more about Cecelia than I did about Leah when I first started writing SHIFT. I knew Leah’s aunt lived rurally, in the deserts of the Southwest United States (though it took some searching to figure out what town she called home.) I knew she had shoulder length, gray, wavy hair from the moment I put my fingers on the keyboard. I knew she liked to wear big earrings and flowy skirts, and was, in Leah’s opinion, a little eccentric. As I get older, I’m not sure if Cecelia is really all that “eccentric” but she is certainly self-possessed, self-aware, and very powerful–as a shifter, but more importantly, as a person.
So I knew Cecelia individually pretty well from the start. It wasn’t until I started writing RECAST, however, that I realized her role within the larger world of the shifters. And it wasn’t until I started writing DRIFT that some of Cecelia’s past was revealed to me.
This is something I’ve alluded to before, but I’ll say it outright here: Characters show me things while I write. Often, I don’t have any say in what those things are, or how they come. Sometimes what a character shows me makes sense, other times it catches me by surprise.
**WARNING: Spoiler alert! If you have not read all of the Shift Series and do not wish to have a few very pivotal plot/character points spoiled, STOP READING NOW! You have been warned.**
Cecelia having had a link made sense. It made me go “huh,” at first, but then it felt like “of course she did. That’s why she knew what was doing between Leah and Drake from the very beginning of their relationship in SHIFT.”
The details of her link with Felix, who he was, and their story together, was a bigger surprise. In fact, I’ll write more about that next week because Cecelia and Felix’s relationship deserves a post of its own.
But Cecelia’s death: that wasn’t just a surprise–it was a shock.
When I started writing the scene where Cici dies, I didn’t even know what was going on. All I knew was that Leah was sick. I thought maybe she was sick because she hadn’t shifted back to her native self in so long, or maybe she was having one hell of a panic attack. But then this happened:
‘Leah, you need to calm down,’ came Cecelia’s voice again, commanding, but strained and weak. Behind it, there was still that beeping, quiet, in a slow, easy rhythm.
‘I can’t,’ a smaller voice whimpered.
‘You can. If you don’t this will be so much worse.’ Beep. Beep. Beep.
That got me a little nervous. But I told myself, no way, and kept writing…
I was letting Cecelia down.
A reverberating, screaming pain rang through my whole body and I went screaming with it.
I knew that screaming pain was the result of Leah having thought her aunt’s name. But still, I tried to convince myself it wasn’t true. You have got to be kidding me. No way. Could it be something else? I kept writing…
Everything stopped. Thought. Breath. Feeling. There was nothing but this cold blaze. I was falling forever, and I was rocketing upward at the same time.
I knew that was the moment–there was no going back now. Then…
It was Cecelia’s heat that was leaving me. It was tearing out of my skin, out of my chest, leaving me freezing and gasping, burning me with the speed.
“Cecelia. CECELIA!” The screams turned to words. They were my words. I was screaming. “No! NO! Nooo! Not her! Not her! God, NO!”
I only recognized the effort, the scramble of activity around me when it suddenly stopped. “Oh lord…” came one velvet-smooth voice, from above me.
Gabriel’s reaction–that velvet-smooth voice–was mine. ”Oh lord.” But I couldn’t stop. I think I wrote that scene in one long sitting, because it was so vivid and consuming, but once I caught wind of what was happening, I knew I wouldn’t want to go back to that place, so I just wrote straight through. It ended up a little manic, in a way, because of it. When I read the scene now, it feels odd, but I think it’s right that way. Leah is so confused, then scared, then in agony–physical and emotional. She isn’t thinking in long sentences–she’s thinking in cropped snippets, distracted, and coming fast, always trying to catch up to what’s happening because she doesn’t really understand what’s happening. If the world could stop, she would have time to figure it out–she’s not far off from the knowledge–but the world doesn’t stop. It doesn’t give her time to catch her breath until it’s over.
From the moment it happened, things I’d already written took on new meaning: Suddenly, the headache Cici had near the beginning of RECAST was something altogether different; the phone calls she’d taken during SHIFT had a new context. And that scene that had niggled at me while I wrote it–Leah saying goodbye to Cecelia before she and the others started their road trip to Berkeley–that niggling suddenly made so much sense: That was the last time Leah would ever see her aunt.
And I was relieved to suddenly know why Leah could hear Cici’s voice in her head throughout DRIFT: As Cecelia slipped in and out of consciousness in the final days before passing away, her connection to Leah (combined with her subtle psychic-intuitiveness) created a pathway between them. It had been bugging me until that point, not understanding what Leah was experiencing and why.
Anyway, that was a really long way of saying that Cecelia’s death was like taking a baseball bat to the gut. I wasn’t expecting it, I didn’t like it, but when it was all said and done, I knew it was right. I don’t like the idea of using a character’s death to catapult a story forward, and I don’t think that’s what I did in this case. At least, it doesn’t feel that way to me. If nothing else, I’d make the same “decision” again if given the chance–mainly because I was pretty much not given a choice. Cici died. Her story stopped. There wasn’t anything else to write. If I’d tried to delete that scene, nothing that came after it would have been genuine. But, man, that doesn’t mean I don’t miss her. I immediately started wondering what her last days were like for her, writing those scenes so I could understand them, but with no way to put them in any book. One day maybe I’ll post them, or maybe they’ll find their way into a side project somehow.
In the meantime, I hope you’ve forgiven me for Cecelia’s death; I know it caught many of you as off guard as it did me. Cecelia is, in many ways, the woman I hope I can be when I’m in my 50s and onward. She’s caring, without being a push-over. She’s strong and commands respect without being abrasive. I love writing her, and being in her head. Hopefully I’ll have some of that Cici’s-point-of-view writing to share with you all soon. But, until then, I hope you can go back and read Cecelia with new-found love and understanding.
Happy Birthday, Cecelia Brayton!