The Boy Inside The Man

Boy inside man
Susanna here.

Eight years ago, when I was writing The Firebird, I did something I’d never done in a novel before.

Firebird_finalOne of my readers, Lee Ann Ray, had written to me asking whether Robbie McMorran—an eight year old boy in The Shadowy Horses—would ever get his own story. At the time, I’d thought to myself, “But he’s only eight (or, as he would have corrected me, eight and three quarters)—too young for a book of his own.” Then I realized that he had been eight and three quarters way back when I’d written that book in the mid-1990s, which meant that in 2011 he would have been in his mid-twenties—and even older by the time I wrote a new book and it actually got published.

The more I thought about it, the more I could see how Robbie’s gift of second sight could work to bridge the past and present in the story threads that were developing for what would be The Firebird.

So I gave him a try as the modern day hero of that book.


Here’s how I described the process in an excerpt from a post I wrote for the group blog I was part of then—The Heroine Addicts:

“I didn't know if it would work, but the moment he entered the story, no longer a boy but a man, I could see just how perfect he was for the part.

I've found it fascinating, watching him develop as a character and noticing what qualities and habits he's held onto as he's grown. I tried to make him serious and quiet, but in dialogue his sense of fun and mischief still came out. And he still tips his head to the side when he's thinking, a habit I'd nearly forgotten. (In case that sounds crazy, I should explain: I "see" all my characters moving and talking as though I were watching a film, while I'm writing — the gift of an active subconscious…)”

Well, this past weekend, it happened again, only backwards.

I found myself writing a scene in the new book, The Vanished Days, in which a character I’ve only known as a grown man walked onto the page as a boy, aged eleven (or, as he would correct me, aged eleven and a half).

And I found it equally fascinating, noticing what qualities and habits were already well developed in his childhood.

Fair enough, John Moray is a real-life character from history, and I’ve read some of his letters, and I’ve read the family papers that describe him as having been on a path to soldierhood from his cradle, but in my book The Winter Sea his fictionalized adult self does spend a bit of time reading, so I’d thought it might be nice to have young John doing the same, when we first met him.

He thought otherwise.

He came into the story full of restless energy, brandishing the best toy sword of all his family playmates, and took full charge of the game that they were playing.
Screenshot john

He surprised me, too, in a good way, at the end of this scene, but I'm not going to spoil it. I'll only say it was, when I considered it, entirely in keeping with his character, and foreshadowed the man he would become. Which shouldn't surprise me, given that both my own children's characters were well set already in their babyhood (as my parents assure me mine was).

I’m not sure we’ll see John after this. The Vanished Days isn't really his story. Even though it's a companion book and sort-of-prequel to The Winter Sea, John’s older brother Robert has a longer cameo appearance, and it’s not his story, either.

But I’ve learned, with all my characters, they can be unpredictable.

“Back when I first created Robbie sixteen years ago,” I wrote in that old blog post, “I never could have seen him growing into a romantic hero, but he's got me thinking now of other heroes I first met as boys in books I loved, like Gilbert Blythe, who just gets cuter and more charming in the Anne books…”

Do you have any favourite heroes who started as boys in a book (or a series of books)? Or any favourite books containing flashbacks where you get to see the boy inside the man?

40 thoughts on “The Boy Inside The Man”

  1. There’s a trilogy by Forrest Reid written backwards: I’ve read the first two books in chronological order, which would be the third and second as the author wrote them.
    The first ‘Young Tom’ was such a lovely book. (I’m not impartial here: this was the first book I managed to read after my dad’s sudden death eight years ago, so I’m remembering it with emotions attached.) But I wondered at the time if one of the reasons Tom was such a complete person was that the author came to the boy backward through the man.
    And just, as I remember it, a lovely read. In one sense nothing happens – but in the right way, in the way that nothing happens when you’re a child. You decide to make a pond, and you spend a day making the pond, and it’s all-consuming for that day, and then you forget about it. (And if Chekhov thought that the reader can’t be gripped unless someone later falls in the pond and drowns, he was wrong.)

    Reply
  2. There’s a trilogy by Forrest Reid written backwards: I’ve read the first two books in chronological order, which would be the third and second as the author wrote them.
    The first ‘Young Tom’ was such a lovely book. (I’m not impartial here: this was the first book I managed to read after my dad’s sudden death eight years ago, so I’m remembering it with emotions attached.) But I wondered at the time if one of the reasons Tom was such a complete person was that the author came to the boy backward through the man.
    And just, as I remember it, a lovely read. In one sense nothing happens – but in the right way, in the way that nothing happens when you’re a child. You decide to make a pond, and you spend a day making the pond, and it’s all-consuming for that day, and then you forget about it. (And if Chekhov thought that the reader can’t be gripped unless someone later falls in the pond and drowns, he was wrong.)

    Reply
  3. There’s a trilogy by Forrest Reid written backwards: I’ve read the first two books in chronological order, which would be the third and second as the author wrote them.
    The first ‘Young Tom’ was such a lovely book. (I’m not impartial here: this was the first book I managed to read after my dad’s sudden death eight years ago, so I’m remembering it with emotions attached.) But I wondered at the time if one of the reasons Tom was such a complete person was that the author came to the boy backward through the man.
    And just, as I remember it, a lovely read. In one sense nothing happens – but in the right way, in the way that nothing happens when you’re a child. You decide to make a pond, and you spend a day making the pond, and it’s all-consuming for that day, and then you forget about it. (And if Chekhov thought that the reader can’t be gripped unless someone later falls in the pond and drowns, he was wrong.)

    Reply
  4. There’s a trilogy by Forrest Reid written backwards: I’ve read the first two books in chronological order, which would be the third and second as the author wrote them.
    The first ‘Young Tom’ was such a lovely book. (I’m not impartial here: this was the first book I managed to read after my dad’s sudden death eight years ago, so I’m remembering it with emotions attached.) But I wondered at the time if one of the reasons Tom was such a complete person was that the author came to the boy backward through the man.
    And just, as I remember it, a lovely read. In one sense nothing happens – but in the right way, in the way that nothing happens when you’re a child. You decide to make a pond, and you spend a day making the pond, and it’s all-consuming for that day, and then you forget about it. (And if Chekhov thought that the reader can’t be gripped unless someone later falls in the pond and drowns, he was wrong.)

    Reply
  5. There’s a trilogy by Forrest Reid written backwards: I’ve read the first two books in chronological order, which would be the third and second as the author wrote them.
    The first ‘Young Tom’ was such a lovely book. (I’m not impartial here: this was the first book I managed to read after my dad’s sudden death eight years ago, so I’m remembering it with emotions attached.) But I wondered at the time if one of the reasons Tom was such a complete person was that the author came to the boy backward through the man.
    And just, as I remember it, a lovely read. In one sense nothing happens – but in the right way, in the way that nothing happens when you’re a child. You decide to make a pond, and you spend a day making the pond, and it’s all-consuming for that day, and then you forget about it. (And if Chekhov thought that the reader can’t be gripped unless someone later falls in the pond and drowns, he was wrong.)

    Reply
  6. A comment not addressed to your question.
    I have just reread Shadowy Horses and The Firebird. Since The Firebird was published, I always read them together (I skip the Winter Sea.)
    I think The Firebird is the only book I know that is a sequel to to preceding books.

    Reply
  7. A comment not addressed to your question.
    I have just reread Shadowy Horses and The Firebird. Since The Firebird was published, I always read them together (I skip the Winter Sea.)
    I think The Firebird is the only book I know that is a sequel to to preceding books.

    Reply
  8. A comment not addressed to your question.
    I have just reread Shadowy Horses and The Firebird. Since The Firebird was published, I always read them together (I skip the Winter Sea.)
    I think The Firebird is the only book I know that is a sequel to to preceding books.

    Reply
  9. A comment not addressed to your question.
    I have just reread Shadowy Horses and The Firebird. Since The Firebird was published, I always read them together (I skip the Winter Sea.)
    I think The Firebird is the only book I know that is a sequel to to preceding books.

    Reply
  10. A comment not addressed to your question.
    I have just reread Shadowy Horses and The Firebird. Since The Firebird was published, I always read them together (I skip the Winter Sea.)
    I think The Firebird is the only book I know that is a sequel to to preceding books.

    Reply
  11. What a fascinating post, Susanna. It always interests me to hear what goes on behind a book (or books as in this case).
    I thought of some books that address your question. In the first three of Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay series, we meet Seth as a boy. In book four, Chesapeake Blue, he is a man and the hero of his own story.

    Reply
  12. What a fascinating post, Susanna. It always interests me to hear what goes on behind a book (or books as in this case).
    I thought of some books that address your question. In the first three of Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay series, we meet Seth as a boy. In book four, Chesapeake Blue, he is a man and the hero of his own story.

    Reply
  13. What a fascinating post, Susanna. It always interests me to hear what goes on behind a book (or books as in this case).
    I thought of some books that address your question. In the first three of Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay series, we meet Seth as a boy. In book four, Chesapeake Blue, he is a man and the hero of his own story.

    Reply
  14. What a fascinating post, Susanna. It always interests me to hear what goes on behind a book (or books as in this case).
    I thought of some books that address your question. In the first three of Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay series, we meet Seth as a boy. In book four, Chesapeake Blue, he is a man and the hero of his own story.

    Reply
  15. What a fascinating post, Susanna. It always interests me to hear what goes on behind a book (or books as in this case).
    I thought of some books that address your question. In the first three of Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay series, we meet Seth as a boy. In book four, Chesapeake Blue, he is a man and the hero of his own story.

    Reply
  16. Wow, what an interesting post, Susanna. Thank you!! It’s been a long time since I read The Shadowy Horses, and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read The Firebird yet (I own it, but it’s still on one of my TBR mountains). Now I’ll have to read them both sequentially, and soon!!

    Reply
  17. Wow, what an interesting post, Susanna. Thank you!! It’s been a long time since I read The Shadowy Horses, and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read The Firebird yet (I own it, but it’s still on one of my TBR mountains). Now I’ll have to read them both sequentially, and soon!!

    Reply
  18. Wow, what an interesting post, Susanna. Thank you!! It’s been a long time since I read The Shadowy Horses, and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read The Firebird yet (I own it, but it’s still on one of my TBR mountains). Now I’ll have to read them both sequentially, and soon!!

    Reply
  19. Wow, what an interesting post, Susanna. Thank you!! It’s been a long time since I read The Shadowy Horses, and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read The Firebird yet (I own it, but it’s still on one of my TBR mountains). Now I’ll have to read them both sequentially, and soon!!

    Reply
  20. Wow, what an interesting post, Susanna. Thank you!! It’s been a long time since I read The Shadowy Horses, and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read The Firebird yet (I own it, but it’s still on one of my TBR mountains). Now I’ll have to read them both sequentially, and soon!!

    Reply
  21. Really interesting to read how you saw your characters develop between childhood and adulthood. It seems so special to have a character at these different ages and get extra enjoyment from their company as you write.
    I initially wrote a story where, in Chapter 7 the hero surprised me by saying he had two younger brothers. Eventually they both had their own stories. The youngest has developed from a schoolboy in story 1, to a gangly youth in Story 2 and as his character was demonstrated in these books, it gave me [and him ] some challenges by the time he got his own story.

    Reply
  22. Really interesting to read how you saw your characters develop between childhood and adulthood. It seems so special to have a character at these different ages and get extra enjoyment from their company as you write.
    I initially wrote a story where, in Chapter 7 the hero surprised me by saying he had two younger brothers. Eventually they both had their own stories. The youngest has developed from a schoolboy in story 1, to a gangly youth in Story 2 and as his character was demonstrated in these books, it gave me [and him ] some challenges by the time he got his own story.

    Reply
  23. Really interesting to read how you saw your characters develop between childhood and adulthood. It seems so special to have a character at these different ages and get extra enjoyment from their company as you write.
    I initially wrote a story where, in Chapter 7 the hero surprised me by saying he had two younger brothers. Eventually they both had their own stories. The youngest has developed from a schoolboy in story 1, to a gangly youth in Story 2 and as his character was demonstrated in these books, it gave me [and him ] some challenges by the time he got his own story.

    Reply
  24. Really interesting to read how you saw your characters develop between childhood and adulthood. It seems so special to have a character at these different ages and get extra enjoyment from their company as you write.
    I initially wrote a story where, in Chapter 7 the hero surprised me by saying he had two younger brothers. Eventually they both had their own stories. The youngest has developed from a schoolboy in story 1, to a gangly youth in Story 2 and as his character was demonstrated in these books, it gave me [and him ] some challenges by the time he got his own story.

    Reply
  25. Really interesting to read how you saw your characters develop between childhood and adulthood. It seems so special to have a character at these different ages and get extra enjoyment from their company as you write.
    I initially wrote a story where, in Chapter 7 the hero surprised me by saying he had two younger brothers. Eventually they both had their own stories. The youngest has developed from a schoolboy in story 1, to a gangly youth in Story 2 and as his character was demonstrated in these books, it gave me [and him ] some challenges by the time he got his own story.

    Reply
  26. I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to tell you just how thrilled I was when I realized the hero of Firebird was that darling boy in Shadowy Horses…and with every page I turned I fell more and more in love with the man.
    Honestly, Robbie/Rob is one of my top 5 heroes ever, enough so that I re-read both books just about every year, and giggle when Rob claims he’s not “blootered.”
    Actually, now I’ve mentioned it, I think it’s time for another couple of journeys with Rob/Robbie. And then I think I’ll read Every Secret Thing again for one of my other most favorite heroes, the old man.

    Reply
  27. I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to tell you just how thrilled I was when I realized the hero of Firebird was that darling boy in Shadowy Horses…and with every page I turned I fell more and more in love with the man.
    Honestly, Robbie/Rob is one of my top 5 heroes ever, enough so that I re-read both books just about every year, and giggle when Rob claims he’s not “blootered.”
    Actually, now I’ve mentioned it, I think it’s time for another couple of journeys with Rob/Robbie. And then I think I’ll read Every Secret Thing again for one of my other most favorite heroes, the old man.

    Reply
  28. I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to tell you just how thrilled I was when I realized the hero of Firebird was that darling boy in Shadowy Horses…and with every page I turned I fell more and more in love with the man.
    Honestly, Robbie/Rob is one of my top 5 heroes ever, enough so that I re-read both books just about every year, and giggle when Rob claims he’s not “blootered.”
    Actually, now I’ve mentioned it, I think it’s time for another couple of journeys with Rob/Robbie. And then I think I’ll read Every Secret Thing again for one of my other most favorite heroes, the old man.

    Reply
  29. I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to tell you just how thrilled I was when I realized the hero of Firebird was that darling boy in Shadowy Horses…and with every page I turned I fell more and more in love with the man.
    Honestly, Robbie/Rob is one of my top 5 heroes ever, enough so that I re-read both books just about every year, and giggle when Rob claims he’s not “blootered.”
    Actually, now I’ve mentioned it, I think it’s time for another couple of journeys with Rob/Robbie. And then I think I’ll read Every Secret Thing again for one of my other most favorite heroes, the old man.

    Reply
  30. I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to tell you just how thrilled I was when I realized the hero of Firebird was that darling boy in Shadowy Horses…and with every page I turned I fell more and more in love with the man.
    Honestly, Robbie/Rob is one of my top 5 heroes ever, enough so that I re-read both books just about every year, and giggle when Rob claims he’s not “blootered.”
    Actually, now I’ve mentioned it, I think it’s time for another couple of journeys with Rob/Robbie. And then I think I’ll read Every Secret Thing again for one of my other most favorite heroes, the old man.

    Reply
  31. Neat post Susanna. Alright, now I MUST go reread Shadowy Horses and Firebird. I still remember how I felt first reading Shadowy Horses. I was in love. That was my first book of yours I’d read and I was hooked! Your books are a genre unto themselves, in a way, and I don’t really know how to categorize them if I try to recommend them to someone. All I can say is I don’t care for the other authors’ works that are recommended to ME when I’m looking around for your books.
    To answer your question, I can’t seem to come up with any example (except I’ve read many books that have done what you mention) except the most recent books I’ve been listening to as audibles. That is Kathryn LeVeque’s Wolfpack books. I’d been aware of them for years, but gave myself a kick in the pants to give them a try when I knew I was going to have a chance to meet her at a retreat. She and every other author there was so gracious, generous and lovely and fun to meet. Not really wanting to spare my reading time away from my fave genres and a little put off by the bulky, bare chests on every cover, ha! Anyway: I fell in love with that group of guys. And you see them as men in their twenties, marrying, having children and then those children growing up to be men and women. But you get glimpses of them as children either when young or in flashback. And then read about their marriages, while the patriarch and matriarch along with their bosom friends who remain like family to each other. Of course all with great struggle and danger…it is a warrior class of people. It was a self-nudge out of my comfort zone, but I’m glad I did that.

    Reply
  32. Neat post Susanna. Alright, now I MUST go reread Shadowy Horses and Firebird. I still remember how I felt first reading Shadowy Horses. I was in love. That was my first book of yours I’d read and I was hooked! Your books are a genre unto themselves, in a way, and I don’t really know how to categorize them if I try to recommend them to someone. All I can say is I don’t care for the other authors’ works that are recommended to ME when I’m looking around for your books.
    To answer your question, I can’t seem to come up with any example (except I’ve read many books that have done what you mention) except the most recent books I’ve been listening to as audibles. That is Kathryn LeVeque’s Wolfpack books. I’d been aware of them for years, but gave myself a kick in the pants to give them a try when I knew I was going to have a chance to meet her at a retreat. She and every other author there was so gracious, generous and lovely and fun to meet. Not really wanting to spare my reading time away from my fave genres and a little put off by the bulky, bare chests on every cover, ha! Anyway: I fell in love with that group of guys. And you see them as men in their twenties, marrying, having children and then those children growing up to be men and women. But you get glimpses of them as children either when young or in flashback. And then read about their marriages, while the patriarch and matriarch along with their bosom friends who remain like family to each other. Of course all with great struggle and danger…it is a warrior class of people. It was a self-nudge out of my comfort zone, but I’m glad I did that.

    Reply
  33. Neat post Susanna. Alright, now I MUST go reread Shadowy Horses and Firebird. I still remember how I felt first reading Shadowy Horses. I was in love. That was my first book of yours I’d read and I was hooked! Your books are a genre unto themselves, in a way, and I don’t really know how to categorize them if I try to recommend them to someone. All I can say is I don’t care for the other authors’ works that are recommended to ME when I’m looking around for your books.
    To answer your question, I can’t seem to come up with any example (except I’ve read many books that have done what you mention) except the most recent books I’ve been listening to as audibles. That is Kathryn LeVeque’s Wolfpack books. I’d been aware of them for years, but gave myself a kick in the pants to give them a try when I knew I was going to have a chance to meet her at a retreat. She and every other author there was so gracious, generous and lovely and fun to meet. Not really wanting to spare my reading time away from my fave genres and a little put off by the bulky, bare chests on every cover, ha! Anyway: I fell in love with that group of guys. And you see them as men in their twenties, marrying, having children and then those children growing up to be men and women. But you get glimpses of them as children either when young or in flashback. And then read about their marriages, while the patriarch and matriarch along with their bosom friends who remain like family to each other. Of course all with great struggle and danger…it is a warrior class of people. It was a self-nudge out of my comfort zone, but I’m glad I did that.

    Reply
  34. Neat post Susanna. Alright, now I MUST go reread Shadowy Horses and Firebird. I still remember how I felt first reading Shadowy Horses. I was in love. That was my first book of yours I’d read and I was hooked! Your books are a genre unto themselves, in a way, and I don’t really know how to categorize them if I try to recommend them to someone. All I can say is I don’t care for the other authors’ works that are recommended to ME when I’m looking around for your books.
    To answer your question, I can’t seem to come up with any example (except I’ve read many books that have done what you mention) except the most recent books I’ve been listening to as audibles. That is Kathryn LeVeque’s Wolfpack books. I’d been aware of them for years, but gave myself a kick in the pants to give them a try when I knew I was going to have a chance to meet her at a retreat. She and every other author there was so gracious, generous and lovely and fun to meet. Not really wanting to spare my reading time away from my fave genres and a little put off by the bulky, bare chests on every cover, ha! Anyway: I fell in love with that group of guys. And you see them as men in their twenties, marrying, having children and then those children growing up to be men and women. But you get glimpses of them as children either when young or in flashback. And then read about their marriages, while the patriarch and matriarch along with their bosom friends who remain like family to each other. Of course all with great struggle and danger…it is a warrior class of people. It was a self-nudge out of my comfort zone, but I’m glad I did that.

    Reply
  35. Neat post Susanna. Alright, now I MUST go reread Shadowy Horses and Firebird. I still remember how I felt first reading Shadowy Horses. I was in love. That was my first book of yours I’d read and I was hooked! Your books are a genre unto themselves, in a way, and I don’t really know how to categorize them if I try to recommend them to someone. All I can say is I don’t care for the other authors’ works that are recommended to ME when I’m looking around for your books.
    To answer your question, I can’t seem to come up with any example (except I’ve read many books that have done what you mention) except the most recent books I’ve been listening to as audibles. That is Kathryn LeVeque’s Wolfpack books. I’d been aware of them for years, but gave myself a kick in the pants to give them a try when I knew I was going to have a chance to meet her at a retreat. She and every other author there was so gracious, generous and lovely and fun to meet. Not really wanting to spare my reading time away from my fave genres and a little put off by the bulky, bare chests on every cover, ha! Anyway: I fell in love with that group of guys. And you see them as men in their twenties, marrying, having children and then those children growing up to be men and women. But you get glimpses of them as children either when young or in flashback. And then read about their marriages, while the patriarch and matriarch along with their bosom friends who remain like family to each other. Of course all with great struggle and danger…it is a warrior class of people. It was a self-nudge out of my comfort zone, but I’m glad I did that.

    Reply

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