Have I seen you before, or am I making that up?

One of the things about creating characters is that you can find yourself forgeting they’re not real. You start seeing flesh-and-blood people who make you say, “That woman looks just like someone I know.”

Only not quite.

For example, someone once asked me who I would like to see play Lara if Hollywood made Palm Springs Heat into a movie. I answered Julianne Hough—but with dark brown hair. Why her? Because I’d just seen her in a TV commercial and thought, “Wow, she looks like Lara.”

This phenomenon of seeing living, breathing versions of my fictional characters happens all the time. I can’t open a department store mailer, do research on dress styles or go to a restaurant without seeing approximations of Lara or Sushma, the heroine of Malibu Bride.

In fact, it was in a restaurant in Chicago where I saw a woman who was everything I imagine Sushma to be physically: Petite and curvy with big, Bambi eyes and short, slightly wavy hair. Man, oh man, I wanted to take a picture of that woman. But how do you explain yourself?

“Hi, I’m not a stalker or a creep of any kind, but would you mind if I took a picture of you because you look like an imaginary woman I’ve been thinking about all day, every day for the past several months?”

So I’m left with a collection of almosts and kinda-sortas. Like this gallery of Julianne Hough photos. (Sorry, you’ll have to click on the links to see what I’m talking about.) And this one of a blond Internet store model in a black dress like the dress I picture Lara wearing when she meets Clay.

This one of Dancing With the Stars babe Samantha Harris comes pretty close to my idea of what Lara and her “diamond blue eyes” look like with dark hair. I know, I know…Samantha Harris doesn’t have “diamond blue eyes.” They’re greenish. Like I said: kinda-sorta.

The picture that most closely coincides with my idea of Lara’s face and build is this one of a model wearing a lacy pink chemise. Of course, the model is blond. There’s always something.

For some reason, I’ve had better luck finding examples that illustrate Sushma. Maybe because, in my mind, Sushma kinda sorta looked like The Cooking Channel’s Bal Arneson before I had any idea The Cooking Channel’s Bal Arneson even existed. Here she is in a promo for her Spice Goddess TV show, wearing a purple tank dress, and sporting a blue sari. Before I set eyes on that last photo, I wrote a scene in which Sushma’s wearing a blue sari. If that’s not a sign from the universe, I don’t know what is.

Here’s another almost-nailed-it shot. I describe Sushma as being curvy, but this model is apparently the only woman ever to pose for Victoria’s Secret to whom the term “curvy” does not apply.

Oh, well. The point, I guess, is for me to describe the characters well enough for you to get my drift. Draw you a picture literally without literally drawing you a picture.

Can I do that so well that these characters seem as real to you as they do to me? What I hope is that someday after you read Palm Springs Heat or Malibu Bride*, you’ll open a department store mailer, check out some dresses online or be sitting in a restaurant and find yourself thinking, “That woman looks just like someone I know.”

* Malibu Bride will be available through Amazon later this spring.

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