In the late nineteen eighties when I was a child, I desperately wanted a pair of saddle shoes, the blue and white ones. The shoes had come into fashion among the girls in my pre-school class. Other colors were available: red and white, pink and white, black and white. I did not want the black and white ones—I might as well have had no shoes at all if what I got were the black and white ones. At the time I didn't want anything else or know why I wanted these shoes in the first place. This was the first time, that I can recall, of really wanting something. I was four years old and simple and full of warnings from the Old Testament and of images from Warner Brothers cartoons. My world was simple too. I loved my mother and my father. While at play I was not allowed to go any further than the stop sign down the street. I went to church on Sunday mornings and to pre-school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
When my mother would pick me up from school, she occasionally had some gift for me in the backseat and we would play the game of guessing what it was. More often than not she would have gotten me a toy that came in the kid's meal—and not the kid's meal—because for twenty-five cents, the person working the drive-thru would make an exception like that. Sometimes my mother would get me a Christie doll. If she got me shoes, they were always the black patent leather ones with a buckle on the side, the kind little girls like me had been wearing forever. I was almost certain I wasn't going to get want I wanted and that made me want it even more.
On my father's desk at home there is a picture of my pre-school class. Seated in the front row of chairs made for small children and dolls there is a girl who must be me. In the picture I am a sulking child with my hair twisted in barrettes whose colors match my leggings and the plastic fish dangling from various parts of my sweater. I am wearing a beaded bracelet I had made in Sunday school and the letters J-E-S-U-S are clearly visible. The camera has caught me in mid swing kicking a leg and on my feet I have on a pair of blue and white saddle shoes. I don't have a memory of getting those shoes or of ever wearing them. What I remember perfectly and what mattered most was how badly I wanted them.
The characters in the fiction I like to read always want something. They want to find a white whale, they want to save the farm, they want to live, they want to be loved, they want to win in life. In certain stories and novels, sometimes it's hard to say what exactly a character wants but in the ones that I love, I always have a strong sense that they do want something. It is not important to me why characters want certain things or whether or not they ultimately succeed in getting them. For me, it's the wanting part that makes a character attractive. The wanting part makes the story timeless and universal because every one of us has wanted something. When we recognize this in another character it ignites something inside us that says, Yeah.