by J. Santiago
The characters in my books often start living in my head, long before they make an appearance on any page. I know their names, what they look like and what they have hidden in the back of their underwear drawer. It was no different with my latest project. Jackson Callahan, Magdalena Pryce and I were having conversations way back in April. But then I met an amazing group of guys who were doing an amazing thing and I wanted to tell their story. I approached them with something like this: I write romance novels with some sex and a happy ending and would like to use parts of your story in my next book.
Theirs is a story that deserves to be told. When they were sixteen, one of their best friends and teammates collapsed during their soccer practice and later died. Tragic right? But here’s the amazing thing. They started a scholarship fund while they were still in high school. They raised money hosting corn hole tournaments, silent auctions, anything they could think of to raise money. And they did. $50,000 over a couple of years! Then, they placed five Automated External Defibrillators at youth athletic fields that needed them. But they weren’t satisfied yet. So they came together often over the next few years and began to put together a non-profit organization whose mission was to fight Sudden Cardiac Arrest, the number one killer of student-athletes. They have provided free or low cost heart screenings to over 49,000 kids and detected over 60 life threatening heart conditions. Did I say they are only twenty-four years old?
They were all about my project and have spent a lot of time with me over the last few months. Which has been incredible…but difficult because I’m still writing a romance novel with sex and a happy ending. The most challenging thing has been trying to keep my characters who they are without any of my interactions with the real people bleeding into Jackson and Magdalena. I often have to check myself and my story to make sure I’ve stayed true and have kept them straight.
It’s a different kind of pressure this time too. You always want to write a good story and you want people to love and hate your characters when they are supposed to. You want growth and a good plot and good dialogue. But this time, I am representing more than just me. I’m telling someone else’s story, albeit a fictionalized version of it.
They call themselves Who We Play For now because they learned at a young age that you represent something bigger than yourself, a lesson many will never learn in life. When they host heart screenings they have kids say who they play for. I’m ready for them to ask me. Because this time, this book, I’m playing for them.