One of the main characters in the...thing...I just wrote is named Ruth. She is my fourth Ruth so far.
Ruth Number One was the narrator of a novel about female friendships I was writing in 2004-2005, before the proposal was rejected by the editor who'd bought GIRLBOMB. Though I loved Ruth (because of course she was at least partly based on me), the character was deemed "too neurotic;" also I didn't give her an explicitly happy ending, it was more of a "life goes on" ending, and the whole thing was pronounced to be a downer.
So I turned to other material: The rich and rewarding experience I was having as a volunteer in the shelter where I'd stayed, and especially a very special relationship I was having with a young genius who (I flattered myself) reminded me of me. That turned into my second book. Which was a huge downer.
But I still mourned for Ruth, or for my friendship with her. Because she wasn't fully me, she was outside me, an alien intelligence that I channeled, she was able to keep me company, she made me laugh and feel for her and love her, even if nobody else did. I missed Ruth, and always hoped I'd get a chance to tell her unhappy, neurotic story.
The second Ruth is here. She too is crazy. I didn't love her like I loved Ruth 1, but I understood her so, so well.
Ruth 3 was a secondary character in the novel draft I wrote for last November's nanowrimo. Here, Ruth was the aging schizophrenic mother of the main character (who was not named Ruth, but was also based on me, but not as much as Ruth 1 was). Ruth was a horrible bitch who'd been a terrible mother and kept too many animals in her filthy house. I killed her off two thirds of the way through the book, just as the main character had finished writing a book in which the mother character died, leaving her to wonder if she had killed Ruth by writing a book about a mother who drops dead.
I think it's clear that I was writing this book in an attempt to kill my mother.
But she didn't die, so I decided to write a book about how horrible and terrible she was, and see if maybe that would do the trick. That didn't kill her either,* but it almost killed me.**
Then this October I had an idea for another novel having to do with female friendships -- not the same one I'd been writing five years ago, but a new one -- and I decided to use that idea as a springboard for nanowrimo. When I started writing, I had some ideas about the characters, but they weren't clear for the first few days, so I was hesitant to name them. On day two, I named one of them Ruth.
I love this Ruth so much, even as I see her terrible neuroses, even as her ending is, again, not great. She has some of Ruth 1 in her, and a little bit of Ruth 2, and her mother has a lot of Ruth 3. I think this may be her at last, after all these years, the real Ruth. I think this time, no matter what people say about her, she's ready to live.
( *Which is good, because can you imagine how much baggage I would have picked up from that? I'd never write another grocery list, much less a book.)
( **Not really.)