Imagining Characters

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times (reprinted in the Star Tribune), E. Annie Proulx describes the kind of imaginative work she had to do to create the characters in “Brokeback Mountain.”

“Put yourself in my place,” the author says. “An elderly, white, straight female, trying to write about two 19-year-old gay kids in 1963. What kind of imaginative leap do you think was necessary? Profound, extreme, large. To get into those guys’ heads and actions took a lot of 16-hour days, and never thinking about anything else and living a zombie life. That’s what I had to do. I really needed an exorcist to get rid of those characters. And they roared back when I saw the film.”(…)

It was 1995 and Proulx, who lives in Wyoming, visited a crowded bar near the Montana border. The place was rowdy and packed with attractive women, everyone was drinking, and the energy was high.

“There was the smell of sex in the air,” remembers Proulx. “[B]ut here was this old shabby-looking guy. … watching the guys playing pool. He had a raw hunger in his eyes that made me wonder if he were country gay. I wondered, ‘What would’ve he been like when he was younger?’ Then he disappeared, and in his place appeared Ennis. And then Jack. You can’t have Ennis without Jack.”

A year after the story was published, Proulx says, Matthew Shepard was killed in Wyoming and she was called to be on the jury.

Shepard’s murder partly inspired Percival Everett for his new novel, Wounded. In it, a horse rancher hires a laborer who eventually becomes accused of a hate crime against a gay man. The book was released to generally positive reviews earlier this fall.