I always get intimate with my characters.
Since it takes me years to write a book, that’s bound to happen—I live with my characters day in and day out. But I also mean that I experience great physical closeness with them. I know what their faces and bodies look like, and I often know how their bodies feel to them, especially in the case of my first person narrators. In Paris Red, I know the character of Victorine Meurent intimately.
I know she washes out the armpits of her dress in a basin in her room because she’s poor. I know the small spot that aches beneath her right shoulder blade from her job as a brunisseuse, a metal burnisher. I know how she likes to kiss.
In one scene in the novel, Manet sketches Victorine as preparation for painting Olympia. For the sketch, she lies on a divan with her right hand up by her collarbone. While she’s posing, she touches the end of her hair—a detail she forgets until she sees the chalk sketch he’s done:
I know what a lock of Victorine’s hair feels like. Of course I know.