I’m 200 pages into my new book, and I’m so in love with the characters–and so engrossed in the story–that I can’t wait to get home from work and punch them up on the computer and dive back into their world.

Charlie and Nate are an unlikely couple. Charlie’s a Jersey girl, feisty and combative. Nate’s a cowboy, laid-back and laconic. She’s a social animal; he’s a lone wolf. She’s in tune with the modern world; he lives on a remote ranch almost untouched by time. It’s going to take a long time, and a lot of misunderstandings, before they figure out they were made for each other.

The one thing Charlie and Nate have in common is their love of animals, especially horses. But they approach their passion in different ways. Nate is a cowboy. Charlie is a PETA activist. While Nate’s been working to enlighten his colleagues on gentler methods of horse breaking, Charlie’s been protesting naked in Newark.

I love these people as if their story was my own. I think about them all the time. I wake up in the middle of the night and jot down conversations they’ve had in my head while I’m in that twilight state between waking and sleeping. I invent interactions between them while I’m supposed to be working. I steal snippets of conversation from the people around me and give them to Charlie and Nate, wondering how they’ll use them, what they’ll say next, where the words will take them.

That’s how writing fiction enriches my life. Obviously, I don’t lack for imagination–and yet I can’t imagine how I filled my idle hours before I started telling stories.