spoilersQuiet Celia, dressed in grey, knowing she has to start living out loud but unable to find her voice. Embarrassed by surprise wealth, she has the whole world before her but no idea how to fit into it.

“She could learn techniques but her drawings looked like drawings. Her sculptures looked like sculptures. They didn’t express her, they didn’t shout ‘Celia’ to the world. And now she was out of other ideas.”

Celia started out differently in my head, but soon revealed herself as a quiet, gentle soul. When first deciding to write a novel, Celia was the first character whom I felt compelled to write about, her transformation throughout the book one that resonated. I think many women will understand her instantly.

When we first meet Celia, she is a traumatized adult who struggles with social anxiety. She often watches life without reacting, fades into the background, and hides if she is uncomfortable. She’s not paralyzed by her anxiety, but it’s worse than she thinks.

Celia knows she needs to grow. She’s been trying in a number of ways: she’s done therapy, she cleans or swims when she’s feeling fragile, she’s been learning to set boundaries with her mother, she’s found a group of friends who seem to understand her, and she is attempting to express herself through art. Naturally organized and methodical, she’s written her “art list” and is taking classes in as many mediums as possible, in hopes one of them will reveal a talent she can express herself through. Unfortunately, as the book opens, she’s completed her list and lightning hasn’t struck.

Quick facts

  • Age: 41
  • Height: 5’6″
  • Appearance: wavy brown chin-length hair, olive skin, wide cheekbones and hazel eyes, slightly-thick build but athletic from the amount of swimming she does
  • Pronouns: she/her
  • Orientation: heterosexual
  • Heritage: multiracial; born in California to her Filipino/Caucasian father and Caucasian mother; no siblings
  • Profession: retired charity organizer

Celia’s father ended his life when she was young, and when she’s feeling hopeless, she wonders if that’s an option for her. She fights it, but can’t always control her thoughts. She’s ashamed of this weakness, but also ashamed of the privilege that has landed in her lap: an early job paid her in bitcoin which eventually made her very rich. She cashed out and invested her money, including buying her too-big house, and has set her mother up for life far away in northern California. The wealth doesn’t feel earned and took much of the challenge out of life. Celia feels like all of her efforts and wealth have resulted in precisely nothing, and blames herself.

Celia has plenty of skills but discounts them in her head. She learned to pose for other artists while working on her list, cooks very well, and her home is organized and comfortable. Her mother – what a character to write! – has always been dismissive and regularly violent, and Celia has internalized that abuse so thoroughly that she insults herself in her mother’s voice. Do you have to let every single thing scare you, Celia Rose? Her mother has, in fact, done a real number on poor Celia.

Her friends have watched Celia retreating into herself as the items on her art list dwindle, not really knowing the cause. She still enjoys cooking, so they begin coming over for dinners regularly. Andrew knows of her true struggle and is careful to check on her when she stops responding to the gang’s group chat. When Andrew starts bringing León to the get-togethers, all the friends take care to reassure Celia that they’ll help with the social side of things. They are there for her.

Celia knows something has to change, but what? She’s shocked when León becomes an answer.

“Why do you want to make art?” he’d asked. A normal question.

There were so many sane answers Celia could have given, but no… her crazy ass had to dump a weird truth into the conversation. “Art might save me.”

Celia heard the melodramatic, laughable, pathetic phrase drumming in her head all night.

Celia slowly and painfully transforms during the novel. The lessons are hard but she struggles past the guilt of choosing herself. The support from her friends, which she never anticipated or asked for, is a revelation as her family of choice finally replaces her family of birth. By the time Incubadora opens, she finally recognizes her own confidence and competence. León helps her in ways neither of them, nor I as the author, expected. Celia replaces fear with anger and then with action. I am so glad she gets there! I believe her growth will be familiar to many women who just want to be seen.

Bonus Details

  • Celia is one-quarter Filipino, on her father’s side. Her heritage is visible in her slightly-tilted eyes, wide cheekbones, and olive skin. She has a chin-length bob of thick, wavy, brown hair. She prefers wearing neutral colors and is more comfortable in a slightly formal look.
  • How much money does Celia have? In eight years, her net worth went from $100,000 to $24,000,000.
  • Celia met Kelsey a decade ago and they became good friends, though not close due to Celia’s reticence and Kelsey’s laid-back respect of it.
  • Andrew and Celia met when she took his ceramics course, and after the term ended he asked her out. She modeled nude for his class the next term.
  • Trevor met Celia through her modeling, and the two became friends as their stoic styles were compatible.