Sunday, October 27, 2013

Do you love your characters? . . .and . . . Announcing two brand new books from TAS

What should a writer’s attitude be towards his or her characters? Ernest Hemmingway once said, “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.” I would agree, and add that believable, relatable living people will always be more than a writer’s playthings; more than faceless game-pieces to be moved about at authorial whim without respect to logic or credible emotion. A good writer seldom says “I created these fictions; I can do whatever the heck I want with them.” The best characters are endowed with free will, and the capacity to disappoint their creator. And yet, a wise creator lives to be surprised.

Do you respect—even love—your characters? As opposed to putting words in their mouths for the sake of plot-utility, do you give them the time to find their own unique voices—their own hidden depths and personal conundrums, out of which interesting plot is created? Can you write about the sort of person you despise without turning that character into a one-sided propaganda-poster-child? Can you discern the spark of good deep within a villain’s heart, or the creeping darkness in the soul of a saint? Do you allow yourself to be delighted by what your characters come up with, seemingly on their own, the things they may do or say without your say; things you might never have imagined for them at the beginning? How real do they become to you?

I take a long time to write, and so, spend a lot of time getting to know my characters. Being so close to them over months and years, I have the pleasure—sometimes the horror—of watching them evolve, often from nameless embryonic stock-entities occupying scenes for no particularly good reason, to fully developed, interesting, multi-faceted leading men and women, with whom I develop deep empathy and affection. I’m not sure, yet, if I’ve ever written a heroine with whom I haven’t fallen in love, at least for a little while. My male characters can sometimes be disagreeable, annoying, venial little wankers, but I am that rare friend who sees their other side, knows that there’s something more beyond the unpleasant surface, and am still willing to hang out with them. Even monsters have mommies who love them, after all. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I write and develop my characters, as this week occasions the release of not one, but two new stories with strong—and, I hope, memorable—central actors. Summer of ’69 is a mainstream literary coming-of-age narrative. Muse in the Neon Twilight is a short piece of literary erotica. Characters in both stories trace their roots back to my first novel (now withdrawn).  

Summer of ’69 began life as a simple erotic coming of age tale, little more than a couple perfunctory scenes about a sixteen-year-old boy and an older woman. But as time passed, I began to see that there was a good deal more depth and possibility to this story. Nate, the protagonist-narrator, isn’t simply another horny teenaged lad lusting after his spacey, flower-child “aunt”. It came to me one day that Nate once had a serious speech impediment, a stutter that isolated him from others, even members of his own family. In spite of the trouble he once had articulating his thoughts Nate is genuinely bright, introspective and funny. I also came to see that he cared about someone other than himself and his own agonizingly unrequited sexual desires. His older sister, Valerie, was, he tells us as he looks back on his youth, “the closest thing I had to a best friend,” and when she gets herself into trouble, Nate must find a way to rescue her, regardless of the difficulty. The rather unimaginative, too-too-conventional original plot took on more and more depth and complexity as I found more and more obstacles for Nate to overcome, based on the simple logical give-and-take of these characters, their desires, and motives, and the way they interact with each other. I have come to love this story and its characters, and I hope open-minded readers will discover it and love it as well.

Muse in the Neon Twilight is a very different, but no-less character-driven story. Ostensibly a simple, straightforward seduction narrative; man meets beautiful, young college student in bar, buys her a few drinks, and listens to her complain about a flagging long-distance relationship. The coed talks herself into going home with the man as a way of making her boyfriend jealous, and so on and so forth. It’s not so much the plot (such as it is) that makes this story interesting; it’s the way the characters talk to each other. I wanted to tell this tale as much as possible through smart, interesting, believable dialog. Doc, the male lead, is a hyper-articulate college professor, an unregenerate horndog, and a dwarf, repulsive and charming at the same time. Beauty to Doc’s beast, Julia is neither bimbo nor pushover, and has no intention of getting caught in the little man’s convoluted web of words. Yet, Doc counts on Julia's undisguised revulsion and dislike—her abject hate—to keep her off guard.    

I’m not sure I could ever write a genuinely stupid or unintelligent character. Though they may not always be likeable, or dazzlingly articulate, there’s always something reasonably interesting going on in their heads. Doc just happens to express more of his thoughts in fifteen minutes than most people do in a lifetime. I have to admit that when the man first came into my imagination about ten years ago, he simply would not shut up. Even when I tried to sleep at night, Doc was there, constantly talking his talk, filling my head with his odd ideas and endless stories of sexual conquest. I could probably write a series of short erotic novels based solely on his self-vaunted exploits, though I have no idea where this character came from. I’ve never met anyone like him—few flesh-and-blood people have ever fascinated or annoyed me quite so much. Still, I have come to enjoy the little guy’s company, and find difficult the prospect of letting him go once and for all. Eventually, I may give him his own collection of short stories, or the occasional cameo appearance in other works.


Finally, a personal request. Feedback is essential to the creative process. Indifference is death itself. If you buy or borrow these stories, if you like them, if you hate them; if you think I’m a genius or a hack, an artist or just another common garden-variety purveyor of dreckish vulgarity, a pornographer or a pedant, don’t hesitate to let me know what you think one way or the other. Reviews, whether positive, negative, glowing, scathing, warmly encouraging or coldly critical are always welcome and appreciated. Those of us who write erotica or fiction with strong erotic content are well aware of the need for some intelligent notice and affirmation--that, after all, is why I started this blog in the first place.  


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