Posts Tagged ‘Characters’

If I were to have followed the standard advice of “write what you know” (meaning only write from personal experience), then none of my books would ever have come into being. I would never have written about anything historical (how could I, if I was born in 19-hrmahrm?), or about anything set in Brittany, or certainly I could never ever have written anything to do with dinosaurs (who could?).

The only book I’ve written that had a shred of “what I know”ishness to it is Dreams of the Desert Wind. The setting was a place I lived in for a time (Jerusalem) and I drew on a lot of personal experience for descriptions of the street scenes (like the one mentioned here, with “Samovar Man“).

No, when I started writing, if I’d written only what I knew, then I’d have written a book about working in IT (now there’s a page-turner), or something set in the world of classical music. (more…)

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For decades now, a ginger-haired girl has lived near us. Not the same girl, mind you. We’ve lived in three places in the past thirty years and, at each address, a ginger-haired girl has lived a few houses down, across the street, or around the corner. There has only been one such girl living near us at any particular time, as if there is some sort of limit on how many redheads a neighborhood can sustain.

I’ve never spoken to any of these girls, aside from chitchat about costumes on Hallowe’en night, but nevertheless, I’ve gleaned something about their character, their personality.

When we lived up in Richmond Beach, there was the young redhead who we only saw as she ran by our house. I never, ever saw her walk. She only ran, a blur of that grew ever taller as the years went by. To school, from school, out to meet friends, coming home from play. Run, run, run, faster each year, as her legs grew longer and her speed increased.

She is Energy. Vitality. Eagerness.

For the past dozen years or so, there’s a girl with wild, ginger hair who lives behind us. From our kitchen window I can see the swing set in her yard and a day does not go by where I do not see her out there, kicking her way, to and fro, through the upended arc. She swings rain or shine, heat or cold. Her hair, once left wild, has now been tamed by Beats headphones. It is her haven there, alone on that swing.

She is Focus. Solitude. Diffidence.

And then there was the little girl who lived across the street for a few years. Vivacious and vocal, she was a true individual, as full of questions and unpredictability as only a seven-year old can be.

There is one day I remember clearly. It was December, closing in on Christmas, and it had snowed, just a few inches, just enough to give the world that magical, unsullied patina. I was on the treadmill, listening to McCreary’s “Passacaglia,” a serene piece for strings in 3/4 time, and I noticed our redheaded neighbor out in her yard, walking with a friend. The two girls were bundled up, wearing swing coats and knitted caps. The redhead’s parents had put up, along with the strings of lights along the eaves, a giant inflatable snowman on their lawn. The snowman, with carrot nose and top hat, rocked gently in the breeze.

The two girls, hand in mittened hand, walked across the snowy lawn and up to the snowman. They stopped a few feet from his round belly, both looking up at his face. It was an idyllic picture, and the music made a perfect soundtrack.

Until the ginger-haired girl, this sweet, inquisitive tyke, stepped up to the inflated giant, and began kicking the crap out of him. Her friend clapped her hands and ran forward to join the assault. Together, the two girls kicked and kicked, little boots punishing, snow flying. The snowman wobbled under their attack, reeling side to side against his guy wires. The girls continued the onslaught and the snowman began to sag, one side crumpling, his painted smile belying the tragedy as he slowly sank down onto the trampled snow until only his top hat remained upright.

Hand in hand once more, the girls walked up to the house and went inside, leaving me stunned, gaping, caught between laughter and mild horror, as the passacaglia finished.

She is Chaos. Complexity. Unrepentance.

Redheads. Go figger.


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Hampden Pocket WatchAs a writer, I’ve always been fascinated by so-called “famous last words,” but not the pronouncements made heading into battle or climbing the gallows steps. In those situations the speaker has prepared, is aware of what is likely to come, and has given their words some forethought as “famous last words.” Lines spoken at times like these are spoken for posterity, and are likely to contain not a small amount of “spin” for the history books.

No, the final utterances that intrigue me are those made suddenly, spontaneously, where the speaker may not be fully cognizant of her surroundings or the situation. At times these last words are puzzling, but while they are possibly no more than the product of a dying brain, they can be quite beautiful. In other cases, however, I believe we can glimpse the true nature of the speaker’s personality. Was she angry? Was he compassionate? Were the last words of love or of rebuke? Last words—when you don’t know they’re last words—can be the most meaningful, the most significant.

Here are four examples of last quotes; the first two are enigmatic, more evocative than illuminating, while the second two pretty much define the person who spoke them.  (more…)

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I sucked up the first four episodes of Sense8 like a parched man drinks water. This was the show I’ve been waiting for all year. It has it all: the writing, settings, plot, characters, the performances, all are markedly above the line of expectation.

So, why hadn’t I heard of it before?

One reason is that the show is only available on Netflix, and only since 05 June. That means I’m only ten days behind the curve on this which, for me, is notable. I usually don’t hear of shows like this until after they’ve been canceled.

Another reason is that the reviews on the show have been mixed. Even those who liked it have couched their praise in overstuffed caveats, complimenting the show as often as they complain.

Negative reactions run the gamut. The actors are all too pretty, was one complaint, and I’m like, “Have you watched anything on network TV? Everyone’s gorgeous!” Another felt that the left-wing LGBT agenda is too “in your face,” to which I say, “Oh, you mean, unlike the hetero agenda, which dominates everything?”

But one consistent complaint is that the storytelling method is disjointed, obscure, deliberately complicated, and too “filmic.”

This is understandable. The storytelling style of Sense8 is unlike anything I’ve seen, and its compelling nature is hard to pin down. It does not fit in any pigeonhole, can be hard to follow, but nevertheless, it is compelling.

If your just catching up, Sense8 is a 12-episode Netflix original series, created by Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5). It features eight characters who, through one woman’s ultimate act, are transformed into a cluster of “sensates,” physically separated individuals all with a psychic connection to one another. The characters are scattered across the globe–Mexico City, San Francisco, Chicago, London, Berlin, Nairobi, Mumbai, and Seoul–and none has any prior relationship with another member.

In the first four episodes (all I’ve watched as of this writing), the eight slowly become aware of their connection and their abilities to interact with one another. This long main plotline is interspersed with smaller crises that affect one or another of the individuals, providing opportunities for them to come to each other’s aid, culminating in the first real crisis for the “cluster,” when one of them is threatened with lobotomization, the equivalent of “sensate death.”

From the beginning, and throughout this rising action, we see the influence of two mysterious factions. One, personified by a sensate adept named Jonas, is supportive of the cluster, while the other is a shadowy, inimical cabal that is “hunting” cluster members. It’s a classic good vs. evil scenario, and I expect further episodes will reveal motivations and betrayals of trust–though hopefully not as many as some of the more frustrating shows of recent years.

The style of the show, though, is what sets it apart. The connection experienced by members of the cluster is depicted as a sudden translocation, like astral travel (called “visiting” in the show) or body-swapping possession (called “sharing”). The deejay lounging in her London bed-sit is suddenly standing next to the cop in Chicago, or the kick-boxer from Seoul can abruptly inhabit the body of the van driver in Nairobi. During the first four shows, as these sensates explore their connections, the scenes shift all over the place as the members of the cluster all share a common experience, and by the end of the fourth episode, they’re all asking–along with the lyrics of the song they’re sharing–“What’s going on?”

Whereas other shows like Heroes and Lost (both of which have been compared to Sense8) purposefully withhold information known to some characters–creating a cheap and unsatisfying experience, in my view–here, the characters don’t know anything about what’s going on, and Jonas (who seems to be on their side) is telling them as much as he can in the brief “visits” he can manage with them. There is a growing sense of urgency and a constant ramp-up of peril as layers of complexity emerge, but I did not find it overwhelming or annoying at all, as it followed an organic path of experience for the clustered sensates.

You have to pay attention, though (and this may be what frustrates some of the reviewers; you can’t watch with one eye on your iPad). Once the show establishes that the deejay lives in London, it doesn’t continually remind you when the scene shifts back to her.

Naturally, I have some nits to pick with the show. Nothing’s perfect. For instance, the cluster members are all young and tech savvy, but while every twenty-something I know is in constant contact with their cadre via their smart-phone, in the first four episodes I saw only one text sent. Also, as this mysterious connection they share manifests, no one sits down to google… well… anything.

These don’t bother me, though, because as the action progresses, I become engrossed with the characters themselves. They all have history and quirks, they are all very different from one another. They are honest and criminal, struggling and well-to-do, but each one is a product of their environment, their city, their family, and their past.

As to the “LGBT agenda,” yes, the characters are straight, gay, bi, and trans. They cover the spectrum of sexuality, but in no case is a character’s sexuality pertinent to the main action; it affects their lives and the people who surround them (as you’d expect) but it is irrelevant to the functioning of the cluster or their “sensate” abilities. In this way also, the show stands apart from almost everything else.

A third of the way through the 12-episode series, there are plenty of mysteries to be exposed, and much for these sensates to learn and overcome. The larger plot of factions and cabals is just beginning to emerge, and I can’t wait to binge on the rest of the series.

If only I didn’t have to sleep.

Or work.



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Stack of Books

After successfully avoiding pen and paper during my recent vacation (Thank you, World Cup!) on Sunday I finally grabbed myself by the collar, sat myself down at the deck table, put a pen in my hand and paper before me, and started the short story that has been nipping at my heels like a poorly trained corgi for nearly a month.

I started writing at about 7AM Sunday and finished it at around 11PM. It clocked in at about 3000 words.

For me, that is fast writing. But that wasn’t the interesting bit.


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Captive SlavesI’ve never given much credence to results of “studies” on human social patterns. We’re just too complicated to fit into neat little boxes. However, the other day I learned of one such study which so accurately described me, I had to give it a closer look.

I mention this here because this is the sort of thing that can be used to add depth to the histories of families and characters in my writing.

The study was about birth order and the “middle child syndrome.” Now, “birth order” is not new to me; I heard about it a long time ago but never paid it any attention because, frankly, my family situation doesn’t really fit any common form.


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Over on Facebook, a reader mentioned a scene in FC:1 that she really liked. I like to investigate this sort of specific feedback–the good and the bad–to see what worked and what didn’t work for my readers.

I remembered the scene she mentioned in general, but not in detail. The main reason I wanted to investigate, though, was that her description of it as dialogue-free was not my recollection; I remembered it as being chatty to the extreme, as two swoony teenaged girls prattled on about how divine it was going to be to see Sarah Bernhardt on stage. (For those of you out of the 19th-century loop, Sarah Bernhardt was the Lady Gaga of her day.)

So, I pulled down my copy of The Year the Cloud Fell and tried to figure out what this reader had meant when she referred to the scene’s “shared communication and not a scrap of dialogue.


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