Twice a week, the exercise class I have attended for years meets under a certain freeway overpass. The other day, I discovered a note scrawled in the concrete. I had never noticed it before. Now, I have a long history of not noticing stuff, but when I asked around, nobody else had previously noticed it either. Perhaps we are all oblivious, or perhaps the message is an indication of intense longing, sufficient to carve long-dry concrete.
I LOVE ART BERMUDEZ.
Note the final curl to the final letter, rendering a heart from the Z.
I don’t know anyone by that moniker, but man do I love that name! Arturo Bermudez. I can guarantee that one of my novels will include a character by that name. In fact I am tempted to use this for a character in my fantasy detective series, FRAMES. The character is currently named Hernandez.
What am I thinking? FRAMES is finished and in revisions! To change a character’s name is to change the character; to ditch “Hernandez” at this point would be a kind of murder. And I love Hernandez. Everyone who has read the book loves Hernandez.
I do look forward to meeting the fictional Arturo Bermudez soon; probably in book two of FRAMES. Meanwhile, I hope the concrete scribe and the real-world Art are doing well, together or no.
(The current WP Photo Challenge wants to see “unexpected”.)
Some of my readers have requested a sequel to my recent novel Scar Jewelry. While I am thrilled that they care enough about the characters to want a part two, I suspect the requests come from desire to witness certain conversations and interactions that, well, frankly, won’t ever occur, even if I were to write a sequel. Such additions would make the story more tidy, maybe – but no longer right.
Here’s the bottom line: at any moment, life stretches in all directions and sometimes the options feel endless. But most of those options are fleeting opportunities and it can really be too bad if we don’t say something or do something or change something when we have the chance.
If this is a spoiler it is an enigmatic one that shouldn’t harm the reading experience.
Typically, plots of my novels start with a collection of images, moments, vignettes, and other idea snapshots that feel related to me, although I do not always know why. Gradually, I discover the connections as the planning and writing evolve. During that evolution, there will always be ideas that turn out not to fit, after all, and I have to scrap those.
Similarly, my characters start as a pastiche of attitudes, actions, and problems, which may be drawn from people I know, situations I have experienced, or stuff I’ve overheard in passing. (Beware discussing your life while standing in a grocery store line. There may be an eavesdropping writer nearby.) As the book progresses, I inevitably discover that multiple characters have conflicting traits that all belong to me. Real humans tend to be more contradictory than even the most complex of characters. Perhaps on certain levels I use the characters to work through some of my contradictions.
I have had so many jobs, and quite a few careers. Writing is my calling, so that has persisted through change after change of day job. But if I could have just one job – and if I got my choice – I would be a musician. I guess I would need to be a musician who writes songs, as I’ll always need to write. Yes, that’s a plan I could live with.
The only problem with my being a musician is that I’m no good at it. No talent. No vision. Incredibly average voice. Skill that rarely breaks past the rudimentary barrier. My best hope of being a musician was back in the early days of punk,when desire trumped ability. I don’t know why I wasn’t in a band back then, say a goof of a band like Heather once had in my novel Scar Jewelry. I suppose I lacked the right kind of cojones.
All four of my novels (three completed, one in progress) have musicians in them and two of them have music as a focus. I only just noticed this as a pattern. Sometimes the author is the last to know.
Sometimes I read non-fiction but it never grabs me. It’s novels that grab and shake and catapult and expand me. I read novels to get immersed in the lives of people I can care about. I don’t have to like them. I hope they will be complicated, not trivial or easy to understand; nothing better than a character who baffles me – so long as I perceive that the author isn’t B.S.ing me, that the mysteries and the discrepancies are resolvable, and that once I spend more time with the character, I will start to understand.
Authors don’t fully understand the characters they “create”, even when they think they do. There’s a part of me that has the chutzpah to think that I design my characters. There’s another, dazzled part of me that senses them flying in through a door I’ve managed to open, just a crack.
The best characters are like great song lyrics. A few twists of phrase and they change me, profoundly and forever.
Browsing unknown books, I’m less likely to choose a novel written by someone young. That has always been true, even back when I was a youngster myself. Certainly, good writing is good writing and age has little to do with plot, or pacing, or style. But when it comes to characterization, experience matters. A writer needs to have been around life’s block a few times in order to write people and their relationships. I seek novels that teach me something about humans – including me. Now that’s not to say that better understanding is a given with age. Cluelessness can be the most persistent of traits.