No, this is not an off-color political joke. My pal Bob Sanchez is on a blog book tour and he was
fool–I mean nice enough to visit me along the way. Little Mountain is the name of his book, and it really deserves better than for me to make cheap jokes.
Bob is the author of When Pigs Fly, (an iUniverse Star book), Getting Lucky, and Little Mountain, associate editor and webmaster of The Internet Review of Books, active in the El Paso Writers’ League, Mesilla Valley Writers, and the Internet Writing Workshop.
I asked Bob to share something about his character creation.
Take it away, Bob!
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Thanks for hosting me, Marian! I appreciate your generosity in lending me your corner of cyberspace.
Where do a novel’s characters come from? In the case of my novels, no one needs to worry that I’ve based a character on him. Or her. Not yet.
Largely, my characters are built from a combination of traits: this guy’s beer gut, that gal’s tattoo. Lots of the characters have a sliver of my personality: how I am, how I’d like to be, or what I fear I could become. But characters can and do arise completely out of my imagination, like Ace and Frosty in When Pigs Fly. How stupid could these two shoplifters be and still be entertaining? My operating theory as a writer is that criminals are inherently stupid. That’s not necessarily true, but it affords a license to look for laughs at their expense. (Ace and Frosty live in Massachusetts but do much of their shoplifting in New Hampshire to avoid the sales tax.)
Two of my main characters began life as the same person. During my own childhood, a neighborhood bully named Mike Durgin used to torment me. The kid was a rat, but even rats deserve second chances, so one of my fictional good guys became Mack Durgin of When Pigs Fly. He might once have been a problem child, but he matured into a decent man like—well, like me. And not strikingly handsome, but much closer to Brad Pitt than to Herman Munster. Then I needed him again in Getting Lucky, where he developed a bit differently—still a good guy but with a darker past. So I created Clay Webster from Mack Durgin’s literary DNA. They’re similar in lots of ways, but I’d rather have a beer with Mack. He’d never punch me out.
My latest hero is Sambath “Sam” Long of Little Mountain. He is an American homicide cop who survived the killing fields of Cambodia. His father’s dying act was to spit in his killer’s eye, and Sam hopes to measure up to his father’s courage. Sam has a lot of American traits and strong moral values. When his personal wish conflicts with his professional duty, he does his duty. My goal in creating Sam was to try to show someone transitioning from one culture to another—he knows where he’s going and respects where he’s been. All of my lead characters are good men at their core—but Mack is the funniest, Clay the edgiest, and Sam the most honorable. At a bar, Mack or Clay would be good company, but Sam would pay for the beer.
All of these are available as ebooks and paperbacks, and you can find out more about them at my blog, bobsanchez1.blogspot.com. Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win an e-copy of your choice of these books, or to win the grand prize of all three signed paperbacks.
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Click here for Bob’s entire tour schedule.
WRITING PROMPT: Pick somebody you know. Make a list of his or her character qualities, life events, habits, etc. Create three different characters by emphasizing some of these over others or selecting some and eliminating or changing others.
Enid WilsonJune 7, 2011 at 7:49am
Even rats deserve a second chance. Love that, especially from a crime/mystery author. That’s generosity.
Helen GingerJune 7, 2011 at 9:21am
Really enjoyed this post, Bob. What a creative way to look at characters.
Bob SanchezJune 7, 2011 at 10:32am
Thanks, Marian! I see that as usual the rest of the world is awake before I am. Good morning, Chemical Fusion. Good Morning, Helen.
As to the title of Little Mountain: My teenage (at the time) son told his Tae Kwan Do instructor, a Cambodian man, that I was writing about the refugees. The fellow and I met and chatted about it, though the language barrier was quite a hurdle, and he told me that during the Khmer Rouge era he had been captive in a work camp he called Little Mountain. The name stuck with me, and I knew I had to use it somehow. There is a small hill in the story, but it provides an identity to the otherwise anonymous hellhole that my main character remembers.
Morgan MandelJune 7, 2011 at 12:27pm
These days we need people with moral courage. Your hero sounds great!
Bob SanchezJune 7, 2011 at 1:01pm
That’s an interesting comment, Morgan. We fiction writers have the advantage that we can create our own worlds where the heroes can be braver, tougher, handsomer, more dogged than ourselves. And why not? We can project our imagined selves on someone and privately think, “In my next life, I’ll be more like him.”
Marian AllenJune 7, 2011 at 1:45pm
Bob, I love your making two characters out of one. I think that’s my favorite part of this post–that, and the way you characterize them by the different ways they would be in the same situation. “At a bar, Mack or Clay would be good company, but Sam would pay for the beer.” 🙂
Bob SanchezJune 7, 2011 at 2:13pm
By the way, characters can be hard to name. I may struggle with a name for a bit, then suddenly settle on one because I’m tired of fretting about it. The name Clay Webster comes from the 19th century pols Henry and Daniel, both New Englanders with non-ethnic-sounding surnames. (I learned this from chatting with Sarah Palin, who knows all there is to know about American history.)
Marian AllenJune 7, 2011 at 2:43pm
I have a mystery I started back in 1968, with characters who had first names Bess and Ann and others with a last name of Walton. The Waltons tv show came but went so I kept Walton. Then I married a widower with daughters named Beth and Annie. Changed those characters’ names.
AlexJCavanaughJune 7, 2011 at 3:34pm
Some rats I wonder about! Never used anyone in real life for my stories.
Dani GreerJune 7, 2011 at 6:48pm
Just copied and pasted from the post below. Sigh.
Please leave a comment by clicking the link at the top of the page.” 😉 I must be a natural-born bottom-feeder. Anyway, it’s interesting to read your comments, Bob, because I’m reading the book, and I’m inclined to agree about the folks you’re drinking with. Guiness for me, please. E-book choice: When Pigs Fly. :/ (insert sh*t-eat*n gr*n)
Reply – Quote
STephen TrempJune 7, 2011 at 9:33pm
A character transitioning from one culture to the next allows for terrific character development and character arc. Much conflict can be introduced and be the opportunity to be an overcomer, especially when it is easier to do something other than what he knows is the right thing regardless of the consequences.
Cara Lopez LeeJune 8, 2011 at 11:43am
I love the idea of basing a character on a bully from your childhood, and then giving him a sort of second chance. I got picked on by several bullies during my school years… I wonder if I’m emotionally ready to revive any of those memories for a novel. I just switched from nonfiction to fiction, so we’ll see if the opportunity arises. BTW, this is priceless: “Ace and Frosty live in Massachusetts but do much of their shoplifting in New Hampshire to avoid the sales tax.” Thanks for the laugh.
Heidi M. ThomasJune 8, 2011 at 1:51pm
I loved reading about the evolution of your characters. What fun! And your books sound great–add to my TBR list! Keep up the good work, Bob!
Bob SanchezJune 8, 2011 at 9:19pm
About that bully, I really didn’t use much about him except for a variation on his name. The story doesn’t get into his childhood, and he’s 55 at the time of the story–there’s a lot of potential for a teenager to grow up in 40+ years.
You go for the dark stout, Dani? Erg. Like drinking molasses.
Marian AllenJune 8, 2011 at 10:02pm
Molasses is sweet, innit? I like the dark stuff, too. And the red. And the winter white. And….