Making A CharacteR:   Introductions

 

    Somewhere in the void of my mind there exists a place that is both empty and full at the same instant. The landscape is dotted with half-formed monuments of ivy and stone, waterfalls that cascade down into an abyss of stars, and a lone crudely painted desk with mismatched chair where my consciousness desperately spins out imagery to fill in the cracks that expand and contrast from one scene to the next.
    A figure manifests within - a shimmer, a haze. Mouse forms into this vacant world like a popped opalescent bubble in the sunlight. He's short and thin as a rail, with a wild mop of auburn hair that curls over his slightly pointed ears and hangs low over his dark eyes like a shaggy dog. He has expressive and bushy eyebrows that raise high over a cunning smirk. It hovers like the faintest hint in the corners of his lips as he watches me, watching him.

    “Can you pass me a mirror?” He says, his voice gravelly and raw from its first use.
    I sigh, knowing that I’d made him slightly narcissistic due to the narcissistic nature of what I’d created him for in the first place. Witnessing the disdainful shrug of his bare shoulder, I was already wondering if that had been a mistake.
    I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that his first concern would be of his own appearance.
    Without a second thought, I purposely dress him in a loose pair of olive-green overalls rolled up to mid-calf, a black-and-white striped shirt with tacky diamond print, and a wide-brimmed hat with brightly hued plastic flowers like the kind eagerly religious women wear on Easter.
    He stares down at his new and strange attire and his dark eyes widen out with horror.
    “That was cruel, even for you! Now the readers will be tainted with this image of me from this point onward. First impressions are important, you know? What do I have to do to get a suitable dashing-hero description out of you?”
    “Continue to ask questions, for one. I’d like you to interview me for my new About the Author introduction on my website. If you do a good job and you behave yourself, I’ll dress you, or undress you, however you like in whatever story you’re inclined to exist in.”
    He purses his supple lower lip and ducks his head in contemplation, gripping the pastel splattered straw hat in his fist and yanking it off in annoyance.
    “Any story I want?” He finally asks, lifting a skeptical eyebrow.
    “Sure.” I shrug, “You characters do whatever you want most of the time anyway. I mean, look at how Denora and Conner hijacked the story-line in Release! I had to add a whole other book to the series just to get it all straightened out.”
    Mouse sucks his teeth and rolls his eyes like a practiced teenager, “Oh, please! You know you set that up. You’re like the evil puppet-master, putting the pieces into place and sitting back to eat your bucket of salty popcorn while you watch it all explode in front of you.” His arm attached to the floral-topped hat jerks up and down as he waves it at me in accusation, all the while the words pour out of him in a single breath before he heaves in another mouthful of air, “Don’t act so innocent - you know you love it!”
    “More than you could possibly imagine - but the stories still sometimes take on a life of their own. Occasionally characters make decisions us writers don’t expect, and stories take a turn that the writer wasn’t anticipating. More than once I’ve added a side character to a story in passing who turned out to be more important than I knew when I initially created them.”
    “Is that how you write your books? Just plop down some exotic scenery, make up a few tormented characters, then set them loose to run amok and give you a story?”
    I narrow my eyes at his mocking tone, my lips forming a hard line. Mouse withers in front of me as he realizes his mistake.
    “Take my story in a direction I don’t like, and I’ll be forced to re-write you.” I say evenly.
    Mouse gulps hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing up his long thin neck like a buoy in turbulent waters.
    “No. You’re goading me, aren’t you?” I grumble, leaning my elbows on the surface of the imaginary desk as I peer up at him from beneath my frustrated brow. Mouse sighs, his stiff shoulders melting in to a more casual pose as he observes me, waiting to see what I’ll do next. “Of course that’s not how it works. What a terrible story that would make! No direction. No plot. No point to care for the characters, or their adventures.” I smile, my anger momentarily muted, “Sure, some characters are entertaining purely based on their personalities. You could listen to them blather on and on about absurdity, and they’d still engage you with their wit and lively delivery.”
    “Like me?” He grins elatedly again, his dark eyes twinkling like a child who’d just won his first gamble.
    “I haven’t decided if I want you to be witty or not.” I respond.
    Mouse deflates, and he leans back against the edge of the desk, his fingers gripping the straw hat so roughly I hear the brim snapping in his fist.
    “I don’t like the way you’re looking at me.” He grumbles, half under his breath, “I feel as if my fate has been sealed and you’re already tightening the noose around my neck.”
    “Maybe you’d worry less about your neck if you kept to task and did what I asked of you in the first place?” I prompt. Mouse blinks several times in confusion and I groan, shaking my head in exasperation, “The interview?”
    His whole face flushes a vibrant red, and he waves the straw hat back and forth in front of him as if to fan it away, “Of course! How silly of me. What would you like me to ask first?”
    “Seriously, Mouse? You have no ideas of your own?”
    “You made me this way!” He huffs, tossing the hat out into the abyss beyond the desk. A stillness settles as we both watch it swirl down into the darkness below.
    “Start with my background, perhaps?” I offer.
    Mouse grunts indignantly at my suggestion, “You should never start a story with boring background info. I learned at least that much from you.”
    I can’t help laughing in response. There he is, earnestly forming his own identity and personality in front of me and I’m left feeling both amused and in awe at the very concept of fiction.
    “Which one of us is the character here?” I joke, stretching my long legs out in front of me and resting them on the edge of the desk beside him. Mouse glares down at my imaginary boots, only inches from where his ugly green overalls met the side of the wooden desk, and he quickly moves away.
    “You tell me, Writer. Did you create me, or did I make you up instead?”
    “Maybe I made you witty after all - and slightly sarcastic. I’m liking you more. If you don’t want to start with background, then what?”
    Mouse scowls and purses his lips as if trying to stifle something that could end up causing him more harm than good. I watch as he turns and paces up and down in front of the desk a few times.
    “Go on. You know it’s eating you up, Mouse. Just say it.”
    I sigh as his tormented expression darkens, and he turns away in shame.
    “You don’t like me. You’re going to kill me off horribly, aren’t you?” He looks broken - lost - a being without purpose or function.
    I laugh in disbelief - the kind that bursts out suddenly as you try to hold it in, so it ends up snapping out like the crack of a whip.
    “Even I’m not sure how you’ll end up yet! I don’t like to plan that far ahead, unless it’s detrimental to the outcome of the story. Leaving some things open and loose gives the characters room to grow and change, allowing them show a side of themselves that I hadn’t expected or anticipated. I find when I give characters some space, they usually end up surprising me.” I shrug, leaning back in my chair until it was hovering precariously over the abyss on two legs. “Honestly, I wasn’t really planning that far ahead when I created you. You’re formless, with no history and no future except the one I dream up for you. You’re not bound by a setting, a plot, or the opinions of other characters. Right now your path is the brightest - because you have nothing but possibilities ahead of you.”
    Mouse takes a hard step back in surprise at my unexpected praise, his arms whirling like a windmill as his footing teeters over the edge of the abyss. My arm snaps out as I lean forward in my chair and grasp hold of his forearm, guiding him back onto the solid patch of ground beneath my imaginary desk.
    “There now, Mouse… if I wanted to eliminate you, I could have just sat back and watched you plummet over the side. Wouldn’t even have had to get my hands dirty.” I can’t help grinning as I release him, and Mouse heaves a long breath, his eyes wild as he turns to peer at his almost demise below.
    “That was close.” He mumbles, “What would have happened if I’d gone over?”
    I shrug, “I haven’t the faintest idea. Dissolved like lard in stomach acid, perhaps? Or erased, like a sketch, line by line?”
    Mouse blanches and turns to cautiously step closer towards the safety of the desk.
    “Sooooo?” He tries to smile, but it looks more like he’d swallowed something sour.
    I roll my eyes in response, “So, the first thing you should do if you want to live on is try not to get on the author’s nerves. Pissing off your Writer is not usually a good idea. You’ll likely end up someplace foul by the end of the story. I’d suggest you try to figure out what makes you, as a character, unique and worth keeping around.”
    “I should figure it out? Isn’t that your job?” Mouse sputters in disbelief.
    “Yes… yes it is.”
    Mouse grows silent, pondering it a while. His dark eyes focus on an abstract thought in the distance and he grins.
    “If I agree to your interview, I want you to make me better. I want to look more dashing - dark hair and bright eyes, a fine jaw, built physique. I want to be taller, smarter and more witty. I want readers to be curious and inspired by me. I want your other characters to envy my ability to create my own destiny - through you.”
    I just stare at him, stunned.
    “I wasn’t expecting that.” I admit, a slow smirk taking over the side of my face, “I’m impressed, Mouse. Maybe I’ll keep you around after all.”
    Mouse’s eyes widen with dread. He was a flawed character - an incomplete thought - and he’d only thwarted the sad fate of being unwritten with his unexpected and determined offer.
    He’d surprised me. For my own character to do so gave me a reason to keep him around a while longer. I was beginning to find him entertaining, and it made me curious to see what else he might have up his sleeve.
I chuckle at the startled look on his face, watching as his dark eyes lighten to an amber-hue around his perfectly round pupils. He bats his thick eyelashes, as if suddenly seeing more clearly.
    “How’s that?” I ask, tilting my head as I watch him poke and prod his body, looking for other requested alterations, “One step at a time, Mouse. I gave you something you wanted, so now?”
    Mouse nods excitedly, “Okay…” He runs his fingers over the top of his head, pushing the wild auburn waves out of his eyes as he starts to pace in front of the desk, “Questions… questions… Um… How about: Who? What? Where? And How?” He finishes his list with a broad grin, his fists landing into the sides of his hips triumphantly.
    “Monosyllabic questions? How lazy of you. I thought you were more ambitious, Mouse.”
    “Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from and where are you headed? How have you accomplished your greatest achievements? I just boiled them down to a more simplistic form.”
    I raise a skeptical eyebrow, “If you say so. It’s still far below the level of creativity I expected of you.”
    “You expect a lot from a fictional character.”
    “You’re probably right - but I know what you’re capable of.”
    “Well?”
    “Well, what?” I snap impatiently, ready to call off this whole hopeless endeavor and type out some mundane gibberish for the About the Author section involving my college degree in creative writing and philosophy, and the plethora of strange work environments I’d inhabited over the years instead.
    Both of Mouse’s overly expressive eyebrows shoot up in an expectant sneer, “Are you going to answer my questions?”
    “You were serious?”
    “My sense of humor is still evolving. In that instance, I was being flippant but sincere.”
    “All right. Let’s see…” I mumble, running his questions over again in my mind before deciding to start with the first two, “I’m an author. I write fantasy and paranormal novels and short stories primarily. I do a host of other random, coffee and creativity-fueled projects - like painting, photography and crafty things like crochet, costume making, and jewelry. I spend the bulk of my time when not working, or frolicking in my own head, having mermaid tea parties and ninja helicopter races with my two young kids.”
    At my very utterance, a pixelated image manifests like a view-screen over the expanse of emptiness beyond the desk. A faded rug spread over a wooden hardwood floor where a city of Lego-brick buildings shake and shudder. A young girl with ringlet curls and her giggling younger brother stomp through like Godzilla until the highest towers collapse over the elaborately arranged wooden train-tracks snaking through their bare feet. A painted tin rocket-ship zooms through the air, shooting imaginary laser-beams as I chase the squealing children through the make-believe city before crashing down in the center of the rug to invade.
    “Really?” Mouse says with a slightly slack-jawed expression, “Not the imposing builder and destroyer of worlds that I’d imagined.”
    “Why not? It’s all the same. My kids and I build massive cities and railways, only to mow them down with a toy ambulance, driven by a blue-haired fairy princess who fights zombies. Sounds pretty similar to me, actually. Only I do it on a grander and more complex scale. Writing is cathartic - we, whether knowingly or not, put bits of ourselves into what we create - memories, emotions, experiences - they all hide under the surface, peeking out in conversation, in snippets of scenery, in a lover’s spat… It’s just another lens to view the world. Creating is play, it’s fluid, it’s metamorphosis.” I shrug, “Speaking of metamorphosis, how tall did you say you wanted to be again?”
    Mouse held his hand up several inches above his own head, “I’m really not very good at this. Perhaps if you had made me into a reporter or a police detective I’d have a clearer idea of how to go about this?”
    “Why don’t you just pretend? Maybe instead of a detective, you’re an actor? You can portray a journalist in some thriller movie, asking me questions for an article that will unveil a hidden and deadly threat to the future of humankind.”
    “An actor… pretending to be a journalist… who is actually a character… in a fictional interview?” Mouse laughs hard, his whole body rocking against it while shimmers of mirth escaped the corners of his eyes in a handful of tears.
    He tries to stand up straight, wiping at his cheeks in an attempt to compose himself. Mouse suddenly gasps when he realizes he is a good five inches taller than he’d been a moment before.
    “Now you’re taller than I am!” I say, nodding to myself as I notice the pleased flush of his cheeks. He’s over six feet tall, casting a long shadow over the length of the desk. I squint up into the atmosphere overhead, searching curiously for the source of the unexpected light.
    Mouse makes an exaggerated pout, “I still don’t look the part.”
    “Stop complaining, Mouse. I could always just shrink you down to the size of your namesake instead.” I say, shielding my eyes as they sweep across the expanse, only gradually returning them to the terrified expression on my character’s face.
    “No. No.” He says quickly, shaking his head in earnest.
    I chuckle under my breath, watching in amusement as he taps his fingers against his brow, desperately scrambling to come up with a suitable question before I can change my mind.
    “Can you tell me more about your publishing journey?”
    I scrunch up my nose and sigh in dismay.
    “That bad?” Mouse chuckles. I respond with equal enthusiasm, my cheeks tight as the echo of our shared laughter eases my discomfort.
    “Not really. I have regrets, but I’m learning from them. And learning is the important part. Things change and shift so frequently, at times it feels like I’m swimming up-steam, trying to keep a balance with everything.”
    “Tell me about how you started writing then?”
    “That one is much easier. I’ve wanted to be a writer since the second grade. It’s been a devoted journey; I’ve known ever since elementary school exactly what I wanted to do with my life, what made me happiest - but the details took a while to develop. I didn’t know what I wanted to write. I dabbled with Jane Austen-esque period fiction, and I was an avid lover of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women as well. I wrote stories about mysterious orphans with mystical abilities, talking fairy animals, pirates… I didn’t discover my specific love for speculative fiction until shortly before High School when I went to a New York City Book Fair and nabbed myself a dozen or so paperbacks with curiously interesting covers for a couple of bucks. Out of that stack of prized reading material, enough to last my voracious appetite for fiction about a month—”
    “A month?” Mouse interrupts, and I scowl pointedly at him, “Sorry. Continue?”
    “I read a lot, especially when I was younger. I breezed through about a novel or two every week back then. I don’t get quite as much leisure time nowadays.”
    “I bet.” Mouse snickers.
    “Out of that treasure-trove I brought home that day, I ended up with two books that ultimately decided my preferred genre: Fantasy. The first was The Catswold Portal by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. I’ve had a longstanding obsession with shape-shifting cats ever since.”
    “I’m sure Silas appreciates that.”
    “Maybe not. Have you seen the agony he endures when he shifts? Poor guy…”
    “And the other?”
    “Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling. There were many others after, but those two solidified my adoration of fantasy novels and my realization that it was my genre - the genre I wanted to write in. Though they’re not as well known, those two books will always have a special place in my heart. Between them, and my already established love of all things Anne Rice, I started writing my first two full-length novels when I was about fourteen. The first was Firechild, which I’ve written, edited, re-written, changed point of view, and about a dozen other alterations over the past twenty years since I started it. I’m working on it again now - what I hope to be the final version once it’s complete. I’m finally happy with it and ready to finish and put it behind me.”
    “You sound hard to please.”
    “I am a bit of a perfectionist with my work. It’s something I’ve had to ease up on lately, because non-stop tweaks and edits and re-writes never end. If I don’t stop and allow myself to be satisfied with my own writing, no one else will ever get to read it. It’ll never be good enough for me - even if others think it’s perfectly polished.” I shook my head, laughing at my own stubbornness.
    Mouse tilted his head curiously, the tips of his slightly pointed ears twitching, “What about the other?”
    “The other novel I started that year? I called it Lusus Naturae, which roughly means abomination of nature in Latin. I originally found the title in a thesaurus, because I was the weird writer-kid who read the thesaurus and found the history of words fascinating. Unfortunately, I mistakenly wrote it down as Lucus instead of Lusus. Didn’t find out until college when I actually took the time to study Latin that I’d written it wrong, which was horrible, because by then I’d finished the book and was querying it out to agents. I even sent it to Tor Publishing on a long-shot to see if they’d be interested. It’s the only time I ever gave traditional publishing an honest shot, and of course I bungled it miserably. I don’t regret it though. I was an ambitious teen and had NO idea what I was doing.  I had the title of my own book written wrong. I labeled it as ‘Historical Fantasy’ because I hadn’t the foggiest idea about genres. Of course it was rejected. Their stated reason being that it wasn’t the genre that Tor Fantasy published. Boy, did I screw that up! I ended up getting contacted by Publish America, which is now called America Star Books I believe, but luckily I steered clear of that mess. I pretty much gave up on trying to get published after that, deciding to wait until I’d gotten a better idea of the obstacles I had ahead of me. I wrote a couple of other books during those years that followed, including a fairy story inspired by Peter Pan and at least two more versions of Firechild… Then I got distracted by life.”
    “Life can be pretty distracting.” Mouse says, puffing up his chest like an authority. I can’t help snickering at his false bravado.
    At least he was trying.
    The strange ethereal light that had suddenly appeared began fading away. I quickly realized my energy was waning along with it. Sucking in a slow breath as exhaustion washed over me, I released it as an agonized groan.
    “After college I got lost in a world of work, bills and rowdy parties that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. It wasn’t until shortly before I got married that I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. I loved the idea of having control over every element of my books. It made not only the writing and story-building aspects, but the whole process, into a creative endeavor. I loved it - I still love it! - but it’s a great deal of work, doing it all yourself. I often wish I was better at the whole marketing mess, and that I’d written more during those idle years instead of pushing it off until I felt like I was a better writer.” I snort out a bitter laugh, “It seems silly now - waiting. By that point, it had been ten years since my last attempt at publishing. The only way to become a better writer is to keep writing - and then write even more. Now I have dozens of books lined up waiting to be written, and never enough hours in the day to write them all. Lost time is probably my biggest regret.”
    “Time is relative.” Mouse says with a casual shrug.
    “Time is a precious commodity, whether its real or not. Between the daily demands of being a mother to two rambunctious kids, to working my day job, to writing and editing and trying to engage my readers, there simply isn’t enough time to get it all done. I’m pulled in many directions at once. If I could go back and give my younger self one bit of advice, it would be to write as many books as I could before I developed other, more pressing demands on my free time. I’d have dozens of books publishable by now, instead of struggling for three years to finish my first series.”
    Mouse sighs, sensing my shift in mood, “Sounds frustrating.”
    An uncomfortable silence stretches between us and I pan my gaze over the abstract monuments in the distance. A Stonehenge-like arrangement of large black marble stones lifts and sways on the horizon, the abyss of stars surrounding them rippling like water as they sinks down into the darkness and disappear.
    Mouse clears his throat loudly, drawing my attention, and I realize he’s waiting for his reward.
    “Ugh!” I grumble, lifting my arm above my head and snapping my fingers with a loud CRACK! Immediately, Mouse’s torso stretches like rubber - his chest widening and puffing out like a balloon as his thin wiry body contorts and leavens like bread. When I finish he flexes his new muscular body with a satisfied grin. He has wide shoulders and a broad, firm chest that fills out his tacky diamond-print shirt until it looks like it will burst at any moment.
    “I like it!” He whistles appreciatively, turning his body to and fro so he can get a better downward view, “Though a mirror would still be handy, if you wouldn’t mind?”
    “Do you really need to look at yourself? Being devilishly handsome isn’t enough?” I ask.
    “How do I know I’m gorgeous if I can’t see it with my own eyes?”
    “Your eyes aren’t even real, Mouse. You’re imaginary -  just like this desk, and this chair, and the swirling galaxy of nothingness that surrounds us.” My patience with him had whittled away and I could almost feel the softness of my pillow as I pictured climbing into bed for the night.
    “Don’t go!” Mouse begs, his eyes wide with panic as I start to dissolve back into the real world. “I could ask you more questions. Better ones! I can pretend I’m an actor, playing a journalist—” He huffs in desperation, “I promise, I’ll be anything you want!”
    “Maybe another time, Mouse.” I blink slowly with fatigue as I watch the remaining monuments sink into the darkness, swallowed up like quicksand until nothing remained.
    “But you haven’t finished me!” He whines, his arms stretched out and his face a mask of despondency as I vanish from the scene, piece by piece. Mouse’s look of misery intensifies as more of me disappears, and only my face and half my torso linger, “You have to let me ask you more questions! There’s more that has yet to be made better. We had a deal!”
    I shrug the one shoulder I have left, “I don’t have to let you do anything. I’m done, Mouse. You got more out of me than most. Be satisfied with that.”
    Mouse scowls, but it looks strangely seductive with his newly fashioned face, “You’re the worst Writer I’ve ever known.”
    I laugh again, “I’m the only Writer you’ve ever known. I’m the one who made you into a character.”
    He watches with an indignant pout as the rest of my face disintegrates, leaving only my mouth behind.
    A wicked grin curls the corner of my lips as they too fade away into nothing.
    “And by the way, Mouse,” My voice lingers in the void and his expression brightens for an instant, “You’re a terrible act
or.”

You can read the original version of this on my old Blogspot Blog HERE.

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