On Narcissism and Protagonists

So I’m doing a shit ton of interview questions for Falcata Times, some of which they’ll use in their magazine  and all of which will go up as a FAQ section of this website, eventually.  (I’m halfway through, Gareth, I swear!)  

Falcata Times asked a lot of questions that other people have asked in other forums, or to this blog site when I was looking for questions for the back of Tempest Rising.  One of the most common questions I’ve seen is “Are you like your protagonist?”

I love answering this question.  The short answer is, “No.”  I’m not like Jane at all.  She’s way braver, way nicer, way more confident, in some ways, than I am.  We have some similarities, but any good traits are exacerbated in her and she doesn’t have my bite or my ambition.  I’ve also given her my sense of humor and my english nerdiness, but that’s about it.

So it’s an easy question to answer, in some ways, but there’s more to it than that.  Because I consider my books to be more character driven than is normal for UF.  I mean, there are clear plotlines, and they’re action packed and very UF friendly.  But, like Charlaine Harris’s books, the core of my writing is my characters, and especially my protagonist.  In theory, I think that some really plot-driven UF books could be written with an entirely different protagonist than what’s on offer, and yet the bulk of such books would be the same.  This isn’t a criticism, mind you.  I love the detail of the world-building that are in such books, and I love an action driven, ambitiously plotted read.  But my book isn’t like that.  You couldn’t have Tempest Rising without Jane, in the same way you couldn’t have The Southern Vampire Mysteries without Sookie.  Despite the fact that Alan Ball seems to be doing his best to cut her out.  But that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, my point is that Jane is the hook of the book.  So when people ask me, “Is she you?”, that question is more loaded than I, at first, realized.  Because Jane IS my book.  And she was so clear to me from the beginning.  I wrote her story, not mine.  And the other series I’m developing has the same sort of tension to it.  My new protagonist is the polar opposite of Jane, in many way, and yet they have some striking similarities.  Especially their capacity for friendship; their loyalty; their self-awareness.  And these are my values; the values that mean most to me and that I esteem above all others.  So maybe both Jane and my new gal are dream versions of me, without all the baggage and neuroses that I cart around like a valet.  This makes them easy to write, in some ways, because I just think in terms of what I should do, or what I would like to do, in a given situation, and then I have them do it.  

So the real challenge, I think, would be to write a character based on my faults, on what I’m ashamed of about myself.  And I know this.  I’ve been aware of this for a while.  My real challenge would be to write a character who is weak where I am weak, rather than strong where I am strong(ish).  

I’ve been mulling over that character for awhile.  I knew one thing about her: she’d be entirely human.  There’d be no secret revelation giving her great powers, or anything.  She’d be human and utterly vulnerable.  She’d also be a bit of a shit.  But it would make sense why she was a bit of a shit.  And she would have some really good traits, to make up for the shitty ones.  

Another hard sell, and keep in mind that I was selling to myself, was that I wanted her shitty traits to be rather non-dramatic.  No nymphomania, no drug addiction, no penchant for pushing over old ladies or toddlers.  She’d just be a bit of a shit in the way that most of us are, if we’re honest, a bit of a shit.

So, basically, I wanted to create a character who was average: an average human who was averagely shitty.  But who would want to read that?  That character would have to be really cohesive for her to work.  And I couldn’t see her.

Then I was on a massage table in Calistoga, a treat  from my oldest and dearest friend, Jana.  I hadn’t actually relaxed since I started Tempest Rising a year ago, I don’t think, until that moment.  And my new character came to me in a flash.  I saw her, standing in front of me, and I knew everything about her.  And she’s awesome.  I love her, warts and all.  Some of them are my warts, some of them are made up warts, and all of the warts have a backstory that is completely fictional.  But she’s AWESOME.

So she’s number 3 on the list of people to write, but she’s higher than that in my estimation.  I’m so excited to breathe life into her, and I can’t wait for the summer break.  I am going to write like I’ve never written before.  I gotta get this stuff out, before I burst.  

Because my protagonists, in the end, aren’t me.  They aren’t even figments of me.  They’re fully formed women nestled under my skin, and they want out.  They want to be born.  I understand Luigi Pirandello, when he says of his Six Characters, “Born alive, they wished to live.”  My girls want to live, too.  So I gotta git to steppin’.

Summer break can’t get here soon enough . . .

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