If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

September Interviews

9/2 Dianne Freeman, A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder

9/9 Ellen Byron, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

9/16 Marilyn Levinson, writing as Allison Brook, Checked Out for Murder

9/23 Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers

9/30 Sherry Harris, From Beer To Eternity

September Guest Bloggers

9/19 Judy Alter

WWK Weekend Bloggers

9/5 V. M. Burns

9/12 Jennifer J. Chow

9/26 Kait Carson


Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Giving Voice to My Characters

In my stories, I often try to give voice to some people who live on the fringes of society and aren’t often featured in popular fiction.

Many writers put a great deal of imagination into creating characters, but I find I tend to use people I have known, and most of my characters are composites. I also draw on my background for most of my settings. I try to get into the protagonist’s head, put him or her in a setting with which I am familiar, and then sit back to see how the characters react to the situation in which they find themselves.

Because I have worked in a variety of settings, I am comfortable placing my characters as laborers or forklift drivers on the midnight shift in a steel fabrication plant, or operating a massive glass melter in a fiberglass manufacturing facility.

I have also worked supervising an inmate work crew in a large medium security prison and moved into teaching special education at inner city public schools and alternative schools, both public and private, and those settings show up, too.

The protagonist in my Jesse Damon crime novel series is not based on any one specific person. After twenty
years in prison on a murder conviction, he is released on parole, and finding it tough going just to survive. I draw on several of the young inmates who were assigned to my crew. Some prison counselors put a great
deal of thought into the institutional work positions they offer inmates, all of which pay in the neighborhood of a dollar a day. After I got a reputation for being a “mother” figure, I was often assigned people who had been convicted as adults for crimes committed when they were in their mid teens, and many of them told me their stories in great detail.
Anthony was convicted of rape when he was fourteen. “I’d never do anything she didn’t want to do. She
was my girlfriend. But when she got pregnant, she told the preacher I’d forced her.”

“My sister was gonna tell my mom that I’d been drinking. I was so mad. I grabbed her by the neck and shook her. And then she was dead. Now I’m locked up. For life. My mom lost both her kids in one stupid minute.”

“I loved her,” Gilbert said. “I still do. But I was seventeen and she was only fifteen. Her father reported that I’d raped her, and she was afraid to go against him. As soon as she turned eighteen and moved out, she started writing me.” He showed me some of the letters, where she apologized to him for not having the courage to stand up to her father. But she didn’t offer to testify now, either.

“When I was a little kid, my dad would boost me through windows so I could pass stuff out the window to him. We did that for years. Then one time somebody was home when we didn’t expect it. I got caught. I never told them about my dad. They had my fingerprints from lots of burglaries. I waited and waited for my dad to come visit me in jail, or at least write me a note. I never heard from him again.”
Other people who cry out to me to be in fiction include my uncles, who came back from war traumatized. Despite some attempts of family to help them, they couldn’t hold down a job, became homeless and drifted into alcohol and drug dependency. And girls I knew who made poor choices in mates, marrying men who turned out to be abusive, to be told by their families, “You made your bed. Now lie in it.” People devastated by injury or illness, job loss or the dissolution of their family.

So many of these people do their best, just to try to maintain a reasonable life. And so many of them fail. I want to give their voices a chance to be heard.

How about your characters? Do you deliberately develop them, or do they spring from people who have been in your life?


Barb Goffman said...

These stories are all terrible, but this one is the most heartbreaking: “When I was a little kid, my dad would boost me through windows so I could pass stuff out the window to him. We did that for years. Then one time somebody was home when we didn’t expect it. I got caught. I never told them about my dad. They had my fingerprints from lots of burglaries. I waited and waited for my dad to come visit me in jail, or at least write me a note. I never heard from him again.”

Poor kid. Despite what he did, poor, poor kid.

Warren Bull said...

I write characters who are composites of people I have known. Since I was a psychologist for thirty years with People who are indigent, I have heard some personal stories that would break your heart. I tone them down in my stories.

Jim Jackson said...

We can't create characters out of whole cloth -- they have to be based on our experiences, either personal or second hand.

I have a couple of characters whose lineage I can trace. Most I create without thinking of any particular person.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

KM, such touching stories. No wonder Jesse Damon in your series is such a believable character and one who I feel saddened by every time things go wrong in his life. He's such a good person, but faces unbelievable odds and prejudice from others. I hope you consider the series until life gets much brighter for him. He's a character I've grown to love and care deeply about.

As for my characters, they're a little bit of someone or other at least in the beginning, but then they morph into their own being.

Linda Rodriguez said...

My main characters are never really based on someone else consciously, though, as with all my characters, they must contain some small element of myself in them somewhere. Often, though, I will base minor characters on someone I have known. Like Gloria has found, they start there and morph into something altogether different.

Shari Randall said...

I couldn't put down your latest Jesse Damon story because he is such a sympathetic character - striving against very long odds - and because he rings so true.
Perhaps we can't escape having shades of ourselves and people we know in our characters. When I wrote one particular character of mine, an ex-model in a short story, I wanted someone who was light years away from my everyday life. But turns out she had a mind of her own....

KM Rockwood said...

Barb, that kid is now a habitual criminal, serving a 38 year sentence. He has hepatitis and doesn't expect to ever see a release date (he knows better than to hope he might ever be paroled.) He just got transferred to another prison because he was getting into fights with a certain element in the last one. He's done a lot of illegal things in the very limited time he has not been incarcerated in his life, but IMHO, he never had much of a chance.

KM Rockwood said...

Warren, I'm sure your background as a psychologist gives you a lot of material. I was offered a position in a hospital for the criminally insane (a very narrow definition applied by the courts) but after visiting it, decided I probably could not deal with the population in a constructive manner, so I stayed where I was, working in a general prison.

KM Rockwood said...

Jim, I know what you mean. If I really think about it, I can trace the lineage of most of my characters, although I'm often not aware of their origins while I'm writing.

KM Rockwood said...

Gloria, I do plan to continue the series, and I do have some long-term resolutions in sight, but no matter what happens, that conviction is going to follow Jesse and pop up in unexpected ways.

KM Rockwood said...

Linda, I agree with you and Gloria that often a charcter will start out as someone familiar, then totally take on a life of his or her own.

KM Rockwood said...

Shari, doesn't it drive you crazy when character absolutely refuse to fulfill the role you've created them for? No amount of arguing with them that they are your creations and therefore, you are in charge, works. They do what they do, and we can either live with it or drop them from the story.

E. B. Davis said...

Both. Sometimes characters just speak to me. Other times, I make them up, but usually I have an idea about who they are, what they look like, and what I need in a character to portray the premise and plot of the book.

KM--those stories are horrible. You make me feel as if I live in Candyland.

Sarah Henning said...

I always *think* my characters come completely fresh out of my head, but usually there's always one that about halfway through the book I realize is someone I knew once upon a time. It's so funny when it turns out like that.

Kara Cerise said...

These stories are touching and heartbreaking, KM. It must have been difficult for you to hear some of them. The people who talked to you were probably grateful to have someone listen and care.

KM Rockwood said...

E.B, having the characters "talk" to you is a gift, and you're smart to make good use of it. The others that you have to make up are probably just struggling under the surface to be heard.

KM Rockwood said...

Sarah, it must be a surprise when you realize a character you're using is really a version of someone you know!

KM Rockwood said...

Kara, I have a fairly well established "It is what it is" attitude. I always try to look at a situation and say, "Okay, where are we now and what are we going to do about it?" Dwelling on the past, particularly the painful past, doesn't do anybody any good.

HL Carpenter said...

K.M., we're read the Jesse Damon books, and they are very realistic. Jesse's a strong, believable character--and now we know why.

Please keep writing this series.

Warren Bull said...

My characters announce themselves and want me to tell their story. They are often like a number of people I have known. Occasionally I will meet someone and file away a characteristic to use in a story later.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

the people you've known and the stories you tell! Jesse Damon is a character who has stayed with me, a stoic victim of the system, canny, street-smart.

I know my main characters well, and enjoy creating antagonists to foil them.

Kait said...

Powerful post. Powerful writing. My characters are a combination. Some from life--with additions and subtractions, some invented from the whole cloth of desire to know someone like them or to explore a facet of their characters.

KM Rockwood said...

Warren, I agree with you. If I try to make a character do something he or she doesn't want to do, I can expect that character to totally shut down and refuse to communicate with me.

Margaret, knowing your main characters well is important. And enjoying the entire writing process (or, at least, most of it) is why we continue to write.

Jim Jackson said...

None of my characters, with the exception of my protagonist, Seamus McCree, are largely based on any individual. That said, every character comes from some portion of my experience, whether that be personal, or reading, or anecdotal.

What I do find most humorous is when people are "sure" they know who a particular character is in real life. It is especially funny when it turns out I have never met or heard of the individual.

~ Jim

KM Rockwood said...

That is funny, Jim.

I remember talking to an author who used her sister in her novel, in a most unflattering light. She just never stopped to think about the possible consequences when the sister read the book. So she warned the sister that she was the model for one of the characters, and awaited a reaction.

The sister read the book and never recognized herself in the unflattering light. She decided the noble, intelligent heroine was based on her, and was quite pleased.