Saturday, April 23, 2022

Building a Character from the Ground Up by Kait Carson

It’s been a long time since I started a new series. The last was Southernmost Secrets in 2018 and it took me three years to finish the first book. No, don’t look it up. It’s still out on spec. Such is a writer’s life. Slog, open your veins, write the best words you can, then…wait.


Hank Wittie, she’s the protagonist in the series, was a joy to write. She flowed from my pen in the odd moments I grabbed between full time job and sleeping. A Millennial daughter of the Florida Keys, she walked a familiar turf. A Southernmost cousin to Hayden Kent, the protagonist of the Marathon, Florida-based Hayden Kent series.


While Hank perked on the back burner of submissions, someone named Sassy Romano began tugging at the corners of my mind. She came with her own story. A forty-something woman recovering from a bad marriage. Older, and with baggage. Okay, I can handle that. I’m older with baggage, too. Then she shared with me that she lives in the mountains of New Jersey. Picture smoke rising from my dug in heels. A Jersey girl! Yipes.


Jersey girls are unique in the world. They will never pump gas – little known fact, New Jersey has a LAW against pumping your own gas. They are street smart and savvy, even if they never lived by their wits—I think it’s in the water—and they have ‘tude. Serious attitude. These are not cliches. I’m Jersey born and bred and my husband tells people threatening to get on my last nerve not to make me go all Jersey on them. The man has been trained.


So, now I had a character demanding (she’s from Jersey after all) attention and I had to figure out how to bring her to life. I started with my High School alumni association and Facebook. Archive photos from the late 1990s helped me create a visual. The music of the era wasn’t to my taste, but it would be to Sassy’s so I spent a lot of time on Google. I got to know Sassy’s world and how it shaped her. Little by little, Sassy shared personal stories, her hopes, dreams, fears, traumas, and nightmares. Sassy and I are still getting to know one and other. I have a feeling she’s holding something back. Time will tell.


I thought it would be fun for you to get to know a little about Sassy, too. I’m in the home stretch of completing the first—as yet untitled—book, but I thought I’d share a bit of Sassy’s introduction. This is from the first draft, and may change.


It’s not often you can date the day your life blew up. Usually, it’s a gradual slide into hell. Not this time. It happened on July 4, 2004. The night I let my guard down and allowed desire to overcome common sense. The night I, well, it didn’t matter. Nearly twenty years later, the time had come to pay the piper. His tune followed me on the road to my childhood home.


The crisp air of a mountain fall filled my lungs. In another month, the woods would be a riot of color, oak red, maple orange, birch yellow. The car crested a hill and a wondrous kaleidoscope spread out in all directions. Every shade of green I could name was represented. Some of the taller trees had begun to pivot into their autumn colors. Early this year, but it had been a cold summer and fall. My feet touched the brake of their own accord. My fingers itched for the camera. This scenery required more than a cell phone could capture. A quick glance in the rearview mirror revealed no cars behind me. What the heck. I pulled over onto the shoulder of the road. The door of my Subaru closed with a soft clunk. Pine needles crunched beneath my feet.


I rooted around through the bags in the rear of the car and came up with the camera. My finger pressed the ready button. The camera, a Hasselblad, made a whirling sound as it sprang to life, the lens snaking out. I removed the lens cap and pivoted to take in a three hundred and sixty degree view. Wanting more height to focus on the overall picture, I climbed on the back bumper and hoisted myself as far up on the roof as I could manage. The external cargo carrier left just enough room for me to kneel. Thrilled with the view, brought the camera to my eye and I snapped off a series of photos.


A sound caught my attention. I froze in place, my knees wobbling a bit with the strain. Across the road a doe peeked from behind a tall maple, her still spotted fawn at her side. I sucked in a breath and held it. My patience was rewarded when the deer arranged themselves in a perfect tableau. My hand rapidly adjusted the focus and clicked milliseconds before the deer shot across the road behind my parked car and disappeared into the woods. The perfect photo. I took it as a sign that all would be well with my new life. Cradling the camera, my foot sought the safety of the bumper, and I lowered myself to the ground.


I’d love to know what you think.


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  1. Great character, Kait! Of course, I lived in Jersey till high school, so I have a special fondness for the species--except I have always pumped my own gas.

  2. LOL - I didn't know you were a Jersey Girl, Margaret! I didn't learn to pump my gas until I was in my 30s when Florida phased out the attended stations. My first attempt was a failure. I was in a rental car and had no idea how to open the gas door. It was like a short from the Three Stooges.

  3. Looks like a promising new book and new characters, but like Margaret, I'm partial to Jersey having lived there until I was twelve.

  4. Great characters, and I was especially pleased to see you enjoying getting to know them and sharing them with us.

  5. @Debra, another Jersey girl! Thanks for the kind words.

    @KM, thank you. It has been fun. Like revisiting old friends.

  6. Wow. I didn’t realize I was in a group with so many Jersey connections. Guess I add diversity 🤣

  7. LOL, I didn't know it either until today. We're everywhere!