Saturday, February 25, 2017

Where Do My Characters Come From?

An author event in Charleston where
I, no lie, answered this exact question.
As you may recall, last week I started a short series in which I respond to common questions I get at author events. Last Saturday, I discussed where I get book ideas. This week, I begin responding to the folks who want to know where my characters come from. So here goes. There's no short answer to that, so I'm going to concentrate for a while on one character at a time, starting with this question:

"Is Harry Shalan you?"

Seriously, you should
see my classroom. It's
like a museum.
I get that all the time. The short answer is no. The long answer is a little more complicated. It's really hard to deny that he and I are strongly connected. I'm an English teacher and he's a former English teacher. He only taught for one year, though, and I'm in my twentieth year at my school. I was a seminarian and he was too. But I quit to take a job at a church while he quit to become a gumshoe. I like trains and superheroes and he likes trains and superheroes. And my friends who read my books say that Harry sounds like me in their heads, but that is pretty much where the resemblance ends. He's a tough guy and I am decidedly not. He has shot people and put away lots of criminals. I have shot paper targets and put away lots of pizza. He is athletic and muscular, his body only marred by the occasional bullet wound. I give dad bod a bad name and my body is only marred by my gall bladder surgery scars. He's happily married to a gorgeous, sexy redhead. I am decidedly less successful in the romance department. Ladies, I am, as hard as it is to believe based on my description of myself, available.

Probably my proudest moment as a teacher,
the year I received the Milken National
Educator Award. The young lady with
me is one of many inspirations for
Harry's adopted daughter Jenn. Her name
is Marissa and she and her husband
are expecting a baby soon!
Because we have the same voice and I know we have the same speech patterns, I guess you could say that Harry is, to borrow a DC Comics concept, me from a different Earth in the multiverse. Actually, if you want to know where I got the idea for creating a character in this way, the answer is my writing hero Robert B. Parker, who stole the idea from his writing hero Raymond Chandler, creator of the iconic Philip Marlowe. He was open about the fact that he based his main hero, Spenser, on himself. He created a character who sounded and thought about the world just like he did, but that was where the resemblance ended. I loved Spenser from the moment I started reading that first book back in the 1980s, but his worldview is a lot darker than mine, so it makes sense that in stealing Parker's idea, it would be by creating a character who wasn't as sullied by the world as Spenser is. Like Spenser, Harry sees himself as an Arthurian knight born out of time and believes he's in the world to help the weak and defend the downtrodden. And he has a code that guides his life. But Harry's code and Spenser's code are different in a lot of ways. One of the big differences between Harry and Spenser is in religious beliefs. Harry, like me, is a man of faith, while Spenser is agnostic. That gives a completely different tone to my work from that of Parker. For one, you'll find not a single curse word in any of my books. There are, hopefully not too graphic, sex scenes in my books, but they are always between Harry and Dee and that's on purpose. I think it's important for the world to understand that Christians aren't anti-sex. And while Harry never judges, always helping and encouraging, he and Dee are quite open about their beliefs, especially with their daughter Jenn.

I could go on and on talking about the one fictional character I probably know better than Spenser, but I think that will suffice. To sum up, the answer to the question with which I started this post is yes and no. Harry is me, but he's most decidedly also not me. Does that clear it up?

Next week: Dee Shalan


  1. Well put. He's you, but not you. Totally explains it. *Pepper*

  2. I knew he was you! More you than not you, I'd say! The sense of humor gave it away. Love your sense of humor!!! Judy Jones