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Investigating a conspiracy really wasn't on Nikki's very long to-do list.

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Kris Neri | Who is Running This Show?


Do writers choose their characters -- or do characters choose their writers?

The idea of characters picking their writers might seem a bit fanciful, but surely, characters emerge in ways that neither the writer’s conscious mind, nor even her unconscious, can explain.

Of course, we all draw on life -- our own and everyone else's. My husband always says that writers are the nosiest people on earth. I don't think we're nosy, exactly; more like super-interested. Sure, we eavesdrop on private conversations in public places (cell phone users make it a breeze -- in case you haven't noticed, you're shouting). We watch strangers in restaurants and create scenarios for situations we're not close enough to hear. But that’s not snoopiness, as much as a desire to understand people.

Remember that old cliché: it's all grist for the mill. When you share something personal with a writer, you do so at your own peril.

Still, no matter what we experience or observe, it's hard to explain how fully formed characters, which we weren't conscious of creating, simply walk onto the page.

TITLEThat's what happened with Samantha Brennan, one of the protagonists of my new paranormal mystery, HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE (which recently received a Lefty Award nomination! Yay!). In her booming, robust voice, Samantha described herself to me - before I had any idea who she was:

Man, what a sight I was! Long blonde hair curling wildly in every direction, crowned with a wreath of battered silk flowers held together with Christmas tree garland. Makeup by Crayola. And that dress I wore -- half Renaissance ball gown in bright blue satin and lace, half soothsayer garb with its filmy organdy layers, half jester suit. Too many halves, I know, but it was quite a dress.

I was even more stunned when her partner-in-crime -- Special Agent Annabelle Haggerty, who is also a genuine Celtic goddess -- dealt herself in the storyline. How could this come from my background? What did I know of goddesses? But Annabelle hooked me with an unexpected conundrum: What if you could have anything in life you wanted, except the thing you wanted most. She informed me her secret desire was to chuck all her magical powers and be nothing more than an ordinary mortal. Only her overburdened sense of responsibility, to her ancestors and her heritage, kept her from giving herself something that should be well within the scope of her powers.

Throughout the writing of HIGH CRIME ON THE MAGICAL PLANE, Samantha continued to surprise me with her off-the-wall choices and her zany voice, and Annabelle, with her hidden depth, so that sometimes I felt as if they didn't need me at all. As if I were just along for the ride.

Oh, it shouldn't have surprised me that much. While the paranormal was new for me, I've always been a sucker for madcap stories, which HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE certainly is. I was the only little kid I knew who rushed home from school in the hope of catching a zany movie on TV.

Wacky, witty stories have also always dominated my reading. I was actually re-reading a madcap Noel Coward play when Tracy Eaton, the protagonist of my other series -- the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity Award-nominated Tracy Eaton mysteries -- walked into my life and my writing. While reading that play, I was struck by a startling thought. What if someone had been raised in a Noel Coward-esque world? I wondered. Wouldn't she always be out of synch with the rest of the world? With that, Tracy and her daffy movie star mother, Martha Collins, burst into life.

Tracy introduced herself by spouting the opening lines to my Derringer Award-winning story, L.A. Justice, which would be their first appearance:

I’ve come to expect the unexpected from my parents. After decades of being billed as "Hollywood’s madcap couple," those loveable loonies, Martha Collins and Alec Grainger, wouldn’t recognize the real world if it bit them. But Mother’s doozy of a predawn telephone call surprised even me.

"Tracy!" she hissed. "There’s a man in my bed."

Now I ask you, is that something a mother should say to her impressionable thirty-four-year-old child? I told her as much.

I might have been less flippant had I known the man was dead.

Multiple short stories and three novels later, Tracy and Martha are still directing things, especially in the latest adventure in this fun series, REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE. Sure, if you look at my lifetime interests, you can see my influence. And I'll admit, I'm working awfully hard for something that pushy characters seem to be sending my way.

But I still wish I knew who is running my writing, my characters or me. I pretty sure it’s not me.




49 comments posted.

Re: Kris Neri | Who is Running This Show?

I have not been a deep sleeper since our daughter was ill, so I don't think someone could drop a dead man in my bed some night and I not be aware of it. However, I HAVE to get that book to see what happens. Anyway, I agree with the cell phone conversations that you really aren't interested in - until they make some comment that makes you wish you knew the before and after. Maybe it's your fertile brain logging these comments in and then spinning before and afters for them???
(Karin Tillotson 12:34pm July 16, 2010)

Sounds like a great book. Wish I could sleep that sound.
(Vikki Parman 12:45pm July 16, 2010)

I like watching people too and yes, I do eavesdrop on people's cell conversations but most people make it so easy. It's when they try to be quiet that I really want to hear, lol. And yeah, I could never have someone dead in my bed and not know it. I wake up if I hear ANY type of noise.
(Vicki Hancock 1:02pm July 16, 2010)

I like watching people and eavesdropping on their conversations...I find it all so interesting.

And I am a deep sleeper. I often don't even hear my hubby come to bed when he gets in late from being out with his friends. I wake up in the morning and see he is there...lol!!!
(Valerie Bongards 2:10pm July 16, 2010)

This sounds like a great read! I will have to say it doesn't take much to wake me up, not a deep sleeper at all.
(Gail Hurt 3:34pm July 16, 2010)

I find myself drawn into the cell phone conversations of people around me even if I don't want to be---it's embarassing to me--but when they talk so loud and so long how can you help it!
(Sue Farrell 4:26pm July 16, 2010)

Your characters and your books sound great.
(Robin McKay 5:40pm July 16, 2010)

Thanks, Vikki, Gail and Robin!

(Kris Neri 7:26pm July 16, 2010)

Vicki & Sue, I'm glad I'm not the only one eavesdropping on cell conversations. Sue, you are so right!

(Kris Neri 7:27pm July 16, 2010)

I love the idea of characters choosing their writers. It's appropriate.
(Mary Preston 7:33pm July 16, 2010)

The book sounds like a great read. I have to say I sleep like the dead, it's very hard to wake me up.
(Brenda Rupp 10:23pm July 16, 2010)

What I think happens is that you start out with an outline of what you think/wish you want the character to be but then you start writing and then the character can take on a whole different kind of life that you never thought of.

(Megan Blodgett 10:24pm July 16, 2010)

I wish characters would speak to me! I would love to be an author, but the muses just don't ever move me! Oh, well. Both stories sound very interesting!
(Kelli Jo Calvert 11:33pm July 16, 2010)

People talking on cell phones in public places can be such a nuisance that I am happy to learn that they serve a purpose for writers. From now on I will think of them that way. LOL
(Gladys Paradowski 11:35pm July 16, 2010)

I wish characters would talk to me! I would love to be a writer! But, oh well. The muses don't speak to me. Both stories sound very interesting!
(Kelli Jo Calvert 11:37pm July 16, 2010)

If you are a people watcher, you will
rarely get bored. If they want a private
conversation, they shouldn't be carrying
it on in a public place for everyone to
(Patricia Barraclough 12:15pm July 17, 2010)

People watching is fun, and I think that it is great that you can incorporate that passtime with the creation of a character. Think of all the possibilities!
(Joanne Reynolds 7:36am July 17, 2010)

I don't you are noisy. Sometimes I find myself watching people. As for people talking on cell phones, yep... they are definitely loud. I think they believe that if they whisper, the other party can't hear them.
(Kai Wong 12:37pm July 17, 2010)

Hmmm good question, maybe it's our Life experiences and those real life people who we can't get out of our mind who write the characters.
(Darci Paice 12:50pm July 17, 2010)

"Now I ask you, is that something a mother should say to her impressionable thirty-four-year-old child? I told her as much.

I might have been less flippant had I known the man was dead."

That was just the funniest thing I've read in quite awhile. I love murder with a sense of humor.
(Pamela Stewart 1:15pm July 17, 2010)

Thanks. I feel much better now - I think!
(Karin Tillotson 1:26pm July 17, 2010)

I am still giggling.
(Marjorie Carmony 1:43pm July 17, 2010)

I enjoyed the "There's a man in my bed." It reminds me of the time my grandma was in assisted living and a guy would wander into her room and lay down on her bed. She'd call up my mom and complain there's a man in my bed. I think it gave her something to talk about, but the guy was confused and misplaced his bed and his room, so there was really nothing going on.
(Alyson Widen 2:57pm July 17, 2010)

Alyson, that's proof that life can be sad and funny at the same time.
(Kris Neri 3:28pm July 17, 2010)

Thanks for the kind feedback, Brenda, Karin & Marjorie.

Kelli, believe me -- sometimes all writers would like characters to shut up!

Thanks, Kai. I do think there's a difference between nosiness and curiosity. People watching is the best pastime.

(Kris Neri 3:29pm July 17, 2010)

Pamela, I like the combination of mystery and humor, too, not just as a writer, but also as a reader. Look at Alyson's comment -- things that are both funny and sad happen all the time in life.
(Kris Neri 3:31pm July 17, 2010)

Thanks for ringing in on my "character choosing authors" question, Mary & Megan.

Darci, great idea.

Kelli, we all have our talents. I think we all get a share of them.

(Kris Neri 3:32pm July 17, 2010)

Patricia, I think some people have lost a sense of that privacy sphere. But if they don't care that they're spilling their business, they can't care when other people listen.

Joanne, so true.
(Kris Neri 3:33pm July 17, 2010)

I think it's a little of both. The author creates the character but then the character leads the author where the character wants to go.
(Pam Howell 4:09pm July 17, 2010)

I love the way you think. I also love humor in my books so I know I will enjoy reading your books. If I woke up with a dead or live man in my bed I would probably have a heart attack.
Keep your humor and continue writing for your readers. We do enjoy a good laugh in our books.
(Brenda Hill 5:06pm July 17, 2010)

a very deep sleeper I am not, yet if you want me to wake up use the phone. I can't hear anything else. I would propbably think it was the cat or dog jumping on the bed. Oh my I have to read this book.
(Jo Anne Benware 7:23pm July 17, 2010)

I am a frelly light sleeper , no way would I not notice a dead man being put into my bed.and I love to watch people we are strange.
(Vickie Hightower 7:52pm July 17, 2010)

Pam, I think that's exactly right. We all start with a bit of ourselves, and then take it off somewhere else. But at a certain point, good characters really do take on lives of their own, and that's great.
(Kris Neri 9:04pm July 17, 2010)

Thanks, Brenda. I think I'd freak out, too, if I woke up next to a dead man, or a strange live man. Some things are more fun to write than to actually live them.

Thanks, Jo Anne!
(Kris Neri 9:06pm July 17, 2010)

Kris -- You sound like such a hoot, and I really can't wait to read your book!! It sounds like just the ticket to get in a read like this before the summer ends!! I needed a good laugh today, and reading your little piece tonight made my evening!! Thanks!!
(Peggy Roberson 9:12pm July 17, 2010)

I'm not a deep sleeper, I wake at every little sound. I keep a fan on in my bedroom to muffle outside sounds.
(Dianne Arsenault 9:36am July 18, 2010)

I sleep well, used to the sounds my house makes! Unsual noise will wake me up asap! This books sounds like a hoot! Can't wait to read!
(JoAnn White 10:52am July 18, 2010)

Sounds like a book I would like to read.
(David Holder 1:51pm July 18, 2010)

Sounds great - no way I'd sleep through that though
(Cheryl Kelley 1:51pm July 18, 2010)

I enjoyed reading the article about characters choosing their writers...
(Dean Young 1:53pm July 18, 2010)

I am so glad there are people like you who can transport me somewhere totally different!!
(MaryEllen Hanneman 3:00pm July 18, 2010)

Sounds like such an intense book
(Alice Xiao 4:23pm July 18, 2010)

Sounds like a great book!
(Susan Balla 5:37pm July 18, 2010)

I love the names of your books! You are a new author to me. Your books sound fun. I am a fairly light sleeper. I never can sleep though the whole night anymore either. Great post.
(Sue Brandes 7:30pm July 18, 2010)

hi i would love to have your book or book and read them and blog best of luck for the more books
(Desiree Reilly 8:24pm July 18, 2010)

I love to watch people. You can see some really funny, strange, & sad characters running around! You are a new author to me & your books sound like a great read. Loved your blog.
(Jean Merriott 8:41pm July 18, 2010)

I too love wacky, witty stories :)
(Adriane Coros 9:23pm July 18, 2010)

Thanks, y'all! I hope some of you give one or both of my series a try.

Cheryl & Alice, you won the contest! Congrats. I hope you both enjoy the books you've won.
(Kris Neri 4:40pm July 20, 2010)

I've always been a sound
sleeper except for the phone
ringing or a child crying. I
use to tell my husband to wake
me and let me know when he was
going to bed if I had gone to
sleep before he got home. I'd
wake in the middle of the
night and jump when I realized
that he was in the bed. I
always told him, he could put
a dead body in the bed and I'd
never know it unless I rolled
over and the body was cold!
(Lisa Richards 10:05pm July 20, 2010)

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