We invited Tom Maremaa to ePen to tell us about how he finds characters for his novels.
by Tom Maremaa
How do you find great characters for your novel? Where do they come from? How do you bring them to life? The answers are simple yet in some respects difficult to understand fully: they’re part of the creative process, the one that enables you to write and think and produce good work. In practice, the characters, as in “real-life,” will find you. They’ll haunt your dreams, talk to you at odd moments of the day, chase after you on the street or around your neighborhood, beg you to tell their story, and won’t give up until you do. Finally, you’ll relent. That’s what typically happens to me when I start work on a new novel (I’ve written eleven so far). It happened with my latest work: OF GODS, ROYALS AND SUPERMAN.
The main character or protagonist, as it were, came first: a young, cocky, powerfully-built twenty-two-year-old named Christopher Reed. He was a handful, all right. He told me his story: how he got kicked out Dartmouth for behaving very badly as president of his fraternity house, how he got taken for a ride to come out to San Francisco, how his father, the dean and president of the college plotted against him. And how, ultimately, he was able to redeem himself and do something great. But that wasn’t enough; another character, also a senior at Dartmouth and a literature major, came into the picture. She had her own travails in life: working as a summer intern for a New York publishing, learning the business, and then discovering the work of a vanished American author from the 1970s, a successor to Kerouac and Kesey, whose work had suffered the fate of being neglected yet not forgotten by a devoted coterie of followers. Those two characters provided the juice and energy of the novel. Their lives began to intermingle, twist and finally connect.
A rogue’s gallery of other characters popped into the novel, as well: Tina Kennedy, a high-power New York editor on her way to the top of the House, Chick Johnson, a literature professor and lover of Tina, Maddy Chang, a film producer making the latest remake of a remake of the Superman movies, Ana Ortiz and her brother, both Integer Poets, Maman Noor, the owner of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in San Francisco, where Christopher Reed ends up working as a waiter, Alejandro Via, the rainmaker who truly brings cloudbursts of rain to the city, Raj Pushkar, a Silicon Valley hotshot and political prankster who befriends Reed, men from the “Company” who want to enlist Reed’s capabilities as a disruptor, bad boy, bad Superman in their endless efforts to wreak havoc around the world in the name of Truth, Justice and the American Way, and of course, the vanished author himself who is rediscovered in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico — to name but a few.
With characters like these, the story practically wrote itself. I heard their voices, listened to their sorrows and griefs, laughed with them, cried, even wept, and told myself: Hey, this is life, right? Or so-called life? So, what can I say for writers who are working on new fiction? Forget genre, forget plotting, story outlines, high or low concept, and focus on bringing the characters you know and love to life. The rest, as they say, is or will become history.
Brief Synopsis: OF GODS, ROYALS AND SUPERMAN: A NOVEL
The gods must be crazy. Do something great or they’ll kill you.
Meet Christopher Reed and Morgan Kinder, both young and brash college students, who come of age in many of the ways that Tom Jones came of age in Fielding’s classic novel. Both seniors at Dartmouth, one tossed out of school for behaving badly — very badly, even if he’s a Superman — the other, a woman who loves literature and works as an intern for a high-power New York publishing house on a quest to find the vanished author of a lost manuscript entitled simply When, 20:37, whose work is said to conjure up the dark side of American life and predict the future.
Their lives connect and disconnect, cross paths, then diverge, as the story and characters travel from the snows of New England to the catacombs of New York to the cornfields of Iowa and beyond to the sweet madness of California. Laughter and sorrow fill the pages. Life turns on its head. And the American landscape comes alive with a huge gallery of eccentric characters, oddballs and lovable madmen.
Can the cocky young Reed redeem himself by doing something truly great? Will his counterpart, Morgan Kinder, recapture what has been lost from the past, discarded or ignored, and in so doing, alter the world of literature as we know it?
Will each happen to change the other in Tom Maremaa’s dazzling, page-turning work of contemporary fiction?
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Enjoy Tom’s posts here: http://tommaremaa.tumblr.com/