RNLN Attempt 10: Kaleidoscope by Brian Selznick & S. by Doug Dorst and J. J. Abrams

Starting to Spin by Maria L. Berg 2023

This week is going to be a little different. Every time I look “Abstract Art” in my local library system’s catalogue, the novel Kaleidoscope by Brian Seznick comes up. The cover looks like an extreme close-up on a green eye with the white lettering across the pupil. I’ve been curious why that novel comes up with “abstract art” every time, so this week, I checked it out and read it.

Seznick explains the connection himself in an author’s note:

“During the first three months of the pandemic . . . I started making abstract art, perhaps because it felt like the world was shattering, so my art needed to do something similar. . . . I found myself ripping apart everything I’d already written. It was like the narrative was shattering along with everything else, and out of the shards a new book began to take shape. . . . That’s why I decided to call this new version of the book Kaleidoscope, because each of these elements, like bits of colored glass, turn and transform and rearrange themselves into something new.”

Brian Seznick

I also finished S. by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams. You may recall that I first encountered S., or The Ship of Theseus while looking at unusual formats during RNLN of The Woman in the Library. I was taking my time reading it, reading a couple of pages of the text, then reading all the marginalia. But then I saw that two people are waiting for it at the library, so it will be due soon, so I started reading the text about a half chapter at a time them going back to the marginalia and that worked a lot better for me to get me into the story, though I must admit, after initially loving the concept, I found the result rather dull.

Both of these novels were very unconventional and yet, to me, had a lot in common. They both found ways to manipulate time, to have the past, present, and future exist in the same space, and they both explored the concept of identity, of knowing one’s identity, of a person’s ever-changing identity. And they both explore the fluidity of relationship.

Time & Space, Identity, and Relationship

In the sixth story, “The Abandoned House,” Seznick addresses Kaleidoscope‘s approach to time and space directly when James says,

“Most people think time is a machine that needs to be oiled and wound with a key. They think it’s something you control and maintain. But maybe it’s more wild than that. Maybe it’s bigger and stranger. Maybe time is uncontrollable, and endless, and … dangerous. Like a forest eating a house.”

Brian Seznick

The order of the very short stories of the narrator and James moves like that: bigger and stranger and wild.  In the first story James leaves and the narrator is accused of his murder, and in the second the narrator has become, or is a giant who can become invisible and James may  be the name of a boy who gives him an apple. Later James is an imaginary friend, and in another story the narrator is a spirit.

Then how is this a novel?, you may ask. Or how are these the same characters?, you may wonder. Seznick does a great job of explaining this in “The Story of Mr. Gardner.” Mr. Gardner attempted to write the ultimate reference book. He started with defining an apple, and ended up with seventy-five thousand pieces of paper, still trying to finish his definition of an apple when he died.

“We had only a tiny fraction of everything he wrote in our possession, but the fragments included references to Greek myths, the origins of the universe, children’s fantasy novels, the quests of King Arthur’s knights, the creation of the periodic table, a man who found the entrance to a buried city behind a wall in his house, spaceships, ancient Egypt, mysterious castles, the invention of the kaleidoscope, and the knitted blankets of his childhood bed.

“It’s sad that Mr. Gardner died without finishing,” I said.

“I suppose,” said James. “But I think he may have discovered something interesting.”

 I waited for James to continue. He gently placed his hand on top of the pile of papers, as if he was touching a living thing, and said, “The entire universe can be found inside an apple.”

Brian Seznick

The stories in this novel are like those fractions of everything that define the narrator and James.

In S. the physical space of the book, the text, the footnotes, the inserts, and different colors of ink show the past, present, and future, overlapping on the page. In the text of The Ship of Theseus which is the novel that S. revolves around, time behaves differently on the ship than it does on land. In the section of Ship of Theseus called “Interlude: Toccata and Fugue in Free Time,” the character S. moves between the ship and land many times, slipping between times and spaces.

“When S. is on the orlop, with the pen’s nib flying over paper, with ink spattering over skin, fabric, wood, what emerges on the paper are flashes of image, lightning-strikes of sense-memories, fragmented impressions of events. They refuse to be strung into coherent, linear narrative no matter how consciously he tries to arrange them so; in fact, the more he tries, the more the pieces resist his efforts. Many feel as if they belong to his past, but others almost certainly belong to the lives of others . . . he transcribes a captain’s log of voyages he has never taken on a ship he has never boarded; he chronicles (confesses?) his murderous skulkings on terra firma , although these accounts drift away from fact, toward distortion and grotesquerie as he—a dazed but rapt Hephaestus—sits and sweats in the greasy orange glow, watching his hands as if they were not his own.”

V. M. Straka

The marginalia references another of V. M. Straka’s fictional novels, but this can also be read as a description of S. as a whole.

At one point in The Ship of Theseus, the story addresses the philosophical question, or mental puzzle called “The Ship of Theseus.” S. finds a book that chronicles every change that has been made to the ship he is on, and poses the question to himself.

“On the first page is a charcoal drawing of his ship (no, he reminds himself, the ship on which I’ve been held)—or, rather, an earlier version of it, when it was a harmonious whole, a shipwright’s realization of a xebec that would fly across the main and leave sailors about other vessels dumbstruck with envy. With each page S. turns, he finds another drawing of the ship along with marginal notes cataloguing the changes it has undergone.

He flips forward, ten to twenty pages at a time. Again and again the ship sheds a feature and dons a new one, reinterpreted and remade. Some of these changes are noteworthy . . . each one seeming to widen the gap between what was intended and what turned out to be.  . . .Are they the same ship? Intuition tells him they are, though perhaps  he is being influenced by the fact that the pages are all held together within the same covers.”

V. M. Straka

This made me think of the short short stories that make up Kaleidoscope, and all the postcards, letters, and marginalia that make up S. Are they novels because they are held together and presented as such? I think it’s more than that. Each of the authors used moments within the novels to explain how to read and appreciate them as novels.

Attraction by Maria L. Berg 2023

Applying What I Learned

Though my novel is told chronologically, these novels got me thinking about all of the times in my MC’s life that affect what is happening in the present story and got me brainstorming.

Which times of Verity’s life play the largest roles in her present being?

Happy childhood, loving parents, happy home

Her dad gets shot in a random act of violence
Meets Memphis because forced bussing
Memphis uses Verity’s address so they can continue to go to same schools, Verity’s mom goes along with it when asked, but holds it over Memphis. Says if she ever gets called that Memphis is in trouble, she’ll tell them the truth. This starts Memphis’s resentment of Verity.

Middle School dramas / basketball / fascination with school shootings, random acts of violence
High School dramas / basketball / fascination with school shootings, random acts of violence / parties / dances

College : left town for the first time / felt a little fame from basketball /  aches, pains, injuries?

Good relationships/ Bad relationships

Her mother getting sick
Leaving college to go to school closer to home to take care of mother
Taking the job as a cop
Becoming a detective
Solving her first big case
Pauline getting murdered
The restraining order / getting fired
Her mom dying

All of these things and more happen before the novel begins.

In Kaleidoscope, the two main characters—the first person narrator, and James take on many different personae.

I, the first person narrator is a boy, a giant, a man
James is an imaginary friend, a boy, the king of the moon

What are my MC’s different identities?

She is the store detective working a nine to five, going home, eating dinner, watching tv, going to bed, doing it again tomorrow Verity of the first paragraph of this novel.
She is the Verity of the present who goes through the events of the novel
She is jogger Verity
She is Memphis’s friend Verity
She is Verity who pretends to be like Memphis to get attention
She is daughter Verity, grieving for her mother
She is jobless Verity, grieving for her future
She is obsessive connection-making thinker Verity
She is detective Verity
She is police officer Verity
She is uncomfortable in her body tall Verity
She is in command of her body basketball player Verity
She is not Malibu Verity

By the end there, I was thinking about Barbie and all her different personae.

How do the events I listed that formed how Verity is in the present interact with her different identities? I think I’ll try writing some of the big events in Verity’s life from her point of view as they happened, then as a memory from the POV of a present identity. Once I’ve done that, I may want to re-evaluate my chronological telling. Is there a stronger way to use time, identity, and relationship in the way I tell my story?

This Week’s Surprise Connection

I checked out a book called The Writer’s Library by Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager, in which they talk to authors about the books that “made them think, brought them joy, and changed their lives.” I thought this might have some interesting insight for this study.

In the Foreword by Susan Orlean she says, “In Senegal, when someone dies, you say that his or her library has burned.” (Having lived in Senegal, I did not ever hear that, and have trouble imagining it, said, but some people in Senegal could say it.) But that’s not this week’s surprise connection. Later she says, “At last, I understood how much we all are our books. Their meaning to us doesn’t end when we close the last page. What we glean from them alters us permanently; it becomes part of who we are for as long as we live.”

After reading that, I started reading Kaleidoscope and in the third story “The Library,” I read

“I found one other thing from the wreck,” I told him. “A locked chest.”

 The boy sat up. “Where is it now?”

I brought him the chest, and he opened it with the key he wore around his neck.

As he lifted the lid, we saw the trunk was full of seawater stained black with ink and glue. One by one the boy pulled out soaking, ruined books. They dissolved in his hands and he collapsed on the floor in tears.

“Tell me what they were,” I asked. “My father’s books,” he said. “He was teaching me from them. I loved reading these books and discussing them with him. Now he is gone, and so are all the things he knew. Everything is lost.”

It was as if the two texts were talking to each other.

Character-Building Challenge Day 10: The Last Day of the Challenge

Blending In by Maria L. Berg 2023

For day ten of the first Writer’s Digest Character-Building Challenge the prompt is to put together a character profile for one of our characters.

Here are the guidelines of what to include:

  • Name (including any nicknames)
  • Who they are (whether that’s occupation, nationality, etc.)
  • What they want most in life
  • What hurdles are in their way
  • What is at stake if they don’t get what they want
  • Include anything else that you think is super important about your character

Davenna Dale Byron is an obsessively-fit upper-middle-class housewife and mother who just turned forty. Her husband is a workaholic who travels often. Her only daughter has left for college, and she is facing an empty nest. Davenna wants the romance she reads about in bodice-torn, flowing-mane paperbacks. She wants excitement, adventure, something new and dangerous. Her real problem is that she doesn’t feel happy. She doesn’t feel much of anything but a stagnant emptiness. She’s not content. She thinks there’s more out there and she wants it. She feels dead inside, like no matter what she does, she isn’t good enough. What’s standing in her way? Her marriage to Roger. Her standing in her community. Her fear of what people think of her. Her need to be seen as the perfect wife and mother. She feels caged within social norms. If she doesn’t find some romance in her life, her life as she knows it is at stake. She’s already shopping beyond her means, putting her and her family’s financial situation in danger, and she’s thinking about having an affair. She could lose her marriage, her home, and her relationships. And if she does get what she wants, she could lose all these things too. Davenna is so afraid of not being desirable, that she’s becoming undesirable. She’s so obsessed with being the perfect wife, mother, neighbor, and friend, that she sets impossible expectations not only upon herself, but those around her, setting everyone up for failure and disappointment. She turns to romance novels for escape, but she has blurred the lines between fantasy and reality, and now feels that the only thing that will make her happy is to live out those romantic fantasies and leave her real life behind.

RNLN Attempt 9: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Underlying Emotion by Maria L. Berg 2023

This week I enjoyed a fun read: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. I brought this popular mystery home from the library and read the whole thing in one sitting, reading into the night. I laughed out loud and almost cried. So I thought this would be a good week to start re-reading The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Maass, and learn how novels evoke emotion.

Maass says, ” . . . none of readers’ emotional experience of a story actually comes from the emotional lives of characters. It comes from readers themselves.” So how are we supposed to get a reader to feel from our writing?

He says, “There are three primary paths to producing an emotional response in readers. The first is to report what characters are feeling so effectively that readers feel something too. This is inner mode, . . .The second is to provoke in readers what characters may be feeling by implying their inner state through external action. This is outer mode, . . .The third method is to cause readers to feel something that a story’s characters do not themselves feel. This is other mode,”

Let’s start with what made me laugh:

1. The first example is when we first meet the four members of the Thursday Murder Club as a group for the first time.

A question has been nagging at Donna throughout lunch. “So, if you don’t mind me asking, I know you all live at Coopers Chase, but how did the four of you become friends?”

“Friends?” Elizabeth seems amused. “Oh, we’re not friends, dear.”

Ron is chuckling. “Christ, love, no, we’re not friends. Do you need a top-up, Liz?”

Elizabeth nods and Ron pours. They are on a second bottle. It is twelve fifteen.

Ibrahim agrees. “I don’t think friends is the word. We wouldn’t choose to socialize; we have very different interests. I like Ron, I suppose, but he can be very difficult.”

Ron nods. “I’m very difficult.”

“And Elizabeth’s manner is off-putting.”

Elizabeth nods as well. “There it is, I’m afraid. I’ve always been an acquired taste. Since school.”

*A note about Character Description: At the end of that first funny insult fest, Osman gives a little physical description: “Elizabeth is going glassy-eyed with red wine, Ron is scratching at a West Ham tattoo on his neck, and Ibrahim is polishing an already-polished cuff-link.” These little descriptions say so much.

2. “So we were all witnesses to a murder,” says Elizabeth. “Which, needless to say, is wonderful.”

3. Then, this contradiction not of behavior, but of the common understanding of the challenge of chess.

“Chess is easy,” says Bogdan, continuing the walk between the lines of graves and now flicking on a torch. “Just always make the best move.”

“Well, I suppose,” says Elizabeth. “I’ve never quite thought about it like that. But what if you don’t know what the best move is?”

“Then you lose.”

All three of these places where I laughed while reading, were mostly dialogue and had to do with contradictions. In the first example, the people talking all seem to get along and be fun and interesting pensioners in an old folks home. But they are quick to say they are not friends, and insult each other. What made me laugh was the insulted person agreeing with the insult. In the second example, was the unexpected reaction to the horror of murder, that it’s wonderful and somehow needless to say, as if murder is always wonderful. In the third example, it’s the idea that a difficult strategy game is easy, simplified to making the best move. Of course it’s that simple, if you don’t make the best moves you lose. Every game comes down to that, life comes down to that. But it’s not that simple, and that’s what makes it funny.

Which of the three primary paths made me laugh? I think it’s other mode, the third method is to cause readers to feel something that a story’s characters do not themselves feel. I think Osman set up an expectation of these pensioners being friends and hanging out because they like each other, but has them contradict expectations: saying they are not friends, not being upset when insulted, saying murder is obviously wonderful, and chess is easy. Each of these contradictions made me laugh.

Now let’s look at what made me weepy:

Joyce is reading the suicide note from the widower she was romantically interested in.

“And that was that, I suppose, so silly when you look at it, but I had no easy way of digging the tea caddy back up. So  would continue to walk up the hill, and continue to talk to Asima when no one was listening, telling her my news, telling her how much I loved her, and telling her I was sorry. And honestly, Joyce, for your eyes only, I realize that I have run out of whatever it s that we need to carry on. So that’s me, I’m afraid.

Joyce finishes and stares down at the letter for another moment, running a finger across the ink. She looks up at her friends and attempts a smile, which turns in an instant to tears. The tears turn to shaking sobs and Ron leaves his chair, kneels in front of her, and takes her in his arms.”

Which of the three primary paths made me weepy? I think it’s outer mode, to provoke in readers what characters may be feeling by implying their inner state through external action. Maass says, “An important part of this method is the lengthy discourse . . . Why delve so deeply? One reason is to create a longer passage for the reader. That in turn creates a period of time, perhaps fifteen seconds, for the reader’s brain to process. That interval is necessary. It gives readers the opportunity to arrive at their own emotional response, a response that we cannot know.”

The section that made me weepy started long before this example section when I got weepy.

Applying What I Learned

How can I apply these techniques to my novel? Maybe my first step is to read through and find all of the places where I named an emotion. Then label which emotions I think the reader might feel. Then find which of the three primary paths will best evoke the story emotion.

This is a quick first step into the study of the reader’s emotional journey. I think this study will continue for many novels to come.

Character-Building Challenge Day 9: The Best or the Worst

Shared Characteristics by Maria L. Berg 2023

For the eve of the end of the first Writer’s Digest Character-Building Challenge the prompt is “pick a character and share either their best or worst moment ever.”

Since I looked at Davenna yesterday, let’s take a look at the best moment of Merle’s life so far in his own words:

I think the very best moment was that day I was sick at home in middle school. Mom and Dad were both at work and I went into Dad’s study and opened the center fold down desk in the center of his bookshelf. There was a secret compartment at the back, and in the secret compartment I found a stack of old paperbacks. I found Jaws, 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Hawaii by Michener, among other surprises. Just one glimpse of the shark’s open mouth coming out of the depths under the bikini-clad swimmer, and my father crashed from his pedestal.  I suddenly realized he wasn’t the god of wisdom he pretended to be, locked away here in his own room of higher contemplation. He was an ordinary man who liked to hide away from us. I never told him I found his secret. I took one of the paperbacks at a time and as I read I found a special pleasure in knowing his disappointment in me had no power. He wasn’t anything special. The pain of his disapproval disappeared in an instant. I didn’t care anymore.

Character-Building Challenge Day 8: Wants and Hurdles

Wants and Blocks by Maria L. Berg 2023

For the eighth day of the first Writer’s Digest Character-Building Challenge the prompt is “pick a character and reveal their greatest want and the main hurdle standing in their way.”

What does Davenna want and what’s standing in her way? Davenna wants the romance she reads about in her books. She wants excitement, adventure, something new and dangerous. Her real problem is that she doesn’t feel happy. She’s not content. She thinks there’s more out there and she wants it. She feels dead inside, like no matter what she does, she isn’t good enough. What’s standing in her way? Her marriage to Roger. Her standing in her community. Her fear of what people think of her. Her need to be seen as the perfect wife and mother. She feels caged within social norms.

Character-Building Challenge Day 7: Meeting Place

Character Through Time by Maria L. Berg 2023

For the seventh day of the first Writer’s Digest Character-Building Challenge the prompt is “pick a place and have two or more of your characters meet and interact with each other.”

Merle smelled spiced wild flowers and felt a vibration on the make-shift bar. He smiled then looked up at her wondering if she would know him.

She was alone, and she wasn’t smiling. “You can’t be here,” she whispered.

“Excuse me?” Merle said. “Did you want something to drink?”

She looked flustered, confused. “A vodka tonic, but this isn’t right. What are you doing here? It’s not supposed to be like this.”

Merle scooped ice, measured the vodka. “What isn’t? Like what?” He put the drink in front of her.

She gulped down the drink and put the glass on the bar. “You can’t be here.”

He pointed at the empty glass. She nodded. He measured vodka for another drink. “I don’t understand why you keep saying that, but I’m here as a favor for my sister. She’s doing the catering and needed an extra bartender for tonight. She did a lot of begging and pleading and here I am.”

This time he handed her the glass. Their fingers touched and neither one flinched. Nor did they pull their fingers apart too quickly.

“What were you reading?” she asked sipping her drink more slowly.

He lifted up his book showing her the cover.

“Storm in a Teacup? If I didn’t know better, I would say you’re reading a sordid romance.”

He looked at the cover, then at her. “It’s about physics.”

Her face fell. She took another sip. “Physics? You mean like the laws of attraction?”

“Among other things.”

“I had imagined us meeting at the bookstore cafe. I was building up my courage to come sit with you. I never expected to see you here.”

“Oh, I get it now. I can’t be here because I’m the guy in the bookstore. Sometimes you connect a person with a place so much that when you see them somewhere else, you don’t even recognize them.”

“I don’t think I ever imagined seeing  you in a tux, either.”

“Yeah, right. I think my sister rented it.”

“I’m Davenna Byron.” She put down her drink and held out her hand.

“Oh, yeah.” Merle wiped his fingers on the white bar towel. “Sorry about the damp fingers,” he said gently taking her fingers. “I’m Merle. Merle Tremble.” He brought her fingers to his lips and kissed them gently. “Enchante.”

Their hands lingered. He stared into her glistening emerald eyes, wondering what she wanted, and if her dress zipped down the back, or down the side.

Character-Building Challenge Day 6: Love or Hate

The Love Interest by Maria L. Berg 2023

For the sixth day of the first Writer’s Digest Character-Building Challenge the prompt is to create someone who loves or despises one of your characters.

Roger Byron knew that Davenna was a romantic. At first he liked it, how she made everything about love and sex and fantasy. It was hot when they were young, but now it’s pathetic. She’s never satisfied. Everything needs to be more romantic. Going to work to pay her bills is not romantic. And it has gotten so much worse since Montana went to college. He had heard people have empty nest syndrome, but Davenna’s feathering her nest with name-brand purses and shoes. That Sonia lady only makes everything worse. Maybe he and Davenna could have worked things out if she wasn’t so obsessed with Sonia Havanna Cashion. It’s not just that she likes spending time with her—Calls her her shopping buddy—but she wants to be her.

It makes Roger feel like he can’t live up to her dreams and fantasies even more than before. At least when Montana was growing up, Davenna could fantasize about Montana’s future, and her prince charming. But now that Davenna’s got no one to shove her romances onto, she’s swirling out of control. She gets these strange secretive smiles, her eyes sparkling in the sunlight, and he just know that she’s planning some fairytale escape from their life and he hates her for it. He despises that look of far off happiness. The way she always makes him feel inadequate. He had to build myself back up somehow. Prove he was still desirable. The business trips he takes? They’re not business trips. His job doesn’t send him anywhere. He mostly telecommutes for work. He can work from anywhere. No. Those business trips are affairs. Different mistresses all over the world. Talk about romantic. He flies in; wines them dines them. They have some fun, and he’s off again. Davenna will never know what it’s like. Her damp paperbacks with shirtless man covers will never satisfy like he do. And she’ll never know.

Character-Building Challenge Day 5: Making Friends

The Pretty Friend by Maria L. Berg 2023

For the fifth day of the first Writer’s Digest Character-Building Challenge the prompt is to create a friend, ally, or sidekick for one of the characters.

Sonia Havana Cashion is Davenna Dale Byron’s best friend, or at least Davenna likes to think so. Sonia lives in the big house at the top of the hill. She has a daughter the same age as Davenna’s and though the girls did not get along, Davenna and Sonia bonded at school parent functions, gossiping about the other parents. Davenna knew all the dirt and Sonia loved to hear it. Now that their girls are grown, Sonia is Davenna’s shopping buddy. Sonia’s a bit of a shop-aholic but she can afford it, which gets Davenna into trouble because she wants to be able to afford it, but Roger keeps her on a budget. She ends up secretly returning most of what she buys which is becoming embarrassing, but shopping with Sonia is important to her and her standing in the community, and she throws the best parties.

My Novel

I’ve been thinking of making Satya more of a friend and ally for my main character, Verity. In the draft she only becomes an ally at the end. But now I think I want their friendship to grow from the beginning. So how would that look?

I need to introduce Satya differently. In the draft she is only along as the new partner for the police interview. However, I could have her take Verity aside as they’re leaving and say she needs to speak to her privately.

Character-Building Challenge Day 4: What do they think of each other?

Character Development by Maria L. Berg 2023

For the fourth day of the first Writer’s Digest Character-Building Challenge the prompt is “sit both the characters you interrogated down and have them share what and how they think about each other.”

What Davenna thinks of Merle:

He is intriguing. I see him at the cafe in the bookstore. I like to sit and have a coffee and read the first chapter or two of my new romance before I leave the store. We seem to have that in common, though he’s always reading non-fiction, or some old classic. I think he’s much younger than me, but that’s okay for a fling, right? Nothing serious. I like his long slim fingers the way he caresses the pages as he reads. He always looks very serious, never smiles. But I could change that. I think he’s a possible. Maybe I’ll ask him what he’s reading next time.

What Merle thinks of Davenna:

The fit older woman I see at the bookstore? I don’t really think of her. I mean I’ve seen her, and she takes care of herself, that’s for sure. Always smartly dressed, I mean her clothes fit her just right. And she always looks like a professional did her hair and make-up. I could imagine getting to know her would be an experience worth having. And of course she’s a reader. She always has her nose in a book. But she reads romance, so that slams that door. And the diamonds and gold on her finger make it clear to the world that she believes in such backward rites as marriage and human ownership which only a vapid romantic would. So though I don’t mind looking at her back while she orders her coffee, that’s about all I think of her.

And for my Novel

What Cassius thinks of Felix:

That kid is weird. But I think there’s something more to him than just some peeper staring in peoples windows at night. He would just stand there, not smiling or leering. He looked calm, thoughtful. He just stood there in the dark. The only way you really knew he was there was he played those eerie notes on that cigar-box guitar of his. Such a weird kid. But I got a good look at him once when I was on the porch having a smoke, and he’s older than he looks. You can see it in his eyes, and he slouches, tucks into himself and wears kids clothes, but I think it’s a disguise. He’d be one of those great kid actors that can play the precocious kid into his thirties.

What Felix thinks of Cassius:

I don’t trust that guy. He has this glow about him like he loves the whole world and everyone in it, but when people aren’t looking he sneers and this shadow  comes over his shiny eyes. He’s always touching people, but not like consoling or reassuring, it’s more like he’s petting them, taking pleasure from them. He always seems to be up to something, but I don’t think people see it because they’re too close to him, blinded in his glow. I see it though because I watch from a distance. He doesn’t fool me.  Once, he looked right at me. He was out under the porch light smoking a cigarette and he looked at me, I didn’t think they could see my in the shed’s shadow, but I swear he looked in my eyes, took a big suck on his cigarette so it glowed bright  orange in the dark, then he flicked it right at me. It almost hit my nose, but landed in the grass. I had to stomp it out. When I looked up, his thick lips had thinned into a wide toothy grin, then he turned and went inside. I do not trust that guy.

Character-Building Challenge Day 3: Second Character Interview

Character by Maria L. Berg 2023

For the third day of the first Writer’s Digest Character-Building Challenge the prompt is to choose another of the character names from Day One and interview that character.

Today I’ll interview Davenna Dale Byron.

The Questions

I’m using the same questions from Day 2 that I adapted from Novel Writing: 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters by Brenda Janowitz.

  1. How old are you? How old do you feel? I just turned forty, but I’m still twenty-five inside.
  2. Did you have a happy childhood? Why/why not? I think so. My parents both worked but my grandma took care of me. I always thought of her like the fairy god mother from Cinderella. I always had lots of friends. All the kids liked to come swim in the pool. So I was never neglected or lonely.
  3. Are you in a relationship? Tell me about your past relationships? How did they affect you? I’m married. Roger works too much, but he’s a great provider and he’s always bringing me neat gifts from his business trips. I don’t really have past relationships to speak of. Roger was my first serious relationship. I mean sometimes I fantasize about my first love, but that’s just day dreaming.
  4. What do you care about? Making the world a better place. All we need is love, right? I just want everyone to be happy. I send money to all sorts of charities.
  5. What are you obsessed with? Staying pretty and desirable. It’s a full time job looking like this.
  6. What is your biggest fear? Being alone.
  7. What is the best thing that ever happened to you? Getting married to Roger, of course. Our wedding was so romantic.
  8. What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you? I get embarrassed rather easily. A side-affect of being a wife and mother trying to be perfect, but I think the most embarrassing is still the time little Shelley walked in on Roger and me, um well in the heat of passion. I was mortified. She screamed and ran to her bedroom and slammed the door. I have no idea what she thought she saw. Excuse me, my face is getting hot just thinking about it. Can we be done now?
  9. Tell me your biggest secret. I’m thinking about having an affair. I think about it all the time. It started out as a little game of Who would it be? But now, I’m obsessed.
  10. What one word defines you? Romantic
Beneath the Surface by Maria L. Berg 2023

My Novel Draft

Today it’s my antagonist’s turn to answer some questions:

  • How old are you? How old do you feel? Twenty-five. Twenty-six? Twenty-seven. Okay, fine. I’m thirty-one but don’t you dare tell anyone.
  • Did you have a happy childhood? Why/why not? No. Not really. I had a really bad mom. She was a drug addict, had abusive boyfriends, the works. But it got better when I met Verity. Verity had a good mom. She took care of me. 
  • Are you in a relationship? Tell me about your past relationships. How did they affect you? How did they affect you? Oh, wow. How long do we have? Just kidding. I guess it depends what you mean by relationship. I like people. I like lots of people, and they like me.
  • What do you care about? Freedom. Nobody tells me what to do. And money. Freedom takes money.
  • What are you obsessed with? Getting what’s mine. People owe me.
  • What is your biggest fear? That people will stop thinking I’m beautiful. That they’ll stop paying attention to me. Abandonment. I’m sick of being abandoned.
  • What is the best thing that ever happened to you? Meeting Verity. My life changed the day she took me home after school and her mom treated me as if I was her daughter too. I finally had a family.
  • What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you? I don’t get embarrassed. I mean, there are plenty of sex-tapes out there. 
  • What is your biggest secret? I’m not who people think I am. They all think because I look like this, there’s nothing under the hood. But they are so wrong. I have plans in motion that will blow their minds.
  • What is the one word that defines you? Beauty