Have I Wanted To BE Any of My Characters?
By Jeff Salter
Years ago, I saw a marvelous – but little-known – 1982 TV movie starring Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon. It features a young man (Harry Nash) who’s heavily involved as an actor in a small town’s community theater… but otherwise very shy and backward (socially). The screenplay was adapted from a Kurt Vonnegut story. If you get a chance to watch it… DO.
To everyone who knows him, Nash (Walken) seems only to come alive – and come alive he does, in every role he takes on – as the character in that particular play. But once each play is over, he withdraws into his very meek, self-conscious, wallflower SELF. All the townspeople who know this young man just accept that Nash delivers magnificent performances on stage but is hardly anything more than a mild shadow in real life.
Sarandon’s character (Helene Shaw) – also a shy “wallflower” type – auditions for a play on impulse… overcoming all the usual fears and doubts. Once in the performance – of Streetcar Named Desire – she begins to feel an attachment to this curious young man who’s so dynamic on stage and so lackluster off stage. So she takes it upon herself to try to find the PERSON inside the individual who has all that fire and talent (on stage) but who lives such a withdrawn existence in real life.
When I first viewed this film, I was utterly charmed by the story and by the performances of both major characters. And I found myself strongly identifying with Walken’s Nash character — who (when off-stage) seems to possess only the bare amount of energy and personality to muddle through each day. But onstage — in every character he plays — he’s a dynamo! Then, after the costume is returned to the wardrobe room and his make-up is removed, he returns to the “safe” predictably of anonymity.
All that is merely preface to our topic this week, namely:
If you could – even briefly – be one of your OWN characters, which character would you be? Why? For how long?
In my 20 published titles, I have at least 20 leading male characters. While writing these novels and novellas, I’ve had to BECOME those characters – along with many of the supporting roles, of course – in order to better understand them… so I could better convey them to my readers. In the course of those immersions, I suppose I’ve wanted to “BE” any one of them. But let’s see if we can narrow it down.
### Somerset Series
Called To Arms Again — Bill “Mitch” Mitchell
Echo Taps — Bill “Mitch” Mitchell
Hid Wounded Reb — Bill “Mitch” Mitchell
### Series: Amanda Moore or Less
Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold — Jason Stewart
Scratching the Seven-Month Itch — Jason Stewart
### Series: Rose Roamer: Time Traveler
Cowboy Out Of Time — Shiloh Hunter “Hunt” Weston
Cowboy Ambushed In Time — Shiloh Hunter “Hunt” Weston
I suppose the hero of my three title Somerset Series – “Mitch” – is the character most LIKE me… though that wasn’t our topic. While the hapless Jason – primary male in my Amanda Moore or Less series – has his moments, he’s rather clueless and quite insensitive for much of the two screwball novels in which he reigns. “Hunt” – my 1885 cowboy who travels in time – might be a logical choice (for this topic) because I grew up loving western movies and TV shows. Yeah, Weston would certainly be near the top of my list EXCEPT for the fact that I couldn’t likely survive in the 19th century — I’ve gotten too used to creature comforts.
The Overnighter’s Secrets — Shane Holder
Don’t Bet On It — Brett Hardy
One Simple Favor — Michael “Mike” Stagg
Pleased To Meet Me — Cody Wilder
Size Matters — Logan Stride
Not Easy Being Android — Woodrow “Woody” Ridge
Rescued By That New Guy In Town — Ryan Hazzard
The Ghostess and MISTER Muir — Levi Muir
Stuck On Cloud Eight — Rusty Battle
Duchess of Earl — Dusty Earl
Double Down Trouble — “Doc” Holliday
Random Sacks Of Kindness — Josh Donovan
Shane is a rugged, confident biker, but I couldn’t stand all that wind in my face — so he wouldn’t make the cut. Brett is a clever trickster, and even though his heart is in the right place, I wouldn’t want to be him. Mike – the hitch-hiker mistaken for a cousin – is a little bit too much of a laid-back hippy, to me. I love Cody’s resourcefulness and simple requirements, but I couldn’t handle all that self-sufficient, off-the-grid lifestyle — way too primitive for me. I admire Logan’s many qualities, but I couldn’t stand being an attorney. I respect Woody’s abilities and confidence, but I’m not cut out to be a federal agent.
If you’ve been keeping count, that leaves only six possibilities (of characters I might wish to be):
Ryan Hazzard — works with county assessor
Levi Muir — starting school teacher
Rusty Battle — forester
Dusty Earl — runs a family estate and builds furniture
“Doc” Holliday — in-between jobs and cities
Josh Donovan — in-between jobs and cities
I suppose I could enjoy being just about any of these six — though I doubt I’d want to trade places for longer than a couple of weeks. Of those, I think Rusty was possibly the most fun to write… with his cheerful and creative approach to wooing the woman in the tree house. But I guess “Doc” was the most admirable – in the sense of his courage and strength – and I loved the way he stayed and took care of those old folks. So let’s call this a toss-up between Rusty and “Doc”. And, by the way, I just went back through the entire manuscript of Double Down Trouble, and I don’t think I ever revealed Doc’s real name! Or maybe I did, but have since forgotten it.
Confession time: As I tried to compile this list of characters from memory, there were SEVEN names for which I drew a blank. Funny how stories which occupied me for months (writing and revising) and months (in various stages of edits)… could – within a few years of their publication – allow me to forget the name of the leading male character!
If you’ve read any of these titles, what did you think of the leading male characters listed above?
About the film
For those of you who may be interested in this short film (less than one hour), here is a link to a lengthy, but excellent, review. Be forewarned, however, it contains MANY spoilers.
[JLS # 478]