I always get really great fan mail, which, frankly, is like receiving Grace from God, especially on terrible writing days when I am absolutely sure I cannot write a coherent grocery list, but every once-in-a-while, I’ll get one that’ll sort of stump me, and I’ll actually have to go back to my own book(s) and look up the answer. These letters usually involve questions about some detail that I wrote a while back, and they want to know more about that choice or the repercussions down the line. I love these questions, though I get annoyed with myself that I’m so stumped, I have to go look it up in the book to refresh my memory. Generally, I am steeped so deeply in the characters, even the minor ones, I know all of the details of their lives and what they would do next or what they did years ago. After all, they’re my characters–I made them, in the same way I made my children: with lots of pain, sweat, tears, hair-pulling (my own), cursing (not always my own), labor labor labor, laughter, tears, more tears, still more tears, lots more laughter, begging (lots and lots of begging to please, for the LOVE OF GOD, just BEHAVE!).
The other day, though, I received a fan letter that asked me a simple question, and I was momentarily confused, but the back-and-forth the fan and I had not only made me smile, it made me realize I had to re-think whose characters these characters really are.
“Why on God’s green earth did you have to make Cam a brunet? He was blond in the first two books, was he not? Ok. So I have OCD and have trouble letting go of little inconsistencies. But I love Bobbie Faye so much that I was willing to file most of the discrepancies away in my brain under the heading “Artistic License.” I even sort of managed to get past the fact that Cam grew an inch between the first and second books. (Apparently, I’m still working on letting it go.) But giving him dark hair? The way you had everything originally was just so perfect! A hot blond and a hot brunet–reader root for your own personal preference. But now both Cam AND Trevor have dark hair, and if you count Bobbie Faye, that’s all three of ’em.
Of course, I AM only halfway through the book. If you end up explaining that Cam had to dye his hair as the result of losing some kind of bar bet, this email is TOTALLY irrelevant. So I guess I’d better get back to it. Just so you know, though, Cam is going back to being a blond in MY mind. (No offense!)”
Here’s my letter back:
This cracked me up. 🙂 I had to go back and look in the first book, and now that I have, I’m not sure where in the heck I described Cam fully. I checked out the beginning when we (as readers) first meet him, and on page 66, when Bobbie Faye’s coming up out of the water, she looks over and sees Cam standing on the other bank:
She saw Cam; his lanky frame, shock of dark, straight hair shorn too short for her tastes, and easy rolling gait of an athlete were unmistakable.
I think somewhere else, I describe him as 6’4″ — I’ve always pictured him tall because he was a former LSU quarterback, and generally, those guys are tall.
He’s dark-headed because both he and Bobbie Faye are Cajun, and while there’s a big mix now in Cajun heritage, there are whole areas where it’s much more common to be all dark headed. Trevor’s the one who (in my mind’s eye) kept changing. In book one, I always pictured him as brown wavy hair, longish, and then in book 2, when he comes back as the biker, I’d thought (or meant) he’d have blonder hair, something that he’d had changed for the undercover op he was on. Book 3 is darker again.
Which… is really weird, because it never even occurred to me that I had given them all dark hair!
But you know, if you wanna see Cam as a blonde, go right ahead. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read something and I’ve *known* the color of a character’s hair and then felt thrown out of the text when the author mentioned a different color. 🙂 I love that–I love that he’s *your* Cam.
Thanks for the note–and I’m thrilled that your’e enjoying the books!
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read a book and gotten it into my head that a character looked a certain way, and then later in the book, saw another description of them and thought, no, no, that’s not right, they’re ____! And furthermore, it just annoyed the hell out of me if I kept stumbling across descriptions that were completely incongruous with the way I saw the character, because the author, however well-meaning, was slicing into my suspension of disbelief, and ruining the moment. [I cannot tell you how much flak I got from fans (grin) because the video up on my site features a blonde Bobbie Faye. I adore the actress who volunteered for the multiple-day shoot–for free–and the original plan was that we were going to go have her hair dyed a rich brunette. It was supposed to be a temporary wash-out dye, and she was game for it, but a couple of days before we filmed, she landed a paying gig, and her hair had to be blonde for it. She was, rightfully, afraid the dye might not wash out well or in time, and asked me if she could wear a wig. I didn’t have time to order a really great wig that wouldn’t look like a wig, and couldn’t find something local that didn’t look like she was trailer trash straight from hillbilly hell, so we canned the wig and shot it blonde, and I swear to you, I actually had the thought, “It won’t matter, no one will notice.” HA. Little did I realize how proprietary people feel about the character they’re reading about.)
The problem is, of course, that as an author, we need to describe the character enough and give them unique enough traits so that they leap off the page and become iconic for the reader. We want them so memorable that readers talk about them as if they’re real. I am, perhaps, the *most* delighted when someone tells me, “Nuh uh, Bobbie Faye wouldn’t do that!” My editor, once, gave me the biggest compliment one time. We were having a rather fun discussion (we never argued) over what Bobbie Faye would or wouldn’t do in a particular moment, and she was pretty emphatic about a certain point and I was pretty emphatically disagreeing with her, and, exasperated, she said, “Well, if you’d just ask her, she’d tell you!” And there was a moment of silence there as we both realized what she said and we cracked up. (Turns out? She was right. It was one of the very very few times we ever really butted heads over character, and I had a certain preconceived notion about a situation and was contorting Bobbie Faye to fit that notion, without even realizing it. And I had it completely justified in my head as to why I was right, but she had an entire arsenal of previous comments and actions from Bobbie Faye to counter-argue, and, after looking at that, I realized, she was right. And that specific point is something I’ve gotten tons of fan mail about, people who were glad to see Bobbie Faye didn’t do X (my original plan) and instead, did Y (my editor’s plan), because the latter choice was stereotypical and would have ruined the book for them if she’d gone down that path. And this, my friends, is why we love love love love LOVE our editors, and pray we continue to get people who care so much about the books they edit.)
Back to describing… it’s critical, to me, to find ways to describe a character which goes beyond the physical and gets to who they are, and the kind of choices they’ll make, and then let the reader’s mind’s eye take over. Trevor, for me, was always stockier than Cam, bad-to-the-bone. A sort of lean, hot, younger Russell Crowe, or Gerard Butler (a la 300, but without the beard). I don’t necessarily go into a lot of physical specifics each time… here’s what Bobbie Faye sees when he shows up in book 2, GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE GUNS:
In his scuffed biker boots, he stood a little taller than six foot, a baseball cap pulled low over longish brown hair in a ponytail; a mustache and goatee registered, but mostly, she’d first focused at her eye level where incredibly tanned, muscled arms were covered with tats and scars. She registered the hottie factor, the flat abs and nice ass, in the moment it took her to try to sidestep and spin away from where they’d rammed into each other. Something intangible, some scent, jumpstarted her Hormones, which backpedaled with a whoa and in an overriding show of power, halted her entire body with a flood of heat, and that was kinda weird because the last time that happened was when Trevor… holy shit.
Trevor was here. Undercover.
She stumbled as she caught the expression in his eyes that warned her not to show she knew who he was, and his hands were instantly on her waist, keeping her from crashing into the concrete parking lot. Those hands felt goooooooooood. Thank you, Jesus, for loving me a little.
Appearances end up mattering even more in book 3, WHEN A MAN LOVES A WEAPON, especially when Trevor changes his so drastically when he’s undercover again, and she sees him for the first time in his new guise, wearing a very expensive suit, beautifully tailored for him, and a watch that was worth more than her home and car put together. It starts a chain reaction between them that makes them confront who and what they are to each other, and what that means for their chances together, so descriptive details matter.
All that said, and even with as much thought and intention as I put into every character, every description (and whether or not to reiterate the physical or the internal, etc.), I am actually happiest when a reader feels like they know that character, and can see them, and would know them on the street. I’m really seriously ecstatic when they write to me and talk to me as if these guys are real. (You wouldn’t believe the Trevor vs. Cam email I got for a long while there after book 2. Seriously, I thought, by the end of that book, that it was pretty clear what Bobbie Faye’s choice was, and why–and yet, there were many many emails debating the issue, voting for their favorite, and the vote seemed pretty 50/50, which, frankly, surprised me.)
But then, I feel like these people are real, not just words on a page, and I do miss them. It’s like having family move away and you talk to them every once-in-a-while, and maybe visit in person twice a year, but you don’t get to see their zany facial expressions every day.
What characters have you read where you feel like you know them well enough to recognize them on the street? Or is there a character that was described one way by the author, but you see them differently?
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