Some Art is created for the sake of illustrating my novels. So, today’s artwork is all about that.
Category Archives: characters
Today’s Art-Day Saturday post is about the pictures I have drawn to establish in my mind the characters that make up the fictional world of Norwall, Iowa. Specifically, the kids in my YA novels.
I do manage character development and detailed descriptions by creating early on a picture of what the character looks like for me.
Yesterday, in Part 1, I tried to convince you that, “You should never take too long a time writing a story” because I have written some twenty-plus-year-long novels that took me forever to write, and I am an unsuccessful writer. So, you should not do things the way I did. (Some might accuse me of trying to use a little too much irony, claiming I am a bit too obscure about what I am actually telling you that you should actually do… But, remember, I advised you not to take advice from Mickey. And you need irony in your diet anyway to avoid irony-poor tired blood.) Therefore I am going to advise you further that, “You should never make your characters too complex and interesting.”
After all, there are Mickian characters that are literally blue with red patches on their cheeks that absorb harmful gamma radiation and make those characters immune to radiation sickness from exposure in deep space. You don’t want to make readers so curious about a character that they waste time reading more and more closely to discover more about that character.
Junior Aero, the alien Nebulon boy in the AeroQuest stories is just one example. Not only is he a member of an alien race that are belittled as “Space Smurfs” and treated to racial bigotry based on skin color and not being able to speak English at first, but he is also gifted with mental “Psion powers” that allow him to telepathically read computer minds, even the sentient and intelligent ones.
And some of my characters are green with shark-like fins on their heads. They were born on Starships and orbiting artificial satellites like the one going around Barnard’s Star. They are like George Jetson here, named after his father, Xiar’s, favorite Earther cartoon show character from the 60’s. Not only is he a green-skinned amphibious humanoid life-form from a different star system, he learns a lot about himself in the adventure he has in the novel Stardusters and Space Lizards. He goes from being a narcissistic space-pilot wannabee into becoming a humble crash survivor and expedition leader who helps save an entire planet from ecological disaster. And he even gets a girlfriend out of the deal in Menolly his nestmate and fellow survivor.
Characters like that are far too interesting and developed to be good for your reputation as a serious producer of money-making fiction stories. And you certainly don’t want to waste time on developing the same characters in multiple books.
I used the character of Valerie Clarke in the book When the Captain Came Calling as an eleven-year-old protagonist who loses her father and has to rely on older kids and good friends to save herself from depression and the trash-pits of despair.
I used her again as a main character in Snow Babies where she befriends a mysterious stranger and also finds a runaway boy who makes her think seriously about life and young love, all in the middle of a deadly blizzard.
She’s also in the book Sing Sad Songs where she learns to negotiate love with a boy who also lost a parent, in fact, both parents and a twin sister, in a car crash that made him a lonely orphan. She not only has to face the loss of her own loved ones, but has to help somebody else to face the same thing, in fact, more than one other somebody.
She’s also a character in The Bicycle-Wheel Genius and Fools and Their Toys.
It is unthinkable to use a character that much and make her grow and change in so many different ways. She should be used only once in a simple and clear way. Like, maybe, Mark Twain’s use of Huckleberry Finn.
Huck, as a character was only used in the books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer Abroad, Tom Sawyer, Detective… and… never mind. Forget I even said anything about Huck Finn. In fact, maybe this whole post is so ironic it’s making my story-teller gears all rusty. Never-the-less, let me threaten you with a possible part three.
In my newest book When the Captain Came Calling, there is a fantasy character who is basically an invisible man. Captain Noah Dettbarn is the captain of a ship called the Reefer Mary Celeste. It is an ill-fated ship on a fatal voyage. It runs afoul of a mermaid with man-eating intentions, a witch-doctor with a hungry volcano-god to feed, and a beautiful young girl who bewitches the captain.
All of this happens in the log book of the mysterious invisible captain who has returned to the Iowa farm town where he was born and raised just as the local kids’ adventurer’s club, the Norwall Pirates, is being re-organized with a girl as their leader.
Today’s first Paffooney is an illustration that I intend to use in the book.
I draw things as illustrations to stories. Take, for example, the protagonist and hero of Catch a Falling Star.
Dorin Dobbs is boy from Iowa. That tells you some terrible things about him right there.
He was ten in 1990.
He hated girls.
He met some pretty green-skinned girls from outer space, amphibianoid frog-girls with fins on their heads. He danced with them to Mickey Mouse Club music while he was their prisoner on a sectet base on the planet Mars. They were dancing naked in the nutrient bath that all Telleron tadpoles use daily.
Brekka and Menolly are two of the Telleron frog girls with fins on their heads. They love Earth music in the 1990’s. They are background characters in Catch a Falling Star. They are main characters in the book Stardusters and Space Lizards, where they help Davalon and Tanith to conquer the dying planet of Galtorr Prime after the Telleron invasion of Earth failed in the previous book.
Galtorr Prime is undergoing drastic climate change and environmental collapse and ends up being saved by superior Telleron technology and the lizard-girl heroine, Sizzahl, who has a plan for fixing the atmosphere and saving fundamental eco-systems. Of course, this is all science fiction-y stuff based entirely on fantasy and imagination and has nothing to do with the real world we now live in.
Of course, not all characters I illustrate are people or aliens.
Millis, Tommy Bircher’s pet rabbit, is an ordinary albino bunny who eats a piece of alien technology that evolves him into a talking, walking-on-two-legs, near-human form.
He becomes the chef (who cooks only vegetable dishes) for Norwall, Iowa’s own mad scientist, Orben Wallace, in the book The Bicycle-Wheel Genius.
I think I have now given out far more spoilers for stories than I have any right to do. But the thing about character illustrations is that your get to know the characters at a glance. And to know them is to love them.
While visiting in Iowa, I ran into an old high school friend at a local eatery. I remember how in high school and junior high, I played basketball on the same team with him, I listened to his exaggerations about a probably non-existent sex life, and helped him on one or two occasions to get answers on Math homework (even then the teacher in me wouldn’t let me just give him the answers, I always made him work out the answers step by step).
Now he is a judgmental and basically crabby old coot. He is a Trump supporter, hater of immigrants who take American jobs, and an unpleasant arguer of politics. And the sorest point about his intractable coot-i-ness is the fact that, as a classmate, he is the same age as me and I am, therefore, just as intractably coot-y as he is.
So, how exactly do you talk to a mean old coot?
Well, you have to begin by realizing that it is not like the dialogue in a novel or TV show. This is a real person I was talking to. So, I had to proceed by accepting that he thinks I am an idiot and anything I say and think is wrong. Not merely wrong, but “That’s un-American and will lead to a communist takeover of our beloved country!” sort of wrong. I can then laugh off numerous Neo-Nazi assertions by him, make snarky comments about his praises for the criminal president, and generally get along with him like old friends almost always do. I play my part just as furiously as he plays his, and we both enjoy the heck out of it.
We are both of us crazy old coots, likely to say just about anything to get the other one’s goat. Getting goats is apparently vital to the conversations of real people. But we have more in common than we have as differences. We don’t keep score in our world-shaking debates, nor do we count how many goats we get. And that is how you talk to real people.
Canto Seven – Of Witches in Little Iowa Townships
Old Missus Rubelmacher was most definitely a witch in Valerie’s estimation. Miss Rubelmacher had been teaching Science forever at Belle City. She taught it in both the Elementary and the Junior High. Valerie had the extreme bad luck to have her for the one and only fifth-grade class she taught. And single old maid teachers who taught Science were definitely witches when they made you learn the scientific names of ten butterflies and recite them by memory. Ten Lepidoptera! Who in their right minds was ever going to need to know that a Danaus Plexippus was a Monarch Butterfly? She ought to get an F on purpose just to let the old witch know how stupid that was. Homework on a holiday weekend on top of it all.
But Valerie always made A’s in Science. That wasn’t about to change.
Still, after hating the old witch all the way home on Milo’s bus, she rode on into town with Danny Murphy. Milo, the crotchety old bus driver, never seemed to mind carrying her on into town when he stopped at the end of her family’s lane… as long as she told him she was going with Danny. Milo probably thought she was Danny’s girlfriend, the way he always smirked when she told him about going into town. But that was no never-mind… She had no interest in Danny as a boy. Only as a friend. Only as the one person in the world that she could really tell secrets to because she had seen him naked and could embarrass him royally if he ever told anyone else.
“Why are you coming into town today, Val?” Danny asked. They were sharing a seat in the middle of the bus, as they often did. Val waited until they were both off the bus to answer. They walked past the Post Office together.
“Well, I’m a Norwall Pirate, now. I have responsibilities. We are going to try to get Billy Martin into the gang, right?”
“Yeah. Billy needs some friends. He has a sorta tough life.”
Valerie nodded. Church ladies were always tutting their tongues about the horrible, sinful Martin family. Victor Martin, the head of the family, owned the bar that was once the Uptown Café in the middle of Norwall’s Main Street. Sinful things happened there. There was drinking beer, playing pool, a lot of bad language, drinking beer, women who couldn’t be trusted around other peoples’ husbands, and did drinking beer come up already? In the middle of it all was a long-haired, mostly unwashed boy who was made of spindly sticks and always looked like a lost puppy that someone had recently kicked. Billy was the son of Richard Martin, the extra-lazy brother of Victor. The sister of the two Martin brothers, Kelly Martin, was the closest thing that Billy had to a mother in the house, though Valerie was pretty sure that she was not the boy’s real mother.
“We need to do some research about Billy,” Val said like an expert. “We need to find out more about him. He doesn’t talk to you much, does he?”
“I don’t think he talks much to anybody.”
“How do we ask him to be a Pirate, then?” Valerie asked.
“You go right up to him, introduce yourself politely, and just ask,” said a grating voice from behind Valerie. The girl immediately turned to catch the amused glint in the glittering eyes of the dreaded Mazie Haire.
“You were listening to our conversation?” Valerie asked as a sort of justified accusation.
“Of course I was,” said the gray-haired, gimlet-eyed hag. Truth be told, Valerie was deathly afraid of the old Haire woman. She was as scary as Dracula’s coffin on Halloween. Of course, everyone had her pegged as a real witch… a thing that Mazie Haire took no trouble to deny.
“What business is it of yours?”
The old woman bored holes in both kids’ souls with her eyes. She was a scary and formidable woman.
“I am an old woman who doesn’t tell lies. I have a lot of knowing. I see things, and I don’t forget. This boy you are talking about does indeed need your help. But it’s not for the reasons you think. You need to forget about these stupid little kids’ games you and these other little Pirates keep playing. You need to actually see what you are looking at.”
Valerie was completely at a loss for what to say. She just nodded at the old crone stupidly, like she agreed to whatever was being asked of her.
Apparently that satisfied old witch Mazie Haire. She nodded. Smiled a tight-lipped and thoroughly scary smile, and walked away.
“What was that about?” Valerie asked Danny.
“She’s mysterious,” Danny said. “It is hard to know what she is really up to. They say she spends most of her waking hours in the attic room of that gingerbread house of hers and looks out the window at us all through her little telescope. She watches people. She creeps me out.”
“Do you suppose she’s right about just going up to Billy and introducing ourselves… and say what we want?”
“Well… she has a good point about the direct approach… but she’s a witch, you know. Do you really want to do what a witch wants? Especially if she’s a wicked witch. Do you want to do what a wicked witch wants?”
Valerie grinned at her awkward, silly-sounding friend. “What a witch wants? You sound silly when you say that.”
“Yeah. I guess I do.”
“But silly or not… I think you are right.”