Clifford Johnston was a character that just showed up out of the blue and became an integral part of Failing Test. He is the little old man that comes off as being crotchety, but the reality is that he has a heart of gold and is selfless in his friendship to Test. His quirks and mannerisms made him so much fun to write that I found him trying to take center stage. I’ve actually got an idea a younger Cliff to star in his own novel. Stay tuned…
In the third act of The White Hairs, Farshoul finally climbs down off of the mountain, and there’s an old man that he meets there. He’s a simple farmer living in an agrarian society, taking care of his grandson who suddenly finds a gigantic furry man in his garden! He doesn’t panic, or get upset. He begins scolding the creature, as if he were a misbehaving child. The old man manages to get through the defenses of a character who had become very hard and cold and lonely at that point. He knows when to give Farshoul space, and when to demand answers out of him. He does a heck of a job manipulating him into getting his life back together!
I didn’t plan to create him. I didn’t know he was going to appear before he did. And he shocked me! I had no idea that I could write the sort of playful dialogue that comes out of his mouth. It was an unexpected visitation!
Have you ever heard of a game called “Alien intelligence?” All you have to do is have two people, and decide that one of you is possessed by a vastly more wise and advanced mind. The other person then asks them questions. The “possessed” player then just answers as if he were much smarter than he really is. It’s an interesting thought experiment, and if you try it you’ll see that the results are surprising! Writing the old farmer was a little like playing that mind game. He was/is smarter than I am! But I wrote him….!!??!!?!
Mildred, a sweet and kindly Norwegian grandmother, has to be my favorite secondary character. Mildred is a pleasant looking senior citizen who owns a hobby shop in Crookston, Minnesota, where she retired after a long career as a State Department researcher, work that often involved extended overseas travel. Her long-suffering husband is glad that Mildred is finally home in the Red River Valley of the North where he can pursue his love of farming. Mildred and her husband especially like to dote on the many grandchildren and their own four beautiful daughters. But Mildred has a secret. One that she keeps hidden, even from her beloved family. It has to do with a very special skill that made her very valuable to the government and she is once again called into action.
Although Mildred started out as a "fill-in," her character started to demand more attention in the story. As you will learn on reading Falling Star, when Mildred starts asking for something in her sweet unassuming way; you'd better listen. Listen, I did and soon this colorful character went from secondary status to being one of the principal characters in my ensemble cast.
Of all my characters, it's got to be Black Opal. He's complex. He's a highwayman, notorious for his skill with a sword. A fop with an eye for fashion, and a charming libertine. Think of the perfect dinner party guest, someone fun and witty but probably not the person you would want to live with. That's who he is... sort of.
I adore this character because he's so human, he has some terrible traits, it's very easy to work this character up into a heated argument because of a perceived threat of a possible rival, and yet he is not faithful at all. He is very sensitive about his appearance (he's been scarred by smallpox, something he contracted as a boy) and wears heavy makeup to try to hide his disfigurement and yet he's very vain, which can be a real problem for someone with scars and one working eye but he's charismatic and has no problem charming people. He's also very optimistic, seldom bitter at all, and generally puts his life on the line to save his friends. He's dashing. Really, what's not to love? He's a character who just keeps growing and showing me more interesting facets of his personality.
I enjoyed this character in my first novel Cameo the Assassin so much in fact, that much of the story in the second novel (Cameo and the Highwayman) is about him and explores his back story.
This is actually kind of a tough question because I like most of my characters, even the ones who are the most flawed. But for secondary characters, I'd have to say it's a tie between Mama in We Interrupt This Date and Joe Tremaine in Jobless Recovery. Mama is bossy, opinionated, gossipy, prone to melodrama, and stubborn. She's also a mama to the core. She'll fight a tiger for her daughters and her grandsons. Now that her daughters are grown, she adopts the babies--a couple of Chihuahuas she spoils rotten. And Mama is a lady. She likes flowers on the table and she goes out of her way to be polite to guests, even though she has no trouble gossiping about them after they leave.
Joe Tremaine, on the other hand, though he can be quite a charmer, doesn't hold back when it comes to speaking his mind. He's a survivor and bends the truth beyond all recognition when he has to. He'll do anything to protect and provide for his daughter Lark, even if he has to lie and steal. Or worse. At the same time, under that tough exterior he's terribly vulnerable, a fact he'll never admit, and Joe's a good friend to have in an emergency.
Both Mama and Joe became real to me while I was writing about them. They also gradually revealed themselves to me in ways I couldn't predict, and to me that's one of the very best things about writing.
Jobless Recovery, Second Edition
Consuelo Saah Baehr:
Secondary characters are a gift to the writer. Often we create them with more freedom. They can be idiosyncratic and deeply flawed but somehow they are likable and stay with us.
Slivowitz, the banker, is a very minor character in my historical novel, Daughters. He only appears half a dozen times in the story yet his impact on events and on me is indelible. We first meet him when one of the main characters needs a building loan. Jerusalem at the time was very cosmopolitan and branches of all the European banks were represented. Nadeem goes first to Banco di Roma and Deutsche Palestina Bank. Both turn him down for lack of collateral. Then he goes to a private banker whose office is above one of the stores on Jaffa road.
The sign said Slivowitz Trust, a simple engraved brass square set discreetly at the side of the building next to a steep staircase.
“Slivowitz Trust?” asked Nadeem of the bespectacled man dwarfed by a large mahogany desk heaped with ledgers.
“Slivowitz Trust. Trust Slivowitz. I’m Slivowitz.” He said this without lifting pen or eyes from paper and Nadeem, having no alternative, delivered his proposal to the top of Slivowitz’s head.
There is much more to Slivowitz than his conversational style. Even though his appearances are few, his persona stays with us.