Urban Fantasy – The Character of Environment

Readers and writers know all about characters – that they require fleshing out and development, names and backgrounds, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. Readers become attached to the mental image of what that character must look like and how his or her voice might sounds. But there’s more to it than that. More than the description of hair color or warts, more than the story … more than the era or genre.

 

There’s the environment. And I’m not talking about a little rain or maybe a vague description of a fictitious city here, I’m talking ENVIRONMENT on steroids!

 

Take Twilight. All that thick cloudy gloom of the Pacific Northwest combines to create a total package for Bella and her experiences. It does more than serve as a literary tool to permit vampires not to sparkle so much as to be recognized, it sets the mood. Now skip over to Charlain Harris’s Dead Until Dark (True Blood). The environment in this series is painted by poor and lower middle class Northern Louisiana. The prolific environment there is the sordid haze of southern prejudice and bigotry.

Environment tells more of the story than plot or characters! Ask any reader about a story they loved and the answer will include everything from location to weather and cultural influence, perhaps before even one character is mentioned. It’s the careful setting of the stage that makes the difference.

 

In my book, Cold in California, I was determined to make the environment a character in and of itself. Yes, California is the clothing this character wears, but the true environment is the warehouse where 60 or so dead and double-dead supernatural creatures live together. There, secretly hidden in West Hollywood, they try to find ways to behave themselves so they can take advantage of their one last chance to earn heaven. It’s about redemption in a city knee deep in anything but redemption. The warehouse needed to be a canvas for these creatures. It’s not exactly “the island of misfit toys’, it’s more like the Murphy’s Law pathway to the Pearly Gates. This environment needed to do two distinct things. First, the warehouse had to create a safe environment for dead supernaturals to be themselves, and second, it had to be real-world recognized for what it is, a holding tank for the world’s incorrigibles.

 

The space wanted to feel scrapped together with furniture left on the street for trash pick-up. It needed a system that reminded readers of the unemployment or social security office. And it had to serve every kind of race that might end up there, even Stick Man who is 12 feet tall, so he has a double-wide room where he sleeps on two beds head to head. The warehouse is bricked with history no one knows or wants to know. It has secret areas where the head honcho – like Crudo, the troll in charge – can find a few hours of peace and quiet when he wants. This warehouse makes love to it’s inmates by providing everything each one needs, high walls for one character’s vast collection of murder mystery books, dark corners for the double-dead vampires to lurk and meet and squabble within. Private places for pixie/leprechaun (uh-hem) interaction and a door that closes so that loner and soon-to-be hero, twice-baked vampire Gabriel Strickland, can sulk and bemoan his situation, at least in the beginning.

 

The warehouse keeps secrets and exposes treachery. It provides safety and yet is extremely vulnerable. It breathes with a life of its own. And it does all that without one line of dialogue or one action. Now, how’s that for a stellar character?

 

What book environments have impressed you most as you read or wrote them?

 

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series! Cold in California

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

 

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Supernatural Characters – What’s in a Name?

Where were we? Vampires werewolves and trolls, oh my! Here at Vampire Explored we talk about where the paranormal ideas come from and where they go. What they mean and what they don’t mean.

So … let’s play the name game.

What’s in a character name that makes it memorable? Where do these names come from? Do they mean something or are they hard to come up with? Considering the fact that most authors have their own ways of developing character names, I can only speak for myself. Hopefully this is interesting and informative, but also gives you a few laughs. I’m going to do a run through of each of my character names in COLD IN CALIFORNIA,  how they came to me and why I used them. Here goes.

GABRIEL STRICKLAND – Hero, twice-baked vampire, loner and skeptic. Gabriel’s name came from the obvious places – my life and heaven. Since the double dead vampire was given a second chance to earn a ticket through the Pearly Gates, I thought it might be nice to have the same name as the gatekeeper. It might (and I stress might) give him a leg up when the time comes. His last name came to me because I liked the hard and soft sound of it. Strickland seemed to encompass all of Gabriel’s personality traits and flaws.

CRUDO CUSHMAN – Crudo is the troll in charge of the secret West Hollywood warehouse where Gabriel must live out his purgatory. The place is crowded with dead supernaturals and Crudo cares (grudgingly) about all the inmates. He definitely wants them to earn their way into heaven, but he’s no pushover, he knows trouble when he sees it. Where did his name come from? No clue. I think he just told me as I began writing him. But think about it … a troll, five foot nothing, swarthy and gruff. What else would his name be?

PETE MALONEY – With so many dead and double-dead supernatural races coping with having to suddenly behave themselves and be good enough to make the grade, Crudo needed some help. Pete Maloney (all around nice guy and demised werewolf) came to me in a dream. He was big and  warm, kinda like everyone’s favorite Uncle Pete so that’s where his first name came from. After that I discovered that inside my head, every time I wrote his dialogue he had a slight Irish brogue. He’s goodhearted, funny, a great friend and support for Crudo. Oh, and Pete has no designs on the big responsibilities. He likes being number two. It suits him just fine.

SHIRLEY – Oh, dead pixie Shirley only goes by one name. She’s the Cher of the warehouse, hot, sexy and insatiable. She’s a gorgeous supernatural woman pretty much living in the middle of an ongoing “squirrel moment”. Self absorbed but sweet, Shirley has an impact on just about everything and everyone at the warehouse. She got her name because I loved the fact that Crudo liked to call her “Shirley Girly” … that and “Trouble”.

NATHAN COOK – How does evil look to most readers? Ugly? Demonic? Nope, startlingly beautiful. I needed a villain that took a reader’s breath away but he too needed a few little distracting flaws. What he had in looks, he certainly wouldn’t have in savvy. Nathan is a bit of an egotistical jerk, the kind of man who as a kid, never got picked for the baseball team, the one who didn’t realize he was walking around with a “kick me” sign on his back or toilet paper on his shoe. As an adult his striking good looks and dark witchcraft put him into a league of his own, so who cared about not being popular, he was powerful. So, his name had to be powerful too. It had to be a name that never politely asked for what he wanted, it demanded.

DORI GALLAGHER – I never met a Dori, much less a Dorianna and when Dori formed in my imagination, I wanted the perfect name for Gabriel to want to roll off his tongue. Dori’s not too pretty or special, in fact, I was really focused on her imperfections that would attract Gabriel. I wanted her to have a name that stood out but not so much it demanded attention. I wanted a name for this woman that told her story … and that’s something shocking you don’t learn until the very last few pages of the book.

And two more for good measure …

FEEVER CLOVELY – Feever Clovely is a dead leprechaun. In my imagining, leprechauns are conniving, grumbling, unhappy beings who are always taking a political stand of some kind. Feever is the head of the West Hollywood Warehouse Leprechaun’s Union and he’s always looking to picket something. Where did his name come from? I have no idea, it was just there the minute he arrived in my head. If you run into a leprechaun one day, maybe ask if it’s a common Lep name.

DON CARSON – Both Feever Clovely, the dead leprechaun and Don Carson, ancient Soul Eater, are small players in Cold in California, but I wanted to touch on their characters and names because both play a huge role in the second book in The Twice Baked Vampire Series, Monkey Jump.  A Soul Eater is immortal, sort of. He serves a Sin Eater. How did this particular Soul Eater get his name? Well … he reminded me of a former boss of mine. Not that the boss was a soul eater, but he was brilliant, a company man who played by the rules and seriously competitive. My Soul Eater needed a contemporary name because he’s always around, trying to do his job. A simple name like Don fit the bill. He seems to like it.

So … there ya go. Character names and where they come from. Is this what you expected?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series! Book 1, Cold in California  !

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

 

One Werewolf’s Conscience

What’s a werewolf? I mean, in most imaginations it’s that scary creature that – without any choice of its own – changes into a deadly animal during the full moon and tries to eat people roaming through the woods. Well, okay, not everyone has woods, or forests, or even a nice large park close by, but as paranormal and supernatural adventures continue to fascinate readers, werewolves are sure to show up just about anywhere …

  • In a pretty woman’s bedroom
  • In the animal rescue league kennels
  • At a back yard cookout
  • A ballgame
  • In the dirty city alleys
  • In a warehouse

Yes, a warehouse. In this case, no, it isn’t a warehouse shipping werewolves like an import/export business. This warehouse is purgatory for dead werewolves chosen for a second chance to earn a ticket through the Pearly Gates. In Book 1 of the Twice Baked Vampire Series, Cold in California, lots of dead, and in the case of vampires, double-dead supernaturals get this cool second chance to prove themselves worthy. This particular warehouse, located in West Hollywood, might be a really sweet, happy kind of place – if every character living there gave a good goddamn about getting to heaven.

Here are the facts: Survival is what matters most to these creatures. After all, survival was the focus of their lives, so why not their purgatory? Second, these are political animals, more so than humans by a long shot. The Gnomes are ambitious, demanding and extremely creative creatures. The Shape-Shifters are metro-sexual, mainly to fit into the Hollywood environment. Well hell, Shape-Shifters were always responsible for blending in, right? The Twice-Baked Vampires are volatile, no surprise there. The Fae are the resident elite while the Leprechauns are belligerent in their efforts to pay homage to no one around them. The trolls are efficient and effective managers. The Pixies, well, the Pixies are kind of like the sex symbols of the warehouse, hot, steamy, lustful and satisfying … if you can catch one that is.

The only dead supernatural creatures facing and dealing with the stark reality of the warehouse purgatory are the werewolves, and in the West Hollywood warehouse, there is only one werewolf, Pete Maloney.

Some (specifically Twice-Baked Vampire, Gabriel Strickland) call him “The Reverend”. Pete sees the whole picture, which is why he has always stood at the side of the warehouse manager to help keep peace and organization among the inmates. They’re all there to earn heaven, but they’re all pretty flawed souls who’ve spent a lifetime or two ignoring the golden rule. Pete likes the golden rule, and he generally likes his position as helper and second fiddle. He gets to watch souls come and go, see where they’re most likely heading (up or down) when final judgment arrives for them, and this is one werewolf wise enough to steer clear of controversy. He’s not a politician, he’s a brilliant trouble shooter. He’s not interested in power, he’s fascinated with the effects of the unscrupulous desires of others. “The Reverend” can laugh, enjoy some play time with a Pixie, stand at the leader’s side during a battle or storm, and still read a good mystery alone in his room. Pete Malone is an enigma among the population of the West Hollywood warehouse!

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series, Cold in California

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

Doing the Shape-Shifter Shuffle

You put your right arm in, you take your right paw out, you put your right claws in, and you shake them all about. Think about it. If you could shape-shift into anything in the world, what would it be?

The first time I ever heard about shape-shifters I was deeply involved with the Native American culture and ceremonies. Among native and aboriginal cultures, shape-shifting is part of common conversation and mutual traditional history. Of course, not everyone can do it. It takes strong personal medicine and spirit involvement to make a mere human being able to shift into something else. It’s serious business.

But blessedly in fiction, it’s just that … fiction. We do try, even in fantasy, to base our imagined events on real world possibilities, but some authors like to take things much further and literally create a whole new mythology.

LEVEL ONE

Take fictional shape-shifters in general. Level one creative takes a human into the existing animal world, so a shape-shifter can be a dog, a cow, a chicken, an elephant … anything we have a reality base for. He can become a deer or bird or dung beetle. Level one is pure reality-based fantasy. I have shape-shifters in Cold in California, but we’re talking about the garden variety, level one type – a grizzly, an elk, even an elegant snake. In the next book, Monkey Jump, the shape-shifters fall under a different category all together!

LEVEL TWO

Level two, this gets more complicated and way more fun! How about a shape-shifter who can become an inanimate object? Say a toaster or salt shaker. Cool for a private investigator with supernatural capabilities – he can eavesdrop anywhere and raise no suspicion. He can be an umbrella and travel in a suspect’s hand through the rain while closely observing said suspect’s activities. He can become a military helmet or weapon and really do some reconnaissance in the middle east. He might be able to become a computer. Wow, wouldn’t that be a strange adventure? He could be something useful or unimportant. He could observe, spy, gain intelligence or just play nasty jokes on his friends. Hell, he could be the beer cooler at the Seven-Eleven!

LEVEL THREE

Level two is lots of fun, but level three might take some serious thought, because to me, level three fiction shape-shifter creation takes the concept of shifting outside the realm of our reality completely. In other words, the sky (and beyond) is the limit.

In level three fictitious shape-shifting a man can become :

  • A dinosaur
  • A different supernatural creature (Fae or Werewolf or Vampire or Pixie)
  • An alien from another planet
  • A dragon
  • A monster from an underworld
  • A cartoon (animated) character
  • A fetus
  • An ancient god or goddess

Can you imagine the creative ramifications? What if the shape-shifter gets stuck with some of the DNA from the obscure creature he’s shifted into? What if he retains some of the personality quirks or physical traits of the creature? It would be my luck to shift into a Tyrannosaurus Rex, only to discover after shifting back that I now have a markedly bigger butt! Or maybe I drool or breathe fire or glow in the dark! How much would that effect and reshape a story?

Okay, now it’s feeling a little Twilight Zone-y.

But seriously … If you could shape shift into anything in the world, what would it be?

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series. Book 1, Cold in California

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA