I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as … a supernatural tree called Stick Man.
Twigs, leaves, wood and muscle. He’s 12 feet of animated shrubbery that can either scare the bejebus out of a person or just leave them petrified. Stick Man is a character in Cold in California who never intended to frighten anyone. He’s the awkward dude who was too tall for anything to fit in, especially in a time when basketball wasn’t even invented yet. It’s even worse these days, as the NBA isn’t quite interested in a player who requires pruning and an occasional sap infusion. Needless to say, the guy doesn’t get out much. He’s quiet, uncomfortable, desperate to please and terrifying to look at … and he lives in a West Hollywood warehouse with all the other dead supernaturals awaiting final judgment and hoping for redemption.
In Native American legend, the Stick Man was the mediator between good and evil … thus his perfectly tailored inclusion into a story about just that. But my Stick Man had to have more than just a job, he had to be bad at it. How else could a good guy who understands the difference between heaven and hell end up in purgatory, taking one last run at the Pearly Gates? So, this is how it went down for Sticky (as he’s lovingly called among the other dead supernaturals).
His responsibility, way back when other Stick Men walked around, was to whistle. Yes whistle. (Honest to Pete, it’s the truth, look it up!) See, the legendary creatures were responsible for leading lost “good” people safely back to their village by whistling a tune – AND – guiding the bad guys over a cliff by warbling a different melody. Sticky’s problem? He simply couldn’t remember which melody did what and occasionally tweeted the wrong song. Nothing intentional, mind you, just ignorance and dumb bad luck.
After his death, an untimely charring in a few rowdy young warriors’ campfire, Sticky woke as part of the West Hollywood warehouse community of dead and double dead supernaturals. Needless to say, he only whistles when completely alone and taking a leisurely walk through Griffith Park late at night. He can whistle well, he just doesn’t trust himself to do it when it matters, poor man.
When creating the character, Stick Man, I really had to dig deep for inspiration. Being just a tad over five feet tall myself, tall isn’t familiar at all to this author. Finding insight wasn’t difficult though. I just imagined those circus performers on stilts, walking kind of wobbly, hiding the concern in their faces and trying to be entertaining in light of the eminent dangers involved. I just imagined living that way … out of sync with the world … uncomfortable in a place where everyone else was normal height or less, as in the cases of the resident trolls, leprechauns and gnomes. I imagined him wanting to contribute, but unable to find a job that was actually helpful to the community. I imagined him spending a lot of time sitting in the corner of the warehouse, knees tight against his chest so as not to trip the other inmates, and wishing he could feel more involved.
The best parts of his story (as told to me by Sticky himself) are the parts where he actually gets to play the hero. It’s so much fun to watch a character like Sticky emerge as the champion! And all I had to do was write it.
So tell me, what kind of characters have you read that really twisted your imagination and made you wonder, “How the hell did that author think of that?” Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series. Book 1, Cold in California