Bewildering Stories discusses...
Authors and Characters
with Elous Telma, Martin Kerharo and Don Webb
[Elous] I am now re-working the story, adding new aspects and even changing parts of the story line. Hint: the old lady does not perish in Chapter 1. Don, you were right: She is an interesting character and can give us much more.
[Martin] When reading the story, I had a feeling that her character disappeared too soon. It’s strange, given that we don’t know anything about her; but still, she has a presence. Maybe it’s because she gave the cat her name.
[Elous] Thank you so much for the feedback. I have not had much at all, other than yours because I wrote the story without really discussing the fact with friends until Chapter 1 came out at Bewildering Stories, and this helps a lot.
I must admit to a bit of cold sweat when the more dreamy sequences came out. Is it ever possible to write a story and simply claim the content and mood are completely unrelated to your psyche?
[Martin] I see what you mean, because when I write, I tend to not be “in control” of what my characters do. But at the end, I got a story that is far from what I expected. But maybe you work differently.
Of course our stories give out clues about our psyches; our fantasies maybe; but when you give your stories to someone to read, you reveal yourself anyway. This is a child of your imagination, you’ve been nurturing her, helping her grow and refining her for hours and days... All you want is to have people read it and tell you what they think, and be afraid they won’t like it. It’s a lot of worry.
As you say, some parts of Oikos Nannion are scarier than others, and you wonder what people are going to think of you after reading them.
[Don] What are we to make of the dialogue between the author and work when the readers join in? We have a kind of three-way conversation between author, work and readers.
[Elous] I think you have hit the nail on the head: The author and the work are distinct. As Martin put it, the author is not really in control of the characters. They have their own lives and personalities.
[Don] We have a very fertile ground for further discussion, and I hope other contributors will join us. In fact, we have an incidental contribution in this very issue: Ada Fetters’ “Different Spaces.” Ada’s essay addresses a rather different topic, of course, but the Special Challenge may indicate connections and open doors to further exploration.
In that light, is the author “in control” of his characters? It may be more accurate to say that, in the best circumstances, the author is in contact with them.
If characters surprise an author or seem to have minds of their own, they are establishing a dialogue in the author’s mind between the conscious and subconscious. In effect, the author is surprising himself by letting the characters tell him things he may not be consciously aware of.
In our interviews with review readers and editors, we ask “What is the most revealing thing you’ve ever written?” Most have found the question intriguing, but few have attempted to answer it. That’s understandable; as Martin says, everything everyone writes is “revealing” in some way. The authors themselves may or may not know in what way it is revealing. Astute readers may or may not be able to see it.
I’ll answer the question for myself. The most revealing thing I’ve ever written is “Dimmity Dumpling and the Scarlet Cloak.” If you want to know what I’m like, you can find a lot there. But the information is all scrambled, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be put together.
I’m sure that you — Elous and Martin — can say the same about Oikos Nannion and The Dohani War, respectively. For starters — and by no means the complete story — is Elous a cat, a scientist, and a person whose hallucinations are affected by telepathic contact with subjects of scientific study? No and yes.
Is Martin both a wild space alien in human form, like Jane, and a protective figure like Lt. Dexter Zimski? No and yes.
Am I both a tall, red-haired coffee-swigging space pilot and a cute furry space alien with fangs and claws who has a taste for hard liquor and human “dumplings”? No and yes.
The point is that you can dress up your characters any way you like. Leonard Nimoy insisted, “I am not Spock.” Quite true, but Star Trek’s Mr. Spock was Leonard Nimoy; only Mr. Nimoy could play the role.
Likewise, you are not your characters, but your characters are you. A writer’s “reveal” is found not in who the characters are or what they look like but in their attitudes and relationships. And that is the starting place, where both author and reader begin to attempt to assemble the pieces of the puzzle.
Elous Telma and Martin Kerharo