Where Do You Get Your Characters?

Where do you get your characters is a question I hear frequently.  The short answer is I draw them from both life and my imagination.  In many instances my characters are composites, combining traits from real life people and ones that I create in my mind.

Take Barry Mitchell for example.  I first introduced him in Blue Ice as a troubled young man seeking help from a social services organization.  The truth is, Barry is based on a real life person I met when I ran a program for runaway and homeless youth in California in the 1970s.  Several readers have commented on how horrible my character’s life had been and that they couldn’t imagine a teenager being subjected to such horror.

Which Character Is This?  Hint: He appears in both Blue Ice and Green Skies

Which Character Is This? Hint: He appears in both Blue Ice and Green Skies

The real life Barry I found on the agency’s doorstep one morning (not his real name by the way) did find his mother dead from suicide when he came home from high school one afternoon, in much the same circumstances I described in the book.  The local child protective services organization did, in fact, place him in the custody of the stepfather whose philandering had provoked the suicide.  The stepfather did, in fact, kick him out of the house when Barry’s benefits were denied because of paperwork problems caused by the stepfather.

I kid you not, these things actually happen in real life.  Sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Even though I was the adult authority figure and Barry was the troubled client, I think in many ways I learned every bit as much from him as he could have possibly gotten from me.  One thing I learned was how resilient we humans truly are and how we can still function despite suffering through terribly traumatic experiences.

The real life Barry managed to turn his life around, finish school, and get a job.  He had the willpower and courage to keep fighting through a situation that would have caused many others to give up.  My character Barry had to struggle through his issues as well to try and make it out the other side.

I’ve often wondered what Barry is doing now.  I sincerely hope he is happy and that those painful days remain in his past.

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I’ve been remiss of late in tending to my blogging.  I’ll try to do better now that Green Skies and the Panama contest are behind me.

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