No, I don’t mean THAT secret – the one that you would never ever in a million years spill on a public blog. That one I’ll buy you a few drinks sometime and try to get it out of you that way.
But I was thinking about this as I’m realizing after JT’s post that Thrillerfest is THIS week, good grief, and am now frantically trying to remember the things that I need to do to get ready for this conference, at which I will be performing in the Killer Thriller Band with a dozen other authors who also happen to be outstanding musicians and singers.
Which really isn’t all that surprising. Very few authors just write.
I know authors who are doctors (F. Paul Wilson, Michael Palmer, Tess Gerritsen, Phil Hawley), musicians (John Lescroart, Tess Gerritsen, Michael Palmer, Blake Crouch, Scott Nicholson, David Morrell, Ridley Pearson), martial artists (Pari Noskin Taichert, Barry Eisler), dancers (Pari again, Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak, Toni Causey) and even debutantes. 😉
We’ve all had a bunch of professions. We all seem to have any number of surprising talents. I don’t know if that’s a balance to writing, or part of the basic training of a writing career, or simple financial necessity – or if in fact it’s true of every human being – that every single one of us has surprising hobbies and talents.
This is obviously a useful character exercise for authors: to ask yourself what avocations and secret pleasures each of your characters has – to design these revealing characteristics and plot where and how in your story to reveal them. Some of the best characters have a wide range of conflicting interests – take my favorite example, Hannibal Lecter (before the onslaught of too much information), with his cannibalism AND exquisite taste, his acute sense of smell, his eidetic memory, his penchant for collecting news articles about natural disasters.
There are also characters with supposedly character-revealing hobbies that for whatever reason just don’t work for me… I won’t be specific, but often the reveal of a musical talent in a hard boiled detective just falls flat for me, for example.
There’s an art to finding the right avocations for your characters, and an art to depicting them, and I think part of it is practice – we need to be constantly probing people we meet for their secret talents and passions, to see how these details fit into the whole of a soul.
All of which is to say I’m not just being nosy when I ask you this:
What’s your secret?
Here at Murderati, we know a lot of interesting and surprising details about each other by now. We know JT is an oenophile, we know Simon’s an engineer, we know Pari’s a belly dancer, we know Dusty is a lawyer, we know Ken has a PhD, we know Mike teaches high school (”Oh, Mr. MacLean!!!”), we know Toni has a construction company, we know Louise was an ad exec, we know Rob knows his way around a camera, we know Naomi did volunteer work in West Africa, we know Billie’s a Jungian therapist, we know Stacey’s a professor…
But I’m talking about something that no one here knows about you – something really surprising.
Here’s something you don’t know about me.
I’m a minister.
Yeah, really. Church of Mick Jagger. No, actually, Church of Universal Life, which you too can join – details in the back classifieds of any issue of Rolling Stone.
I got my minister’s license about six years ago when all of my friends started getting married, and heathens that we were, no one was all that comfortable with a traditional marriage ceremony, or a male officiant. That is, the women were not comfortable with a male officiant, and the men weren’t all that opposed to having TWO women up there on that dais with them. One set of my friends asked me if I’d perform their ceremony for them, which pretty much shocked the hell out of me, but they were serious, and so I got the license, and we all wrote the ceremony, and it came off surprisingly well, so well that another couple asked me to do theirs, and then people I didn’t know who saw me officiate asked me to do theirs, and I ended up doing half a dozen (all couples still happily married, thanks for asking). When the father of one of the brides asked me if I would do his funeral I decided I needed to evaluate my ministerial calling, because it was getting confusing. It’s also an incredible amount of preparation, quite a demanding avocation when my vocation is already stretching me to the limit.
So, my children, watch your drinking at these cons, because I might just sneak up behind you and marry you off when you’re not looking. I have the power, vested in me by the state of California.
No, really – what’s my point?
My point is, I – the horror writer, Berkeley radical, actress dancer singer slut who wouldn’t be allowed burial in hallowed ground in some cultures, make a pretty damn good minister, and I bet NO ONE here would have guessed that about me.
My point is – it’s our job to know these quirky things about people and about our characters. The more we know about other people’s secrets, the more capable we are of designing complex and unforgettable characters.
So it’s your turn.
What’s your secret?
And what are some of the best – and worst – character secrets/avocations you’ve read?
(Hope to see so many of you at Thrillerfest! – I”m on a panel Sunday morning at 9 am: "CLOAK OF DARKNESS – Is Horror the Original Thriller?", and of course performing at the banquet Saturday night with the Killer Thriller Band.)