Thursday, February 23, 2012

A character is born


People often ask me what inspires my characters.  Often it's a situation that sparks my imagination or memorable trait from someone I've met along the way. In the case of KISS ME SLOWLY, I came up with the character of Grace Dupont first.  
Long ago--in my other life out in corporate America--I worked as a registered representative at a national brokerage firm.  During the day we would wire millions of dollars between mutual fund companies.  Almost every day millions of dollars would vanish into thin air.  Poof.  Gone.  This got my mind clicking away...the money had to be going somewhere, right?...it didn't just vanish.  But where did it go? 
And the best part?  We were told not to worry about it as long as the loss was under ten million dollars.  Yep.  We’d shrug it off and go on with business.  Wow, I thought, there’s a story here somewhere.  
Soon the idea for Grace Dupont, a forensic accountant who worked as cyber pirate on the side with the ability to swipe millions with a flick of her pretty little finger was born.  Oh, the damage she could do...and what fun I’d have writing about her!  Once I had the character in mind, I played with different scenarios until the diamond smuggling plot of KISS ME SLOWLY came to life featuring my sassy, sexy and smart character Grace Dupont.  
That's how it works with me.  A character arises from a spark of an idea...he or she gets traits of people I've known along the way with bits of myself thrown in for fun.  Everyone who knows me well always recognizes a bit of the real me in my characters.  I like that.  It's kind of like an artist's signature on a painting, but, in this case, only people who know me intimately can pick up on something in a character where they laugh and say, "that's Amber".  
Recently I met someone with certain traits that will make for a good character down the road.  Comical traits mixed with sociopathic and narcissistic qualities--can’t wait to write him. I'm excited to discover the perfect plot to highlight his unique "issues" and see what mayhem will be unleashed.  
For me, I always think of the characters first.  From them, the plot unfolds.  This is why critics call my stories "character driven" and I agree with that.  I fully form the characters and let them drive the story where it needs to go.  Usually I lose myself in the telling of it all and marvel at the outcome.  
I’m lucky to live the life I do where I’m able to have so much fun creating characters who set the world on its ear and put a smile on the face of those who read about them.  

An excerpt of KISS ME SLOWLY
She didn’t know if she was angry or frightened, but aiming a gun at his head felt pretty damn good. “What are you staring at? Get out of there.”
She motioned for him to exit the guest room and enter the main cabin. He looked like hell. Scratches ripped up his chest, blood darkened the once white bandage on his shoulder, soggy pajama pants were stained and ripped at the knees and his feet, and it looked as if he had walked for miles barefoot. He limped to the curving white leather sofa and fell against the cushions. 
“What the hell happened to you?” she asked.
“Would you please put the gun down? You’re terrifying.” He slurred his words as he dropped his arms against the table as if they weighed a thousand pounds. 
“Terrifying is my current goal. Tell me what happened.” She scrambled to lock the hatch overhead before sinking on the edge of the sofa a few feet away from him. She kept a firm hold on the gun. “Talk to me, Jon.” 
His hands shook as he held them to his forehead. He looked like a shadow of the man she had encountered forty-eight hours ago. That man had owned the world and knew it. This one looked like the world was against him and knew it. 
“How did you get here?” She bit her lip. She needed to get away from here. 
“Someone took me from the house, dropped me on the street. I walked. Jumped the sea wall. No one is following me.” His gaze pierced into hers. “How did you know I was here?”
“I notice details, and you did a lousy job smearing your tracks.” She noticed the bulge in his waistband and realized he had a gun of his own. “What the hell is that? Take it out.”
His hands shook so violently when he laid the gun on the table that she worried he might shoot a hole in the hull.
“For God’s sake, just leave it alone,” she ordered. “I suppose you’re going to tell me you found that.”
“It’s not mine.” His eyes glazed over as he stared at the gun on the table. “It’s not mine,” he repeated.
“David said Ashley was murdered. The news thinks you may have been kidnapped. David brought it up because he thought my Jon Ryan resembled the infamous Jonathan Alexander. I swear, it’s one thing after another with you. Murder? What’s next? What can be worse than murder? Is that the house you’re talking about? Someone took you from Ashley’s?” Her own hands shook as she moved his gun further away from his trembling hands. “What happened? What have you done?”
“I don’t know.” He shook his head and stared at the gun. Defeat swirled around him like a swarm of mosquitoes. 
She strode to the head and grabbed two beach towels. She couldn’t have him ruining the leather. He watched her through veiled eyes as she tossed the towels at him. 
“Dry off. Tell me what happened from the moment you went home with Ashley. Leave out nothing.”
She paced while he spoke. His entire body shook as he sat there huddled beneath towels telling her about sangria and murder. With every detail, he slumped further against her cushions. Her mind clicked into overdrive as she listened. Thinking, thinking, thinking…
He didn’t need to say he was terrified. She could see it in the shadows of his eyes. “I was unconscious, in and out, I mean. Someone pulled me from Ashley’s, drove me, told me to run. I think it was Craig, but I don’t know. I came to you.”
“You came to me.” Hands on hips, she contemplated tossing him overboard and setting sail to parts unknown. 
Because of him, she had nearly gotten arrested herself. Ms. Careful and Controlled nearly blew it over a kiss. One damn kiss from a guy she hadn’t known since high school. High school, for God’s sake. Damn it, she had lost all sense. 
Well, two kisses. Technically. Two. 
She cursed under her breath, laid the revolver on the countertop and pulled a bottle of rum from the freezer. Mind racing, she poured them each a glass over ice. 
“I think we both need a drink.” She curled onto the seat next to him. 
Both listened to the lapping of water against the hull without saying anything for a few minutes. 
“This is such a mess.” She spoke more to herself than to him. “I need to get out of here tonight.”
He said nothing, just held the glass between his hands and shivered. 
“You need to take a shower, get warm, what am I thinking? Damn it.” She knew the signs of shock. Pale skin. Glassy eyes. Body tremors. “Come on.” 
He looped his arm around her shoulders and limped beside her to the stateroom. Biting the inside of her lip, she used her shoulder to keep him steady while she worked his pants off of him. His teeth chattered loudly against her chin.
“When I imagined running away with you, the fantasy involved a lot more fun and less drama.” She managed a grin as they stepped in to the shower. He didn’t smile, but she saw light return to his eyes. “Take a shower. I’ll find some of Jerry’s clothes for you.” 
When it looked like he would fall down the side of the tiny shower, she cursed and stepped inside with him. Holding him up with her shoulder, she reached behind her back and turned on the water. She held his head between both of her hands and squinted against the water that covered them. 
“Don’t faint on me or anything, okay?” she asked when he simply shivered and stared and shivered and stared. “Damn it, you’re really messed up, aren’t you?”
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