Jodi Cleghorn and Dale Challener Roe have thrown down the gauntlet and challenged me to think about my story, “Out of the Darkness”, and what character I might wish I’d have written about if I could do it all again. Not being one to back down from a challenge, and especially not being someone who wants to stop the ball from rolling on this sort of thing, here are my unscripted and written-way-too-late-at-night thoughts on the subject.
As background, The Red Book is the first in the Chinese Whisperings anthologies. It has been available as an eBook for almost two years and is coming out in paperback form on October 11, 2011. The book was co-written by ten authors from around the world, many of whom have never met or spoken outside of social media and email. The book was written in a one-after-the-other process where one author would write their story, the next author would choose a secondary character from the prior story and write that character’s story, and so on… providing a unique and interesting exploration of the lives of ten distinct-but-related characters. None of us knew what we were getting from the prior author until we got it and then had to choose our character.
I was the eighth author in the book. I was also one of the last authors added to the mix, a replacement player of sorts when someone else couldn’t go. That meant I had a lot of insight into where the characters had gone and I also had a lot of big footsteps to follow in terms of keeping the story writing at a high quality. Being a computer (software) geek, I built a spreadsheet detailing every major and minor character that appears in every single story before mine, along with details about them and what we knew about them. I had the honor of following Jasmine Gallant in the writing process and her terrific story, “Not My Name” had plenty of characters from which I could choose. Specifically, (as I refer to my spreadsheet) I had seven choices:
- Professor Jacobs
- the short female cop with bushy hair
- the tall cop
If you read my thoughts on writing “Out of the Darkness”, you’ll recall that I started thirteen separate stories as I wrote (the thirteenth being what became “Out of the Darkness”). Three of them focused on the short female cop with bushy hair. One was related to the tall cop. One was about Frankie. All the rest were about Susie. Ultimately, I chose to write about Susie, a character who actually appears in two stories before mine, Paul Servini’s “Discovery” and, of course, Jasmine’s “Not My Name”. In these stories we learn about where Susie ends up and about one of her stops along the way. But we don’t know how she got on this path in the first place. In “Not My Name”, we see Susie through the eyes of Sam as she comments about how tired he appears. It was Sam’s thought, “You’d look tired too if you were me,” which made me choose to write about Susie because Sam’s reaction made me wonder why he assumed Susie was not as tired and not struggling as much as he was. I saw an opportunity to look at how we should not just assume we understand what someone is going through, whether they are happy or sad or look tired or energetic.
But what if I could do it again?
If I could do it again and was still required to choose a character from “Not My Name”, I’d write about Verity.
Verity appeared in Dale Challener Roe’s “Not Myself” and is simply a captivating character. I like how she was caring and compassionate—to me she was caring and compassionate almost to a fault. I like her outlook on life and how she seems to look for the positives even in bad situations. At least that’s how I imagined her. She stayed strong and steady, even as others around her felt their world crumbling. The description of her sigh in “Not Myself” intrigued me. Essentially, Verity just feels like a character who has a lot of positive stories to tell…and if I had another shot I think I might help her story be told.
If I could choose any character in any story, I’d choose the veggie delivery boy who appears in Jodi Cleghorn’s “Mercurial”. Why? Well, the vegetarian in me feels there are not enough stories about vegetables and the people who love them. And frankly, I think it would be a heck of a compelling read.
“We should run away together,” said the veggie delivery boy.
“No, no, we mustn’t,” sighed the short female cop with bushy hair. “Mama would be so disappointed.”
“Well…” said the veggie delivery boy as he bent down on one knee, “if we cant-eloupe, then how about we get married?”
“I’m not real sure that’s a good idea,” she replied, scratching at her head. “I think my cats don’t really like you all that much. But, don’t despair, we all like your veggies.”
Ahem. Well, I did warn you that I’m writing this way-too-late-at-night. I’m sure the story would be more compelling if I were writing this in the morning.
Anyway, I’m pleased to have chosen Susie Lim as the focal point of “Out of the Darkness”. There are things I’d change about the story, things I’d do differently, things I’d add or remove. But all-in-all, I’m glad I picked her and had a chance to get to know her and the people around her. You can read an excerpt from “Out of the Darkness” as well as read some behind-the-scenes commentary, as well as story excerpts and commentaries from the other authors in the anthology by clicking over to the post on the Chinese Whisperings website.
And I am tagging Paul Servini to talk about what he might do differently if he had another shot at “Discovery” for The Red Book. Take it away, Paul!
Edit: You can read each author’s thoughts on hypothetically revisiting this project by following these links:
And for an added bonus, read what Dan Powell might have written had he been involved with the project.