Monday, November 22, 2010

Guest Blog: Richard Wright, author of Hiram Grange & The Nymphs of Krakow

Hello there. Richard Wright here, trading blogs with Kevin for the day. For those who don’t know, I’m the author of the book following Kevin’s in the Hiram Grange series – Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow. I thought I might waffle on a bit, in a quite random and wandering fashion, on how characters are birthed.

The tale of how Hiram was born should be familiar to most readers here. From Timothy Deal’s first, loose character outline, through an eighteen month or so development process in which five writers tossed ideas around, crushing some, saving others, and developing the final character before each writing an entry in the first series of his adventures, it’s a well documented process.

What we’ve rarely gone into is the breath of life moment. After our extensive brainstorming sessions, during which emails would fly about often faster than you could keep up with reading them, we weren’t left with a living, breathing, character who could bestride our individual tales. What we had was a list. Items owned. Personality traits. Bits of agreed upon history. Named acquaintances. Bad habits (quite a long list, this one). What none of us had yet done was sew the parts together, and breathe life into the man.

It’s not something that you can do as a team. It’s something very personal, very unique to each author. It happens when fingers are hitting keys, and the character starts to inhabit you, speak through you. That’s how it works for me, anyway, and I can only document it retrospectively. At the time, it’s too furious a chain reaction to break down.

Hiram was an especially swift birth. He got into my head as soon as I started to write his world down, longhand, in a lined, moleskin notebook. I set things up to maximise the chance of this happening. The opening section is actually the very end of an unseen previous adventure based somewhere between Kevin’s Chosen One and my own Nymphs of Krakow. From page one events are moving fast, and the pressure is on for Hiram. This helped in pinning his essence down – by immediately finding out where his break points were, what decisions he made when under extraordinary stress, I was already turning those lists of words into reactions within context, and that’s where people really demonstrate themselves, in art just as in life.

I kept the pressure on the character from those first moments, quickly moving him out of his comfort zone and thrusting him into a new environment, the city of Krakow. He gets barely a moment to rest from the first page to the last, and is constantly tested. Part of this was dramatic, a function of story. On the other hand, after so many months work creating him, I was eager to road test him as brutally as I could. I may never get another chance to pen a full length Hiram tale (this will be decided on a very practical basis in the end, depending solely on the appetite for the character), so it was important to me that I write as though it was the last time I would get to play with him. We created Hiram so that we could grind him through the mill, and I hope I did just that.

As well as the exhausting physicality of the stress Hiram is put under, I established very early on in the development of the series that I wanted to pull his world apart in the last book. Hiram, as you’ll know if you’ve dipped your toe into one of the five books he now features in, is a mess of insecurities and addictions, a man who barely functions as a normal human being. What holds him together, and brings him back from the brink more than once, is his mission. For all his flaws, he defends people from dark, shrieking things on the edge of reality. Loathsome though he may occasionally be, he is validated by the honesty and value of his purpose.

What if I could take that purpose away, or at least undermine his faith in it? How would he answer to himself, without his get-out-of-jail-free mission? That’s the real pressure I applied to the character through the book, not because I wanted a definitive answer, but to find those precious break points. It was the most enjoyable part of writing the book. Sex, booze, rooftop chases and werebats are all very well, but they’re so much more fun to write when your character is reeling with uncertainty and doubt.

The question of his reality, and whether any of what Hiram believes has merit, also helped to deal with hearing his voice and needs in my head. We devised Hiram to be flawed. More than that, we devised him to be pitiable and horrific. He’s an anti-hero in a true sense. You don’t ever want to spend intimate time with this man, yet as his author, my job was to do just that.

To write a character like Hiram, you don’t have to be him. However, you do have to empathise with him, which can leave a bad taste in the mouth when he’s at his lowest. Yet, the worst thing that any of we writers could have done would have been to judge him. Hiram’s love/hate relationship with himself is very different from the rest of the world’s, and in understanding that you’re halfway to being able to write him. If you can write him empathically, feeling your way through how his hopeless addictions grow organically from his life, then you’re the rest of the way to allowing readers to love him despite his flaws. We had to open the door to let you do that.

I hope it worked, I really do. I hope Hiram Grange has lodged in your brain, taking some small place in the pantheon of fictional characters you’ve enjoyed, and might one day enjoy again. If you can feel him breathing, we might just have managed it.

Sorry about that.

Richard Wright is an author of strange dark fictions, currently living with his wife and daughter in New Delhi, India. His stories have been widely published in the United Kingdom and USA for over a decade, most recently in magazines and anthologies including Dark Wisdom, Withersin 3.2, Beneath the Surface, Shroud, Tattered Souls, Choices, Dark Faith, the Doctor Who collection Short Trips: Re:Collections, and the Iris Wildthyme anthology Iris: Abroad. When not tiger hunting or snake wrangling, he wonders what Hiram might make of India, and hopes to one day find out.