Which Characters are Based on Val Muller? – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Val Muller will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC and a download code for The Girl Who Flew Away, a download code for The Scarred Letter, a print copy (US only) of The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and an ebook of Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Pieces of Me: Character Creation
Val Muller

A question that frequently comes up in interviews is: which (if any) characters are based on you?

The short answer? All of them. In each character, there is a little tiny piece of me, even a piece that happened only in passing. Maybe it was that angsty moment in middle school when a teacher yelled at me for standing on the tape instead of behind it. I came home and wrote a journal about how she made me want to be a horrible student. I had all these plans to sabotage my grade just to make her feel terrible. She was a science teacher, and I vowed to hate science for the rest of my life. I outlined what it would be like to be a bad student, how I would end up with a disappointing career that I could pinpoint on her. Rage practically jumped off the page. Later that week, I forgot about it and continued my status quo of getting mostly As and enjoying science class. But for a moment, I was filled with the motivation to teach her a lesson by sabotaging my grade just to make her fail as a teacher. Several minor characters in my works are based on that experience. A tiny seed motivated them to stop caring about their work as students—and in many cases, they actively didn’t care, working hard to tend to their image as a rebel.

In The Man with the Crystal Ankh, one of the friendships becomes embroiled in anger. While I never had that serious of a falling out, I certainly had little fights with my friends, and the emotions were real. So in that sense, both sides of the fight are little pieces of me.

While some characters are based on little bits of me, others are inspired by a sense of wonder. In Faulkner’s Apprentice, protagonist Lorelei goes down a dark path. I have never gone down one, but like most teens I’d been exposed to the potential to do so, and I can’t say my mind didn’t wonder what it would like to simply scrap the rules of wholesome living and be bad. Lorelei was based on that sense of wonder, and the fact that she is torn about it mirrors how I might feel as I headed down that path.

When it comes to character creation, this is one way to go about it. I think of each character as a tangent to me (uh oh, I used a math analogy. That’s not like me at all—must be one of the characters speaking!). I tap into that minor experience or thought, and build a character around it. I find that the creation is authentic, and the character thus feels real.

The other way I create characters is to base them off of people I know—friends, family, enemies, coworkers. But there’s a big catch there. Of course I don’t want them to know they’re muses or models. I don’t know who originally suggested this term, but a piece of writing advice I’ve been given is to create characters the way Frankenstein created his monster: take pieces of other people, and mix them up to such an extent that it’s no longer clear who inspired what.

For instance, for every story I write, my mother asks me if “such and such” trait displayed by the mother figure in the book is based on her. She’s intentionally reading into the work, looking for pieces of herself. She’ll sometimes say things like, “I wasn’t that crazy, was I?” I’ve had to recently tell her that that isn’t the case: perhaps the obsessive nature of the character in question came from a teacher or guidance counsellor I had in high school. Perhaps the way the character squints when she reads came from a middle school math teacher. But maybe one quality, perhaps the way the mother in the book is concerned about her daughter, perhaps that comes from my mother. There’s always a sense of relief when she realizes that she isn’t all of the character.

So the “Frankenstein” method is another way to create characters: brainstorm a list of traits from people you’ve encountered over the years. Think about how the “connotation” of those people or traits might fit into one of your characters. For instance, I’ve always hated going to the doctor, so I used some of my angst about my pediatrician and combined that with a less-than-effective administrator I once encountered and a power-hungry teacher. They all combined into the character of a high school principal. Someone asked me, “Who in the world did you have as a principal who was that slimy?” The answer: no one. He was a compilation of many people, and there’s no way those who inspired his character could pick out one trait from the next.

Sometimes, to make sure my characters are authentic—and to make sure I know them—I will throw them into a scene together that has nothing to do with the novel I’m writing. They might all go on a shopping trip to Wal-mart or meet for coffee. Throwing them in that scene together allows me to see how they might interact, who might gravitate together. More importantly, the quiet character sitting in the corner tells me that he needs more development because I don’t really understand his personality. In such a practice scene, when all the characters insist on their next lines and actions, I know my characters are ready for the page.

Everyone’s heard the legend of the hollow oak—the four-hundred year curse of Sarah Willoughby and Preston Grymes. Few realize how true it is.

Sarah Durante awakens to find herself haunted by the spirit of her high school’s late custodian. After the death of his granddaughter, Custodian Carlton Gray is not at peace. He suspects a sanguisuga is involved—an ancient force that prolongs its own life by consuming the spirits of others. Now, the sanguisuga needs another life to feed its rotten existence, and Carlton wants to spare others from the suffering his granddaughter endured. That’s where Sarah comes in. Carlton helps her understand that she comes from a lineage of ancestors with the ability to communicate with the dead. As Sarah hones her skill through music, she discovers that the bloodlines of Hollow Oak run deep. The sanguisuga is someone close, and only she has the power to stop it.

No good deed goes unpunished when freshman Steffie Brenner offers to give her awkward new neighbor a ride home after her first day at school. When her older sister Ali stops at a local park to apply for a job, Steffie and Madison slip out of the car to explore the park—and Madison vanishes.

Already in trouble for a speeding ticket, Ali insists that Steffie say nothing about Madison’s disappearance. Even when Madison’s mother comes looking for her. Even when the police question them.

Some secrets are hard to hide, though—especially with Madison’s life on the line. As she struggles between coming clean or going along with her manipulative sister’s plan, Steffie begins to question if she or anyone else is really who she thought they were. After all, the Steffie she used to know would never lie about being the last person to see Madison alive—nor would she abandon a friend in the woods: alone, cold, injured, or even worse.

But when Steffie learns an even deeper secret about her own past, a missing person seems like the least of her worries…

Enjoy an excerpt from The Man with the Crystal Ankh

She picked up the instrument and set it onto her shoulder. A calmness passed into her, as if the violin exuded energy—as if it had a soul. The varnish had faded and dulled. Its life force did not come from its appearance. She brought the bow to the strings, which was still rosined and ready to play. Dragging the bow across the four strings, she found the instrument perfectly in tune.

Sarah took a deep breath and imagined the song, the way the notes melted into each other in nostalgic slides, the way her spirit seemed to pour from her soul that day.

And then it was happening again.

She had started playing without realizing it. Warm, resonant notes poured from the instrument and spilled into the room. They were stronger, and much more powerful, than those she was used to. This instrument was different than the factory-made one her parents had bought for her. Rosemary’s violin was singing to the world from its very soul. And it was happening just as before. Sarah’s energy flowed from her body, causing her to lose consciousness and gain perspective all at once. She rode the air on a lofty run of eighth notes. She echoed off the ceiling with a rich and resonant vibrato. She flew past the guests, who had all quieted to listen to her music; flew past the table of cold cuts and appetizers and up the darkened staircase, where she resonated against the walls and found her way into the guest room. There, she crept along a whole note and slid into the closet.

As the song repeated, she twirled around in the closet, spinning in a torrent of passionate notes. She searched through the notebooks and books on the floor and on the shelves, searched for an open notebook, for something she could read, something that might make her feel tied to the place. Otherwise, she might spin out of control and evaporate out the window and into the sky. She found her anchor on the floor in the darkest corner of the closet, a large parchment—maybe a poster. The notes spun around her in a dizzying way as she tried to stay still enough to read what was on the paper. It was a difficult task; now, with every beat her body downstairs tried to reclaim its energy.

About the Author:www.CorgiCapers.com.

Val’s young adult works include The Scarred Letter, The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and The Girl Who Flew Away and feature her observations as a high school teacher as well as her own haunted New England past.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for hosting!

  2. Lisa Brown says:

    congrats on the tour and thanks for the chance to win 🙂

  3. I have enjoyed the tour, thank you.

  4. Thanks for the opportunity to share!

  5. Gwendolyn Jordan says:

    Congrats

  6. Happy Friday! Thanks for sharing all of the great posts during the blog tour I’ve enjoyed reading them.

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