Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Many Faces of Sid Chance

By Chester Campbell

Well, maybe not all that many faces, but you get the idea. Characters are created from a smorgasbord of features that emanate from many sources. In the case of Sid Chance, the protagonist in The Surest Poison, I pulled him together from lots of different places.

The first thing you notice about a person is outward appearance, mainly size. For Sid, think of my Murderous Musings colleague, Ben Small. If you’ve ever met him, Ben is a large presence. I modeled Sid’s size after him. Sid is six-foot-six and wears a number 16 shoe (it’s featured in the story). But unlike Ben, I gave him a black beard. He had been living like a hermit in the backwoods the past three years, and hermits don’t fool with shaving.

Sid’s love of the outdoors, along with his homemade cabin on the hillside, came from my younger son, Mark. Like Sid, Mark served in Army Special Forces, though his service was post-Vietnam. That’s where his early-rising habit originated. Though nearly twenty years out of the Army, Mark (like Sid) still gets up in the wee hours. The cabin idea and its location came from Mark. Several years ago he bought 85 acres of hillside in Smith County, east of Nashville. He hauled the materials, including plywood sheets and 40-pound sacks of Quikrete, up the hill on his back, with some help from his two sons. Mark’s cabin is not as commodious as Sid’s, but he only stays there a few days at a time.

Sid’s background as a National Park ranger came courtesy of Tom Howell, a former ranger at the Gulf Islands National Seashore at Perdido Key, FL. I interviewed Howell while working on the second Greg McKenzie mystery, Designed to Kill. He gave me a basic understanding of what the job entails.

I didn’t do anything with it in this book, but the fact that Sid’s mother insisted he learn to play the piano may be followed up later. That part of his character came from my own experience. My mother’s sister was a piano teacher and organist at our church. My older brother and I got mandatory piano lessons as youngsters. Playing in recitals was my worst nightmare. Aunt Rosie wanted to teach me organ, but I was getting into my teens and didn’t want to bother with that. Of course, now I dearly wish I had. I haven’t played in ages, though I have an electronic keyboard (I gave my piano to my younger daughter).

The final character trait I had to consider was the way Sid thinks. He isn’t totally me, but a lot of his philosophy on life mirrors my own. I suspect most writers imbue their protagonists with much of their own views. Of course, a lot of his thoughts and actions reflect the way I would like to be. I am not so bold or confrontational. I would not likely have made a good cop.

My characters are pulled together from lots of people I know or know about. They’re not close enough for anybody to sue me (I hope), but they come across as real people because they’re a hodgepodge of actual people.