Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Creating Believable Characters

By Chester Campbell

I think creating characters is one of the most interesting facets of fiction writing. Cameron Quinn, a central figure in my latest novel, Beware the Jabberwock, was a fun person to work with. I originally wrote the Post Cold War thriller in 1989-91 after years of reading spy novels and non-fiction books about the CIA and the KGB. I needed a veteran CIA officer to put on the trail of the Jabberwock conspiracy, and Quinn was my man.

As has been my custom in the years since, I started with a few basic facts in his background, then developed his character more fully as the story progressed. I made him a member of Gen. William Donovan's Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in the latter part of World War II. After the war he received a law degree from Harvard. His father was a prominent Boston attorney, and his Ivy League connections made him an ideal candidate for the fledgling CIA.

Quinn became a main contact with the Mossad under legendary counterintelligence chief James Angleton. That put him in a bad position with his current CI chief, Hawthorne Elliott, an Israeli critic and detractor of Angleton. Quinn was a feisty Irishman who had always enjoyed imbibing, and after his wife died of cancer, he went on a drinking binge that got him in trouble at the Agency. Following a six-month drying out process, he hopes to salvage his career with work on tracking down the meaning of the code word Jabberwock.

This is where Cameron Quinn intersects with my main protagonist, Burke Hill, and offers more opportunities to develop his character. The two had worked together informally years before when their cases came together. Burke was an FBI agent then, working with J. Edgar Hoover's Goon Squad on projects of questionable legality. In one instance, Hoover sent Hill to Mexico to take care of a troublesome leftist who turned out to be Quinn's intelligence source. They worked together to placate both agencies at a time when the CIA and FBI were hardly best friends.

When Quinn recruits Burke Hill to assist him in the Jabberwock investigation, his daughter comes into the picture. She was born while Quinn was assigned to the American Embassy in Budapest at the time of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. After graduation from college, she worked with the CIA in Europe for a short time, then got into the travel business in Washington. Her company handles travel arrangements for CIA operators.

I portrayed Cameron Quinn as a likable, almost cherubic, grandfatherly man, but one highly dedicated to his craft and worthy of the nickname Pachinko, "the man with steel balls," which he earned working with the Israelis. He gets into some pretty sharp philosophical wrangles with Burke.

I hadn't considered it when I began dealing with the character, but as things developed, Quinn's drinking problem turned out to be a key turning point in the story. He was certainly an enjoyable person to follow through his ups and downs. It made him come across as a real person you could see and hear and connect with at every level.

Incidentally, Beware the Jabberwock is currently available as an ebook for the Kindle and on Smashwords,com for most any e-reader. Within the next week or so, it will be on Amazon as a trade paperback. You'll find more on my website and  blog.

1 comment:

Jaden Terrell said...

Thank you for this tour through Quinn's past, Chester. I found him a very compelling character--one of my favorites in the book. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to say whether I liked Quinn or Burke better--and that's saying something.