Sunday, July 26, 2009

Where Did He Come From?

Denny and I have been talking lately about where stories come from. He says they grow out of experience, and imagination.

I get the experience part--bits and pieces from my years and miles.

But writing a novel is walking into an unformed world. People and events that don't exist. It's the novelist's job to make them up.

I put a lot of thought into the characters, starting with the name. (For more on how my characters are usually born, see Biographies .)

Yet every now and then, a character just appears on a page, complete and named. And insinuates himself (or herself) into my story. A stranger. Someone not on my outline. It feels a little like having someone show up unexpectedly in your living room. Where the hell did he came from and how did he get in my pages?

The day after one of these guys arrives, I decide if he can stay. So far, the unannounced are batting 1000. They've got good voices and they quickly find their places in my story, regardless of the fact that I now have to alter the outline to fit them.

My protagonist is a woman named Selby Wade. But my favorite character is the guy who introduced himself in this way:

The next evening, across the road from the flamingo-pink buses at Pinky’s Toobs, people left their vehicles wherever they could find space in the crowded Harley-Davidson parking lot. Balding men in business suits and middle-aged women in sensible shoes waved to each other as they forged around pickup trucks and SUVs. At the entrance, they slowed in front of beefy touring cycles lining the ‘Motorcycle Only’ covered spaces next to the building.

Inside, a soaring metal ceiling and polished concrete floor embraced a biker’s dream. Free-standing racks formed long aisles of lustrous commerce. Soft leather jackets, sturdy motorcycle boots, black biker’s gloves, all branded Harley-Davidson. Rhinestone logos on ladies’clingy tank tops and form-fitting jeans. And, in the center, rows of motorcycles stretched to the distant reach of the building. Bikes in deadly black and bikes in brilliant hues—blues and scarlets and yellows—all armed with polished chrome in a look so sleek that people walking by thought they heard a faint whine of tires on a twisting road.

Selby swallowed her breath as she walked through the glass doors. Oh my God, this is as good as Fourth of July fireworks. Pools of light from silvery pendants arced and glowed as music swirled up to the rafters, carrying drifts of laughter and shouted greetings. Without taking her eyes from the rows of bikes, she dug in her bag for her camera. A few adjustments, a couple of clicks, and she looked down at the screen where people eddied in a flow like smoke around rows of bikes.

The crowd spread out and Selby moved forward. Before she realized it, she’d walked past the Chamber of Commerce check-in desk and the clothing racks, then idled past the first two rows of motorcycles. At the top of the third row she saw a vision of herself astride the bike in front of her. She stopped, resting her hand on a muscular black number with yellow-to-orange flames licking the tank.

“That’s a good ride. Fat Bob.”

The deep scratchy voice made her jump. It had come, apparently, from a massive pirate who now stood to her left, towering over her. A red bandana covered his head, knotted in back, and a gold star dangled from a large diamond stud in one ear. He wore an open black leather vest over a red t-shirt. A small belly pooched over the top of well-worn jeans and dust lingered in the creases of his black boots. She stepped back a pace.

The brown eyes under the bushy black brows watched, twinkling. Then a slow infectious grin parted his thick, salt-and-pepper mustache and beard. “You’ve never seen a biker before, have you?” he asked.

She loosened her grip on her purse. “Not one of your magnitude.”

He laughed. “Touche´.” He held out his hand. “Name’s Isaiah Rudolph.”

As she put out her hand, Selby wondered if it was true that convicts often had the letters LOVE and HATE tattooed on their hands. When she stole a glance down, she was relieved to see Isaiah’s hands unadorned, even of jewelry. “Selby Wade.”

“Not meaning any disrespect, but you don’t look like a standard issue Chamber of Commerce member,” he said.

Not a bad line. And she admitted to herself that she'd had a thought of standing out in the crowd. The turquoise off-shoulder blouse and flowing skirt that swirled as she walked cried Artist, a welcome departure from the navy blue suit of her business past. She’d worn her hair down too and it swung like a curtain when she turned her head.

“And you’re probably the only pirate in the group.”

He grinned. “Hey. I’m not a pirate. No skull and crossbones. And you want to be nice to me. I’m providing the brew tonight.”


“Cowboy Gold, finest beer in the Texas Hill Country. Brewed right here in New Braunfels, by yours truly,” he said proudly. “All-Pro Pilsner, Blitz Bock, and Victory Pale Ale.”

“That’s fantastic! I didn’t know there was a brewery in New Braunfels.”

“It’s not very big. But eventually I’ll go statewide.”

“How did you get started?”

“My Dad used to make home brew, like all the Germans around here, so I guess I came by it naturally. But I didn’t start tinkering around myself until I retired.”

“You retired young.” It just popped out of her mouth. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”

He laughed. “I played defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys. Twelve years is a full career.”

Selby didn’t know why his football past surprised her. Now that she knew, he had the build and the oft-broken nose of a pro ballplayer. Maybe she'd been thrown by the bandanna. Or the full beard. I still think he looks like a pirate, she thought. Except for the smile. That was pure warmth. Not what you’d expect from a man who used to knock people down for a living.


  1. Isaiah. Wow. I'm so glad he showed up! Kathleen, I enjoyed this excerpt so much. "More," cried the baby. "More!"

    Now you got me thinking about the first guy I dated way back in 1969 at the University of Florida. His name was Hosea Butler, a Vietnam vet and ten or more years my senior. I drank lemonade and he drank I.W. Harper whiskey. . .

  2. Thanks, Beth! I think your last sentence, "I drank lemonade and he drank I.W. Harper whiskey..." sounds like the opening line of a good story.

  3. Kathleen, the more I read, the more I think you were only visiting Vero Beach. You sound so very in touch with your Hill Country. I like Isaiah and your book excerpt. Keep it up, girl!

  4. I can't say that I've met anyone like Isaiah... not that I would mind. Great character and beautiful prose. Can't wait to buy the book!

  5. Hi Kathleen,
    That was so great! Totally sucked me in. Kind of sounds like a budding romance, but I'm probably wrong about that. You have such a gift for this. I think its really your calling. The way you describe these people and places I feel like I've already been there and met them. Really cool!

  6. The characters kept popping into my visual after reading your description, I'll take that as a definite "yes I need to read more"
    thanks for sharing.


My readers are all geniuses. Can't wait to see what you have to say.