• Tove Foss Ford

Reader Question: What Character Do You Identify With Most?

From the mailbag - though you would think this is a common question for authors, I don't receive it very often. It's a question, though, that made me think back over the years I've written the Eirdon Books, and my constantly changing relationships with the characters - because, yes, you DO have a relationship with each character - and if characters are well rendered, there are things you like and dislike about them!

The short answer to the question "What character do you identify with most?" is this:

It's not Katrin.

(I shall now stand back until the dust clears.)

Surely I jest? Nope. There is an assumption that authors identify closely with their major character, particularly if that character is of the same gender. This is understandable - after all, many authors' major characters are based on themselves. Thomas Wolfe was his character, Eugene Gant, a definite autobiographical portrait. The emotional similarity between Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre is undeniable, though Charlotte never married her model for Mr. Rochester. Louisa May Alcott and Jo March are closely allied, with many similarities in their childhoods (albeit sugar-coated in the books when compared to the realities of the Alcott family and their lack of a responsible father/husband.)

The original source material of The Eirdon Books came from a short story my ex-husband, Brian D. Ford, began more than a decade ago. He had written a conversation between Katrin and Brumnel, with a third person standing silently by, a butler. Those of you who have read Eirdon already will recognize this as the first meeting between Katrin and Brumnel. It was quite different at that time, but had the same outcome!

Thinking another viewpoint and some dialogue from a third party would enliven the scene, I asked Brian about the butler. What was his name? What was his backstory? He said the butler was named Menders, and was a longtime servant of the Queen. He asked me what I meant by a backstory - I started with the suggestion that Menders was the Queen's real father, as he'd already established the idea of Mordanian Queens reigning without spouses (who might try to rule through them.) He looked at me and said that was right out of a soap opera - which it was.

So I thought for a moment and suggested that he wasn't Katrin's real father, but she'd been given to him at birth, to be raised in obscurity far from the corrupt Mordanian court. I elaborated that he was originally an assassin, living in an nation where assassins were trained at tragically early ages, so they would be flexible, nimble and probably not yet devoted to a particular political leaning.

As I went on with the background sketch of Menders, Brian looked at me and said, "You should write a book called Menders: The Early Years." After that, he says I sat there wordlessly for about five minutes, then turned around and knocked out the first one hundred pages of what became Weaving Man. I can say it was like being hit by inspirational lightning - I saw the entire story arc for The Prophecy Series during those five minutes.

And yes, the character I most identify with is Menders. No, I'm not and never have been an assassin. I'm not male. I'm not small statured and my eyes aren't white - I also have pretty good vision. It's not that literal. However, there are parallels for those traits within me. I know what it is to stand out, to be somewhat "other". My emotional responses are much like his. So is my morality.

I'll be honest. For the longest time, until she began to mature, I didn't like Katrin much. She is not like me, as she is outgoing and at ease with people - "the touch" as Menders calls it. Though I understood her frustration as a child, where she desperately wanted the freedom other children had, I disliked her utter determination to get it - but that determination is a major part of her character and she wears it well as she gets older and turns it in positive directions - and converts it to the ability to sacrifice herself, if need be.

Now, Katrin and I get along just fine. After all, sometimes you don't immediately like someone, but as you get to know them, you find affection developing. She's a mighty character, in her very sunflower way - time and experience bring wisdom to temper her tendency to be impetuous and, sometimes, grating. One thing I love about Katrin is her openness to new ideas and concepts. She wears that well and has become a character I admire.

There are two other characters I strongly identify with. Borsen - yes, with his artistic bent and utter determination to reach his goals. Kaymar - yes, with his lightning temper, fierce loyalties and ability to become whatever he needs to be at any particular moment. They are both very special to me because of the way they introduced themselves when I needed new characters in Weaving Man (which was in great danger of going stagnant, with only seven people living there at The Shadows - lots of "happy families", utterly bogged down.) I identify with both of them in many ways.

But they are also not me, in that the characters have developed and grown on their own as the stories progress. Sometimes they surprise me. Sometimes Menders is far more hidebound than I would ever be. Kaymar is more quixotic and tormented. Borsen is more practical. They are their own now, though they popped out of my head. I believe when the character begins to live to that degree, where they become and do things you never intended for them - they are the most believable.

Over the years I've spent writing these novels, my personal spotlight has shifted from one character to another - I find pieces of myself in many of them. Rosaline's ability to survive. Cook's "better to pull one from the fire than to let the whole lot burn". Elsham's acceptance that there are things he will simply never be able to accomplish, and his sensible choice not to continue pursuing them. Eiren's ability to forgive. Gladdas' ability to pick up, move across the world and start all over again... and again... and again. Hemmett's knowing when it's time to leave.

But it always comes back to Menders. The one most like me. I'm working on Book Four now, The Light At The Top Of The World, where Menders steps a little more into the spotlight than he was in Eirdon. It's been good working closely with my alter ego, Aylam Josirus Shvalz, Lord Stettan, The Surelian Solution, Weaving Man, again.

There you have it. Not what you expected, I'm sure.

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