I Am Not My Characters (But Maybe I Am)
by Kathleen Duhamel
Since the publication of my novel Deep Blue several weeks ago, I’ve been asked by people who’ve read the book, “How did you come up with your characters? Is Claire supposed to be you? Is anyone else based on a real person?”
Not to be enigmatic, but my answer is always, “Yes and no.” Honestly, I don’t know how to create characters who don’t have something of myself in them. At the same time, they are all unique individuals. But for those of you who are interested, here’s how I came up with my four main characters. Let’s start with the women.
Claire is the sensitive artist, a hippie who is more concerned with staying true to her art than making a lot of money. She has a fun-loving approach to life (a lot like me) and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Part of that attitude stems from being a cancer survivor (also like me) who cheated death. We share the same mantra: Nothing is worth more than this day. Claire and I try to make the most of life, having almost lost it.
However, Claire is more loving and compassionate than I am, and much more of a risk-taker. I don’t know if I would’ve packed up and moved across the country to be with a man going through recovery, even if he is a hottie like Rob. She is willing to put it all on the line for someone she loves. Some might find that attitude foolish, but I believe her to be admirable.
Denise is the only character in the book based on a specific person, my BFF since the eighth grade, Diane Baird. Their careers are eerily similar. Both have devoted themselves professionally to helping abused and neglected children. However, Denise doesn’t allow the often horrific cases she deals with to overwhelm her. She has the uncanny ability to compartmentalize her job and not take it home. Most of the time, anyway. As far as her personal life goes, Denise would like to have a man, but she doesn’t need one to feel complete. She’s not about to jump into a relationship with someone who lacks emotional maturity.
Artie is more or less the male version of me. He often hides his feelings behind a wall of cynicism and sarcasm because he is distrustful of others. He finds it hard to censor himself, so he frequently shoots off his mouth before he thinks about what he’s saying, much to the dismay of the band’s public relations person, a control freak who can’t control him. Unlike me, Artie has more talent and ability than he knows what to do with, so his ego frequently gets out of control.
He’s not a mean person, though. Just like almost every other human, he wants to love and be loved. He’s just not certain how to go about it.
Rob is a composite character, created from bits and pieces of others. When I began researching the book, which is set in the world of classic rock and soul music, I was surprised to re-learn how many of the singers and musicians I admire are Jewish: Paul Simon, Donald Fagen, Carole King, Carly Simon, Amy Winehouse, Billy Joel and Bob Dylan, to name a few. So Rob became Jewish. I based him in New York because I wanted to accentuate the differences between him and Claire, who is a WASP from Colorado. Yet, they share the same free-wheeling approach to life, one of the things that draws them together.
Rob is my alpha male: charming and charismatic, even though he’s not handsome. (Claire herself makes that comment, although she finds him “oddly appealing.”) He’s a foodie (like my husband, Tom) who enjoys cooking, and he’s crazy about his family.
Although he’s made some huge mistakes in his life, I think his weaknesses serve to make him human, and therefore more desirable.
He never wanted to be a singer, but it’s his distinctive raspy voice that helped propel Deep Blue into rock and roll history. Throw in some Joe Cocker and Michael McDonald with the soul of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and a touch of James Brown, and you’ve got Rob’s voice.
My husband asked me recently who I think could play Rob in a movie based on my book (like that could actually happen) and I said, “No one.” Not in my mind, anyway.
So, there you have it. The other night I dreamed I was at a party. I wandered through the crowd asking others if they’d seen Rob and Claire. Someone put their hand on my shoulder and asked in a gentle voice, “Kathleen, you do know that they’re not real, don’t you?”
I’m not so sure about that. I’ve lived with these people for three years, learning to understand their wants, needs and motivations. I’ve cried through their struggles and rejoiced at their successes, so in my mind they are real and will continue to live on. And if you want to know what they’re up to, stay tuned for Deeper, Book Two in the Deep Blue trilogy, which will be out next spring. More music, romance and a whole lot more drama!