Writing Characters Who Aren’t You

In American Radio, fiction, gay/lesbian, music, writing on 10/11/2012 at 20:43

I’ve been spending October revising a few horror stories, which I will post soon, while my “American Radio” project sits on the back burner of my brain. But it’s there, never fully tucked away. So I decided I’d share one of my ongoing battles with the book.

Creating a unique voice for my narrator and/or protagonist is always a challenge–if I slip up for even a sentence, I’ve started down a path in the company of a voice that is, simply, my own. To me, there is nothing more boring than a forgettable narrative voice.

In an effort to distinguish myself from my narrator, I made Aleks Records (among other things) black and bi sexual. I came to this decision with two good reasons: 1) the narrator needs to be “the other” in every single scenario, so any conceivable definition of “otherness” should be attributed; 2) he is based off Donald Glover and Kele Okereke.

However, I’m unsure of how far my ability will allow me to explore these areas of his person…Zora Neal Hurston was criticized by her peers for not giving enough attention to the struggle of African Americans in White America. Hurston, while proud of her heritage, felt she was merely a writer, and would write about whatever pleased her; she felt no obligation to any cause or race.

At the same, it seems wasteful to write a gay or black character and not give some attention to their place in the social landscape. A novel taking place in the present day, for example, with a gay narrator would surely comment on the current election, which could turn out to be historical for same sex couples in America. But how does a straight author access that place?

Interviews, research, guesswork?

I’ve surrendered to the fact that this book will likely take me four or five more years. It’s natural to want your first book to just be finished, but “American Radio” will not allow it. The book is continuously condensing via layers–shorter and deeper, shorter and deeper. At least I’m finishing a few stories, and have a poem to be published this winter.

Hit the jump for an “American Radio” excerpt.

“Yesterday I saw the sun fall, the day before I heard a whale song, and today, you—who told me everything while talking in your sleep.”
The vague Italian angles of James Camp’s face hung alone in the air, seized from darkness by an iMac desktop aglow with Audacity and Logic Pro; his voice—similarly disembodied from the music playing through expensive Bose headphones—snaked a cappella through air thick with Johnny Walker, coiled around shot glasses arranged by the mouse pad, along the heads of Marshall amps, in bronze forests of broken guitar strings.
“Give me a flower and I’ll follow you anywhere, under the moon or otherwise.”
The lakeside mansion seemed to extend as far below ground as it did above, catacombs dressed as personal gyms, guest bedrooms, a pool hall and this, their tomb, the studio—crowded with pieces of a dozen different drum sets, well-stocked with bass guitars, Martin acoustics and a crate of unsold The Gardener’s Son demos…the walls were patterned with egg cartons and sound-proof foam, papered with setlists from last summer. The light bulb had blown out around six, and to venture too far from a chair was to risk being poked by any number of sharp, musical objects.
“She sang the song of a lioness. I just smiled and said….”
They’d been buried alive for eight hours. At first Aleks felt no depth could conceal him from Avi—she would sense him, hear his song, enlist her Greek cousins to kick his ass—but the discomfort had long since subsided. No he worked the depths of his pockets with an anxiety reserved for multiplex patrons waiting in a basement lobby, dreading how dark the earth had grown in their absence. What could greet their exit—rain, storms, End of Days…down here, who could say?

Aleks lit the Winston with a borrowed match, watching clouds of mist train past the lamps on a jet black BMW. His bike parked under a rainforest arch in the Camp’s backyard, somewhere between the luminescent pool deck and basketball blacktop. Sprinklers hissed their predestined spits of water over lawns and gardens, needless in the eye of the storm. The door of the ’08 5 Series opened…sole occupant (unknown behind the tint) turned out to be a slender, sandal-clad foot, conveyed into the night’s rain by an endless brown calf, kneecap and thigh, a navy blue sailor dress, strapless shoulders and at last the indifferent visage of Jenna Camp. She moved to the front door with presidential urgency, deflecting nature with a designer handbook, slipped into the house without so much as a wave to her adoring fans. Aleks waited several long seconds for the passenger door to open, to get a glimpse of what sort of man went to bed with a girls like Jenna Camp, Megan Fox, that ilk. But there was no one. This girl just fine on her own.


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