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The Musings of James Paddock
Cool Characters Can Be Found In My Birth City   

Posted August 15, 2018 (Revised from original post October 27, 2011)

Butte, Montana

While southbound for home at the end of our vacation in August of 2011, we passed through Butte, Montana, the city in which I was born and from where have come some strange and cool characters. Has anyone heard of Evel Knievel or Martha Raye? As I stood at the historic marker and snapped the photographs that created the image above, I thought about the scenes from my novel, Angels in the Mist, which took place along several of Butte’s city streets and local businesses. When I first began writing the story of terrorism in Montana, I had no intention of carrying the plot from Helena over to Butte, but there it was. Trevor was chasing after the terrorists who were chasing after Natasha, none of whom registered the view pictured above as they rocketed into Butte, descending from Elk Park into the old city. It wasn’t I who sent them along that route. It was Natasha who decided that she needed to get away after discovering that her home had been invaded by strange men speaking an Arabic-like language. I recall being rather surprised at the turn of events.

But really, should there have been any surprises at all?

The people Natasha ran to Butte to see, who she was sure would provide her safe haven, were her cousin and his wife. I knew this would be the case because my cousin and her husband, a couple of very cool characters themselves, live in Butte, coincidentally on a street very near Natasha’s cousin. Is this really a coincident? Of course not. I have great respect for my family in Butte and know, without a doubt, that if they were placed in the same situation as Natasha’s cousins, they would act in the exact same way. I knew my readers would love them so I designed the characters in Angels in the Mist after them.

That ponders a question I’ve sometimes received at book signings.

Who do we, novelists, use for character inspirations? I like to say that the cool characters we love, and for whom we cheer, come from friends and family around us and people we respect. Certainly Uncle Joe won’t necessarily see an exact copy of himself in my hero, but he might see his own laughing blue eyes. Aunt Myrtle might discover I’ve used her habit of tugging on her ear when she tells a white lie. Cousin Rebecca might notice her talent at number puzzles. Those other not so cool characters, those dastardly devils who cause our protagonists untold grief, certainly come from somewhere else, like the next door neighbor who lets his dog bark all night and who parks his rusting ‘64 VW on blocks in his front yard.

Oh, wait a minute. That's Uncle Joe. Maybe he won’t notice.

In summary, our cool characters are built from people around us. They are those we know and those we observe in our daily lives or on the screen, real and fiction; bits and pieces of them all. Sometimes we get Clark Gable. Sometimes we get Frankenstein’s monster. Sometimes we might even get Aunt Myrtle without realizing it. When we do realize we’ve used Aunt Myrtle, we need to be sure to mention her in the acknowledgements, along with Uncle Joe’s blue eyes.

From where do your cool characters come?

Family? Friends? Sitcoms? Saturday night down at the corner bar? The guys at the carwash or that strange looking couple in Walmart? Everyone would love to know.

2 comments

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May 3, 2012 at 5:28 am

MK McClintock wrote...

I’d have to say that some of the interesting characters I’ve met over the years in Montana have inspired some of the personalities I write, generally in the form of secondary characters. Even today, Montana has plenty of character – it’s an amazing inspiration. Most of my characters’ inspiration comes from people I know or have been close to. When writing the character, in some ways it’s like you’re talking to a friend.

May 3, 2012 at 6:55 am
Dusty Books wrote...

Thank you, MK, for your wonderful comments. I spent half my life in Montana and now, living in Southern Arizona, don’t understand why I left. It’s not only the people, it’s also the country. I imagine walking with that old friend (character) along a mountain trail, our conversation seasoned with the smell of pine, a gurgling stream, the cry of an eagle and the big blue sky. A Montana character is the essence of the Big Sky Country.

 

 

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Who is
James Paddock?
James Paddock
James Paddock is author, novelist, playwright and stage actor, not to mention husband, father and pround grandfather of many beautiful and intelligent children. Still calling Montana his home, James spends his twilight years writing novels, short stories and plays, in between walking Florida beaches, playing pool and hanging out with his
wonderful wife, Penny.


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