Wednesday, December 2, 2009


When you’re writing a novel, it’s wholly your world.

Your characters, your vision, your story.

If you sell that story, then it goes out into the world and in a real sense you sacrifice dominion over “your” world — the book becomes each reader’s world.

But most of that alchemy is transparent to the author. You might get some vague soundings back via reviews or thumbs-up/thumbs-down on Amazon and the like, but nothing too concrete ever really comes back to you.

My position in relation to my current, ongoing character’s presentation is a bit unusual by industry standards. I sold the audio and the graphic novel rights to Head Games — the novel that introduced crime novelist Hector Lassiter — before the book had widespread attention.

It’s very unusual for an author to have a say in the selection of an audio book’s reader, but I got my first and only choice: actor Tom Stechschulte. Tom, whose masterful readings include Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and The Road, is now the official voice of Recorded Books’ exclusive, unabridged recordings of my Lassiter novels. (Head Games and Toros & Torsos are available; Print the Legend is forthcoming.)

I also wrote the script for Head Games, the graphic novel (coming autumn 2011 from First Second). I was given a voice in artist selection and have a voice in character depiction.

My character…my idea of his voice…my visual image of Hector Lassiter.

And yet…

This week I had the surreal experience of “talking” to Hector Lassiter.

Monday morning, I interviewed Tom Stechschulte for a piece to appear soon on my official Website.

We talked about recording logistics and interpreting the works of writers in an audio-only format. We talked about shaping character with sound.

We talked Hector Lassiter.

Tom shared his strategy for shaping Hector’s voice. He talked about whisky and Pall Malls and how Hector’s affection for both made young Hector sound different from older Hector in his sublime reading of Toros & Torsos. Tom gave me some samples of my own characters back…Hector…John Huston…Orson Welles. And George W. Bush.

I realized, talking to Tom, how much his take on Hector has infiltrated my own.

As I told Tom, as author, I can’t ever experience my own works as a reader might. I remain shut out, in a real sense, from the stories I create. Except, that is, when I listen to Tom read my work. Then, and only then, I can come strangely close to experiencing my own novel as a kind of virgin.

The Lassiter series consists of eight novels. Those books are all written; four are currently optioned/published. Despite the fact all the books exist, there is an editing process that continues as the titles go to print. I’m still dipping back into Hector’s world, here and there.

When I wrote the first drafts of each book, I was seeing a guy who looked like a taller Bill Holden and had Tom Russell’s speaking voice from Hotwalker.

Now, when I read Hector, or write new dialogue for him, he sounds like that other Tom — Stechschulte.

This afternoon, I got a batch of sketches emailed me from official Head Games graphic novel artist Kevin D. Singles.

There’s been some back and forth about character depiction for this project. There may be some more. But I love Kevin’s take on “my” characters.

Or maybe I should say the characters formerly known (to me) as Craig McDonald’s characters.

Kevin’s Alicia Vicente has already supplanted my vision of Hector’s first leading lady. His Hector is already well on its way to doing the same.

I’ve interviewed authors who have claimed to “lose” characters or series when actors put their stamp on a property. Peter Lovesey insisted to me actor Alan Dobie’s portrayal of Lovesey’s character, Cribb, got between author and creation to the extent he couldn’t continue writing his own series. “You see that image, then, when you come later to try and get back to your original character, all you can see is the actor rather than the character you thought of in the first place,” Lovesey told me.

My own creator’s vision isn’t quite that fragile or susceptible to outside influence. And anyway, the Lassiter novels are all written.

But by the same token, my vision isn’t evidently as rigid as I might have thought.

My characters?

Not so much, anymore, it seems.

Not like it was when they lived only on my iMac or in my head.

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