His eyes wandered to the copy of Dracula he’d gotten in the mail. Rowan didn’t want to see him, but she’d sent or dropped off a birthday present, and a rather appropriate one, at that. He slid the book toward him, scattering a few of the photos along the way. He ignored them, and flipped through.
One of the most important things I wanted to put into the Sydney West story from the outset was a special sense of realism. But not strictly. I don't write fiction as a direct snapshot of real life. That's not the point. If I wanted to do that, I would have become a journalist.
Sydney West's birthday is October 14th, as stated in the story. And since it would be exceedingly difficult to send him a knit scarf, or a nice book copy, I'm going to talk about him.
Every writer has a different approach to the story. You have to do what works for you, because it's going to be written by you. Some people have character creation formulas I don't understand, but I don't pretend that my way would be better for someone else.
For me, characters introduce themselves. I meet them in coffee shops and grocery stores, libraries and underground stations. Not literally, but that's what it feels like. While I check out at self-serve, sentences walk up and insist on being written down. I start thinking things like "She'd like that other one, but would probably get both" before I even have a name to put to who I'm thinking about.
I tried to formula-ize Sydney in the beginning, and he was very, very different. She was, however, still somewhat of a smart-aleck detective type.
Then came the outrageously tall man in the black coat, poking his nose over my shoulder and insisting I was ignoring the real issues. "You think you can do better?" I complained.
His answer, simply, was, "I already have. Let me tell you about it."
The best, most satisfying work I have ever done always involves somewhat of a threat. You will write my story or I am going to haunt you and get songs stuck in your head.
Of course, I know that inspiration comes from influence meeting creativity. Sydney West -- the properly improper Sydney West -- is borne of, initially, my great love of Sherlock Holmes. In 2007, I had the pleasure of hearing the wonderful Storyteller Jim Weiss. I'd been given a volume of Sherlock Holmes stories for the previous Christmas, and promptly set it on my ever-growing reading list, section "classics to get around to."
After a live rendition of The Mazarin Stone, it moved to the "devour immediately" short list of one.
Sherlock Holmes, not to be overdramatic, was a big change in my life. He's brilliant. He's weird. He made me see things in a new way and be so much less shy about asking questions. Then suddenly, there was so much new media to look into. Basil Rathbone, Basil of Baker Street, Jeremy Brett, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Downey Jr., and Benedict Cumberbatch were companions to the creation of Sydney West, as well as some character cousins like Patrick Jane and Shawn Spencer. There are a few other streaks of inspiration in there such as Ichabod Crane, but I digress.
But Sydney West isn't Sherlock Holmes. I just like to make fun of him when he's particularly Sherlock-y.
Sometimes I struggle giving the Sydney West story a straightforward genre. I was surprised the first time someone called it a thriller. Do I write thriller? Noooo...maybe? But I also don't think it sits squarely in the range of mystery. It's also not completely drama. It's not humor, either.
While my work in The Storytellers fantasy is flung across dimensions and all of existence, Sydney West lives in a little yellow town house in Colorado Springs. The story opens on the breakfast rush of the local coffee shop. His best friend is a college student, whose girlfriend works in a hair salon.
This is real life.
So what happens when you throw in someone who doesn't have the same familiarity with so-called "real life"? Someone who has cause to question everything that people ignore?
There's no such thing as "real life," as it's often sold to people. There's probably not secret messages in your alphabet soup, but comfort can be dangerous, and familiarity can have us missing out on wonders around us. I find tea kettles particularly adorable, and you can tell a lot about someone by their shoes.
Sydney West filled out a section of my work that The Storytellers couldn't. While Hannah Merchant and Aaron McKay are part of a far-flung "what if," Sydney West is the local face of "what is?" The story isn't all dark. There's humor. There's dark humor. There's atmosphere. It's a story of more than just the sinister dealings in the background.
He can see who people are without the preconceptions of familiarity or what he's comfortable seeing. He makes mistakes, yes, and he's definitely not the most tactful or nice person you'd ever meet, and not by accident. He has the strange ability to show people what's right in front of their face.
Today is Sydney West's birthday. In Sydney West the book, he is twenty-three years old (or so he's told). I can't tell you how old he is in the third book, but he does age somewhat, and not just physically.
Today, I will be having a cup of Earl Grey, since it's finally cold enough to really enjoy. I'll hopefully be able to watch a movie or two, maybe something like Mulberry (speaking of dark humor). More pieces for the Etsy shop will be set up, and I'll put some words in on Sydney West 3 -- Grey Sky. Last of the trilogy is progressing, but slowly. The main story is there, I just need to put in all the right details.
What's something that inspires you, or what's a time you've been inspired in a particular way?
What are details that people usually miss, which you find beautiful, interesting, or something else?
And, if you're up to it, what do you think Sydney would see in you that other people might not?
(Colorado Springs, CO - Spring 2014)