Skip to main content

Blog

May 27, 2011

L.A. Weatherly: Characters Can Surprise You

Posted by jordana
Tagged:

LWeatherly.bst_.med_.1.jpgANGELBURN.jpgToday we have a post by L.A. Weatherly, author of ANGEL BURN, out this week. In ANGEL BURN, Weatherly has a fresh take on the paranormal by questioning everything we know about Angels. Are they really as good as we think they are? Stay tuned for next week's interview with the author, too! 
 
 
Characters can surprise you sometimes.
 
There’s a scene in Angel Burn where Alex takes Willow to Spanish Harlem, where he’s hoping to buy a used car off the street so it can’t be traced. Now, I hadn’t particularly planned on them going to Spanish Harlem – once I got them to New York City, I just somehow knew that Alex would head there. And I REALLY didn’t plan what happened next, which is that Alex opened his mouth and started speaking fluent Spanish.
 
What? Since when?
 
I remember that I leaned back in my chair and stared at the screen for a few seconds and thought, “Hmm. Is this a red herring, or can I go with it?” Because sometimes when characters do something so totally unexpected, it can lead you down the garden path, as they say in the UK – meaning that you go wandering off down a side road that turns out to have nothing to do with the story, and meanwhile you’ve wasted pages and time. But after thinking about it for a little bit, I decided it made sense: Alex had been raised in New Mexico near the border, so it certainly wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that he could speak Spanish. And anyway, I didn’t see how it could impact the story too much either way – it seemed harmless enough. (Ha!)
 
OK, I told him. I’ll let you speak Spanish.
 
Good, he said. Because I had no intention of NOT speaking Spanish.
 
Fast-forward a few hundred pages, to where Alex and Willow are discussing What Next. Where can they go to continue their fight against the angels and still be safe? And suddenly Alex was saying, “You know, Mexico sounds really good to me.” Which, of course, it would – him being a fluent Spanish speaker and all. Again, this came about through no conscious plan of mine, but by then I’d gotten so used to Alex being bilingual that I didn’t even question it. I just nodded absently as I kept typing and thought, “Yup, good plan, dude; Mexico it is.”
 
I think he had me under a spell. Because then when I started writing book 2, Angel Fire, the full horror of what Alex had done hit me.
 
I’ve never been to Mexico. Have never even thought about Mexico that much. And now I had to set a whole freaking book there? For a few days, my brain spun with desperation: Um. They could START to go to Mexico, and then something happens just as they’re crossing the border and they have to head back to the US! (If I were a reader, I’d throw the book across the room at that point.) Or, or! Maybe the angels in the world have changed everything so much that Mexico isn’t like Mexico at all, really, it’s just like the US, and…
 
…and, sigh, time to start doing research. So I spent the next month reading everything about Mexico I could get my hands on. Especially Mexico City – I decided that if I were actually going to do this, courtesy of my headstrong main character, then I might as well pick one of the largest cities in the world and really have some fun with it. And as I read more and more, I realized what a fantastic setting this was going to be. Mexico City is huge; it stretches out endlessly to the horizon in every direction, like something out of a science fiction film. One of the biggest city squares in existence is there, rivalled only by Red Square; Aztec ruins jostle for space with Art Deco buildings from the thirties; the Torre Mayor, the tallest building in Mexico, soars up above the rest of the skyline. The place is an assault on the senses: the smell of spices from street-corner food vendors; car fumes; the sound of mariachi bands and the beating of Aztec drums. As I wrote Angel Fire I revelled in all of this, and only wished that I could use even more of it.
 
Books and the Internet can only do so much, though, so I’ll be going to Mexico City later this year to fill in any gaps in my research. And as I walk through its crowded streets and view in person all the places I’ve been writing about these last few months, I know that I’ll have the most incredible feeling of déjà vu; I’ll be seeing my characters around every corner.
 
Especially Alex, raising an eyebrow at me and smiling. Because of course he knew this would
happen all along, back when he started speaking Spanish out of nowhere in Spanish Harlem.
 
--- L.A. Weatherly