Where Do My Characters Come From?

by Ali Vali

Attending events throughout the years that I’ve been writing is always something I look forward to since it’s an opportunity to not only meet most of you, but it’s a chance to place faces with those emails I get. One of the more frequently asked questions is where I get the idea for some of the characters I write, especially some of those secondary folks who add a little color to some of my books. Anyone remember the pilot in Carly’s Sound?

Well let me you about our date night we had recently. My partner and I have been together for twenty-six years and one the secrets to our happy union is date night. It might not always fall on a weekend, but at least once a week I ask her out, and up to now I’ve been pretty lucky in getting her to accept.

After going to the hardware store to buy myself a plunge router, I took my girl to an Italian restaurant we hadn’t been to in a while. Some time in our absence they added live music, and when I say live music I’m being kind. The entertainment was a really old guy with an electric guitar, and I’m guessing here, no formal training of any kind. Had I known not playing any actual chords was acceptable dining entertainment I would have tried years ago.

Anyway, the guy is up there randomly strumming, loudly I might add, and at the table next to us is a man dressed completely in denim, snazzy cowboy boots and a large belt buckle with the name ED on it. The cowpoke was in town for some veal I guess, and the music since he was really bobbing his head to Carlos Santana’s great grandpa if he’d been a white man with no musical talent. What set this guy apart though wasn’t the large belt buckle he must use as a form of identification, but the wig and sunglasses. It looked like there were rabid cows after this guy so he ran out of his house with his wife’s bright red, highly hair sprayed, wig and very large ladies sunglasses. Or perhaps he was trying to get in touch with his feminine side, I don’t really know that either, but that’s not what I found interesting.

I realize there’s probably someone reading this right now saying “what the hell is wrong with bad, red wigs and large bug like sunglasses? That’s what I’m wearing.” So don’t get the impression I go around poking fun at random people, but all during dinner he kept taking the wig off like it was a hat and wiping his head down with this napkin, which he had tucked into his collar. His extremely large sunglasses stayed put, but the wig was making him hot. So in a nutshell a secondary character is born.

Watching the world around me and the people who drift in and out of it has always been one of my hobbies as it were, and it’s the stuff that makes my imagination hum. When trying a new genre, all those experiences made the process much easier. Balance of Forces Tourjours Ici was something incredibly fun to write since it’s rather freeing when you don’t have to follow the rules of what really exists in the realm of the known. What would it be like to live when the pyramids still had that new stone smell? Or have to live off the blood of innocents?

When you walk through the French Quarter in New Orleans it’s not such a stretch to imagine the vampires and immortals living on the cusp of society waging battle on the rooftops. It’s a place filled with a history visible in every old brick that makes the city unique, and I can’t help but write about it. This time around it was fun to include some of the true history of New Orleans and blend it with modern day.

I might find inspiration in people having dinner around me, but Balance is also a romance, and for that I find all I have to do is stay closer to home. Kendal might be really old, but hasn’t lost that part of herself that craves someone in her life to share the treasures she’s learned and collected through the centuries. Coming back to a place where she lost so much, she might find just that, but will she?

Balance was my opportunity to feel like a ten year old again. There’s a lot of sword play, vampires, hot women and a wonderful setting. And you never know, there might be a guy named Ed in the next one. He always wears sunglasses at night to hide his true identity, but is foiled every time by his very large belt buckle and red wig that can be spotted three miles away.

Thank you all for the emails and support you’ve given me through the years. A city full of colorful characters is part of the formula, but the other thing that keeps me writing is you the readers’ encouragement. Your wanting more is what makes me type faster.

Take care and if you’re in Ptown next week, make sure to stop and say hi.

12 Responses to “Where Do My Characters Come From?”

  1. 1 Alena October 12, 2011 at 8:23 AM

    A plunge router? Waaaay cool. Sorry, got stuck there and totally ignored the guy and his hair 😉


  2. 2 Gail October 12, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    And here I thought your secondary character was gonna be the guitar player! I love all your stories, and you did an awesome job with Balance of Forces. Do I hope for a sequel??!


  3. 3 Lilaine October 12, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    I’m wondering how many real people are actually featured as fiction characters and depicted with more or less accuracy and resemblance… 😉
    And how many of them would recognize themselves(or part of themselves) when confronted to their fictional personage ?
    I always figured authors as some kind of Dr. Frankenstein, assembling (seamlessly stitching) body parts, modeling both physical and psychological aspects to create their characters, not from sheer imagination, but from existing people.
    Tell me if I’m wrong 🙂
    And sorry for the Frankenstein thing, must be a pre-Halloween mood of mine 😀
    Lilaine, toujours là pour blaguer un peu 😉


  4. 4 Denna October 12, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    Thanks for making me laugh this morning. My wife an I have been married for 28 years and we love to people watch too when we’re out and about. We go so far as to actually make up stories about them (we just don’t write them down). My othe obsession is the Mob, so needless to say I love your Cain Casey series. Keep writing the great stories and thanks for the insight on your writing process.


  5. 5 Robin Barton October 12, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    First, I love the Cain Casey series! I imagine that writers have to have good powers of observation and imagination to come up with interesting secondary characters. My partner and I are also people watchers. As a matter of fact, I get so caught up in observing people that she now makes me sit where I can’t see people if we go out to eat because I get so distracted. Keep up the good work!


  6. 6 jo b October 12, 2011 at 12:40 PM

    I just love your books.. I think your story lines are awesome..the people stay true to themselves. I hope you are working on a sequel for balance or blue skies.. well for that matter cain also? thanks Jo B


  7. 7 Allie (@RamenGrrl) October 12, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    I love that you ask your partner out on dates! How cute is that!?!!? We have date night, too, though it usually consists of my girlfriend coming home on time from work, making dinner together, and then actually talking to each other face to face. We try to do this more than once a week, but sadly our schedules are so hectic once a week is just about all we get.

    Happy to say your Casey Cain series made my list of “desert island books” this past week…



  8. 8 bookgeek October 12, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    Ali, I had this image of you in my mind: you were giggling and had tons of fun while writing Balance of Forces and let fly.


  9. 9 Shannon October 12, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    I’ve enjoyed your books so far (more Cain Casey, please!), and am looking forward to Balances of Forces, which I’m saving as a reward for finishing a big project at work. As someone who doesn’t particularly people-watch, I find it interesting (but not surprising) that people-watching feeds into your storytelling. Your description of Ed was priceless. 🙂 I think I’m now apt to find myself wondering, “what’s your story?” more often when considering those around me…

    Thanks for all the enjoyable stories!



  10. 10 Mary kelly October 12, 2011 at 8:23 PM

    I have loved your print and online stories. I have put a visit to New Orleans on my bucket list after reading your books and J.M. Redmann’s Mickey Knight series. In three years time, when I am on a well-earned sabbatical, my partner and I plan to visit Provincetown for Women’s Week,to attend all of the book events, and New Orleans to walk the sreets that you two have made vivid for me. I only wish that you and the other authors I love could write just a bit (ok, a lot) faster. Not a bad complaint, I guess!

    Keep the great books coming!

    Mary K.


  11. 11 Devlyn Sixtyseven October 13, 2011 at 7:43 AM

    Ali I am reading your latest right now and am really enjoying it. As for the Blog you made me LOL.


  1. 1 Link Round Up « The Lesbrary Trackback on October 19, 2011 at 8:17 PM

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