My brief for Chinese Whisperings: The Yin and Yang Book looked simple. Create a thief and have their stolen property confiscated in the demise of an airline. The difficulties came in writing a thief who appeared larger than life on the page (and no pressure, it was only the opening section of the book) but who really was nothing more than a sophisticated outline to enable the writers who came after me, Paul Servini and Emma Newman, to develop the thief into the character they wanted. If you like, adding colour, nuance and texture to her facsimile existence.
When I wrote Keely Jackson/Medae Newman I only knew two things about her – she would do anything to steal the painting and the set up for the crime had been a long one. That became the basis of her story. And it was a joy to see who she became in the end – not just through Paul and Emma’s eyes, but imagined also, in small and large ways, by Lily Mulholland, Dale Challener Roe, Rob Diaz, J.M Strother and Paul Anderson.
A Cast of Thousands
The other job I had, was to create a cast of minor character for the entire pool of writers to draw on. The majority of the characters the reader meets in the check-in line were in the original Prologue but were tweaked at the end to better identify the characters. I created not just those people in the line, but those on the bingo card. Important people from Medae’s life, who we never really get to know about (but I can see JJ as a young man, getting about the place in clouds of Jazz aftershave). As the anthology plays out, the reader sees into the worlds of the businessmen with their brief cases and slip on shoes, the woman with the oversized garment bag, the lady wearing Sunflowers perfume, the man with the Canadian flag on his back pack and sixteen other characters who zigzag in and out.
If I had my time again and I wasn’t at the head of the cue: who would I choose?
I’ll let you in on a little secret – I almost got the chance to stand in the middle of the narrative and create a story, when we were on the verge of losing one of our writers. The character who most intrigued me, appears in “No Passengers Allowed” and “Kanyasulkam”: the woman with the baby on her hip and the other two boys, Josh and Henry, running amok. It was the line in Kanyasulkam which got me…“I might not look like her but I wouldn’t swap my kids and life for hers.”
When I read it, it immediately rang false – the type of thing you would say to a stranger (a glamorous stranger at that). I immediately saw her as a woman in an unhappy life (and I’m not just talking being stuck in an airport with three kids) She grew in my head to be a woman literally caught in purgatory – between a fantasy life she imagines will be better, but swamps her with guilt and a real life which consistently lets her down, but she feels compelled to stay in. A woman whose life is lost between five males: the two men vying or her attention and her three young sons.
How did she come to be caught in the turmoil? No, I’m not talking about the temptation of an affair. She’s in the chaos of the airport because she traded in the family holiday tickets, for one way tickets home to Australia on Pangaean, to leave her kids with her parents in Sydney and to go off and get head space, after he husband cancels his part in the family holiday to return to work to cover an emergency. I saw her answering her phone and having an argument with a man. A man who is begging her to stay, or to let him come with her. A man asking for a chance to be the man she needs. A man on his knees to her. A man, who it turns out, is not her husband.
I don’t know what happened to her and her kids. They’re still caught in the airport, their stories untold. I can tell you though, that woman reinvented herself and stepped into a sci-fi story, that hopefully one day you’ll get to read.
I tag Jen Brubacher, Dan Powell, Claudia Osmond and Chris Chartrand our biggest supporters while we created The Red Book. They saw something special in Chinese Whisperings (when we only saw a tangle of head aches) and read The Red Book imagining themselves in there.
So I ask you, our original supporters – given the complete cast of characters, who would you write if you had your time over again? And then give you the opportunity to tag another writer.