If you give them too much detail up front you may put yourself in a bind later on. A lot of how-to books tell you to make up as much detail about your characters ahead of time but I think that’s silly. If you decide your character is a forty-seven year old, divorced, gay sociologist who collects stamps and plays the didgeridoo you will almost certainly find it makes no sense for him to do what he does in the story. Whereas if you let what he does partly dictate the characteristics you give him you’ll end up with a better fit. Doing character bios up front may help when you’re first starting out as a way of getting your imagination fired up, but you can’t be ruled by it.
Just out of curiousity have you read the novel Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst? I was searching my memory for a reference point for describing this book to others and that book came to mind. While in many ways a completely different type of book, both share one important element: Both start with an apparent suicide by the protagonist’s wife and the husband searching for answers as to why and what really happened.
I haven’t read that book, but I’m quite sure there are a lot of books that begin this way. It almost put me off writing the book. But I was pretty sure I had a unique story to tell, so I didn’t care if the precipitating incident had been used.
Without giving anything crucial away how would you characterize the bad guy in your book – evil, damaged soul or somewhere in between?
Sometimes people use the word evil to imply a being that is either sub- or superhuman, and I don’t believe there are any human beings that qualify: not Hitler, not Jeffrey Dahmer, not George Bush. If you mean evil in the sense of really, really bad, yes he’s definitely evil. He’s also a damaged soul for sure. Readers get to know quite a bit about his background, and while it doesn’t excuse his behavior or even explain it fully, it certainly makes it coherent, even if repellent.
What’s it like to have a person – via your writing – in your head while you are writing?
I didn’t have trouble with this villain that way. What gave me more trouble was having to write Cardinal’s grief. To do that convincingly I had to imagine my own wife’s sudden death/possible murder and that was painful to do. In fact I was quite glad to write the parts about the villain because they took me away from the grief aspect. Also the girl’s depression was fairly close to the bone and so more difficult to sit with.
What kind of research did you do regarding manic depressives and suicide? What most surprised you about what you learned?