Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Conversation with My Main Character

How I make my characters come alive on the page
In my last post, I talked about how tense I felt about my book tour this spring. I half-jokingly mentioned I’d love to hire my main character to impersonate me. A more confident, smoother version of myself, who wouldn’t mind getting up in front of a book crowd.
Well, you can imagine my delight this week when my publisher,WiDo Publishing, managed to arrange a meeting between us!
So on Tuesday, I took an Amtrak down to Manhattan and we sat down for an hour at a bar on the Lower East Side, where my character, Daniel Plotnick, knows the bartender and gets his beers for free.
Here’s how the interview appears this morning in my publisher’s blog, entitled “A Matter of Characters,” exploring the interesting and sometimes contentious relationship between authors and their characters:
WiDo Publishing: Welcome, both of you! It’s a pleasure to introduce not just the author but the main character of the book he wrote.
Daniel Plotnick: Well, it strikes me as bizarre, to say the least.
David Kalish: It’s my pleasure to be here. I’m so honored.
WiDo: To start off, David, why don’t you tell us a little about your book and why you chose Daniel Plotnick for your main character.
DK: Be happy to. The Opposite of Everything is a comedic twist on my own struggles with disease and divorce. The book started out as a memoir, but morphed over the years into comedic fiction. Early on in the writing process, I found I needed to distance myself from material that otherwise might be too overwhelming for me to write about. So I changed the facts, stretched truths, made up new names, and invented impossible scenarios.
Daniel Plotnick, my main character, is a prime example. He goes through what I went through – cancer, marital collapse, treatment and renewal. But he’s a zany, more hapless version of myself. He’s so traumatized by his problems he goes gothic. Wears a nose ring. His father accidentally pushes him off the GW Bridge. He decides that, in order to survive another day, he must do the opposite of everything he did before.  Thus the title of the book.
DP: Wait a second. You make me sound like your developmentally disabled brother. A real nut job.
DK: Well, I didn’t mean to. I wanted to make you a more interesting version of myself. You take risks. You go off on philosophical tangents. And if it’s any comfort, all my characters are a bit extreme.
DP: Yeah, but I’m the main one. Why pick on me?
WiDo: OK, let’s move on. Can you give us some examples, David, of how you stretched reality for comic effect?
DK: Be happy to! In my novel, Daniel Plotnick meets the woman of his dreams. But he’s so obsessed with making his second wedding the opposite of his first – to avoid repeating his failure in marriage — he cancels the caterers, corrals guests to help cook, and replaces the priest with Buddhist monks. Another example of something I made up is when Plotnick’s father and his second wife try to help Plotnick and his second wife conceive a baby. None of this, of course, actually happened to me.
DP: Yeah, but it happened to me. You used me as your whipping boy.  Couldn’t you have picked on someone else?
DK: Sorry. Most of the bad things I make you go through are to help you develop as a character. By the end of the book, you’re a lot more expressive and introspective in a wise way because of everything you’ve gone through.
WiDo: Let’s move on here. David, I understand your book tour starts in March, shortly after release. You’ve got a pretty busy schedule – Saratoga on March 20; Brooklyn, March 27; Saratoga again in April. Boston in May.  Are you stressed out?
DK: Stressed out is understating it. I’m not really a public person. That’s why I became a writer in the first place. In fact … (DK pulls out a sheath of papers) … In fact, I’d like Daniel Plotnick here to pinch hit for me.
WiDo: What a great idea! That would be the first time one of our authors teamed up with a protagonist on a book tour.
DK: I figured if Plotnick is crazy enough to wear a nose ring and go goth then he should have no problem presenting my novel to a crowd, risking his dignity.
WiDo: Well, Daniel Plotnick, how do you feel impersonating the author who invented you?
DP: This is news to me.
(DK shows DP the papers)
DK: I have a contract for you to sign, Daniel. It states you agree to play me in all public appearances – “including but not limited to book stores, libraries, and conferences” — promoting my forthcoming novel,The Opposite of Everything.
DP: (laughs). Give me a break! No way I’m getting up in front of a crowd. I’ve got enough problems with cancer, divorce, and all those other problems you gave me. It’s not easy being me.
WiDo: Perhaps I can interject here. Mr. Plotnick, as you know, the book tour is important to selling books. If no one buys Mr. Kalish’s books, you will be as anonymous as he. Your stake in this is as great as him.
DP: I don’t care about the book tour. Besides, this so-called contract is just another way for Kalish to control me. He thinks he’s God and I’m his sock puppet. It’s enough he took away nearly all the exclamation points from my dialogue. Now when I talk I feel blah.
WiDo: Er, removing those exclamation marks was our suggestion, Daniel. It’s part of the copy editing process. There were 884 exclamation marks in David’s novel. Way too many for a 200-page novel.
DP: So I’m the happy victim? I’m tired of being controlled!
DK: I’m pleading with you, Daniel.
DP: You dug your own grave, bro. I’m not subjecting myself to yet another stressful experience. It’s enough you named me Daniel Plotnick. Where’d you get that dweeby name anyway?
DK: It just came to me. I was lying in bed dreaming, and your name spoke to me. I could hear it when I woke up. Daniel Plotnick. Daniel Plotnick. Daniel Plotnick.
DP: Really? My name came to you in a dream?
DK: That’s right. You’re everything to me, Daniel. Without you … I’m just an ordinary person.
DP: I’m flattered. But I’m still not getting up on stage for you.
WiDo: Well that about wraps up our interview today. Check out the blog post at “A Matter of Characters,” featuring author David Kalish and his hapless protagonist, Daniel Plotnick.
DK: So you’re not going to help me? What am I supposed to do? Take public speaking lessons?
DP: My suggestion, young man, is to start drinking. Heavily. Here. Have a beer. It’s free. I know the bartender.
David Kalish is the author of the comedic novel, The Opposite of Everythingwhich will be published in March.

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