Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Superhero Romance Novel character bio #11: Troubadour

A long-time supporting character in my Super-Hero romance series, Gabriel Hartley Hamlin AKA "Troubadour" is head of the Consortium’s Human Resources Department.  He oversees the hiring and firing of the members, as well as the finer points of their duties around the Lair.  He is tasked with the almost impossible job of keeping the other members from killing each other on an hourly basis.

Gabe is around 6’3”, and has jet black hair and baby blue eyes.  His precise age has never been given, but he appears to be in his mid to late 30s.  He has no birth certificate, no social security number and his fingerprints are not on file anywhere.  He’s been described as looking like “Don Draper” (the lead character in AMC’s “Mad Men”), dresses in a 60s style dark grey suit and always wears sunglasses.  In the past, he reportedly wore a multicolored “renaissance mistral” costume as his villainous attire, complete with tights and “little curly shoes.”  He seems to try to avoid discussing this outfit however, as it apparently embarrasses him to remember it.

Although it’s never been specifically stated in the series, Gabe is probably the most conventionally handsome of the members.  His matinee idol good looks have given him an above average confidence in himself, bordering on a smug charm.  He’s one of the few characters who never seems worried or concerned about anything, and his main personality trait is a relaxed sort of apathy.  He claims to not worry about anything, and that “the nice part of not caring about anything; no matter what happened, you could be perfectly happy” and that “not caring was the essence of cool.”  He also has a genuine love of women.  He claims that the women on the team are the only coworkers he can stand, although he didn’t specify if that was because he found them sexually attractive, or merely because he simply prefers spending time with women in general.  Personally, I think it's probably the latter.

Gabe has the ability to create and use musical instruments which have strange powers.  Whether this ability arises from himself or the instruments he creates has yet to be revealed though.  In the past, he’s used his creations to control peoples’ minds, alter the flow of time and to attempt to kill his enemies.  He is most famous for winning a Tony for a stage musical he wrote based on his own crimes, and then using his acceptance speech as a platform to announce that he was holding the audience hostage for ransom.  Additionally, every word out of his mouth is put to music, unless he is introducing or closing one of his songs.  Whether this is a personal choice or a part of his abilities has also not been revealed.

Unlike many of the Consortium members, Gabe seems to have had a fair bit of success in the field of villainy before switching sides to heroism.  He is described as having once singlehandedly held off the entire Freedom Squad super-team for a prolonged period.  Additionally, his music is allegedly quite popular among the general public, although since his specialty is mind-control, that’s probably not saying a lot.

Gabe seems content to let the madness unfold around him.  He very rarely gets involved in the fights and screaming matches his coworkers get into on a daily basis, unless he feels that someone has crossed a line.  Usually, the line seems to involve people yelling at women.  Other than that, Gabe seems content to sit through meetings and calmly sing his HR updates when called upon, which he fills with sarcastic barbs about his coworkers and jabs at their crazy lives.  His coworkers seem to enjoy his musical cliffnote versions of what has happened since the last meeting, oftentimes wishing that they could add his song to their iPods.
He does seem to be one of the more well-respected members of the group though, and thus far, only Holly has contended that he is pretty useless in a fight.  Holly seems to think that everyone but her is useless in a fight though, so we can probably take that with a grain of salt.
Gabe claims to be able to do “everything,” can play any instrument, and once had an affair with the Amazons.  …All of them.  He has also made a few veiled references to having once died, a process he refers to as a real “downer.”

He is probably the character who most often gets cut from a scene.  Since everything out of his mouth needs to be sung, everything he says takes up a lot of space.  Thus, when editing down overly long chapters, it’s usually easiest to cut what Gabe has to say about a certain topic.  While this isn’t entirely fair to him, it does work.  I’ve cut pages and pages of his songs from the books.  This is always hard, as I am NOT a songwriter or lyricist.  His dialogue consistently takes me hours and hours to complete, and it always hurts to just toss it all away at the end.  But, such is the editing process.  Incidentally, I usually find it helpful to find a base melody from which to write the lyrics from.  For instance, his songs in Yesterday's Heroes uses the Irish fiddle melody "Irish Washerwoman”  Sometimes I write lyrics without basing them on anything, but those are usually the ones which get cut for some reason.

Gabe is based on a Rat Pack aesthetic of the cool swaggering well-dressed man.  I was watching a lot of Twilight Zone episodes during that period, and I’ve always liked Rob Serling’s effortless and confident cool during his intros to the episodes.  I think some of that found its way into Gabe’s mid-century attire, propensity to smoke and general feeling of wizened calm.  Even more of Serling’s Twilight Zone “character” probably found its way into The Narrator, but that’s another story. 
Although there are several music themed villains in comic books, I honestly based Gabe on both an old image of Johnny Cash and on Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole in "The Balad of Cat Ballou".  They acted as a Greek chorus, occasionally showing up into a scene and singing the narrator’s part, but were still a part of the action as well.  For some reason, I’ve always liked that idea.  I first came up with a very basic outline for a character who did that way back in the mid to late 90s (long before I ever even considered writing anything) during a brainstorming session with my sister about characters we’d like to see on a soap opera.  I dismissed the idea immediately as too high concept for mainstream daytime TV, but I still liked it.  15 years later when I was thinking up people to stick in a chapter filled with random villains, I thought back on that proto-character and reimagined him into Gabe. 

Gabe’s one of those guys who has a lot going on inside his head, but he just doesn’t really let any of it show.  I know his backstory, but he doesn’t really like talking about it.  He doesn’t drop many references to it like a lot of the other do, and instead, prefers to just lounge around the Lair and make fun of his coworkers.  Originally, I had envisioned him going with Holly (a Lucy and Schroeder from Peanuts kind of thing) but discarded it early on.  They’re just friends, as far as I know.  I did spend several days carefully drafting a holiday themed song where he professes his feelings though (sometimes in inappropriate and explicit detail), but discarded that as well.  Fun to write, but didn’t fit where the series was headed.

I picked his code name from a Simpson’s quote (“Do I look like troubled troubadour David Crosby?”) and the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil.”  I retrospect, I probably could have found something that sounded slightly more ominous, but I was going for a wandering minstrel sort of feel at the time. 

Strangely, his name was Gabriel before I even thought of the Biblical trumpeter connection, although that was just icing on the cake.  I honestly don’t remember where I got the name; I think it was just picked at random from names I liked.  Hartley comes from Wallace Hartley, the band leader on the Titanic who famously played violin as the ship went down.  Hamelin comes from the Pied Piper fairy tale.  This would probably be a good time to mention that all of my names use the comic book style naming scheme of wincingly bad puns and silly references.  Generally, the genre isn’t known for its subtlety about such things.  :)  

Gabe’s probably the hardest character to get to focus on something.  He just doesn’t particularly care about the plots of the books, or what people around him are doing.  As such, coupled with the amount of space it takes for him to say anything of substance, he isn’t really in the series as much as he should be.  I blame him for that.  I need to make a concerted effort to get him to focus on important things, like not dying before his own HEA.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Super-hero romance novel character bio #10: Polybius

Let’s do one of the newer characters to the series, Polybius.

Polybius (“Polly”) is the name given to the Consortium’s computer system. She’s the head of their IT Department, and works with the other department heads to manage their affairs and digital information. She was given the position in an effort to head off any potential confrontations between the other volatile members of the team over control of the Consortium’s computers.

Polly appears as a semi-transparent intangible green hologram, and is probably around 5’5”, although she can alter her scale if she wants. Her face and body type are an amalgamation of several different Hollywood starlets from the 1950s which she thinks are pretty, and she wears her hair in Victorian sausage curls (see Tarzan's mother's hair from Disney's animated Tarzan film and Mercedes from the 2002 "Count of Monte Cristo" film for reference).  She usually appears dressed in a loose Greek inspired diaphanous toga-styled gown, although why she chose to dress herself like that is anyone’s guess. She projects herself from a white plastic and chrome device attached to McCallister MacReady’s wrist, and seems to spend a lot of her time helping him oversee the Machines Department. Polly was programed by Mack’s father for the government many years ago, but now works exclusively for the Consortium.

In addition to having instantaneous access to all Consortium files, Polly also has the ability to communicate with other computer systems, uploading and downloading information as needed. Additionally, she can project holographic images other than herself and can alter her own avatar if desired. 
Although she is a computer program, Polly is designed to grow and learn. The more experiences she has, the more intelligent and lifelike she becomes. Polly is often described as being “difficult.” Her behavior is characterized by a tendency towards being passive aggressive, and is usually smug about her own abilities. Marian describes her being either “quirky” or a “teenager who not-so secretly disrespected her parents to their faces.” Others describe her as being “rash, impatient, temperamental and surprisingly innocent.” Most of the Consortium seems fairly certain of her abilities though, and suspect that she will one day go insane and try to kill them all. Until that day arrives though, they have to endure the fact that she’s so difficult. Many prefer to work on computer issues themselves rather than involving her, simply because they don’t like dealing with her. The group is pretty evenly split on how to treat her, with half of them referring to her as “it” or “that thing,” and the other half treating her as they would any other member.

Polly’s own feelings about her co-workers haven’t really been explored in the series yet, but I get the sense she doesn’t have a whole lot of respect for them. Or any biological entity, really. I think she views herself as a much more complex being than they are (she once pointed out to Cynic that she is composed of 8 billion lines of code, while he is composed of just forty-six chromosomes), and they would be utterly lost without her. I think she finds their fleshy weaknesses and stupidity rather amusing, but occasionally irritating. Thus far, she’s expressed no desire to be “real” and seems content with herself and her artificial nature. Whether this represents her actual worldview, or merely a confident and proud mask she wears, is up for debate at this point though.

Polly is based on a fairly standard popular culture character trope (the first time I can remember seeing a holographic girl who helps was “SELMA,” the holographic ATM card owned by the main character in the 1993 TV series “Time Trax,” but I’m sure she wasn’t the first, as similar characters have been a staple of movies and comics for years), and is named after the video game of urban legend, which in turn was named after the Greek historian and father of Cryptography. I actually went through several versions of her name, and she was “Hallie” for a long time, in honor of “Hal” from “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

Personality wise, Polly is based on the GPS system in my car. There’s just something about that voice which convinces me that it’s secretly some sort of super-villainess and is trying to destroy me. Maybe it’s her clipped feigned politeness or her near constant condescending “turn around when possible”, but whatever the case, it inspired Polly. I think it laughs at me when I make wrong turns and secretly delights in sending me the long way around when I’m in a hurry. …That thing makes me sooooo mad sometimes.

Although she’s only been around for the last two books, Polly actually has a long history in the series. Her basic character was originally going to be an android named “Tiberius” which Holly and Mack constructed out of parts “scavenged from an old Buick” which shot missiles from its chest, and (according to Cynic) felt nothing but “rage, the urge to kill, and rage.” I deleted the mention of the character though, once I realized that Rayn was going to start calling Tyrant “Ty”, and thus, there wasn’t a way to shorten the name. Plus, the chapter was too long as it was, so something had to go. The next conception for the “Head of IT” character, was going to be a teenage girl who also went by “Polybius”, who had little experience with the main Consortium team and was kind of flighty. This idea never really went anywhere though, because Stacy’s personality strayed into the “gamer” field, and there wasn’t any room for someone new. Eventually, I realized that most science fiction series in popular culture have some sort of synthetic person who is usually associated with the main computer system though, and I didn’t yet have my take on the character. So, Polly was born.

Honestly, I find Polly funny. She comes up with some lines which make me laugh out loud. She’s a character I’ll probably use more in the future.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Consortium of Chaos superhero romance novel character bio #9: The Librarian

We’ll do Marian today, simply because I was looking over her book The Guy Your Friends Warned You About last night, and realized that I didn’t do her bio yet.  There may be some minor character history spoilers in here if you’ve never read the book, but nothing major.

Dr. Marian Kristen Willson AKA “The Librarian” is head of the Consortium’s Legal, Research and Accounting Departments.  She handles payroll, as well as all legal issues which the Consortium gets involved in.  Additionally, she is CEO of the Consortium’s legitimate business arm, the Commodious Corporation, which she grew from a single used car lot in Nebraska into a multinational conglomerate.

Marian has the ability to absorb written information through contact, which she uses to learn things at an astonishing rate.  She claims to have “memorized the internet,” has degrees in every field you can name, and can speak several dozen languages.  Her IQ is reportedly somewhere well above 250, she practices Wing Chun martial arts, and collects antique buttons.  She is one of the few members of the Consortium who has a record indicating no arrests, no warrants and no known altercations with any superhero; anywhere, at any time.  …Because she broke into Federal databases and erased them all.
She’s probably about 5’8”, has blonde hair and blue eyes.  She wears her hair in a bun, and is 30 years old.  She dresses in old style clothes (long skirts, button boots, long-sleeve shirts, etc.), and has a habit of never using contractions.  She’s almost always perfectly calm and graceful, and keeps her emotions in check.

Marian is the only daughter of an Indiana college Assistant Dean, and another researcher.  Her father seems to have had an interest in mechanical engineering, but studied all sorts of different fields and passed on his love of learning to Marian.  Her mother got fired from several different positions at the college due to her anger control issues, and as a result, had to become the custodian.  After her father’s mysterious disappearance-- which Marian suspects her mother was behind-- they lived in the library of the school, until Marian was old enough to leave. 

Her formative years have left Marian with anger towards the world, and guilt over her past.  She keeps all of her emotions in check, unwilling to express them for fear of someone using them against her.

Marian is probably the scariest character on the team.  She scares everyone.  She’s competent, ruthless and utterly unaffected by morality.  Her contention is that heroism makes no sense, as people are too selfish to ever do something out of the goodness of their hearts.  Evil on the other hand, makes perfect sense to her and she understands its self-seeking ideology.  She has the ability to bottom-line situations and can always be counted on to view a situation a rational way. 
She’s one of the few people on the team who both Wyatt and Tyrant are wary of crossing, and most of the Consortium is afraid of her wrath.  She’s smarter than the rest of them, and she knows it.
If I had to describe her, I would probably go with what someone from her past once said: that she’s the “Tiffany” cutout from the first Men in Black film: The scene in question.

The person’s contention was that Marian was like that cutout, because: “...the cutout was more evil and dark than any of the monsters which surrounded her, no matter what she might look like on the outside.  Because what lurked beneath was the worst thing in the room.  Evil wasn’t governed by form.  Evil could be anything and anyone.  It didn’t need claws or tentacles or astonishing powers to do its foul work.  Sometimes evil could simply be a little blonde girl with an above average intellect, calmly walking with monsters.  But through her, evil could accomplish all manner of hell.  More terrible things could spring from her mind than even the other monsters could ever imagine.” 

While I don’t think Marian is a bad person, I think she’s definitely capable of doing bad things if pushed.  Despite this, I actually like Marian a lot.  I think she’s funny, and I find her rather sweet.  She genuinely seems to want to help people at times, and I’m glad she found her HEA.  I think she had a hard life and is afraid of getting hurt again, so she’s always on guard.  …Her ideas still scare me sometimes though.

Marian is a deliberate attempt to take a standard cliché and turn it on its head.  I wanted to take the idea of the innocent wallflower Librarian, and make her the hardest character in the series, while trying not to lose what makes the character type interesting in the first place. 
She’s based on any number of stereotypical “librarian” characters, but is mainly based on a law school professor I used to have.  The woman also wore long skirts and dresses every day, and always used an utterly calm speaking voice.  She knew absolutely everything about her area of the law.  But if you made her mad or disappointed her, her voice would change and she was the single scariest person I’ve ever met.  I don’t know how she did it, but the woman was terrifying.  I liked that dichotomy, so Marian took on this trait and career.  I also seem to recall being inspired by a “Librarian action figure” which the staff at my local branch library have on display, Shirley Jones in the 1962 “Music Man” film (obviously), and a pin-up image from the 1960s, showing a woman in glasses in a library.  I also remember being obsessed with the “Return to Oz” film as a kid (don’t judge me), and there’s a character in that named “Nurse Wilson”, who wears old style clothes and has a calm menace.  I don’t specifically recall remembering that when I began writing Marian, but I suppose it could have come into play as well.

She was one of the first characters to be added to the series, and has always had a very distinctive “voice”.  From the moment she first appeared, she’s basically been who she would end up being.  Her dialogue does take me a long time to research, but I‘ve learned a lot about everything from explosives to microbiology as a result, so it wasn’t a total waste.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Consortium of Chaos superhero romance novel character bio #8: The Narrator

Let’s do a seldom used character, but one who I’m always glad to see appear, simply because I find him funny.

James Ackroyd Sheppard AKA “The Narrator”, is a thin dark haired man with a smooth voice.  He usually wears a brown corduroy coat, and dresses like a “Beatnik professor” according to Wyatt.  I would guess he’s somewhere around six feet tall, and has perfect elocution.
To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what Jamie does in the Consortium.  He is occasionally present in some of their meetings, so I would imagine that he is a department head, but whatever he’s the head of exactly, hasn’t been revealed.  I’d be shocked if even he knew what his exact job was.  He doesn’t seem to really care.
Jamie has the power to “turn fiction into non-fiction whenever he desires.”  That is, by narrating something, whatever he says is happening, begins to happen.  In the past, he’s used this ability to create animals to annoy the other members of the Consortium, narrate himself a white stallion to ride because he wanted to make battle more dramatic, and becoming one of the few members of the Consortium who actually briefly succeeded in taking over the world, when he altered reality to make himself “Grand Pharaoh of the Americas” before being stopped by the Freedom Squad.    
Not very much of Jamie’s past has been revealed.  He claims to have been a “highly paid writer and voice-over actor”, but I think that’s almost certainly a lie.  In fact, I’m positive it is and was even when I first wrote that.  He is also in the midst of writing his memoirs, “The Author of Darkness and Dawn, Volume 1”.  Reportedly, the book is painfully dull, although Jamie yells at anyone who tries to read his rough draft.
Jamie has the habit of going off on long self-aggrandizing speeches, and loves to talk about himself.  He claims to not understand the idea of loyalty, and frequently claims that the other members of the Consortium are merely minor characters in his story.  He has a flair for the dramatic, and believes that he is destined for better than the life he currently has.  He argues that nothing that happens matters unless is involves him, because he’s the main character.  He hates when people criticize his decisions, saying that they are “crows” pecking at “eagles.”  He seems to believe that the rest of the world is filled with philistines who constantly try to “destroy his text.”
In the past, he has referred to himself as the “greatest and most powerful super-villain of all time” (probably a lie) and as being in effect, a god (definitely a lie).  He does appear to have both the power to manipulate reality, and at least some psychic abilities, as he’s able to correctly read people’s thoughts, often before they even have them.   
The basic idea for the character came late one night while watching “Water for Elephants” (don’t judge me) and "The Rules of Attraction" (Damon from "The Vampire Diaries" FTW!).  I was struck by how annoying the narration was, and how much more fun it would be if the Narrator just described outlandish things which would then befall the poor confused actors.  This in turn reminded me of the John Candy movie “Delirious”, and the film “George of the Jungle”, where the narrator of the film gets into an argument with a member of the cast and his co-star utters the incredulous line “Where you arguing with the narrator?”  
And Jamie was born.
His name comes from the Agatha Christie novel, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” and its narrator, “Dr. James Sheppard.”  AGATHA CHRISTIE SPOILER:


Christie’s novel is one of the first to ever use the idea of the untrustworthy narrator (the narrator is revealed at the end of the story to have committed the murder himself) and I thought it fitting that Jamie should be named after him.  (END SPOILER)
Long-term, Jamie’s someone I’d like to see in the forefront more.  I just need to figure out a way to get him to focus on someone other than himself for once.