Bringing Characters to Life

A little over a week ago, at El Paso Comic Con, I had the opportunity to meet Jonathan Frakes, who not only starred in Star Trek: The Next Generation as Commander William Riker, but directed two of the films and several episodes of the series. I told him a little about the Star Trek: The Next Generation script my friend William Grother and I had submitted back in 1991, which had made it to the producer’s desk, but wasn’t actually produced. We shared some kind words. His commanding voice and intense blue-eyed gaze, which made him perfect for Riker, stuck with me into the coming week.

After El Paso Comic Con was over, I needed to write a new story for my book-in-progress, Firebrandt’s Legacy. The book is a combination of previously published stories and new material about Captain Ellison Firebrandt and his crew of space pirates aboard the good ship Legacy. My goal has been to create a set of stories that work together as a satisfying story arc. The new stories are there to bring the story arc together and then bring the overall story to a satisfying conclusion. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the process and hope to finish the book over the summer.

The story I needed to write required a character who could put the indefatigable Captain Firebrandt into a tough spot. Firebrandt’s a privateer and he’s mentioned several times that he answers to authorities on Earth. I decided the time had come to show readers who exactly Captain Firebrandt answered to. I saw this person as a tough admiral who manipulates people and ships like pieces on a chessboard, doing everything possible to keep Earth out of open conflict because, frankly, in this universe Earth would be seriously outmatched in an open conflict. Because I wanted this to be a memorable character, I wanted to think of aspects that would bring him to life for the reader. One of the tricks I sometimes use to do this is to imagine the actor I would put in that part if this was dramatized. Jonathan Frakes with his intense presence seemed just the kind of person I would cast as the person to put Captain Firebrandt in a tough place!

A writer can also reverse this trick and think of a character who has characteristics very different from a familiar actor or character and then visualize that person. Another time I needed an opponent for Captain Firebrandt and his crew, I wanted to create someone who was capable, but not exactly likable. I turned to Sir Patrick Stewart and his portrayal of Jean-Luc Picard. However, I didn’t want a Picard, I wanted an anti-Picard. The result was William Robert Stewart, a posturing, arrogant, loud-mouthed captain who is happy to let his feelings be known. Captain “Billy Bob” Stewart has appeared in two of my Firebrandt’s Legacy stories.

I hope to release the book Firebrandt’s Legacy later this year, but why wait? You can read the stories as I edit and write them by becoming a patron at my Patreon site. Just click the button below or at the right side of the screen. For just one dollar a month, you’ll get a brand new story, plus behind the scenes information about the stories. I’ve also given away a free ebook of The Solar Sea to patrons and I plan to give away the complete ebook of Firebrandt’s Legacy to my patrons as well. For that matter, if I get a few more patrons, I might be persuaded to send out signed print copies. What’s more, patrons get a chance to be mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements. You want more? I’m also working with a very talented group of voice actors to create a full-cast audio dramatization of the book. So, why wait? Sign aboard the Legacy today!

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Meet the Cast of The Illusioneer & Other Tales

Today, I’m honored to welcome my friend and fellow steampunk author, Karen J. Carlisle, to the Web Journal where she will tell us about the cast of characters who appear in her book The Illusioneer & Other Tales which is scheduled for release at the end of October/beginning of November. Be sure to read all the way to the end of the post so you can learn how to enter for a chance to win an ebook in this wonderful series.

This series features Viola Stewart who returns for a third set of adventures in The Illusioneer & Other Tales.

Viola needs a holiday. But, even at the beach, or while partying on the grand tour of Europe… there are things afoot. Seeing is believing … or is it?

For more information, sign up for Karen’s newsletter: http://karenjcarlisle.com/sign-up-email-list/

Without further ado, allow me to turn this over to Karen.


When I look back at my favourite books (and TV series and movies for that matter), I realise the (things) that stayed with me were the characters. There’s Samwise Gamgee’s loyalty, Poirot’s punctuality, precise eccentricity and his patent leather shoes and Ariadne Oliver’s fondness for apples. And Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden in his long duster coat—always in trouble—and his beat up blue VW with the patchwork paintjob and unfortunate tendency to short circuit when Harry is around. Blue Moon Rising has Prince Rupert, second son and inconvenient heir sent to slay a dragon—and not expected to return.

I can’t always remember the intricacies of plot, or even the clues by which a mystery was solved. But what I do remember are little things about specific characters and the way they made me feel.

Perhaps that is why many of my stories start with a character—not necessarily the physical likeness, but a feeling, a totem item or a quirk that makes them speak to me. This can be triggered by a phrase, a picture, sometimes a song.

The Lead:

I was dealing with some serious, life-changing decisions when Viola first came to me. I didn’t know it at the time, but she would embody my struggle. She soon bore the scars of my struggle—literally (figuratively, actually and in literature—ha!). I felt I was drowning, fighting to survive everyone’s expectations of me. This feeling seems to have surfaced in Viola’s defiance of the Victorian restrictions on women.

I wanted to hint at the contradictions of the Victorian era—the sexism, the underlying menace of the streets and the wonder of the scientific discoveries of the time. Viola has that wonder and excitement. She has imagination and curiosity. She also notices things others do not (or that others try to ignore).

I now had a hook on Viola’s personality. As I wrote, she was unveiled. She’s in her early thirties, more experienced, self-confident, but not necessarily happy with her lot. She’s a woman out of time; she studied medicine in Edinburgh—one of the universities which allowed women students. (Though women weren’t allowed to register to work as doctors at the time). She married, and was widowed ten years later, allowing her more freedom than an unmarried woman. She currently works as an optician and occasionally assists her good friend and fellow Edinburgh student, Doctor Henry Collins (the local police surgeon).

Viola is independent, an avid reader and loves a good mystery—something that usually leads her into trouble. Her penchant for detectiving was fuelled by Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle (currently an ophthalmologist and studied with Viola and Henry in Edinburgh). Doctor Doyle supplies her with a continuous supply of detective books, which encourages her imagination and search for adventure even more.

I found myself choosing a contemporary books for Viola to read; a new one for each adventure. After Eye of the Beholder I realised each choice of book had been inspired by the actual story in progress, but also shaped the story—often skewing Viola’s thinking, or setting her off on a new direction. For example, in Eye of the Beholder, Viola is reading a copy of The Mummy!—an 1823 novel by Jane C Loudon, who also wrote garden books (and yes that little titbit was also used as part of the plot).

Viola Stewart and Dr. Henry Collins, Art Copyright 2016 Karen J. Carlisle

The Supporting Cast:

Viola has three main partners against crime: Doctor Henry Collins, his friend, Sir Archibald Huntington-Smythe. Even Viola’s maid, Polly, joins in on the fun.

Doctor Henry Collins is unwillingly drawn into Viola’s detectiving adventures. He provides a light-hearted background story arc threading through the entire series. He’s always been attracted to Viola’s spirit and independence. He wants her to be happy. However, he is a product of the nineteenth century; this leads to personal conflict and causes tension between him and Viola. (Well, that’s what stories are all about aren’t they?) Henry must adapt, or lose Viola.

Sir Archibald Huntington-Smythe is a biomechanical surgeon and a physician to Queen Victoria. He is the eccentric-cheeky-uncle type, unhampered by society because of his rank and connections. He has money and easy access to permits to own and use mechanicals in a world where technology is restricted to those with permission, position and wealth. Sir Archibald provides Viola with a glimpse into the world of privilege, and of the potential benefits such scientific advances could afford those who are not so privileged. He respects Viola’s intelligence and treats her as an equal, thus providing both a catalyst and source of conflict throughout the stories.

Polly is the loyal maid, but is more than just a servant. She is a confidant and loyal companion to Viola since they were children. She was the daughter of Viola’s governess, and given a place in the household after Polly’s mother died. Yet Polly is on the other side of the Victorian class divide, in that strange English-limbo: not quite a servant, not quite a friend, and not of equal social standing, but holds Viola’s complete trust and is one of her protectors.

Polly even has her own adventure in the short story, Point of View (in Eye of the Beholder & Other Tales: Journal #2).

The Villains and Antagonists:

My villains evolve in a similar way. Doctor Jack was born a few years ago, when I heard the song “Behind Blue Eyes” (by The Who) on the car radio. The song was perfect for him; he’s surrounded by sadness, and a feeling that the whole world is against him. Yet he is the hero of his own story. Maybe, just maybe, you might feel sorry him? … just for a second?

But not all villains are so obvious in their malice. The Men in Grey are a secret society hell bent on disrupting and, if possible, controlling the Empire. We meet various members of the organisation as they skulk through Viola’s adventures. They are (mostly) the faceless fear, dressed in grey suits, bowlers and gloves, and inspired by the Men in Black, popular in conspiracy theories. Their genesis was in a feeling of uneasiness, conspiracy and subterfuge.
And, not all antagonists are villains either. In ‘From the Depths’, we meet an ambiguous operative, Mr Wood, and discover there is another secret society hiding amongst us (The Victorians loved their secret societies), The Department of Curiosities. Viola never quite knows whose side he is actually on, or what secrets he conceals.

So, these are a few of the main players in The Adventures of Viola Stewart series. The one thing they have in common is something I read years ago and try to instill into every character I now write: each—villain and hero alike—consider themselves the hero in their own story. I’ll leave it up to the reader to judge.


Karen J Carlisle is an imagineer and writer of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, “Hunted”, featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’.

Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat. She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.

Where to find Karen:
Web: www.karenjcarlisle.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/kjcarlisle
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenJCarlisle/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/KarenJCarlisle
And you can find hints of current research threads on her Pinterest page: https://au.pinterest.com/riverkat42/

I hope we’ve piqued your interest in Karen’s books. I’m a fan of Karen J Carlisle’s Viola Stewart adventures and I’m sure you will be too if you give them a try. For a chance to win one of the books, drop by Karen’s website at www.karenjcarlisle.com and check for the instructions.

The Earliest Sunsets

With winter solstice just a little over two weeks away, I have long working nights at Kitt Peak National Observatory. In fact, this week we’re having the earliest sunsets of the year, which means rushed dinners before heading out to observe for the night. The nights will continue to get a little longer through the solstice itself, but next week, the sunsets will start being a little later. I always consider that a big milestone. Not only do I get a little more time for dinner, but it tells me the holidays are just around the corner.

So far, this week has involved imaging with the One-Degree Imager at the WIYN telescope, so we’ve been taking a lot of long exposures of distant objects. This has allowed me time to work on my final read-through of the current draft of The Astronomer’s Crypt. I hope to return the novel to my editor this weekend if all goes well.

The Astronomer’s Crypt is told from the perspective of a telescope operator like me, who works at night alongside visiting astronomers from all around the country. However, I do note in the novel that observatories require a lot of support from people who work during the day. As it turns out, there’s a great video which looks at Mike Hawes, the daytime facilities supervisor here at Kitt Peak and the great job he does:

The observatory in The Astronomer’s Crypt is smaller than Kitt Peak, as such the staff is a bit smaller. In the novel, the character Jerome Torres does for the fictional Carson Peak Observatory some of the job Mike does for Kitt Peak, but he also does some of the job my boss, Dick Joyce does.

One of the challenges of a novel like The Astronomer’s Crypt which is based on my career in a selective and competitive profession such as astronomy is to create characters who are not exact analogs of people I know. I want to highlight what makes an observatory a great place to work, and depict professional people like Mike Hawes, but I also want to accurately portray some of the more, shall we say challenging and colorful personality types I’ve worked with as well.

I start by thinking about a person and their circumstances. The character Jerome Torres is an Apache who worked his way through college. He’s a serious guy who appreciates his heritage, but also finds science fascinating. When you read the book, I hope you won’t read about Jerome Torres and think he’s just Mike Hawes rewritten. Instead, I hope you’ll believe that he’s a different guy believably doing a similar job with his own style.

By the same token, you’ll meet some characters who feel superior to others, have vices, and succumb to temptations. None of these people are based on specific people I know. That said, I have known people over the years who have those personality traits. More than a few of them have also worked in astronomy.

In the dedication to It, Stephen King writes, “Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie…” In The Astronomer’s Crypt I hope I have told a thrilling lie while at the same time telling the truth about a field I love.