Authors are often asked how they create characters. In my case, as my friends and family now realize, they are sometimes inspired by people I know.
My long-time sweetie pie seemed shocked when he read his words coming out of a character’s mouth.
“Hey! I said that!”
“Yes, you did.” I admitted. “Thank you.”
As a former reporter, I tend to think everyone’s words are fair game. If you’re going to fling them out into the universe, don’t be upset if I catch them and keep them for my own.
At other times, I’ve incorporated friends’ stories into my characters. In my upcoming book, A Light in the Desert, which is scheduled for release on November 6, 2018, I borrowed numerous times from the life of my dear late friend Don Clarkson. I have written before about how Don and I met umpiring amateur baseball, a time during which I struggled with debt, a crumbling marriage, and joblessness following what would be the end of my TV-reporting career. That I spent a great deal of time feeling sorry for myself is an understatement.
Don, on the other hand, complained very little. This was astonishing in retrospect, considering the suffering he endured. Don was a decorated Green Beret, a sergeant who served alongside South Vietnam’s ARVN soldiers in the 9th Infantry during the war. His time in country was brutal and, like many servicemen and women, Don relived those experiences until he died at the age of 61 from a combination of Post Traumatic Stress and the myriad devastating effects of Agent Orange poisoning.
Don and I umpired baseball together for five years. During that time, he shared his stories with me. He was gravely wounded and left to die, but was saved by a South Vietnamese soldier who returned to the aftermath of a jungle fight to look for him. He was sometimes crushed by guilt, because of war-time life-and-death decisions and because – unlike many of the men he knew – he had managed to survive and come home. Tears would well in his eyes as he spoke about the soldiers – his brothers – that were lost.
And still, when we would sit in our folding chairs in a school parking lot, waiting for the second half of a double-header to begin, he sometimes spoke about the beauty of Vietnam and his love and admiration for the people who lived there.
One of the main characters in A Light in the Desert, is, like Don, a Vietnam veteran with memories that torment him. But Jason Ramm is also a sniper turned post-war governmental assassin, which Don was not. What they share is a deep desire for peace and forgiveness, which neither of them believe they deserve.
I wrote A Light in the Desert for Don. His wife Marie read the story to him before he died. I believe he understood Jason Ramm and recognized him as a brother. I also know that Don seemed appreciative that I shared some of his story and that I dedicated the book to him.
I miss my friend and the talks we used to have. Though he struggled mightily, Don always looked for the best in people and for beauty in the world.
As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.