When I finished my new novel POINT DUME I asked all my characters to collect their things and head to the guest quarters in the back of my mind where they’d be living for the rest of their lives.There isn’t room for them in the main house anymore.Luckily, my people were very cooperative.We hugged and kissed and said our goodbyes.I won’t lie, there were tears but I’d warned them, right from the start, that our time together was limited.They knew that once I told their story they would have to move out to make room for my next group.

I can’t stand goodbyes.The idea of breaking up fills me with sorrow and dread.I don’t like to let things go, especially things that I care about. So when I finished my first novel CHEMICAL PINK I made a place in the back of my mind where I allowed my characters to live, rent free, once I’ve finished with them.

At first it was pretty luxurious back there.With just a handful of main characters, there was plenty of room.Charles Worthington roamed the grounds, spending most of his day aroused by one erotic thought after the other.Aurora focused on posing, her diet and keeping fit.Hendrick and his string of prostitute bodybuilders ran a very successful business.All was well.

Then I began writing THE WENTWORTHS and Charles Worthington started hopping the fence.You can’t believe the stupid excuses he used to check on me and my new set of characters.He needed a cup of sugar, stick of butter, can of Crisco.But once I’d given him what he came for he’d linger, leaning over my shoulder, reading my words as I wrote.He had opinions about every single chapter, each line of dialogue.Finally he swallowed his pride and asked, actually begged to be included in the new book.He said it broke his heart to be left out.And while he is an emotional man, and I’d written him into some terrible situations where he sobbed and groveled, I was uncomfortable with his deep suffering.I hold a special place in my heart for Charles who is my most fucked-up invention and so I granted his wish–with two conditions.Number one: no bodybuilders, they just didn’t fit in the new story.Charles tried to change my mind but I stood firm.And number two:if I promised to write him into the book he had to go back to his house and stay there until I finished.I needed peace and quiet.Charles obeyed and was moderately pleased with the outcome.

I had to hire an architect when I finished THE WENTWORTHS.They are a big family and there are quite a few satellite characters that also required housing. Of course Charles didn’t like the new neighbors one bit.He was outraged that I would ask him to share, typical firstborn behavior.The only way I could get him to calm down was to promise him a spot in my third novel, POINT DUME—this time in the company a bodybuilder.He was delighted by his cameo appearance.

And so, with the conclusion of my third novel, I had everyone in the back, settling into the slums of my cerebellum.My house was empty and I was ready to begin.I turned my attention to the forth book, as yet untitled, knowing only that Delilah was a key player and that she was drawn to environmental terrorists.I began researching groups like Earth First, PETA and Sea Shepherd.I spent my days reading about and meeting with wacko extremists, delighting at their misdirected passion, but for some reason the subject wasn’t taking root.My heart was still roaming, looking for its next love.Then my character Felix Duarte from POINT DUME started showing up in my dreams.At first it was once in a while but within a week or two it became a nightly event.Felix is from Michoacan.He was trafficked across the border by one of the Mexican drug cartels in order to cultivate their pot farms in the mountains of Malibu California.Felix is a good man, honest and hard working.Bad things happen to him, things that aren’t fair.To write his story, I had to do a lot of research about migrants and their issues.I had to look directly in the face of 5,000 deaths on the US soil because of our border policies and Operation Gatekeeper.I had to try and understand absolute poverty and the irrational decisions that hunger can drive.Racist cruelty and the hypocrisy of our system popped my bubble of indifference and sparked a growing rage that I suspect is out of my control.

I’ve done a lot of dark research in all of my books.For CHEMICAL PINK I injected testosterone into the buttocks of overgrown bodybuilders, studied the grossly distorted genitalia of female steroid abusers, and examined the twisted fetishes that follow the sport so that I could write that story with an informed point of view.In THE WENTWORTHS I looked at the destructive and redemptive nature of family in many different forms and visited the polygamist compound of Colorado City on the Utah/Arizona border long before the media got a hold of that story.The children are isolated and uneducated.Young girls are breed as sex objects for disgusting old men and the boys are banished as they come of age.I did not turn away in the face of all that evil but once I finished writing THE WENTWORTHS, I was able to put the horror behind me.It did not haunt my dreams like Felix.

Felix Duarte, and every other poor migrant who traveled across that border in search of a better life, is calling me, insisting that I write the real story.I’ve spent the last few weeks out on the road, exploring the border from Tijuana to Nogales, retracing Felix’s route, trying to understand his journey.And he’s been there, right next to me riding shotgun, guiding me down this troubling path.

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KATIE ARNOLDI has published three novels. The first, Chemical Pink, was a national bestseller. Her second novel The Wentworths was a Los Angeles Times bestseller as was her most recent book, Point Dume, which was published in May 2010 and released in paperback on 4-20 2011. Katie was the 1992 Southern California Bodybuilding Champion. She was also a competitive longboard surfer, an enthusiastic backcountry survivalist, fanatic scuba diver and a constant traveler. She has an extensive knife collection and is currently writing another novel.

3 responses to “Putting Characters to Bed”

  1. Zara Potts says:

    This was truly lovely.
    Just lovely.

  2. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Sounds time for a good old fashioned exorcism. I mean some Linda Blair type nasty. Imagine the stories that garrulous crowd will tell on the way out, perhaps a match for the constructions that showed them the way in.

  3. Simon Smithson says:

    I want to much to read these books now. Charles, you SOB – have some class, buddy.

    I loved the line: “You can’t believe the stupid excuses he used to check on me and my new set of characters.”

    I feel amiss for not saying it with the publishing of your Point Dune excerpt, Katie: welcome to TNB!

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