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Wednesday, June 6, 2012
12:00 AM | Posted by Terri Osburn | | Edit Post
This talented writer is also one of my fellow 2012 Golden Heart® finalist so I am extra excited to welcome her to The Revenge for the first time. Raise your mugs and give a warm welcome to Moriah Densley!
Following My Hero Down the Rabbit Hole
When I created Wilhelm Montegue, I bit off more than I could chew. An autistic savant with a photographic memory and a talent for mathematics and music, he was exploited by the army during the Crimean War as a spy and assassin before being captured and tortured by the Russians. He has PTSD on top of the autism―he’s a mess. It wouldn’t be difficult to have him committed to an asylum, and he has enemies.
Silly pantser me, I was having a ball with my unusual hero until I hit a wall, because A) I know squat about math, and, B) I was only portraying the upside of savant syndrome - the cool genius stuff, like composing brilliant music. Fortunately for me, music is my day job, but that's where Easy Street ended.
When I say hit a wall, I mean everyone who read the first draft hated it. I took the hint. Shedding a tear or two, I hit “delete,” stared in denial at the blinking cursor and white expanse of blank screen . . . then didn't write. Not for months. My hero was so way smarter than me. Composers, literature, and linguistics I can fake, but calculus? No dice.
I had to learn about the Quadratic Table of Residues - sounds like a kitchen sanitation issue to me - well enough to convince readers these brainy thoughts flowed naturally from the character. A normal person observes in approximation: “Falling from three stories is a long way down!” But Wilhelm inherently makes a calculation: “A human body falling one-hundred-sixty feet lands in three seconds.” Sophia, the heroine, inspires his “mathematical erotica” which I did enjoy inventing. The hero assures us the equation is completely viable.
You wouldn't believe how generous and candid the autism community is; I found more information than I knew what to do with. My favorite case is Daniel Tammet, a savant with mathematical synethesthia. He describes how he “experiences” numbers. “Five is like a clap on a front door, the sound of a wave against a rock. Six is small, the hardest for me to experience. It's like a black hole, a chasm.” Daniel “sees” every number from 0 past 10,000 in colors and textures. He holds the European record for reciting pi from memory: 22,514 digits in 5 hours, 9 minutes.
I was also inspired by Kim Peek, an autistic megasavant known as “The Real Rain Man.” He memorized nine encyclopedia volumes at age four. A capable reader finishes two pages in about three minutes. Kim Peek read the same text in eight seconds, his left eye reading the right page while his right eye read the right page, and he recalled 98% of the text. However, the simplicity of choosing clothes to wear was beyond his comprehension, and he couldn't fasten buttons.
Over and over I heard similar stories from savants - astounding genius paired with seemingly random disabilities. Prodigy musicians, chess champions, architects - who couldn't tell you how to fry an egg, who don't comprehend sarcasm. I took the most brilliant qualities and the most frustrating limitations I found in real cases, added a dazzling pair of pectorals, and the new Wilhelm emerged.
Not only is his freedom at stake, but he so badly wants to win over Sophia, and doesn’t know how. His genius brain can’t comprehend social complexities such as diplomacy. It was a bit painful as an author to make a character so earnest yet so flawed. Nothing about relationships comes easily to him, and he feels failure very keenly. While he is aware of the opposing forces in his brain, he can’t control them.
I liked him. Irreverent, moody, yet fiercely loyal and passionate. Did the new Wilhelm pass muster?
Turns out I had a hard time finding a home for my unconventional hero. Imagine my surprise on March 26th to hear from THE Julia London, saying I was a Golden Heart finalist. Really? My beat-up, politically incorrect character? I couldn't believe it. I was delighted and honored. *Shout-out to Terri Osburn, fellow GH finalist! Thanks for this cool gig. Harrgh!* “Song for Sophia” is now published - released Monday in fact - and I'm very eager to see what readers think of the characters.
What makes an unconventional character work or not? Do you have a square-peg-in-a-round-hole story too? Join the discussion, say hello, link to a funny cat picture, whatever - leave a comment, and you're entered to win a digital copy of “Song for Sophia.” Winner of the giveaway announced tomorrow, June 7, by noon eastern time. Don't want to wait? Want to make me filthy stinkin' rich? Buy it now on Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, or iTunes.