Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Character sketch: Kris Reed

I'm often asked if I model my fictional characters on people I know in real life and my answer is always the same: Sometimes.

Truthfully, most of my characters are amalgamations of people I know. I usually have the physical description of one person in mind for a character, but then I turn around and give him/her the personality of someone else. I suspect it will be easier that way when the lawyers start calling me.


In The Devil You Don't Know, two of the main characters are drawn from my own life and experiences. One looks nothing like me, but has my background and inner fears. The other looks more like me physically and has my smart-assed cynicism, but is also very different in other ways. The same could be said of all of the other characters in the book, that they share traits with people I know but are not really based on anyone specifically.

Except one. (Well, maybe two. We'll get into that later in this series.)

My wife is beautiful, smart and sexy. She's also tiny -- five-foot-one and 105 pounds soaking wet. She has shoulder-length brown hair and the most gorgeous pair of chocolate brown eyes you've ever seen.

And so does Kris Reed, oddly enough.

Kris is in her late-thirties and is a features editor at the fictional Peoria Times-Standard newspaper. She's also the long-suffering wife and best friend of Main Character Michael Reed, who I'll sketch later in the series.

While Kris isn't exactly a main character, all of her scenes are pivotal to the novel's plot. She's strong and loves her husband very much, but she eventually loses patience with Michael's, um, bizarre fascination with Miriam Crane and her son, Jordan.

Michael and Kris have one child together, 8-year-old Connor. Michael has two older sons from a previous marriage (a situation not unlike my own, oddly enough). Connor has a HUGE role in the plot of the book, although he is a fairly minor character himself. More on him later, too.

Kris was the hardest character for me to write for a couple of reasons. One, my wife is my alpha reader and she knew I had based the character on her. Naturally, I was careful to write her close to her real-life role model -- and that sometimes constricted me. Also, my book editor, the wonderful Staley, had some problems with Kris' character because she felt I was holding back too much in describing her both physically and emotionally. She suspected (and I concurred) that I was seeing my wife in my mind's eye and allowed that to fill in the blanks. That left the character fully developed in my mind, but not on the page.

A large amount of my current revisions is geared toward fleshing Kris out more on the page. I think it's coming along nicely.

It was hard for me to find a passage on Kris to pull for this character sketch, since most of them are important scenes that I don't want to make public just yet. But I found one with her and young Connor that I think illustrates Kris nicely. It's from the middle of the novel.

I hope you like it.


Kris awakened before dawn the next morning, a Sunday, and sensed rather than heard a presence in the house. Sure enough she could just make out a dim glow down the hall. The light was on in the kitchen. She quietly slipped out of bed so as to not awaken Michael, who’d been having his own problems sleeping lately, and padded down the hall to the kitchen.

Connor sat at the bay window table, staring off into the darkness outside. He turned when he heard her and nodded but didn’t speak.

“Hey sweetheart. What are you doing up so early?” Kris asked, putting her arms around him and marveling once again at how much he’d grown lately. She tousled Connor’s hair, yawned and shuffled over to the granite-topped counter to start coffee, the pebbled bottoms of her fluffy slippers clicking softly on the hardwood floor.

“I couldn’t sleep,” the child said, frowning.

Kris turned and looked at him, but he continued staring off into the woods out back. Clearly something was bothering him, she thought. Gee, no kidding? It’s not like things have been exactly normal around here lately.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“How about I pour us a big bowl of Lucky Charms and we can have breakfast together before everyone else wakes up?” Kris said, fetching two bowls from the cabinet and setting them on the little pine table with a flourish. Connor grinned and got up to get a couple of spoons and glasses for their orange juice.

“This time we’re doing yellow moons,” he said, sitting down as Kris splashed milk on their cereal. “Whoever eats all the yellow moons first wins.”

“Hey, no fair,” Kris said as the child dug into his cereal with gusto, slopping milk onto the table as he swished his spoon around in search of the winning pieces. She hurriedly sat down and began fishing in her own bowl, plucking each yellow moon out with a victorious cry and gulping it down before continuing the search. It was a game they had played together since Connor was little.

“I win!” Kris cried, giggling.

“No way,” Connor said, jumping up and coming around to inspect her bowl.

“Yuck!” Kris said in mock horror as he began fishing around in her bowl with his spoon. “If I wanted your germs, mister, I’d just lick your face like a cat.” She stuck her tongue out at him and he laughed for the first time that morning.

“Cheater!” Connor crowed as he flipped over a pink heart and a yellow moon floated to the surface. “I win!”

“How do you figure that, mister?” Kris demanded.

“Don’t you remember the rules, Mom?” Connor said, his voice thick with the newly acquired sarcasm Kris had noticed lately. “If you call it too soon, you automatically lose. That means I automatically win.”

“Pardon me for not knowing the rules, since you seem to make them up as we go along,” Kris said, feigning anger. “Now that you’ve kicked my butt at Lucky Charms, do you want to talk about what’s bothering you?”

“Well,” Connor began, setting his spoon down and looking at her. “I’ve been having these funny dreams about when that car … almost hit me.”

Kris felt the small hairs on her neck stand up. She’d always hoped they could either avoid this talk, or that Connor would bring it up with his father instead.

“What kind of dreams, sweetie?”

“Well, I feel myself falling in the road and then I lift my head up to see this car coming right at me. It’s coming really fast and I know it’s going to hit me,” he said and Kris felt herself shiver. “Then I feel some kind of con ... concursive ... I can’t think of the word.”

“Concussion?” his mom offered.

“Yeah. Concussion. It’s like a giant hand reached out and hit me as hard as it could. Then I sit up and I see Granddad Pete smiling and waving for me to get up and come to him.”

Granddad Pete was Kris’ grandfather, who had died the previous year at ninety two. Connor had taken it particularly hard.

“But I know that can’t be real, because Granddad Pete is in Heaven,” he said, fidgeting with his spoon and looking out the window.

“Then what happens, baby?” Kris asked.

“I remember Jordan touching my cheek and telling me it’s not my time yet and that I needed to come back,” Connor said. “So I did. And that’s when I saw Daddy looking down at me.”

Kris sat still for several seconds, trying to think of something to say. Anything.

“So does that mean that Jordan is God?” Connor asked.

“No,” a pajama-clad Michael said firmly from the doorway.

Connor jumped up and ran over to give his Dad a hug. Kris looked at Michael quizzically.

“Don’t you think we should just be honest with him at this point?” she asked.

“I am being honest,” Michael said, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “See buddy, we thought maybe Jordan was something special. But it turns out he’s just a kid like you are. And that means that your dream is nothing more than that. A dream. So finish up in here and jump in the shower. We need to get ready for church.”

Connor nodded and put his dirty dishes in the sink before dutifully heading toward the bathroom.

“I’m confused,” Kris said after Connor had gone. “You’ve spent days trying to convince me that Jordan is some kind of messiah. And now you’re saying he’s not?”

“Turns out I was the one who was confused.”

“I still don’t understand, Michael.”

“I had a little chat with Miriam’s parents yesterday. Turns out our little virgin had a boyfriend back in the day. In fact, her daddy caught them in the act.”

“Seriously?” she asked, surprised. “Because I spent some time with Jordan and he … well, I guess I was starting to believe what you’ve been saying about him.”

“I’m tired of talking about it,” Michael said, shaking his head. “Once Miriam gets out of the hospital, I’m going to have that weasel she calls a lawyer petition the courts to get the kid back home. And then we can finally start getting back to normal around here.”

“But Michael ...” Kris began.

“No. I mean it, honey,” he said, sipping his coffee. “No more bullshit from Miriam and Jordan Crane. We’re done.”

IN REAL LIFE: Not a great day revising, although I did manage to get through half a chapter. My goal is a chapter a day, and I'm slipping a bit. Also, I won't be working on the manuscript Friday or Saturday (nor will I be blogging) since I'm covering the first weekend of the state high school basketball tournament here in Illinois. So, provided you guys are enjoying this little literary diversion, I will likely get back to the character sketches on Monday following my usual Sunday night personal post.

COMING TOMORROW: Jeff Greenberg, reporter and best friend to Michael Reed. Jeff was book editor Staley's favorite. He's quite the comic and I think you'll like him, too.


  1. Really fascinating watching these characters come to life, Terry. Great work!

  2. Thanks Marty. I'm not sure if it's working or not, given the lack of comments. My goal was to steer the blog back to the book and my writing and away from pissing and moaning about my private life. :)

    Also, it's helping me stay focused on the revisions.

    But I DO plan on getting back to the pissing and moaning at some point.

  3. I like what you've done here so far. Your character sketches are lovely, so full of depth. I wish I had the same dedication to write mine down, unfortunately they just hang in my head.