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Voices In My Head: Three Local Authors On Character Development

In 2007, Gov. Brad Henry signed some of the country’s strictest anti-immigration legislation into law.

House Bill 1804 by State Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) made it a felony for the state to provide education and health care services to illegal immigrants, and requires police to investigate the immigration status of anyone “suspected” of being in this country illegally.

Six years later, the controversial law and its effect on people form the basis for Oklahoma native Rilla Askew’s fourth novel Kind of Kin.

“I'm always writing about the coming together and the clash between cultures and races in Oklahoma,” Askew says. “I was disturbed by the notion of a bill like that.”

Three months after the bill went into effect Askew woke up one morning with a voice in her head.

“It was a child's voice, and he was quoting his aunt," Askew says. “He said, 'Your granddaddy's a felon. He's a felon and a Christian. He says he's a felon because he's a Christian.' [And the novel] unfolded. It was if the voices started talking in my head and I followed them."

The book is based on true events, and Askew spent considerable time at the State Capitol researching the legislative process. But neither Terrill nor State Rep. Brian Renegar (D-McAlester), who introduced the two, appears in the book.

"I made clear that I was making the state lawmaker a female, and from an entirely different part of the state," Askew says. "And she has her own agenda, fictionally, in the novel that's nothing like any actual person I spoke with."

Novelist M. Scott Carter is no stranger to that legislative process. By day, he works as a State Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, but he’s also the author of two novels.

His latest book, The Immortal Von B., tells the story of a 17-year-old girl who accidentally clones a teenage Ludwig von Beethoven and falls in love with him.

Carter has interviewed thousands of people over his career, and he says many of them, and their voices, subconsciously end up as characters.

“Honestly, and I'm not being facetious, and you tell people, ‘Well I have these voices in my head’," Carter says. “It's like they're all at a big cocktail party and they're waiting to go on stage. They won't go away."

Several years ago, Carter was waiting at a truck stop restaurant while on assignment. A tall, lanky teenager with blue jeans, Wellington boots, multi-colored hair and a Sex Pistols t-shirt walked through the door.

“The physical framework of the character Fate is based on that guy. I have no idea who this person was,” Carter says. " I borrowed that little piece that I saw and plugged it in to a character."

B. Kent Anderson’s most recent novel Silver Crossis a sequel to his 2011 book Cold Glory. He says everyone a writer meets becomes a character at some point.

"Usually not whole and breathing, lifted from reality,” Anderson says. “But some aspect of this person that you met for 20 minutes ten years ago, and that encounter stays in your mind. That works its way into your writing."

Anderson says when a great character comes to you, you listen to what he or she has to say. In one of his earlier books, the character of a six-foot-tall Irish redhead grew as the story unfolded.

“She just wouldn't leave me alone until I gave her this larger role,” Anderson says. “That character wound up being my series character for four books. I never intended for it to be that way.”

Listen to Kurt Gwartney's conversation with M. Scott Carter and B. Kent Anderson.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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