Monday, August 21, 2017

An Essay on Cal

Every character has a background. Preferences, habits, good and bad stories, idiosyncrasies, and history make them who they are--much like our intricate details knit together to make each one of us a unique person.

Some of those tidbits find their way into a book. Others you may see solely in the character's reactions or behaviors. And some things remain in the dark corners of an author's mind, an intimate detail kept in secret forever. 

I find that with good books, I often finish reading the last page wondering about those backstories, and wishing my favorite authors would share them. Sometimes they do. Most of the time they don't. I'm always willing to share my characters' stories, so if you ever have a burning question, please email and I'll answer if I'm able (no spoilers!). 

One backstory has been on my mind a lot lately. As I finish this series, and I take time to say good-bye to each character, I've been lingering more on Cal. He's always been one of my favorites. He's fun to write, a bit complex, a bit eye roll inducing. And he was never supposed to be more than a strange creature leading Meaghan and Nick through the wilderness. He hijacked my story, tucked it in his back pocket and ran away with it. He became integral. Kind of like how we meet strangers in real life sometimes, and they somehow become our best friends.

I've been learning bits and pieces about Cal as I write. Some of my other characters have been hashed out for a decade. I created everything about them. I knew their likes and dislikes before I ever asked them to speak a word.

Cal has never let me do that. Every time I plan something for him, he laughs and tells me "tough luck." He likes surprises. So do I, which is probably why I like him so much.

One story he shared with me didn't make the books. I wanted to fit it in, but it never quite worked, so I thought I might leave it for discovery here, on my oft-forgotten blog. Funny how multiple jobs and a couple of toddlers will force some things to gather dust... but I digress.

Cal loves the term "lad," which I've always found it a little strange. There's a significant language overlap between Æerenden and the part of Earth where Meaghan grew up (which does have an explanation, but not for here). "Lad" is not one of those overlaps. No one else uses it. Yet, he's quite fond of it. I never could figure out why, but he insisted, so I let him do what he wanted.

Turns out, we can blame his brother James for it. Vivian traveled between Earth and Æerenden a number of times while she still lived. Cal mentions that in the books, but he doesn't mention that she delivered letters back and forth between the brothers. James became fond of the term and teasingly used it to refer to Cal. He, of course, also explained the term "lass" to Cal, but it never quite stuck in Cal's mind in the same way "lad" did. If I recall, he only used it a handful of times, and only to refer to Meaghan. But lad became a term of endearment, a way for him to feel connected to his brother. 

Losing James was one of Cal's greatest heartbreaks. His brother and he were close, best friends, and he cherished the letters he received, however few. He told me once that he wrote back, weekly at first, then monthly. He piled the letters up and waited until his brother's wife came to claim them. She never got them all. He had to burn some for warmth, or abandon some during an attack. But he wrote them, and since the moment James shared the term with him, they always started with "Dear Lad..."

When his brother died, the word became a living memorial in his conversations. 

Cal is a man who has lost so much, yet he still managed to stand tall, to joke, to laugh, and to love, despite everything. He inspires me, and I'm glad he decided to become my friend. 

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