Casting My Characters by Jeremy Edwards
I’ve often seen colleagues blogging about the famous faces (and bodies) their protagonists are associated with in their minds. They’ll visualize their main characters as being “played by” specific movie stars, for instance. I gather this is an important element of the book-building process for many authors.
Personally, I don’t recall ever doing the “Protagonist A looks sort of like Celebrity Z” thing—even in my head—until I wrote The Pleasure Dial: An Erotocomedic Novel of Old-Time Radio. But something about the early-1930s setting of my new opus brought the phenomenon forth. It’s likely the difference stems from the fact that I’m generally more conversant with, and more interested in, entertainment figures from the mid-twentieth century than those of the present epoch. And perhaps the fact that my 1930s novel is set in the entertainment world reinforces the association between my characters—who are radio writers, radio stars, and movie stars—and the glamorous faces from their era, familiar to me thanks to old movies and glossies.
Though writers sometimes take initial inspiration from a famous face, in my case the characters had fully taken shape in my mind before I began half-consciously “casting” them. I’ll begin by introducing you to Artie Plask, from whose point of view my third-person narrator tells the tale:
After wandering around New York for a couple of years with his talent tied to his finger like a balloon, Artie Plask had hit that first lucky break on which he’d built a career. Now, in his late twenties, he was so busy writing bits for burlesque comics and gossip columnists and advertising men that he had the luxury of sending the spillover work to worthy friends who were still establishing themselves.
Affable wordsmith Artie has come to Hollywood to work in radio. But it’s not all work, to say the least:
A few minutes later, Artie crept into Elyse’s boudoir.
He thought the room might be better termed a den. His eyes roamed from beaded curtain to extravagant ottoman, from incense candles to luxurious bedclothes, and then to the sprawling, half-naked woman positioned upon them, gyrating with lust and caressing her own flesh with a corner of silk sheet.
“Funny—I thought Mariel said you were a sensualist.” It was Artie’s nature, not to mention his job, to open with a joke.
“Come here, sweet Artie Plask.”
He closed the door behind him but then hesitated, humbled by her apparent proficiency. “Are you sure you need me? You seem to be doing all right by yourself.”
“I may not need you, strictly speaking … but I want you.”
“Yes, you look like you’d be able to please a woman. This woman, at any rate.”
Artie was grateful for whatever it was about him—his sympathetic eyes? his playful mouth?—that evidently advertised his devotion to female pleasure to those looking to obtain some.
I visualize Artie as looking a lot like a young Dick Powell. Take a glance at photo 1, and see if you agree that Dick would make a good Artie, were my novel to be retroactively made into an old movie.
And now let’s roll the film back a few minutes, to get another look at Elyse:
She was seated at the edge of the pool, completely naked. The downy blond hair that ran in her family was visible in two locations, and tickled Artie’s eyeballs from both of them….
Elyse had evidently been in the water some time earlier, and her nipples still glistened in the morning light. She held Artie’s gaze, looking friendly, clever, and a tad hungry for attention. After thirty seconds of this paradisial stalemate she beckoned him poolward; he was about to accept the unspoken invitation when Mickey’s nasal tone broke in on the idyll.
“Oh good, Plask is here. Pull up a chair, Artie.”
Elyse shrugged and stood up, and he watched the arced lines of her bottom as she plunged headfirst into the water.
Though Veronica Lake (photo 2) was a 1940s rather than 1930s star, the Elyse in my mind looks rather like her—assuming we’ve caught Veronica in a lighthearted, non–film noir mood.
Oh, look! Here comes the first entrance of Mariel, whose agent, if any good, would demand—and receive—top billing for her in the Pleasure Dial movie. I’ll tip my hand by telling you here and now that I see Mariel as resembling a more upbeat Dorothy Parker (photo 3):
“You said I was being added as a tenth writer, didn’t you? So if I’m the tenth man, where’s the ninth man?”
“Right here at home plate.”
The voice, though only moderately high in pitch, was unmistakably female—and it had not come from the direction of the pool, where Elyse was busy doing laps. No, this voice came from the doorway back into the house, a doorway that Artie was certain had been empty a moment earlier.
She was a compactly built woman about his age, svelte and lively looking, who was dressed in subdued tones that emphasized the acuity in her face. She immediately reminded Artie of every witty woman he’d known in New York, with all the ones he’d never encountered piled in for good measure.
For some reason, she was carrying an enormous quill pen.
“You don’t write radio scripts with that thing, do you?” Artie blurted. Writers did have eccentric habits—though not by comparison with the on-air personalities.
She strode toward him jauntily, like the more elegant type of European stage clown, and Artie admired the way her theatricality electrified every inch of her petite frame.
“Don’t you think we should be properly introduced before I tell you what I do or don’t do with my feather? Mariel Fenton.” She extended her hand amiably.
Her black-coffee eyes were birdlike in their attentiveness, only warmer, and Artie had the feeling that anything he said to Mariel, or even near Mariel, would be processed with intelligence and compassion—and never taken more seriously than was warranted.
“I’m Artie Plask.”
“I know,” she confessed. “I just wanted to hear you say it.”
He laughed. “I’m glad you’re so easy to accommodate.”
“I’m easy to lotsofthings.” Having tossed off the line, she efficiently deposited her quill in the band of her gray cloche hat, clapped her hands together, and addressed the group: “So, boys, what’s the story?”
The year is 1934, and amiable New York gag writer Artie Plask has taken the West Coast plunge. His first day on staff with a top radio show introduces him to the irresistible Mariel Fenton, a wit among wits who immediately takes an interest in all aspects of Artie’s life—especially his private life. As Artie finds his feet in a world of blustering comedians, pansexual sex goddesses, timid screen legends, exhibitionistic scriptwriters, and self-infatuated geniuses, Mariel leads him on a zany journey up and down the pleasure dial—a giddy romp through Hollywood that’s chock-full of airwaves showdowns, writing-room counterplots, devious impersonations, naked meetings, and a sensuality-drenched assortment of erotic escapades.
Find out more about Jeremy on his website: http://www.jeremyedwardserotica.com