Years ago, at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Bozeman, I sat in on a workshop presented by talented writer Elaine Marie Alphin in which she recommended “interviewing” characters to find out what makes them tick.

I’ve done this consistently since and it’s a blast.

I never know what they’re going to blurt out.  Sometimes it’s all I can do just to type fast enough.

Some characters are so quiet that I have to coax them– Spud, for instance, the hero of a Depression-era novel I’m working on.  He cut off our first interview by muttering, “Don’t ask me nothin’ about Grace.  I don’t want to talk about Grace.”  Though I’d already sketched out the plot, Grace literally came out of left field.

Other characters are sassy, like Mary-Mary of Contrary, who scolds me for neglecting her while I work on other writing.

And then there’s Arletta, who materialized when I was doing a five-minute writing exercise for my adult writers’ group.  Her rhinestone glasses flashed while she talked around a big wad of double-bubble:

“People always say I always say people will turn around and do the right thing, but whenever I turn around, they’ve done something dumb, like electing Dum-Dum Dubyah to a second term when he phoned in his first phony four years, or like Ellen coming out of the closet just in time for the tea-for-two-hetero-partiers to try and jam her back in while she’s jamming live on lively TV, taking gay out into the great outdoors.

“Take gators down in the bayou.  By you they’re never seen (unless they intend it).  Here’s your trendy dust-mop dog sniffing the muddy banks, fuzzy shanks to the fusty water, all nose, no eyes while old Trap-Jaws glides up silent and slick and


“Bites Fluffy right off at the leash.

“And here you stand with your sphincter slammed, with your heart tom-tomming, with your toes curling and your breath so tight you’re one ball-head pin away from bawling at your own birthday, thinking, ‘Well, dang, I thought I knew gators, but I sure as heck didn’t expect that!’

“People are like that.