Who’s Got Character with Jeffrey Overstreet

Aspiring minds want to know how the colorful characters behind Jeffrey Overstreet’s fantasy novels came into existence. Not only does Jeffrey blend the colors of story to create masterpieces worth reading, he was a film reviewer and columnist for Christianity Today for most of a decade and is sought after for his insights about faith and film.

 His film commentaries and reviews have been featured in many film magazines, even noted in Time, and he was awarded The Spiritus Award in 2007 for his remarkable writing in the field of Film and Theology.

Get ready for some excellent and detailed answers to the questions today.

Thanks Jeffrey for being a part of this. I chose this particular picture of you because I thought it was the perfect blend of your love for film and writing.

1. Who is your favorite heroine & hero you’ve ever written?

That’s like asking me to choose my favorite from my 23 nephews and nieces. But I’d have to say that Auralia, the central character of my novel Auralia’s Colors, is my favorite “heroine.”

And that’s funny, because Auralia’s Colors was going to be an experiment. I was going to try to tell the story of a character who never actually appears in the book. My early chapters were all about a character who had just passed through, and everyone was talking about her, or thinking about her, or discovering the effects of her creativity. But the more I wrote, the more I realized that readers were not going to tolerate this. They would want to meet Auralia. And even now that the book is published, readers still tell me: “I want to spend more time with Auralia.” I wish I could write a “director’s cut” and add some new scenes for them.

Since then, one of my young nieces has been given the name Auralia. So now, there’s a real Auralia running around! But last time I saw her, she was six or seven years old, and she announced that she wanted to be called “Stinky.” I told her that when she’s old enough to read Auralia’s Colors, she’ll find that poor Auralia gets called worse names than that. Auralia’s a sort of prophet, and you know what happens to prophets in their hometowns.

My favorite hero? Well, in the series The Auralia Thread, the ale boy is my favorite hero. He’s so small and humble, and he has such a heart to serve others, that he can slip in and out of places almost unnoticed and have a transforming effect on their lives. But he’s also a very lonely, bruised character, and I look forward to the chapters when we will see his tremendous suffering come to an end.

But the hero I love best out of all my characters is, well, green and feathered. And that book isn’t out yet, so you’ll have to wait for him.

(To read a review of Auralia’s Colors, check out this detailed and wonderful review: http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com/2008/01/auralias-colors-by-jeffrey-overstreet.html )

2. What is the ‘behind the scenes story’ for the creation of that hero & heroine?
To answer that, I’ll have to tell you about a place.

Back in 1996, Anne and I joined some close friends to go hiking near Flathead Lake in Montana, not far from where a friend of ours, the writer and pastor Eugene Peterson, lives.

I was feeling particularly grateful that day, because I was with inspiring friends, and I was still getting to know Anne. (This was a couple of months before she married me.) The more time I spent with Anne, the more I felt that I was receiving an extravagant gift. Anne is a very quiet and observant woman. She writes poetry because she looks very closely at the world around her, and she writes with great care about the mysteries she encounters there. Spending time with Anne, I was learning to slow down and appreciate things that normally I would pass right by.

So there we were, hiking through a landscape of extraordinary beauty. I felt as if my senses were sharper than they had ever been. I was overwhelmed by what I was seeing.

We were talking our childhoods, and our ongoing passion for fairy tales and the imagination. It was odd, that we would find each other in a world where most people think that fairy tales are just “kids’ stuff.”

Then Anne said, “Isn’t it a shame how so many people, when they reach a certain age, fold up their imaginations, put them in a closet, and forget about them?”

When she said that, I suddenly began to imagine a story. The story would begin with a colorless kingdom, where the stuff of creativity had become illegal. That city sat there like a pile of cold ash in the colorful forest. (You can see that on Kristopher Orr’s amazing cover art for Auralia’s Colors.) 

By then I realized that, in my mind’s eye, I was looking over the shoulder of a character: a young woman who was crying because of the poverty of that colorless kingdom. She then began to weave together an expression of love for those deprived people. It was a work of art, containing all of the colors in the world. All of the colors that the kingdom had lost.

Well, needless to say, I was intrigued. I knew I had to start writing about her. So I did, right there, that day alongside the lake. I wanted to follow that character around, much the way that I still enjoy following Anne around.

 The name “Auralia” came after a lot of playing around with words. I love the word “aura”, and the name “Laura” means “light.” After trying several variations, I arrived at “Auralia.” 

I had no idea that Auralia would lead me into a four-book epic. But she did. She’s a boundlessly creative character, so I try to do her justice on the page, but it’s difficult. She uses colors nobody had ever seen before, and how am I supposed to describe that? She crafts clever inventions for her friends, and extravagant works of art for the rest of the world. Sometimes they inspire, sometimes they infuriate. But they are all revelatory in their beauty. I would later learn as I wrote the sequel — Cyndere’s Midnight — that Auralia also was capable of some dark and terrifying art. She could craft expressions of the evil she saw in the world, as well as the evil in her own heart.

Auralia was inspired by Anne, yes, but also by other artists I’ve met who take the beauty they encounter, and troubles they experience, and weave them into art that is true and beautiful. She inspires me to make something out of my own experiences. And she doesn’t explain them to people, because she doesn’t understand them herself. In the same way, I can’t paraphrase the “lesson” of Auralia’s story, because that’s not my job. It’s a big mystery to me. My job is to write the story, and let the mystery speak for itself. (This is why I’m aggravated when people say Auralia is a “Christ figure.” Her story isn’t finished yet, and while she is creative, she is also capable of making mistakes.)

Auralia helps me believe that, even though I’m broken and unable to repair myself, the Great Artist can work through broken people. And if I let him, he will weave me into plans much greater than my own.

And the ale boy? Well, in retrospect, the ale boy reminds me of anybody who is inspired by great art, and who then tries to live differently in view of what they’ve experienced. Auralia’s colors open up the ale boy’s heart and fill him with a desire to help others see their way out of darkness. But I really don’t know where he came from. He showed up very quietly at first, just an “extra” in the cast of characters. He was so quiet that he got my attention. So perhaps, in that way, he was inspired by Anne as well.

 (To read a review of Cyndere’s Midnight, check out this site: http://www.faithfulreader.com/reviews/9781400072538.asp )

 Character Creation Tip For the Day:

Imagery and Senses. Characters who breathe, who cause an emotional reaction in us, whose stories stay with us long after the book has gotten lost on our shelves, are the characters who come alive through the use of senses and magic of imagery. When the reader can ‘feel’ or ‘see’ the characters fear, joy, pleasure, grief…then the character becomes more than two dimensional – he or she becomes a memory.

Tomorrow? 

Come join us to discover what historical romance author Tammy Barley has to tell us about her favorite characters.

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