Unlikable Characters

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Working on the final revisions of my soon-to-be-released novel, The Cardholder, I’ve had the opportunity to get better acquainted with the characters – in particular, the main character’s sister, Annie. Annie is an in-your-face kind of gal; boisterous and annoying at times. The kind of annoying that parallels the sound of nails screeching on a chalkboard.

During a querying phase, I had a literary agent that was interested in representing me. She loved the premise of The Cardholder – but hated Annie. She told me she found her “very unlikable” and that I should “tone her down” if I didn’t want to turn off my readers. So, in wanting to be wise and follow the agent’s advice, I sat down and tried to reinvent Annie. But, I couldn’t. Annie was going to be “Annie” and to change her would change several dynamics with the other characters she interacted with and many important factors within the story. Was I supposed to change her so the reader would like her better, or should I keep her the way she was to convey a more compelling read? And, a more believable character, because isn’t there a world full of people that are seen as “unlikable”? 

So, I left Annie the way she was, and had a laugh one day when a friend read the book and told me that Annie was her favorite character. And recently, when my mother called me to discuss my novel, Breaking Limbo, she mentioned how much she hated the character named Meredith. I told her I didn’t like Meredith, either. Perhaps, because she reminded us of someone we knew that we did not like. Or, perhaps we did not like her because she reminded us of a part of ourselves that we don’t like.

— Kelly O’Callan

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My Brother, My Pimp

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I’ve often heard that nobody will be more excited about an author’s body of work than the author himself. So, I had no pre-conceived notions when I published my first novel, it would be I who would be the one most thrilled about it. But, it seems as though my older brother, Patrick, has outdone me in the adrenaline rush category.

When I first mentioned to my brother that my book, Breaking Limbo, was available on Amazon, his face lit up like carnival lights against a late night sky. I was flattered by his joy for me, and expected it to be short-lived moment, even with him assuring me he was going to do his best to spread the word. After all, why would he be any more interested in book sales than I, the one who wrote it?

Then the calls came in, one after the other, “Hi Kelly, it’s Patrick. I got someone to buy your book and they’d like to talk to you about it.” Here I was, having the opportunity to talk with a random stranger, who by the end of the conversation, was a potential fan of my work, and a reader I got a chance to connect with. The calls came at the most unusual times; some in the early morning hours while Patrick was picking up a coffee at a convenience store to the late night hours while he sat having a drink at the local bar. And, on a few occasions, I had quite the chuckle having learned many of these people had only met my brother mere minutes prior to our speaking. 

So, as I sit here and write this blog, my phone notifies me that I have a text message. It is from Patrick, and it reads “I got another person to get your book today. Go get’em, baby sister. You have a gift. Stick with it and never give up or let anyone get in your way.” Oh, I have a better gift than writing, dear brother, I have a gift that wouldn’t let me give up or have anything stand in my way, and his name is Patrick.

 

—Kelly O’Callan

The Power of Words

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In doing research for my novel, Breaking Limbo, I joined an online support group for the suicidal to study their thought process. In reading many of their dark, desperate pleas, I was emotionally stunned to speechlessness. A young girl cries out that her own mother hates her, so why would anyone in this world like her? A man cries he no longer wants to live because he is unable to deal with the grief following the death of his only brother. Another girl claims she is tired of living and dealing with her uncontrollable eating disorder. The reasons on the surface may have varied, but the underlying reason for all was the same; they simply wanted to end their relentless pain.

In realizing the power that words held, I made sure to choose mine carefully when responding. For, choosing the wrong ones could break their already delicate psyche. Words did not come quickly to me, as the words I was ingesting took a long time to properly digest. Initially, I would have gone in like a ray of sunshine, in an effort to beam light into their dark world, until I realized light was a foreign object in their current state of mind. They needed something that was easy for them to grip onto, not something that felt out of reach. My heart ached, and I wanted to help everyone on that site, but with no words coming to me, I did not know how. So, I continued my research on the suicidal… and in the end, it was the research that helped me find the right words.

What they needed to hear were the words from someone who understood them. In doing the research, I discovered their thought process and somehow “understood” them. Yet, I had a “healthy” mind and was not a victim of the parasitic suicidal thought trance. I gently went into the comment box and, with the right choice of words, held the hand of the sufferer and walked with him/her in the dark. What I discovered, as they decided to hold my hand, too, was what most wanted was somebody to walk with them. Some looked for guidance towards the light, whilst others chose to remain in the dark, but each and every one was grateful for the power that they found in the words that validated them. And for a few, that’s all they really wanted.

— Kelly O’Callan

The Decision to Publish

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When a person hears that another has written a novel, their natural reaction is to ask, “Is it published?”. I’ve heard that question asked more times than I can recall in the past fifteen years. Yes, I had two completed novels under my belt and was about to start the writing process of a third, but the notion of publishing the works was not that appealing to me. I wondered why every now and then, until I shrugged it off as something not meant for me.

Then, while visiting at a friend’s house, I met a woman who was a clairvoyant and a life coach. She stared at me with prying eyes, and rolled her index finger back-and-forth a few times in a gesture to tell me she wanted to speak with me. We went to a separate room in a quest for privacy, and it was in those moments that followed, that I received an answer to a question I stored in the dust-covered attic in my mind. The eccentric woman took out a vacuum cleaner for the subconscious, blew off the dust and sucked out the contents.

She told me that I was years behind where I was supposed to be in life and asked why I was not writing the way I was meant to be; I had a gift and I should be using it. Feeling red-faced, I told the woman that I wasn’t using it because I didn’t want it. I didn’t think it was fair that I had a gift that others deserved or would appreciate more than I. She told me that the gift was not just meant for me, but for others, and that it would not help other people if I refused to share it with them. Hearing the woman speak these words, I felt awful for the time that had gone by without me being able to see the bigger picture. Yet, I was so grateful for her showing it to me then.

So, now, as I have released one novel and a short story to publication, with several more to soon follow, I am appreciative of the gift I was given. Because it is one of the greatest gifts to receive….since I can share it with others. 

 

— Kelly O’Callan