I often wonder how my favorite authors come up with their characters. To me, characters drive the book. I have read books where the story has intrigued me enough to buy the book, but once I get into it I find that the characters are one-dimensional, or they all sound the same, or they have no redeeming qualities. When this is the case, I find that the story that once intrigued me has now left me cold.
I knew that I wanted Testarossa to be character-driven. I wanted John Testarossa to be a good man, but a flawed one. I wanted John to be the man all men want to be, and all women want to sleep with. I wanted him to be at his best when dealing with the victims of crimes, and at his worst when hurt or in doubt, or when he can’t right a wrong. I wanted him to live hard, work hard, and love hard. I wanted him to feel the pain of a childhood he could not control, and attempt to find a place for the hurt and betrayal, while we sat back and watched. In short, John is who I would be if I were a man. I wrote the book in first-person for this reason.
I wanted Dr. Karen Gennaro to be beautiful, and smart, and sexy, and headstrong. I wanted to show the dichotomy of the strong, intelligent, independent woman who falls hard for a man who is conservative, take-charge, and reactionary. John Testarossa is a man she is drawn to, yet she fights against those very traits that draw her, believing a woman like her cannot possibly love a man like him. He is not like the men of today; he is of another time, and Karen is uncontrollably drawn in. He takes care of her, he cherishes her, and she knows, deep down, that this is what she wants—and needs. In Testarossa and Gennaro, I wanted to show two people who love each other despite their individual flaws, two people who are more alike than they care to admit, two people who want the same things, they just go about it differently. Karen is the person I wish I was.
Alex Ortiz is the antithesis of John. He’s calm, organized, and dispassionate about his work. He has an intelligence for the job that is not evident right away, but John knows, and he trusts and admires Alex more than anyone in his life. Alex, in turn, understands John, understands his ambition, and understands what lies beneath, even if he doesn’t know the specifics. John sees in Alex and his family something he wishes he had but believes that, at this point in his life, that kind of normalcy is unachievable. I based the character of Alex Ortiz and his family on some friends I greatly admire. I hope they don’t mind the intrusion.
The other characters—Mark Gonzales, Amelia Carter, Captain Dale B. are all amalgams of various people, both real and fictional. But the one minor character I have the greatest affection for is Junie Joo, the hapless transgender who will continue to vex the two detectives and charm the readers for many books to come. I love this character, and sadly, I know none like her.
I would love to hear your take on the characters portrayed in Testarossa. How did they affect you? Do you believe strong characters can drive a book? What are some of your favorite character-driven books, and why?