Author as Character
When I do talks at schools, students always ask me if the protagonists in my novels are thinly veiled autobiographical representations of my younger self. Actually, what they say is “Are you that guy in the book?”
In my latest novel, Snow Job, a D- high school senior ends up running large amounts of cocaine for a drug-crazed dealer, all while plotting with the dealer’s possibly prostitute girlfriend to rip off said dealer and ignore the murder they’re pretty sure happened. So my answer to those students is “No. And you can’t prove otherwise.”
There’s a bit of the author in everything we write, whether it’s the dashing good looks and Magic Mike physique or, as in my case, the confused expression and the ability to consistently make the wrong decision. I don’t set out to put myself in the books I write, but somehow I always end up in there anyway. It’s never a singular trait that’s unique to me—is there even such a thing?—but rather a characteristic or two that those who know me well would easily identify. At least that’s what I assume when I spot them in the revision process, glaring off the page at me like an angry tip-of-the-nose zit.
But the funny thing is no one else seems to see them. Friends whom I assume would notice the that’s-so-Charles traits in characters seem to think that I was referencing someone else—and that someone else is usually them. They like to claim that a character’s clueless nature or dim-witted dorkiness was inspired by their own lives. When I point out that no, that character was truly an autobiographical extension, they smile and shake their heads, chuckling at how wrong I am.
And that’s a good thing.
It means that somehow I managed to create characters that seem so real and relatable that people I wasn’t thinking about at all assume I was writing specifically about them. Or it could mean that my friends are empathetic readers who lose themselves in the story, becoming the characters they encounter. Or it means they didn’t read the book and are just playing it off to be polite.
So in the end, yeah, I am the guy in the book. But if I did it right, so are you.