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Hey, there! I'm Sarah A. Chrisman, the author of the Tales of Chetzemoka, and today I'm going to tell you about my Chetzemoka friends and where they come from.
The characters in my stories are very special to me and I work really hard to get them just right. I generally start with a rough idea of a character type that suits a particular story. For example, for First Wheel in Town, I knew I wanted a character who was a doctor because doctors deal with a wide range of very different people within a community, so it would give the readers a chance to get a broad overview of the culture. And I knew I wanted a dressmaker because that was important to the story I wanted to tell.
Some general types of characters get dictated by the nature of the place or by the overall story arc of the series. The town of Chetzemoka is essentially Port Townsend in the late 19th-century, and the fact that it's a port town is a crucial aspect of the sense of place here, so it was essential that a number of the characters be involved with shipping in some way or other. They're either ship's captains like Isaac, and like Ken and Addie's pa Captain Kellam, or they're otherwise involved in the maritime trade, like Ken who works in a shipping office, and David Goldstein who's a marine engineer.
Once I have a general idea of the type of character I want someone to be, then I'll look through hundreds and sometimes thousands of antique photographs until I find the one that just feels right for that character. It's always a somewhat magical instant when, after looking through pictures for hours or days, I finally find one that just stops me in my tracks and makes me say, "Oh, that's Felix!" or "Oh, that's Silas, alright."
Most of these photos are anonymous, but a really interesting exception is the one of Jacob and Addie. That one was really unusual in that I already had the photo before I even started roughing out the characters. I'd originally gotten hold of it for a different project, and when I started drafting the manuscript for Love Will Find A Wheel I remembered this picture that we already had in our archive that seemed like it would really suit the couple I was writing. I needed names for them, and it just so happened that one of our antique advice manuals has a whole list of common first names for men and women. From the women's name list I picked out the name Adora, which struck me as a pretty appropriate name for the sort of romantic heroine that I wanted Addie to be. After I'd already made that decision, I took the photo that I'd had in mind for the chracters out of the scrapbook where I'd been keeping it so that I could put it in a picture frame in my den and look at it while I wrote. I'd completely forgotten that there were any names on the picture, but when I turned it over I saw some —and it was really cool to see the name "Addie" belonging to a character I'd independently decided to name Adora. Just one of those magical moments that emerge.
—And sometimes they introduce plot elements as well. In the fifth Tale of Chetzemoka, A Trip and a Tumble, the character of Theresa Delaroux was particularly difficult to find a picture for. The two major inspirations for Theresa were a description in a 19th-century travel journal of an extremely posh woman of aboriginal descent, and Jennie Churchill, who was rumored to be part Cherokee. [CORRECTION: Jennie Churchill was rumored to be part Iroquois.] Theresa gets her vivacious, over-the-top personality from Jennie, who's one of my personal heroes, and some of her lines and the way people describe her are cribbed directly from Jennie's memoirs, so I needed to find a picture who didn't necessarily look just like Jennie, but who did remind me of her in some way. And, because the whole story was inspired by an account of a classy aboriginal woman, I needed someone who looked that part as well. When I finally found her, she turned out to be wearing a very large silver brooch. It was such a prominent element of the picture that I felt I really had to work it into the story, and when I was writing the character of Theresa's sweetheart Peter Swift, who's a circus performer, I saw descriptions time and time again about how common it was at that period for circus performers to have good luck charms. To find out how and why Peter gave his good luck charm to Theresa, you'll have to read the book!
I'm not above cribbing from my own diaries as well. I've been keeping a personal diary on and off since I first learned to write as a child, and for a number of years now it's been very consistently every day. That gives me a lot of material to work with, and also the changing perspective of a young girl, a maiden, and a mature woman —so I can look back on my old diary entries and get different perspectives for different characters at different ages. There are two things all my friends and family know about me by now: you can't stop a writer from writing, and for a writer everything is material.
So now you've met all the folks in Chetzemoka! I hope you liked this video: if you did, give a nice "thumbs up", and don't forget to tell your friends about all my books. Happy reading!