The main character in Lifeline to Marionette is a conflicted and complex individual. My goal was to create a character who could shift the reader’s perception of her as her story unfolded. I want readers to be initially repulsed by her, then feel indifferent toward her, then suspicious of her, then concerned about her, then compassionate toward her, then hopeful for her. My intent was to evoke a spectrum of attitudes, ultimately ending at empathy, even though her life is something that most could not relate to. Jealousy and contempt are two themes that are woven throughout the story. It is through these themes that the connection between character and reader can be made. Even if the reader feels neither jealousy nor contempt for Michelle, the reader can (hopefully) become empathetic toward her situation.
The story begins when Michelle’s life is near its end. In the first chapter, the reader is introduced to a strung-out addict. Within the first few pages, it is revealed that she is not some street junkie but a young woman of status. She is a fashion icon with a Central Park West address. I want the reader to struggle with this. My goal as the writer is to lure the reader into becoming emotionally invested in her character as her story unfolds. But I don’t want it to be easy.
Ultimately, my intent was to create a character who would challenge readers to evaluate their own judgements of someone of wealth, privilege, status and celebrity. Look at Michelle from a distance, and she is stunning. Look a little closer, and she is enigmatic. Put her under a magnifying glass and it becomes apparent that what seemed so beautiful from a distance is actually wearing a fresh coat of paint to hide something ugly—and it’s chipping away.
One of the recent reviews of Lifeline to Marionette stated, “As far as characters go, I found Michelle to be fascinating. I like to get into the psychology/inner workings of a troubled character and the author really delivers with Michelle. Enigmatic on the outside, struggling/shattering on the inside, Michelle is a very conflicted [persona], portraying externally as young, fragile and waif-like while providing glimpses into wisdom and worldly understanding beyond her mere 22-years. It is only toward the end that we really discover the person behind the facade and learn the reasons for her downward-spiraling self-destructive behavior.” (This review is posted on Librarything.com).
Michelle’s physical appearance is as I describe her in the book. She is ethereal, yet her features are almost too extreme. She is too pale, too thin and too frail. By industry standards, she is short for a model. She needs to possess these attributes in order to convey her volatility. Her physical stature also serves to define her as a paradox:
And yet the Michelle Seko that the world saw had become further and further removed from the Michelle that lived within the body of this incredible image. The conflict was enormous…. Never had he come across someone who, without a word or gesture, emitted such volatility. This tiny person, so reserved in so many ways, possessed such overwhelming presence as to fill this room, or any room.
Much of my early research for this book focused on understanding the high-functioning heroin addict. I wanted to know how long a prodigious individual could sustain a habit and what the long-term physical and psychological side effects would be. I also researched the modeling industry. I discovered that these two paths crossed back in the 1990s with the then-popular trend known as “heroin chic.” I uncovered a 1996 issue of Newsweek magazine. The cover story was titled, “Rockers, Models and the New Allure of Heroin.” I wasn’t looking to create a character who looked like a junkie, as this trend in the fashion industry did. But it gave me a launch pad into “why heroin?” From there I found an article in Vogue magazine’s annual body issue, also from 1996, about the extremely young, extremely pretty and extremely thin, and the effects that unnaturally thin models have on young people. In the article, the author writes, “Kirsty Hume stands five feet eleven inches and weighs 120 pounds. Such a body is, for most women, unattainable.” The article goes on to highlight the societal effects of making a skinny girl an icon. (This is translated into the relationship between Michelle and one of the minor characters in Lifeline to Marionette, Katrina.) I turned the page of the Vogue article, and there was my character. It was a full-page, black-and-white photograph of Kirsty Hume, shot by the iconic fashion photographer of the time, Irving Penn. I tore out the page and kept is as inspiration for my character. I would have loved to have used it for the cover, but permission due to copyright would have been unattainable.
I’ve not drawn from personal experience to develop the character of Michelle. I’ve never done heroin, and I never felt compelled to experiment with it in order to get more in the mind of my character. That would have been dangerous research. I have no background in the fashion industry, either. I gained what insight I needed for this book through research. I simply created this character with these attributes (celebrity, prodigious, troubled, pressured, addicted) in order to offer an investment opportunity to my readers. In my previous blog, I wrote about the music that originally inspired her.
The other characters in Lifeline to Marionette serve to move the story forward. I’ve been criticized for not further developing the character of Jason Henrey. I understand how the lack of insight into his character has left a void. However, in my defense, this is intentional. The sequel to Lifeline to Marionette delves into his character, and the story is told in narrative style exclusively from his perspective. My hope is to achieve with his character what I have achieved with the character of Michelle Seko, but this is up to the reader to decide.