Imagining the Sark brothers

Crosswind is the story of two men: the brothers Winchell and Copernicus Sark.

When I envisioned this tale, even in its earliest stages, it was about brothers — two men who grew up together and who used to know each other better than anyone else. Sometime in the last week of December 2010, when I was writing Broken Sight, I jotted this down in my notebook: “Main char is newspaper reporter/editor; Bro is pilot/dashing/daring.”

Later in 2011 I did a sketch of the two of them standing back to back, with some scenery of Perch filled in behind them. Their personalities were taking shape on paper (or on screen, I suppose) and those pieces flooded my head as I drew them —  Cope, the daredevil and carefree soul; Winch, the serious and cautious older brother. Here’s how they initially took shape:

Many months later, after the first draft of Crosswind was complete, I picked up a copy of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan. It’s a fantastic alternate history of World War I involving gasoline-powered armored walkers and genetically mutated animals as war machines. But what really struck me were Keith Thompson’s black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout the story.

Meanwhile I was playing about with some ideas for a cover for Crosswind, and didn’t have much to show for the effort. The though popped into my head: what if I commissioned Keith to draw the Sark boys? He had just the right look to his art.

Keith, as it turns out, is a very friendly guy and after hashing out details such as the kind of illustration I needed, he accepted the challenge. I sent him the following excerpts that describe the Sark brothers:

Winch: “Mornin’.” Winch gave a polite wave as the wagon rattled past. He saw himself reflected in the storefront windows on the other side of the street—tall, skinny, brown coat and grey pants, white shirt and black vest, black hair trimmed short and slicked to one side. His beard, dark and close cut, showed a few hints of grey.

Cope: Copernicus Sark leaped down from the cockpit of his biplane, looking for all Galderica like a hero straight from the nickel adventure magazines… The wind blew curly brown hair of out kilter as soon as he yanked off his leather flying cap. The black gloves went in to one of the wide pockets of his flight coat. He wore a blue tall-necked quilted shirt under a deep blue vest. Cope pulled the silver jacket clasps opened and laughed as the wind coming up over Trafton Cliff blew the flaps open.

I also sent him images of the props – namely Cope’s gun and Winch’s camera. (One of my readers pointed out to me that the camera Winch holds is not the one I described in the book, but hey, it looks cool!)

I must say, I was apprehensive as can be when that email arrived with the image… until I clicked on it and saw this:

Imagine my shock at seeing two of my characters brought to life by a professional illustrator. Granted, they were already alive — they lived in my imagination. Whenever it comes to writing them, I know precisely how they will react in a given situation and what they’d say to each other.

I was at a conference last year for the Wyoming Library Association in Cheyenne, and our guest speaker was Young Adult author Ellen Hopkins. She mentioned that her characters speak to her, at which point one of my co-workers turned and grinned at me.

Later, I confessed that I don’t work that way — Winch and Cope never talk to me.

That doesn’t mean I don’t hear them jawing with each other.

Tune in next week for a sneak peek at the world of Crosswind as presented in a piece of flash fiction, In the Bag.

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