Today, I’m welcoming Collin Tobin, author of Upload. Pull up a chair of your choice, grab a beverage from the bar, and enjoy this fascinating read about the Origin of a Character.
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The Origin of a Character: Bennie (from Upload)
Since I was young, I had always day dreamt I was born with some specific, secret malady that my parents kept from me. I’m not sure why I wanted this—perhaps to excuse myself for an occasional bad grade, for laziness, for my tendency to lose myself in thought? Or perhaps instead I had hoped, as with all Hollywood-born handicaps and injuries, this vulnerability would somehow translate into something like a superpower? Maybe it would mean I would eventually pitch a baseball at 120 MPH? Maybe I would to be 1,000? Anything might happen.
But in the end, I lost the courage to hope for such a secret curse. After all, I had a big enough challenge already that didn’t seem physical, but purely mental: intense and inexplicable shyness. My parents readily confessed to having a hard time with this affect, but they remained eternally loving, patient, and forgiving throughout. As a brief example, my father once volunteered one morning to drop me off at preschool. Once. Minutes later we both returned home defeated, my father sheepishly working his way back up to our sidewalk with me in tow, eight in the morning on a Monday, to my mother’s crossed arms and shaking head.
So naturally, later in early grade school, when I found myself routinely plucked out of the middle of class to go to seemingly unimportant, sedate field trips with three other kids, I figured I had been placed in some kind of special needs group for the socially challenged. We’d take extremely mundane trips in this woman’s minivan to feed the surly geese at a local pond, take extremely hesitant nature walks through the woods in November, or boost the annual attendance to Massachusetts’ least popular museums by 100%. An aura of awkwardness, fear, but also cautious wanderlust pervaded the group. Later, I felt nostalgic for these outings when watching McMurphy and fellow patients on their field trips in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. These weren’t trips a self-respecting field trip coordinator would organize. But I took these trips in stride, and somehow caught up on, or was forgiven, the missed assignments.
It wasn’t until I was well into my teens that I learned I wasn’t included in this group to work on my shyness, or any other of my pet social ineptitudes. Almost as an afterthought, my mother told me she had been approached and asked if I could join this group because I was shown to be a friendly, peaceful, and unintimidating presence. The group was indeed a collection of socially challenged students, and I was somehow thrown in as lubricant. Apparently, I was social tofu. But because of this prolonged exposure, I developed a taste for such personalities, these misfits, these characters.
After this experience, I actively searched out these people, throughout my schooling and the rest of my life. This is where the social gold lay: on the sideliners. I sought out these quiet, introspective kids, the outcasts that routinely mocked for being different. These were the kids that had developed into truly interesting people, almost out of pure necessity. They had to be self-entertaining. There was the kid I found trapped under the gallows of the jungle gym, openly sobbing with his hands shoved in his pockets, surrounded by a circle of larger boys who were kicking dirt on his brand-new neon orange sneakers. There was the boy routinely mocked on the playground for being plagued with spontaneous nosebleeds and intense allergies, who sneezed out bloody snot that he unselfconsciously allowed to hang like crucified snails from his cheeks. Okay, not everyone had something to offer. There was the quiet boy in class that interacted with no one, and no thing, except his precious colored pencil box and drawing pad. As I eventually learned, chances were, if I befriended these kids, and gained their trust, whole new worlds would open up to me.
This is Bennie Welch from in Upload. My main character, Jay Brooks, has befriended Bennie for exactly the same reasons. Bennie exposes Jay to new worlds: the underground world of computer hacking, rave parties, what it’s like be handicapped, what it feels like to be truly lonely, and finally, what it means to be passionate about something by sharing with Jay his pet project, which you’ll discover in the book, that he’s named after the Greek personification of memory: Mnemosyne.
Bennie is an amalgamation of all those odd and interesting friends I’ve made in the past; all those interesting, self-possessed, cast-off people. But just as with the software and hardware Bennie likes to play with in his lonesome basement, I’ve made some upgrades to these people. Why not, since I can? Bennie is a bit too brash. He’s also a bit too cocky for his own good. Also, he refuses to meekly accept his social station along the sidelines. Lastly, Bennie possesses a keen sense of righteousness and justice, and along with it, to back those ideals up, more courage and loyalty than any of us could truly expect from ourselves.
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