Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

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I’ve always been a big reader, but it’s only in the past few years that I started actively reading about writing, with a growing interest in learning more about other writers’ experiences and processes.

One of the most interesting, and unexpected, things I learned is that many fiction writers admit that they had a specific plan or plot intended for a character, but that it all changed when that character did something so interesting that it changed the course of the story.

I consider myself part of the school of writers who believe that writing comes through you rather than from you, that you happen to pick up something in the ether and channel it.

It might sound a little too space cadet for some, but when I heard the idea that characters seem to drive their own destinies rather than their authors, I got really excited. Let’s be honest – who hasn’t, at least once in their lives, read a novel that you loved so much you wished the characters were real?

There are fictional characters who, even though I haven’t read the novels they live in for years, in some cases, I still wonder how they’re doing. I still miss them, and I still love them.

Here are my Top 10 fictional characters. What are your top picks?

1. Ponyboy Curtis, The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton

Do I really need to explain this one?

2. Nothing, Lost Souls, by Poppy Z. Brite

An essential `90s novel and one of the best vampire stories I have ever read. I first read it when I was a teenager and found Nothing’s storyline – a gothic kid in search of his real family, and his real self – to be instantly relatable.

3. Steve and Ghost, Lost Souls, and other works, by Poppy Z. Brite

Poppy Z. Brite's Steve and Ghost characters make you wish you could get lost with them on a road trip. They’d have a car full of cool mix tapes and know where all the good bars are. They are prominent characters in Lost Souls but make appearances throughout some of her other writings, too, making them seem like golden threads you want to unravel.

4. Andrea, Girl, by Blake Nelson

Another essential `90s novel that I also found highly relatable when I was younger. This book captures that feeling that you can only get when you’re going to your first shows, carving out your own fashion sense, and getting the feeling that your life is finally happening. The excitement, and disappointment, in Andrea’s voice is so believable that you want to call her up and ask if she wants to come shopping with you at Goodwill.

5. Mrs. Jane Tabby. While they were born in the city, Thelma, Roger, James and Harriet, Catwings, by Ursula K. LeGuin

One of the first books I read when I was a kid that I got really excited about. I loved cats and I loved magical things, so cats with wings were the right combination for me. I used to wish they were real. I would imagine whole scenarios where I’d find the Catwing family, but of course I’d be the only one who would be able to see them. I wouldn’t even tell my friends about the book because I wanted it to be my secret.

6. Serrie Sullivan, Heave, by Christy Ann Conlin

Serrie hooks you in from the first line. She makes you crave hot baths and bleak winters. You want her even in her most desperate moments.

7. Anonymous, Cherry, by Chandra Mayor

The anonymous narrator in Chandra Mayor’s poignantly explosive novel sounds like so many girls I’ve met and known before. Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt so close to her, because she’s the character I’ve come closest to meeting, and sometimes even being, in real life.

8. Joe Martin and Smiles, Human Punk, by John King

One of my favourite books of all time, Human Punk follows the lives of a group of teenage friends discovering punk rock in the summer of 1977. Joe has a jukebox in his head and endlessly runs through song references throughout the storyline, while Smiles is an endearing, broken kid.

9. Bryce, Wizrd, by Steve Zell

This is a YA novel that I first read when I was in Grade 7. I borrowed it from the library and liked it so much I never brought it back. It's part fantasy, part horror, and, the way I imagined it, full of hot guys. I pictured Bryce as looking like a cute guy I used to see at a bus stop. Bryce spends a lot of his free time riding his bike and exploring the woods near his house, which is how I used to spend a lot of my time, too.

10. Lydia Murphy and Gabriel English, This All Happened, by Michael Winter

This is one of those books where even the smallest details of the characters' lives are interesting: Lydia uses baby powder to take the grease out of her bangs in a rushed morning. She says "good night, Gabe," and Gabriel answers her with, "good night, babe." Lydia and Gabriel make you wish for moments like the ones they have.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Liz Worth 2011

Liz Worth is the Toronto-based author of Amphetamine Heart (Guernica Editions, 2011), Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981 (Bongo Beat/ECW, 2011) and Eleven: Eleven (Trainwreck Press, 2008), a shot of surreal punk fiction.

Go to Liz Worth 2011’s Author Page