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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"The Art of Death": Characters

There are six primary human characters in The Art of Death (download links are HERE).

What follows the JUMP is a semi-spoilery examination of them and their inspirations.  If you want to go into the book virginal, I'd suggest not reading.

(NOTE: all links will take you to real-world information, which of course helps ground the story.)

Dr. Mason Karlow

Born Miska Károlyi on 23 November, 1949.  His family were poor farmers in Erdély, Hungary (modern Transylvania), and descended from the Károlyi family of Hungarian royalty, including the famed Count Alexander.  In 1956, Miska's father participated in the Hungarian Uprising against Communist rule, which was suppressed by a Soviet invasion.  Fearing reprisals, Károlyi's mother changed his name to Mason Karlow and they fled, becoming part of the massive Hungarian refugee crisis.  Karlow was then taken in and mentored by the director of the National Gallery in London, Sir Philip Hendy.

Some years later while serving at the Louvre, Karlow was a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) when he first encountered a Babylonian artifact uncovered in a major archaeological find in 1988 known as Nimrud's Gold.  The hundreds of treasures were finally put on display to the public in 1990, just before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August of that year.  The gold was quickly hidden by museum officials, rightfully fearing the treasures' seizure by the Hussein regime, only to be uncovered more than a decade later.  In the confusion of the invasion, however, Karlow made off with the ancient medallion that drew his attention.

Thanks to his translation of the cuneiform on the artifact, Karlow designed the Richmond Museum of Fine Arts and timed its grand opening to coincide with the total lunar eclipse on January 20-21, 2019 over the East Coast of the United States.

Using the artifact, the museum designed in the form of the artifact, and a host of human sacrifices, Karlow participated in a ceremony dedicated to the cultish, dark worship of the Babylonian god of the Moon, Sin (aka Su'en, Nanna).  The aim: a bid for (practically) eternal life and possible rejuvenation.  The latter would be a boon given a recent accident of his.

Read the rest of his story in The Art of Death ...

Inspiration: I had the name before anything else.  I named him after both the actor James Mason (who played Richard Straker) and the vampire master Kurt Barlow from the 1979 TV miniseries Salem's Lot.  Karlow's Hungarian background was a nod to Béla Lugosi, the prototypical Dracula, of course.  Plus, "Karlow" is pretty close to "Karloff," so there's that.

His refinement, his style?  Totally cribbed from one of the best TV shows in recent years, Hannibal.  Played expertly and creepily by Mads Mikkelson, I had him in mind the whole time I typed.  Of course, for most of the book, Karlow is nearly seventy years old.  But as he youngs up, he looks more and more like Mads.

Another tidbit ... Karlow is a psychopath, no question.  (Sociopath isn't a real diagnosis these days.)  One seemingly innocuous example of Karlow's condition is his immunity to sympathetic yawning.  Yes.  If you don't yawn when someone around you yawns, you might be a psychopath.

(I gave most of my thought and attention to Karlow, obviously.  But there's more to everyone's story in the book.  This is primarily background stuff.)

Abigail Frye

Forty-something assistant to Dr. Mason Karlow.  Veteran of Afghanistan, likely sufferer of PTSD, she has worked for Karlow for fifteen years.  She dedicated herself to Karlow's cause after two consecutive stressful days which brought an end to one part of her life and showed her the possibilities of another.

Inspiration: I don't have as obvious an inspiration for her as I did with Karlow.  Just imagine a solid, no-nonsense fighter.  You've got her.  Her name is an homage to Abigail Hobbs, a character in Hannibal, and the actor Dwight Frye, who played Renfield in the original Dracula.

Griffin Chaney

Forty-something security man for a recently defeated US senator.  Former Virginia State Police Trooper.  He's beginning to feel his age and that he hasn't really accomplished much.

Inspiration: Name-wise, Dr. Jack Griffin, aka The Invisible Man, and Lon Chaney Sr. & Jr., best known for Phantom of the Opera and The Wolf Man, respectively.

As for his character?  Yikes.  I don't often "Mary Sue" my way into my books, but I guess Griffin Chaney shares some character beats with me.  There's a scene in the book when he sees a painting, "Moonlight" by Frederck Childe Hassam.  He looks at it at first and thinks, "Huh.  That's pretty simple.  I could've painted that."  Then he looks at it closer and sees that it's not so simple and, more importantly, even if he could have painted it, he's never done anything in his life to match that thing's beauty.  Nothing he's done will last like that painting.  Here it is, by the way, a new addition to the VMFA:

When I first saw it, my reaction is what I gave to Chaney.  "Simple."  But then I realized that I hadn't done anything at all in my life to even approach this piece, and not just on an artistic level.  It was devastating.

What can I say?  I guess I was feeling morose that day.

Leigh Carl

Late forty-something former teacher.  Widow of local philanthropist and businessman.  Left her teaching job after her husband's death so she could pick up where he left off in various community endeavors, including the RMFA.  She is utterly bored with her existence.

Inspiration: Name comes from the great Christopher Lee and Universal producer Carl Laemmle.  Appearance-wise, I had in mind a particular high school history teacher.  I didn't have her myself (and thus don't readily recall her name), but I always saw her in the halls and she had long, dark hair with a silver streak that began at her forehead.

Millie Reed

Junior at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Blonde, attractive, daughter of wealthy family.  Her father is on the board at the RMFA and gets her an internship at the new museum, about which she cares very little.  She's dating the next person on the list, but there's an ulterior motive to it.  She's actually more intelligent and capable than she lets on.

Inspiration: Name comes from Millicent Patrick, designer of "The Gill-Man" for Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dr. David Reed, a character in that film.  More on Millie next.

Terry Lyons

Student at VCU.  African-American.  Got his internship at the RMFA the hard way and he hopes to parlay that into a career.  Is dating Millie Reed but plans to break up with her after the museum's grand opening.

Inspiration: Name comes from frequent Hammer Horror director Terence Fisher and a guy I saw quoted at the Library of Virginia.  I thought Terry Lyons sounded pretty good.  (I didn't know that there was a British mathematician with that name until pretty recently.)

Whom do I have in mind when I read or write about Millie and Terry?  Well, since the promotion for The Force Awakens was in full swing, it's these two:

She's not blonde, but I can get over that.

(Why no The Mummy references?  Maybe because I put a mummy in the book.  I figured that was enough.)

Next time, the monsters of The Art of Death.

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