Cameryn Mahoney: The ‘Other’ Katniss Everdeen, by Alane Ferguson
I just came back from viewing The Hunger Games (fantastic!), and as I walked away I couldn’t help but wonder at the similarities between Katniss Everdeen and Cameryn Mahoney. Katniss was extremely strong and smart, and yet remained in many ways a vulnerable character. This trifecta of qualities is exactly what I believe I gave Cameryn in my forensic books – she’s tough and extremely intelligent, but she still makes mistakes, some of which have almost cost Cameryn her life. In the end it is her heart that is her most valuable asset. Cameryn, like Katniss, relies on her intellect but gets tripped up by emotions. And before you chalk that up as a weakness, I believe paradoxically their humanity is the essence of what makes both characters so strong.
There are other wildly popular teen books which are delicious to read but leave me empty, as if I’d just eaten a huge cone of pink, spun sugar. The Hunger Games did the opposite: it left me thinking. When I wrote The Christopher Killer (it was published before The Hunger Games) I’d hoped to create a character who was tough, inquisitive, extremely bright, headstrong, and yet…like any other girl, ultimately one who wanted to be loved. For a writer, incorporating all of those facets is like playing a chord rather than a single note. The problem is, making your writing sing is much easier said then done!
So here’s a secret I’m happy to share: creating complex characters requires real, deep-down honesty. There are two things I do when I settle down to the task of birthing a brand new fictional soul, steps that I think are essential for authenticity.
First, I look within, examining even the darkest corners of my own being. Do I ever get jealous? (Answer: yes!) Have I ever been completely sure I was right, only to find out later that I was totally wrong? (Answer: you guessed it – yes again!) Have I ever relied on my wits to talk myself out of a sticky situation? (Answer: many, many times.) The point is, I take the best and the worst in me and unflinchingly commit those qualities to the page. My protagonist in many ways is a reflection of myself – the good, the bad, and the ugly. To make a character real, an author has to be fiercely authentic in order for the character to come across that way.
The second secret is to study others who float in and out of your day-to-day life. It’s what I do. When people talk, especially those with diverse life experiences, I listen with every fiber of my being, because understanding a different point of view is essential when you are an author. While there are many things about me that are similar to Cameryn, in other ways we are not at all alike. For example, while doing research in a morgue and faced with a row of corpses, I, Alane Ferguson, cringed as I fought the urge to run away. Cameryn Mahoney would just dive right in! Cameryn is tougher than I am, so in order to round out Cameryn’s personality I took a bit of shading from Dr. Daniel Lingamfelter, a medical examiner who explained to me why he is fascinated with the forensic process. Cameryn is a composite of myself and others – sort of a kaleidoscope of characteristics twirling into someone new.
The final culmination for me was Cameryn Mahoney. For Suzanne Collins, it was Katniss Everdeen. Both of these young women are people I would like to meet in real life. And I suspect, if they ever met, the two of them would become friends.