I'm a huge sucker for character aesthetic collages. I'm a very visual person so I find it really fun to find images that I think represent a certain character, and as an added challenge, I also like to find an applicable quote (this is where my Character Thoughts and Quotes Pinterest board comes in really handy, except I've come to realize all of its contents are like 90% Ariva-related...oops).
I'm also really into graphic design and photo editing, so once I've arranged my collages the way I want, I'll often run them through apps like PicsArt or Enlight so the lighting and style match a little better (the raw collages usually look pretty gross). Plus I get to add cool effects like lens flare, which is basically a requirement for sci fi 😉
For example, here's the latest batch of collages (made last June, I think) for our four heroes from the main trilogy. It's especially fun when I'm working with the Haphezian characters, since they already have a color scheme I can apply. With other characters, I try to just pick a generic color or something that fits their personality.
Without further ado, here's the newest batch of collages introducing all the new characters who will star in Fracture and Embers. While there are a few other named / speaking characters not shown here, these 7 are the primary actors in the story and have been developed enough to actually make collages possible. And all of these characters are, conveniently, divided up into the two different factions from the story: the Niiosian Mob and the Ibarra Cartel.
Okay so Tobias obviously isn't a brand new character, but I just realized I hadn't ever made a collage for him. No time like the present, right?
He's such a fun character to write. His introduction in Ronan was actually completely spontaneous (*gasp* I know right?). I was originally planning on just having Ziva arrive at Niio Spaceport and interrogate some poor Port Control worker in order to find her team. I honestly can't even remember when/why/how I decided to introduce a completely new entity who would help her, but the scene just kept flowing that direction, and it obviously added an extra element to the story that a) ended up giving the final battle sequence some juice and b) has given me material to continue the series. Despite only physically appearing in a single scene in the book, he quickly became a fan favorite (and one of MY favorite minor characters) and I knew I needed to figure out a way to work him into some future story regardless of whether I continued the series.
I've often thought of him as being a mixture of Person of Interest's Carl Elias and The Blacklist's Raymond Reddington. As Ziva observes in Ronan, despite his docile outward demeanor, he's not to be trifled with. You know he's cold and calculating, but when things are going his way, he's almost cordial and even has a sense of humor. This is why it's been interesting to continue writing him in Fracture and Embers, because things aren't exactly going his way now.
I don't remember when exactly Serenity's concept came about. Events in the story are (obviously?) such that I needed to introduce a few new characters to fill roles familiar characters used to play. I remember watching old Third Watch reruns (which was the greatest cop show in the history of television, FYI), possibly before I even finished writing Ronan, and thinking about how hilarious it would be if Molly Price, who played the lead female cop (and later detective), was a doctor. She's from New Jersey so she's got this excellent, abrasive accent and a ton of attitude. She didn't take any crap from anyone and often treated her ornery partner like an ill-behaved son. I couldn't get this image out of my head and it ended up being the basis for Serenity's concept.
Her voice wasn’t loud, but she had a harsh accent that gave the words a commanding tone by default. She was human, average height, and middle-aged, probably about fifty. Her shaggy blonde hair reached her shoulders but was kept out of her face by a thick headband. Her wardrobe consisted of a simple shirt, pants, and utility vest, under which she carried a holstered plasma pistol. Standing there with her hands on her hips, her broad shoulders and stocky build made it clear she was a force to be reckoned with.
Serenity used to be a doctor, and while the story doesn't go into detail about when or why she stopped being one, we know she's still been around the block. Her medical experience and leadership ability landed her a role as a sort of medical director on Niio, overseeing operations at all the moon's clinics, ensuring the acquisition of supplies (sometimes through not-so-legal means), etc. She's almost using her skills in a vigilante / Robin Hood capacity. While she's certainly not as hostile as Tobias, she has still had to get her hands dirty over the years.
Ken is definitely the newest of all the new characters. While he's mentioned briefly (though not by name) in Fracture, he actually doesn't make an appearance until Embers. Since I'm basing the foundation of Embers on an old pre-Dakiti Ziva & Co. story, I've been going through and trying to match characters in the current plot to roles in that original story, and I ended up with an extra part I needed to fill. I knew the character wasn't going to actually appear until Embers so I procrastinated figuring out who he was going to be.
As with Serenity, I got this image in my head of a guy—specifically, an approximation of a young Ken Watanabe wearing lots of black and aviator sunglasses—standing in the back of a room, just watching what everyone else was doing and...waiting? Listening? Or maybe he's just bored. The truth is, you have no clue what he's thinking because his face is completely deadpan. There's just this enigmatic air about him, and you can tell just by looking at him how dangerous he is.
Ken really isn't that old (mid-40s, maybe) but that quote was too perfect to pass up. As Bryan Mills would say, he has a very particular set of skills, skills he has acquired over a very long career. At this point, I'm not sure how far the story is going to delve into his past and that Very Long Career™, but maybe that's half the fun of it. Maybe the Mob only cares about his Very Particular Set of Skills™ and doesn't really care how he got them.
It has taken me a little while to nail down who I wanted Manes to be. What I wanted to do was create enough parallels between the Mob and the Cartel to successfully illustrate the idea that they're both terrible in different ways and neither side is really the "good guys." But at the same time, I needed to create enough unique aspects that the Cartel didn't just seem like a cookie cutter version of the Mob.
The gist is that Manes is Tobias's rival, so when I first introduced him, he was going to be fairly similar in age. But he believes a great deal in the idea of "survival of the fittest," so because of that and the desire to make him different, I thought it would be more appropriate to have him be a younger guy who killed his aging father in order to take control of the Cartel. That also helped illustrate his ruthlessness.
Manes is charming and charismatic, traits he often uses to manipulate others. Like Tobias, he usually appears cold and calculating, but he's got a temper that rears its ugly head on a much more frequent basis than his older counterpart. That's part of the manipulation element—he uses scare tactics to keep his people in line, intimidating them into doing what he wants. They obey because they're terrified of him, or, in the case of his closest associates, they've come to respect his power.
Side note: I also love that both Manes's and Tobias's collages ended up with a quote that was somehow game/winning-related. I totally didn't mean to do that but it's insanely appropriate.
Matia's concept has probably been around the longest of anybody on the Cartel's side. The scene that currently serves as Chapter 1 of Fracture (reminder: you can read it HERE) was originally supposed to be a little one-shot painting Ziva as an antagonist as she hunted some random target. I can't remember when exactly I decided I could actually recycle that scene and tailor it for the current story and current characters. At that point I was like "Okay, who is this woman?"
I got the feeling from the start that she would have kind of a barbaric look, with dirty clothes, wild hair, messy makeup, and maybe even some sort of warpaint (this idea was solidified after a reader sent me a sketch of her based on her original aesthetic collage). She's Haphezian and doesn't really care whether anybody knows, but she has also taken precautions to make sure her ragged appearance conceals her past (e.g. her warpaint covers her gesh punti patterns).
Matia is one hundred percent jaded and just doesn't care about anything except getting paid and staying alive long enough to carry out the next mission. She almost considers herself a husk, a shell, and feels that she doesn't really have anything to lose. She doesn't have any real loyalty to the Ibarra Cartel, but they've provided her with a steady stream of work so she sticks around. They actually recruited her in the first place because she killed Manes's former top assassin, but many Cartel members don't like the fact that Manes brought her along and accepted her into their ranks so quickly. Despite being told she's invaluable, she still feels the need to watch her back.
Kimbra is one of those characters that kind of popped out of nowhere, but she has totally ended up fitting into one of the roles for the old story I'm basing Embers on. Like Matia, she's Haphezian; she's been away from home for a long time, though she didn't necessarily leave by choice. A conversation in the story reveals that she was kind of disowned by her family, though it doesn't go into detail. This experience has left her incredibly bitter and resentful of Haphez in general, so when Matia—another Haphezian—arrives on the scene, Kimbra is immediately set on edge. That and, as Manes's top enforcer, she's not used to having to compete for his attention and favor.
She tilted her head, watching the woman in her peripheral vision and shielding her face with her hand. This was the Haphezian she’d smelled, no doubt about it, but her appearance came as a surprise. The sides of her head were shaved; she wore the rest of her thick blonde hair pulled back over the top of her skull and bundled into a bushy ponytail. She didn’t appear to don any gesh punti, but the odd shadows cast by the assorted lighting in the corridor made it impossible to see her face clearly. She wore tight leather and was armed with two pistols and a knife, at least that Matia could immediately see. This was a woman who clearly knew how to handle herself but wasn’t beyond using her physical appearance to get what she wanted as well.
As petty as she can be, Kimbra is physically tough and brutish and plays her role well within the Cartel; if people weren't afraid of Manes already, they're afraid of Kimbra. She's an incredibly unpleasant character to write but I'm really excited for some of the things I've got in store for her.
I don't write very many young (< 20) characters; aside from Aroska's niece and nephews, Jada is really the only other young person who has played any sort of prominent part in the books. So it's been interesting bringing a new, young character on board, especially because he's a much different type of character. Blain is described as being "the orphaned son of someone who once did Manes a favor" so nobody really knows how old he is, but the general consensus is that he's roughly 18.
He has scraped by over the years thanks to his hacking skills (whether he has used them for paid work or to steal, we don't really know). He's confident to the point of being arrogant, even though he's pretty much helpless when he's not behind a keyboard/screen/headset. Within the Cartel, he's essentially a glorified snitch. He's constantly tapped into all the local communications, so he tries to make himself valuable by reporting suspicious activity to Manes. It works...to an extent. Manes has told people to leave him alone, but he's still not really accepted as a full-fledged member of the Cartel. This only makes him try harder to fit in, which makes people hate him more. The poor guy is basically a pawn, being used for his skills and then dismissed completely. All he's trying to do is find a place for himself, because as we know, the whole Cartel is based on a survival-of-the-fittest principle. He and Matia end up sort of bonding over the fact that neither of them are truly accepted.
And you can always check out collages for other series characters on my Art page.