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lockswriter

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3 min read

Walter Yuschak is a big fat red-faced guy who shaves his head because he noticed his bald spot was growing and decided to get proactive about it. Here ends the physical description. He’s more defined by his voice anyway, which is kind of high and rasping — not pleasant, but penetrating and hard to ignore. It’s gotten him his own weekly TV show. He has a verbal tic — he can't help prefacing his remarks with "Listen," "Listen to me" or "Pay attention." This tells you a lot about him already.

A lot of people don’t like Walt, but he sees himself as a man of strong convictions who expresses them proudly and has an excellent sense of humor. He can laugh off any insult you throw at him, and expects everyone else to be able to do the same. As a result, he is often dismayed and frustrated by the inexplicable sensitivities of others. This is what being an asshole feels like from the inside.

Walt supports Pratt, but is much more of a libertarian. As he often says, “I’m more afraid of the government than I am of the weather.” (Which, if one just goes by human history, is a pretty reasonable opinion.) He doesn’t want Western civilization to collapse, but if it does, he’d rather it go down Mad Max style than 1984 style.

Which is how he gets himself on the Brownlist — repeatedly insisting, on the air, that the massive and agonizing serial weather disasters (110°F weather in the South, two and a half feet of rain in the upper Midwest, etc.) are nothing more than a normal change in the earth’s climate that wasn’t caused by human activity and can’t be changed by human effort. It isn’t just that he’s afraid of his taxes going up, or of the government using this as an excuse to claim power over more aspects of his life… although that’s a big part of it.

No one would ever believe this about Walt, but in addition to being smart, he always takes the long view. In this case, what he sees through that view scares the hell out of him. If this really is the dawning of the Age of Anthropocene, if the collective activity of the human race has become a force of sufficient power that care needs to be taken not to damage the livability of the planet… Walt doesn’t want to live in the world that that implies. He doesn’t want to be constantly monitoring what he’s doing and how much fuel is involved. He really, really doesn’t want somebody else monitoring his doings for him. If the universe has become such a minefield, he’d rather do a faceplant onto a mine and end it all quickly than have to watch every step for the rest of his life.
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2 min read

I originally modeled Henry Pratt after George H.W. Bush, but he quickly became his own character. He’s in his late fifties, and here’s his description:

 

    Henry Pratt looked like a generic president out of Central Casting. He was tall — either six-two or six-three, Rome made a mental note to look it up. His hair was iron-gray frosted with white around the ears — possibly the most presidential hair of anyone in Congress. His face was equally skilled at stern expressions and reassuring smiles. He was wearing a navy-blue wool suit, which had been tailored to fit him but was otherwise identical to what every other man in politics was wearing. His one concession to personality was the reading glasses on a string around his neck, with a bronze frame that matched his tie.

 

Pratt is married, with no children. The former CEO of an international hotel chain, he sought the Republican nomination at a moment of weakness for both parties. Pratt’s agenda is a mixture of centrism and libertarianism. His goal is to bring an end to the drug war, cut back on government regulations of private business, and otherwise leave things as they are. He is neither corrupt nor incompetent, but he isn’t ready for the things that start happening in his term, and he sees them as a distraction from his own agenda.

That’s the thing about Pratt — somewhat libertarian in his politics, he is a control freak about his immediate circumstances. (He doesn’t see it that way, of course. As far as he’s concerned, there’s a right way to do things, and things must be done in that way, and although he sees that way, he did not create it, and it isn’t his fault if everyone else has to be told what it is. This is what being a control freak feels like from the inside.) He got elected because he was able to become the dominant force the primary and general elections, but if he’d had a real challenger he would have been in trouble. He’s at his best when he’s working according to his own plan, not so much when he’s trying to adapt to changing circumstances.

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3 min read

Usually, when a presidential candidate is the villain, they're so Obviously Evil that even the Republicans wouldn't touch them. That way, the reader can feel superior to all the SHEEPLE who would presumably be taken in by this huckster. My goal here is to do the opposite — to create a candidate that reasonable people might be tempted to vote for.

Holbrooke Morgan
is the last of the big three female characters. If Isabel is the maiden of the trio (she’s had sex with men and women, but work with me here) and Carrie is the mother, Brooke — the most conventionally attractive of the three — would be the crone. Here’s her description:

 

    She was on the tall side (and with her heels, she was as tall as Carrie), swan-necked and willowy, with blond hair that she kept in a complicated braided bun on the back of her head. She was three years older than Carrie, but looked about five years younger. Her suit, black and sharp-edged as if chiseled from obsidian, was an Arrigo Ciardi original. Carrie would never be able to wear a suit like that, because Arrigo Ciardi would commit seppuku with his own scissors before he ever agreed to design an outfit for a woman over size six.

 

Notice she’s being compared to Carrie a lot. There’s a reason for that — in a way, she’s Carrie’s alter ego. She was born into wealth and privilege, and married into even more of it. She is intelligent, highly ambitious and a skilled manipulator. The best villains are those who could have been heroes.

What she wants can be expressed in one word — power — and yet she’s a highly conflicted character. She has adopted a public persona calculated for maximum respect and appreciation, and she hates it. She feels that the voters have imposed it on her, and she’s mad at them for it. This helps explain her tendency towards extralegal measures against her enemies — she wishes to place herself above the law and beyond the reach of accountability, not because she thinks she’s some kind of god but because she doesn’t like, trust or respect any of the people she might be accountable to.

Her agenda is almost beside the point — dictators can be right-wing, left-wing, or (very often) just interested in preserving as much of the status quo as humanly possible. The platform she runs on is not that different from Carrie's, only with slightly less emphasis on helping the disadvantaged and a willingness to cooperate with the Brownlist. For the rest, just think of her as Michael Bloomberg's evil sister.
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4 min read

Carolyn Camberg, née Exter, is 42 at the beginning of the story and 49 at the end. She’s 5’10,” with dark hair, brown eyes and a broad, pleasant face with one of those tan-over-red complexions. Her hair has a gray thread in it at the beginning, and she pays her hair stylist big bucks to keep it from expanding over the course of the novel. She’s a big woman who becomes somewhat obese near the end of her term as governor, but slims down before she begins her run for the presidency. When seen in public, she is conservatively well-dressed, with sensible shoes. (She’s tall enough not to need high heels and heavy enough that they would probably damage her feet.)

There’s a lot more to her story than there is to Isabel’s, just by virtue of the fact that she’s more than twenty years older. Her father was a major real estate developer in Virginia. She was the oldest child in a family of four, and honed her leadership skills keeping her three younger brothers in line. She was always ambitious. At some point, while studying history, she fully realized the truth of something most of us only know intellectually — that the great men and women who made history, the explorers and generals and presidents, were not some different type of human than herself and the people she knew. The path to greatness might be hard, but there were no absolute barriers to block her from it.

After a few years in the Navy and a few more years in college and business school, Carrie got a job at a company that supplied the Navy with, well, supplies. She rose quickly through the ranks until her net worth was at least as great as her father’s. Then she began thinking about going into politics.

The story of her relationship with the glaciologist Roger Camberg is quite simple — she wanted him, she went for him, she got him. A tall, slim, good-looking man with a deeply reserved manner, who did most of his work in remote parts of the great outdoors, most women found him desirable but unapproachable. Carrie, with her boundless confidence, found no one unapproachable. When she got to know him better, she realized that what most people saw as hauteur was in fact shyness. He might have been an athletic, slightly weathered nerd, but he was still a nerd, and he stood no chance against the mighty onslaught of her social skills. They were married, and had a daughter named Thel, who goes from 11 to 18 over the course of Altered Seasons.

If it seems like she’s led a charmed life, well, that’s almost inevitable for somebody in position to run for president in their late forties.  But Carrie has learned the hard way just how quickly fortune can turn on you. Her father died when she was only 29. (To be fair, he was a huge, immensely fat man with a hearty appetite for rich food and strong drink, and a man so fired with energy that he would never wait for an elevator if the staircase was available. It’s a wonder he lasted as long as he did.)

Among her siblings, Mike Exter followed their father into real estate, but his business crashed twice, due to a mixture of bad luck and bad decisions. George came back from Iraq with a head injury and an addiction to painkillers. Andy, whose feelings toward his older brothers could charitably be described as complicated, nonetheless tried to take care of George, but… one day when Andy was out shopping, George lit up a cigarette and fell asleep on the couch, and Andy got back too late to save him — although he sustained some pretty horrific burns trying. Sometimes, when she can’t sleep at night, Carrie wonders if she somehow ate the whole family’s supply of luck. The point is, she knows what can happen. Which is why she eventually insisted on Roger taking a desk job instead of flying to Antarctica and back.

So what does she want? Much the same things Isabel wants, but she wants them more and on a larger scale. She is ambitious to do great and good things. She does indeed very much want to be president, but she would consider herself a failure if she attained the Oval Office only to sit there for four years like a lump of Millard Fillmore. Likewise, if she could get the Norfolk Plan through Congress without being president, she might reconsider her desire to run for that office.
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4 min read
In preparing the outline of Altered Seasons, I've decided to start by examining the major characters one by one.

 

Isabel Bradshaw is a young woman who goes from 18 to 25 over the course of the novel. I haven’t gone into this much detail in the book yet, but canonically, she’s 5’6”, with blue eyes and long, straight light brown hair that she keeps in a ponytail threaded through an O-ring. She’s heavy but shapely, like a plus-size model, and she exercises regularly to keep herself from getting too heavy and not shapely enough. She’s not good at keeping up with fashion.

Two things she is good at are engineering and meteorology. She holds several jobs over the course of the novel, most of them in these fields. As far as personality goes, I basically modeled her after the Isabel of the Ogden Nash poem — calm, capable, independent and unflappable in the face of crisis. Like two of my other protagonists, Lachlan Smith and Irene J. Harris, Isabel is smart without being a genius and brave without being foolhardy.

Where did she come from? Tilghman Island. Her father is a waterman, her mother’s a teacher, and she was the middle child in a group of five. Thanks to a potentially lethal bee allergy (her first coherent memory is of the allergy test nearly killing her) she spent much more of her childhood inside than outside, but when she was outside she was usually helping out on her father’s skipjack. The worst thing that ever happened to her there was getting a chunk of sea-nettle tentacle stuck in her eye. (Isabel now has a very high threshold of pain.)

What does she want? No single overriding passion defines her life, but she generally wants to make the world a better place and get paid a reasonable salary for doing so. Also, Isabel likes to be needed. In her personal life, this leads her into relationships that her friends think are a bit freeloadery. When her family is rendered homeless by circumstances (it gets hit by a hurricane, Dad can’t get it insured or rebuilt because it’s too close to sea level, it’s condemned) her concerns move from the global to the immediate. She tries to help them, and feels terribly guilty that her own resources are not enough.

Which brings me to Isabel’s biggest problem — guilt. She spends a lot of time wrestling with her conscience, mostly because it keeps trying to beat up on her. It’s this nasty little voice in her head that keeps piping up to tell her she’s horrible and selfish, or that she's doing everything for the wrong reasons, or that it will backfire, or even just that other people are thinking less of her. What makes it so complicated is that intellectually, she knows this feeling is irrational — she hardly ever does anything that could be called wrong. Her guilt and shame are (to use a complicated psychological term) egodystonic. As far as she’s concerned, they have all the moral content of a migraine headache. But they still hurt.

This is why she favors environmentalism as a cause. At some point she took an interest in social justice, but… well, if you know anything about the online left, you know it’s just about the worst possible environment for somebody with unhealthy levels of guilt that she knows are unhealthy and struggles to fight. Environmentalism, while still a liberal cause, is much safer. It includes its share of guiltmongering, but there’s also a certain basic practicality to it (“Save the planet! You’re standing on it!”) that suits Isabel’s temperament. And if nature is never grateful, neither is it resentful. It doesn’t call you out, question your motivations, accuse you of microaggressions or tell you to check your privilege. It just sometimes tries to eat you. Not a problem. Isabel is faster on her feet than she looks, especially since she favors sneakers over high heels.

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