Tag Archives: Josey Wales

Smoking in Fiction

I’m currently enjoying reading Ray Celestin’s The Axeman’s JazzSet in 1919, what’s noticeable, is that everyone in it smokes! It adds to the realism but feels odd, somehow. Smoking has been outlawed and is disapproved of these days, but back then tobacco was marketed as sophisticated and as a health aid.

I’ve never smoked, not one cigarette, partly because several senior members of my family died of lung cancer. As a result, I tend to forget to include smoking in my stories. I’ve just started writing the third story in my Art Palmer series, set in 1867, two years after the American Civil War ended. Smoking was common then, indeed Art is making for his sister’s tobacco plantation, but he doesn’t smoke. Not because he dislikes it, but more because the smell of smoke alerts the enemy to his whereabouts. The war may be over, but danger lurks.

Smoking in fiction is tied to some characters. Just think of Sherlock Holmes puffing on a pipe. He gauged thinking about investigations by his smoking—in The Red-Handed League, he says to Dr Watson:

It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.”

Quite what variety of baccy Gandalf tokes down on with his pipe-weed still causes speculation.

The Caterpillar in Alice In Wonderland favours a hookah to inspire his pithy observations on life.

Hardboiled private-eyes of a certain era are always puffing away. Hard not to think of Humphrey Bogart playing Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe without a cigarette in his mouth.

We shouldn’t forget chewing tobacco. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books feature Blackheart and Jolly Sailor brands. And, what about the addictive tomacco in The Simpsons?

It’s not all fun…spitting chaw can say a lot about a character, such as Josey Wales:

Smoking can be used to show aspects of a character: their addictive nature, an attempt at sophistication or trying to fit in with a crowd, a means of staving off hunger, an aid to meditating and, as the old excuse goes, giving them ‘something to do with their hands.’

Do any of your characters smoke or chew tobacco?


Likeable Characters

On the British television service Freeview, there’s a channel called Talking Pictures, which shows old films from the early twentieth century, as well as later cult classics. This morning, I watched a low budget hot rod/ monster/ science-fiction film called The Giant Gila Monster. Whatever happened to that sub-genre?

It was less than terrifying, the monstrous lizard being rather amusing, but the acting was fine, the script surprisingly true to life and the characters were easy to root for. Curious about its making, I looked online, and found this comment in the Wikipedia article on the film:

Dave Sindelar, on his website Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings gave the film a positive review. Sindelar wrote in his review of the film: “whatever flaws there are with the story, I find myself drawn to the regional feel of the movie, and especially to the likeable characters that inhabit this environment…. It’s rare for a movie to have this many likeable characters, and I think the reason I watch the movie again and again is because I just like to spend time with them.”

This set me to thinking about which literary fictional characters I’ve enjoyed spending time with, especially repeatedly in a series of stories. As a writer, it sounds like an obvious prerequisite that readers should like your characters or at least bond with them to the extent that they want to know what happens to them. Thus, the fate of villains is compelling; a character doesn’t have to be a clean-living paragon of virtue to be admirable.

With my own Cornish Detective series, my protagonist Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle is likeable, though he’s definitely weird, and his left wing, green and arty approach to life will alienate some readers—which is fine with me—they might read on to see him get his comeuppance.

Books themselves can become friends and the characters in them become allies to us in the loneliness of life; we want to know how they’re getting on after we were last together.

In my chosen writing genre of Crime, some of my favourite likeable characters include:

* Inspector Salvo Montalbano—Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian detective.

* Dave Robicheaux—James Lee Burke’s Louisiana lawman

* Harry HoleJo Nesbø‘s Norwegian copper.

Of the three, Commissario Salvo Montalbano would be the most convivial company, for the other two are rather tortured souls. Harry Hole is a trouble-seeking nutter!

In cinema films, the characters I relate to the most, and who I’ve watched repeatedly, are The Outlaw Josey Wales, played by Clint Eastwood, Blade Runner Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford and the Alien series Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. It’s arguable that all of these movies are Westerns, with an antihero as the protagonist—which might be a clue to my own bolshy character! 

Who are your favourite fictional characters in print and on the silver screen?