Character on the Couch: Markhat, Steampunk Detective

Happy Thursday! Today I’m happy to welcome Markhat, who is the creation of Frank Tuttle, who would probably be an interesting character himself. He has a steampunk series with my publisher and even shares my editor.

Here’s the blurb for the latest book in the Markhat series, The Darker Carnival:

When Dark’s Diverse Delights arrives by night to set up shows and rides that promise fun and excitement for one and all, the outskirts of Rannit begin to look disturbingly like the nightmares that plague Markhat’s sleep.

Mama Hog has sent him a new client, a cattle rancher with a missing daughter. Markhat’s search reveals genuine terrors lurking amidst the carnival’s tawdry sideshows, where Death itself takes the main stage every evening, just past midnight.

The orchestrator of the murderous, monstrous mayhem is the mysterious carnival master, Ubel Thorkel. And after Buttercup the Banshee is threatened, Markhat is in a race against time to find the carnival’s dark heart and strike it down once and for all—or die trying.

And now I present Markhat and his creator, Frank Tuttle:

1. If your character were to go to a psychologist – willingly or unwillingly – what would bring them in? Yes, a court order is a valid  answer.

I can think of two instances which might prompt Markhat to seek out the services of a psychologist. One would be gentle prompting from his wife Darla; if she expressed genuine concern over his mental state and asked him to seek help, he would. The only other coercion Markhat would likely respond to would be Mama Hog’s incessant nagging. Mama Hog, for all her feigned ignorance and backcountry speech, is a brilliant and perceptive woman who knows exactly which of Markhat’s buttons to push.

2. Is the presenting problem one of the main internal or external conflicts in your book? If so, how does it present itself?

Markhat is a war vet. He spent his hitch in the Army as a dog handler, working to locate and root out hidden pockets of Troll troops deep underground. He survived, but suffers from what his people call ‘war madness’ and we call PTSD. Through the books, he’s drifted deeper and deeper into the darkness, and his actions are sometimes influenced by the trauma of the war.

3. It’s always interesting to see how people act when they first enter my office. Do they immediately go for my chair, hesitate before sitting anywhere, flop on the couch, etc.? What would your character do?

I know precisely what Markhat would do. He’s a smart-ass, with a deep distrust for authority figures.

Markhat’s world is one in which magic is rapidly being overshadowed by gunpowder and steam. Whereas magic is expensive and notoriously unreliable, the emerging technologies are proving deadly and efficient. Markhat carries a vampire-built revolver. Gas-lamps light Rannit’s streets. Gangsters use repeating rifles. Iron bridges and tall buildings are going up all over. There are newspapers and restaurants.

So I’ll just assume he knows what a psychologist is, and he is also aware of the familiar cliches — the couch, the notebooks, all that.

He would walk in smiling, hat in hand. If you offered to shake his hand, he would do so, neither too hard or too soft. He’d be cordial and direct.

Then he would walk right to the couch, lie down upon it, lay his hat on his chest, and say “It all started with my mother. Better get two pencils. I had a long childhood.”

CD: LOL. I actually find it to be somewhat diagnostic when someone flops on the couch rather than sitting.

4. Does your character talk to the therapist? How open/revealing will your character be?

Getting Markhat to talk wouldn’t be the problem.

Getting him to talk about what’s really bothering him would. He would evade. Deflect with humor or sarcasm. Change the subject. Intentionally misdirect.

Markhat’s way of handling his issues is to ignore them. To redirect his energies. To dive into someone else’s problem. Deep down, he doesn’t believe he can be fixed, and that the best he can do is make sure Darla never finds out just how deep the damage runs.

Also, there are things he can’t tell anyone without placing them in danger. Markhat’s activities have left him tainted with a dark form of sorcery, and if Rannit’s rabidly insane sorcerers ever learn his secret, it will doom him and anyone else who knows what he knows.

 5. Your character walks into the bar down the street after his/her first therapy session. What does he/she order? What happens next?

That’s easy. There’s a bar called One-Eyed Eddie’s. Markhat would find his usual stool. Eddie would, without a word, bring Markhat a tall glass of dark beer (Upland Dark). Markhat would slide a coin across the stained bartop and it would vanish into Eddie’s apron and that would the extent of the conversation.

Eddie is a vet too. Both Markhat and Eddie appreciate the silence. Markhat would drink a beer, maybe two. Maybe have a sandwich, because Eddie doesn’t skimp on the ham. There might be a hello or a goodbye exchanged between the regulars as they come and go, but, on the whole, One-Eyed Eddie’s is a quiet place in a loud, rude world.

Now, before Markhat met Darla, he might have stayed for a third or a sixth or a ninth beer. But not anymore.

6. When you’re building characters, do you have any tricks you use to really get into their psyches, like a character interview or personality
 system (e.g., Myers-Briggs types)?

Nothing so formal. I just picture them, imagine them doing whatever it is they do. I use aspects of real people I’ve known — Mama Hog, for instance, is based my paternal grandmother. Markhat is a combination of every film noir tough guy detective I know, with a lot of me mixed in.

CD: I would never have guessed.  😉

I do have extensive histories built for all my characters. Most of the details never make it into the books, which is fine, as long as I know and understand how each will likely react to a particular situation. Dark, damp places make Markhat’s heart pound. Darla hates the sound of trumpets. Mama Hog loathes priests to the point of outright homicide. It’s important to not only give characters a history, but to bring it to life, even in small things.

For me, speech is the most telling aspect of a person’s true nature. I’m a shameless eavesdropper. I listen to strangers, watch how they say what they say. Then I usually imagine their motives and inner struggles until the waiter taps me on the shoulder and says the people at Table Six have complained that I am staring.

Thank you so much for stopping by! This was fun. Both you and your character have very entertaining voices.

Frank Tuttle first began writing under the woefully mistaken impression doing so would release him from the burden of ever doing honest work. “It turns out writing is hard,” said Frank as he pulled out great handfuls of hair. “That was never mentioned in Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.” Frank’s first published works appeared in print magazines such as Weird Tales and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine in the late 1990s. Since then, Frank has published nine Markhat novels and a variety of shorter works. Frank rarely resorts to hair-pulling these days, preferring to weep inconsolably while affixing his toupee. Frank invites you to visit his website www.franktuttle.com.
CD: And if you’d like to get first peek at the cover, blurb, and excerpt from my upcoming steampunk, please sign up for my monthly(ish) newsletter. I’ll also talk about the best devices for reading at night to minimize impact on sleep and my current favorite summer wine.

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