Blog Tour: Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker – The Making of Manny

Welcome back – after Monday’s review of Tall Oaks, I’m pleased to be hosting today’s stop on the Tall Oaks blog tour. Chris Whitaker has written some thoughts on the making of Manny, one of the stand out characters in the book.

The Making of Manny

Quite a few people have read Tall Oaks now, which in itself is exciting, but I’ve also been lucky enough to get some really great feedback too (not all of it from my mum). And whenever I talk to anyone about the book, the first thing they bring up is Manny. Manny Romero. The fearless, teenage, foul-mouthed wannabe gangster, with grand plans to shake up (and down) the small town of Tall Oaks.

When I first conceived of the idea for Tall Oaks I began to make a few notes about where I wanted to the story to go, and roughly how it would begin and end. I knew that I wanted to create a large cast of diverse, interesting characters, each with a story that could hold its own against the backdrop of a missing child investigation. I knew it would keep Tall Oaks from being a straight crime/thriller, and also from feeling too dark.

So before Harry (missing) and Jess (Harry’s mother), before Jim (policeman) and the investigation, I sat down and wrote Manny’s opening chapter.

We first meet him walking toward school in the searing summer heat, uncomfortable in his three-piece suit. I didn’t really know what was going to happen to him, or how he’d relate to the rest of the story, but the more I wrote the more central he became, by the end interacting with nearly every character in the book in some way.

I spent a long time working on his dialogue, drafting and re-drafting his interactions with the other characters. I walked the fine line between making him appear quite hostile and aggressive, though never with any genuine malice. His appearance helped with this. It’s hard to deliver a truly cutting barb whilst wearing a too-tight fedora on top of a bandage-wrapped head. And though Manny definitely brings most of the comic relief to the novel, it was also important that there was a reason why he acts the way he does. When he finally does reveal his feelings to Furat (love interest), it brings the two closer together and hopefully allows the reader to see a different side to him.

Central to Manny’s character is his relationship with his mother Elena. Though there’s plenty of back and forth between the two, he’s fiercely protective of both her and his little sister Thalia. When writing from Elena’s perspective I tried to imagine what is was like for her raising a son that reinvents himself every few months, taking up boxing after watching the Rocky movies, and deciding to become a gangster for the most tenuous of reasons; “My father’s great-uncle married an Italian. Rosa. That means my cousins are Italian, which makes part of my family Italian, which makes me part Italian.”

Though it’s difficult to argue with that kind of logic, and though Thalia has started to mimic his colourful use of language, I wanted to show that Elena knows that for all of his bravado, and his posturing, and his apparent disregard for other people’s feelings, he’s still just a kid struggling to find his way following his parents’ divorce.

Don’t forget that there are still some fab blogs hosting stops on the tour, so please do check them out, and those that have hosted since 4th April.

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