Hello, Readers!

Today I’m going to talk about inspiration for a handful of my characters, specifically my favorites in the Aster Wood series. 

Let’s talk turkey.


First, let’s talk about Aster, our main man. When I thought about my character back at the beginning, I imagined him setting off on a big adventure at quite a young age (12), but I really did write that first novel “by the seat of my pants,” so the adventure evolved as time went on. I introduced some elements of family strife (strained family relationships, poverty, and mental illness), along with some drama in Aster’s physical world (dystopian America).

But when I thought about the spirit of Aster, I found that he reminded me of “Jack Frost” from “The Guardians” film. It was looking at a picture of Jack on a yearly calendar we’d bought for the kids that helped me form Aster into an able, determined young man. Something about that picture staring back at me for all those months really inspired me to keep going.

Would it be possible for a 12-year-old kid to do all the things that Aster did on his adventures? Probably not. Then again, there are plenty of other Middle Grade 12-13-year-olds out there defeating all sorts of bad guys, so I decided to give Aster the benefit of the doubt despite his tender age.


I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen “Fellowship of the Ring” about fifty zillion times. In the Aster Wood books, Kiron, Aster’s mentor, is no great magician, but I always thought of Gandalf when I was writing him. Old, cranky, a touch bitter, but with a tiny morsel of humor deep down (whether we ever saw it on the page or not).

I’ll admit it: I was going with the tropes (though I didn’t even understand what that meant at the time). I have my second biggest character in the series written with Gandalf in mind. Very original. That said, I do so love Kiron and his heart. When I think about him, I imagine a good man, honest and loyal, and a darned useful fellow to have with you on a long, dangerous journey.

The Watcher

I don’t remember quite where I saw this image, but it made me think of a sort of “lady of the swamp,” an ancient soul of the earth, someone who sees time as it passes through ages, not years. Upon closer inspection, this image is actually of a Medusa, but that’s ok. She’s creepy and lovely all at the same time. 

The Watcher’s character came at a time when I was just starting to get my sea legs with this whole novel-writing thing, and imagining her character was very exciting to me. I imagined myself in those scenes, not as her, but as Aster watching this terribly dangerous mother-earth type person approach and engage him. It was a new level of creepiness for me, and it felt good. 

It took some doing, but I did eventually figure out who painted this image, Rich Anderson. You can find more from Rich at his Artstation page.

The Blackburn

There is no image for this one but for the one burned into my brain.

One summer day not too long ago I was traveling through Fresno, California. If you’ve ever been to Fresno in the summer, you know it’s hotter than the surface of the sun, so I had my A/C blasting. I was just finishing Book 2 when I drove past a homeless man sitting on the side of the road. He wasn’t looking for money. He was just sitting there, shirt off, his skin the darkest shade of brown I’ve ever seen, making him look almost burnt. I was already going 35, and I only got this one glimpse of him, but he looked like someone from another world, and he became the inspiration for the character “The Blackburn” in Book 3.

I still wonder about him sometimes. Maybe there really is magic in our midst. I wish I could tell him that the little glimpse of him inspired an entire novel.

Something I want to mention about my character building in general is that, as a rule, my characters are developed by me imagining myself in any given situation, and then thinking, “If I were Aster, what would it feel like for me to be on that great ship in Book 2? Would I be scared? Sick? How would I react?” In this way I suppose you could argue that every single character I write is, in fact, autobiographical. How would I respond? Is always the question I’m asking myself. 

I think I’ve covered everything I set out to cover in the Aster Wood series in these past three posts [part 1] [part 2]. If you’d like to learn more about a different character, email me at books@jbcantwell.com. I hope to hear from you! 

And here’s hoping you get a little bit of magic in your day … in all your days. 

Thanks for reading!


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