Creating the Life and Times of a Modern Bloodsucking Sex Worker—or—”Why is Veronica a Madam?”
“There is fiction in the space between
The lines on your page of memories
Write it down but it doesn’t mean
You’re not just telling stories”
-Tracy Chapman, “Telling Stories”
The voices in my head have names. No, really. They do.
I hear them as loudly and clearly as I hear anyone who talks to me from outside my own mind. My characters talk to me in their own voices. They have their own accents and a tempo to their speech. They are fully formed, very real, people… who just happen to exist only in my head (and then by extension in my works of fiction). It’s my madness. Does that mean that I can’t distinguish fantasy from reality? No. I just have characters who tell me their stories… and I write those stories down.
Veronica Fischer—or V, as she prefers to be called—is one of those characters. And like all of the characters in my fiction, she is a person first, even if she doesn’t happen to be human. She has a solid core. She had a childhood with parents and problems. She has wants, desires, needs, likes, and dislikes. Like every other character that talks to me—be they aliens or monsters, astronauts, or politicians—she is a person, she has a soul.
I find far too many fictional characters (in printed words, in audio dramas, or even up on a screen) are only what they are—vampire, robot, or what have you, or they are only what they do—a pilot, detective, or whatever the plot or setting calls for. They aren’t people outside of that. That seriously limits where their story can take them, and it seriously limits my interest in their story. I think that means I’m an elitist. I don’t know. I’ve never been too keen on labels… especially the ones I’m given.
See, I make things up. Sometimes I write those things down, or type them up, so that other people can read them. Lately, I’ve taken to formatting some of those things into scripts and directing wonderfully talented actors to breathe life into those things—to make those fictions, those worlds, real, vibrant, and in some cases frightening places. I’m lucky—overjoyed, even—to have my words read by others, even happier when people have an emotional reaction (positive or negative) to the things I’ve made up because it means that I’ve connected to that person in some way. I like the idea that people I may have never met—may well never meet—are experiencing an emotion, a character, a world, that has come from my journey, experiences, and emotions. I feel that telling stories connects people in a way that nothing else really can and that it is of truly profound importance to the human experience. But that’s a completely different discussion. Sorry, I’m drifting from topic…
Characters. I was talking about characters. Specifically, I was talking about V. When I begin to tell a story, I always have to look for a window. A way in, if you will, to the story that I can use to show or tell what it is I need seen or heard. I have hundreds of stories in my head that I’d like to someday tell, but, for now, I just haven’t found the best window through which to tell them. It’s usually all about locating whose story it is, who is the main character, and letting everything fall in place around them. With a character like V, that’s a simple task.
With V, my first window into telling her story was the fact that she was afraid of crickets. No lie, spider crickets, actually. Back in 1997, she told me (in my head, not out loud) that she was afraid of spider crickets because of the ones in the basement of her house on Summit Drive in Pekin. I started asking her questions about that, and she began to tell me more of her story. Her childhood became my way in, and thus the way I could tell her story. A lot of that got moved out of the primary narrative of her story, but it’s still there, still a part of her story… part of who she is. It helped to form so much of the way the story unfolded. Knowing all about her made it a lot easier to explain what she was going through to other people, to write it out for other people to read and record, and eventually to be presented to an audience. Ya know?
So, when I was asked—and I’ve been asked this many times—during the preproduction of Veronica the series “Why is Veronica a madam?” or “Why even include that she is a sex worker in the story?” they seemed like simple enough questions on the surface, innocent questions even, but they required a bit more than an easy, simple, surface-level answer. Just like all the characters whose stories crawl out of my head, Veronica, and thus Veronica’s story, is a little more involved than can be explained (or even summed up) in a tight one sentence answer.
V came to me as a fierce and strong voice. She was independent, but a leader. She was self-assured, vulnerable at times, but always in control of her life, or grasping with all her strength for that control. She suffered nothing stupid lightly, she was powerful, and she was a very feminine and sexual creature. I was not at all surprised when she told me she was a madam. I was equally unsurprised when she told me about her childhood and her mother being a working girl who was a little too pushed around by the men in her life. V just made sense to me, and the fact that she was a madam was such a small part of who she was that I never gave it all that much thought, really.
As I said, V’s mother was a sex worker, and Veronica saw a lot of what can go wrong when she was growing up. After her mother’s death, she started in the industry as a worker as well and fought her way up to a place of control even before she was made an all new and different kind of “creature of the night” by Jules. For her, it was an all too logical next step that she should seek out other girls in the same line of work and offer them the protection that she could, once she was relocated out of the big city and dropped in a smaller setting. It was directly as a result of her doing what felt natural—protecting others that shared her line of work—that she was befriended by Lucy, a ghost who had also worked in the sex trade back in the 1880s. Lucy becoming her friend and mentor cemented her career choice but also deepened her world, adding to the paranormal oddities that became her new normal.
If I had to venture a guess—and really you’d have to ask V about it—I’d say that she does what she does A) because she enjoys it, and B) because she’s a bit of a control freak. Being a madam affords her an even more elevated control over what goes on with her home and finances, and with the girls in her house. Men, being so easily led around by their sexual needs and desires, are usually all too happy to give her the control she seeks (and pay well for it) without a problem because of what is being sold. Talent, skill, and enjoyment… right? Men who aren’t happy with the arrangement are free to move along or be dealt with swiftly. Again, she suffers nothing stupid lightly… and she can flip trucks, being a bloodsucker and all… so…
I could get more in depth, I suppose, on the psychology of V… or on my own, as she came from my mind… but I really don’t see how much good that would do. She is what she is. She enjoys it. As it turns out, vampires make good madams. They can give what’s paid for, and ensure that nothing happens that a girl doesn’t want to happen… and they can do it without guns, goons, thugs, or being out more money. A good fit, for a great character, in my opinion.
With all that in mind, this is the titular character of our story. She’s an orphan girl who becomes a prostitute to survive her life on the city streets. Her relentless drive, caustic wit, and intuitive adaptability brings the attention of a creature of the night. She evolves. First, becoming a nocturnal predator, then a madam, and ultimately a force to be reckoned with. In time, she takes in others, girls whose struggles she can see herself in, with aims to guide and protect them. She finds motherhood in an unlikely adoption of an already deceased daughter and the unbound maternal fury that comes when a child is taken. The pillars of the established order of man and monster are shaken to their core as she unflinchingly pursues the purest love she’s ever known. What does it take to bring that character to life?
As luck would have it, today, I had time to sit down with the jaw-droppingly talented Claire Coyle, the actress inhabiting Veronica’s skin, and ask a few questions about herself, Veronica, and the project overall.
Claire, I guess I’ll start with one of the lamest of fan boy questions that (I, and) everyone has:
What drew you to a career in acting?
I love it. I’ve always loved it since I was little, even when I didn’t want to love it so much because I thought it would be easier to do something else, it kept sticking and so I gave in and went with it.
What drew you to this project, this role?
You (Dennis) and Pam (the producer) heard a demo of mine that I had specifically selected for its wry sense of humor and thrown out into the ether of the internet. You contacted me, explained the role, and I haven’t looked back since. I am an ass kicking wholesome vampire madam… who would say no to that?
Can you see yourself in Veronica?
Yes, 100%. Veronica doesn’t take the easy road, she goes after exactly what she wants, sometimes with blinders on. She makes mistakes and screws up often. She’s so real. Every day is a new day with no mistakes in it yet, and we (Veronica and I) find a way to make them. Veronica is a bit like a grown up, edgy, bloodsucking version of Anne of Green Gables and she’s incredible.
How much did you know about Veronica’s, the character’s, past going in to the project?
You (Dennis) gave me a lot of background and were so invested in this character and could tell me so much about not just the details of her life, but of her dynamics with people, the way she operates. She was created as what I feel is really a likeable character. I really like her.
Did Veronica’s choice of career or bloodsucking proclivities pose any challenges for you in your performance?
Yes, for sure. I come from a very happy childhood. Veronica’s background is so different that it took some effort to relate to her at first. I think her career choice stemmed from kindness. She wanted to create a safe space for people in her situation. By situation I mean mistreated, used, and discarded. She’s so passionate, that passion to protect I think is what grows her family of friends.
What was your takeaway of the world in which Veronica’s story is set?
The broadness of it, the rules of the world, it’s very detailed and vast. The characters are so grounded in their motivations and that makes you relate to them but at the same time, they’re completely committed to their natures. This makes it so much more interesting when the world rules are bent by some of the characters. You relate to their reasons for breaking the mold.
Were there emotional scenes, or subtle nuances, that you brought to the role that had a personal effect on you after you were done recording?
Of course. On the days we recorded the heavier scenes, I had to get out in the sunshine for a while and absorb some vitamin D. There’s a desperation to make things right in Veronica. I think that’s something we can all relate to. Certainly, I can. So, when things don’t go right, especially involving her friends, the frustration and the pain in thinking about giving up just pour out into the scene in full force. It does require a bit of healing time afterwards to go through those kinds of experiences.
Because I know you’re dying to tell us… can you fill us all in on the “dog and horse” parts of your life?
I talk about my dog all the time. It’s probably obnoxious, but she is really cute… you want to see a picture?!
And then I have been training this little mutt horse that is turning into the little engine that could. I think what I love about animals, what most people probably love, is how you learn to have conversations with them without words. It’s actually probably a fabulous exercise for acting, you figure out how to communicate your intentions through a mix of yours and their language.
Lastly, what do you hope people get out of Veronica’s first season, and what are you most looking forward to sharing with everyone in season two?
I hope that people get a good dose of hope and entertainment. I have to say I have so thoroughly enjoyed working on Veronica that I want that joy to come through to listeners. This entire cast is just ridiculously talented and we’ve been given such a fun story to sink our teeth into, I can’t thank you (Dennis) enough for writing it! For season 2, I can’t wait to share more of the world. It’s going to get bigger, the challenges will get bigger for all the characters, and there’s going to be more than a few surprises, I think. Cheers!