THE ODD FACE IN THE MIRROR
During my career, I have written a townful of characters, maybe enough of them to populate Pico Mundo, California, in which Odd Thomas lived his first twenty years. I have provided physical descriptions of those people, some in more detail than others. In all but one case, during the writing of the books in which those people appeared, I had vivid images of their faces in my mind.
The exception was Odd Thomas. By page two, I knew Oddie more intimately than I had ever known another character after writing so few words about him. What I knew of Odd, however, was his heart, every chamber of it, all its secrets, all the hopes and dreams that he sheltered there, all his losses. I knew his goodness, his self-doubt, his capacity for friendship and for love, his extraordinary humility. I did not know what his face looked like.
Because the book employed a first-person point of view, I could not describe him from the eyes of another character, and I did not want to engage in any hokum like having him look in a mirror and describe himself. Rather than stop writing and brood about his face, I let the narrative flow, certain that the details would accumulate until I could see him clearly in my mind’s eye.
By the time I finished Odd Thomas, the first novel in the series, I not only knew Odd’s heart but also the singular workings of his mind, and not least of all the architecture of his soul. I knew him as well as--perhaps better than--I knew myself. I knew his body type. His physical qualities were clear: real strength without Schwarzeneggerian muscularity; masculinity without bravado; natural athleticism; the agility of a dancer; confidence in every pose and position, but never arrogance; self-effacement that expressed even in his physicality, so that he seemed unremarkable though he was in fact exceptional.
After three books--and a fourth in the works--I do not know his face. The actor to whom readers most often refer is Toby McGuire, and I think Mr. McGuire--although soon too old for the part--would be terrific because he can project innocence without naiveté and can portray genuine goodness rather than the cloying kind. Yet Oddie’s face is not Toby McGuire’s. It is nothing like the face of any actor anyone has named.
When we developed an avatar of Oddie for the website, we came up with one that I liked. But it’s not his face. I thought at first that the limitations of avatar design would not allow us the detail necessary to capture the real Odd Thomas.
When the wonderful Queenie Chan presented her engaging sketches for the book you hold in your hands, I liked her Odd very much, and felt he worked perfectly for a manga. But this was not Odd’s face any more than Toby McGuire’s face is Odd’s.
As I write this, I am at work on Odd Hours, and I have begun to understand why Oddie’s face will not materialize in my mind when I strive to envision it. The reason for this arises from Odd’s destiny and from his fundamental nature, which have become apparent to me as I work on this book. Because he is an archetypal character in a way I did not fully understand until he revealed it to me during this fourth novel, no face is right for him; every face is his face, in one sense, and in another sense, he is not to be understood whatsoever by his appearance but only by what will prove to be his fundamental nature, which is why his face eludes me.
I now believe that, God willing, there will be six Odd Thomas novels. His end will prove to be there in his beginning, and his beginning in his end. When I get to the last page of the sixth book, I believe it will be apparent to me that everything in the series was to be foreseen in the first book, perhaps in the first chapter of the first book. And yet where I find this going is a great surprise to me and extremely exciting. Pulling off books five and six with the grace they require will be an epic challenge, and all I can do is follow my fry cook and hope that, when it’s over, I will feel that the whole series was as much a gift to me as was the first book.