How the zips of Roll Call deepen character, add to the new world setting, and provide suspense.

Years ago, I attended a leadership conference in the woods. You know, bonding in the great outdoors. (It wasn’t my idea.) Standing at the base of the ladder leading to the fifty-foot-high bridge I examined my initial task. The sign near the first wrung read: Concentration Tester–Earthquake Bridge. Hmmmm–should have known this might present some problems.

Okay, a series of wooden planks suspended by cables–I walk across the planks–how hard can it be? And how does a person unafraid of heights, over the course of an hour, become paralyzed to face the great outtdoor challenge for the rest of her life?

The planks moved with each step I took, and the rope hand lines, that I thought would stabilize me, became a meager protection to keep me from plunging off the bridge to the earth below. You’re kidding–this is meant to challenge my focus and footwork while maintaining balance? Try this–meant to recapture my abandoned focus while summoning my dissolving sanity.

I love going first. You name it–first in line at Home Depot–first to give a speech–first to hand in the most difficult English exam–I love first. In this case, my anxious ascent up the ladder to be the first created a logjam. Halfway across the bridge, my enthusiasm turned to terror, as I inched–not stepped–forward. Behind me, the others on the leadership team, chomping at the bit get going. Some team.

I took Pasha Lutnik from the Roll Call Trilogy to my memories of the earthquake bridge. Little did I know, she was about to cancel out my fear with her no fear and creativity. Even though it wasn’t me that conquered my recent fear of heights–Pasha was the next best thing. After all, she was my creation.

Avery DeTornada from Roll Call describes Pasha’s zips: “Zip cords have replaced taxis, limos, cars and motorcycles in the City of Reichel. Since the government failed in its most recent attempt to provide transportation, Pasha stepped in. She figured with a little careful planning that a brain surgeon should be able to lay out a spider web of cable routes for city transport. Most of us carry registered hook-ups on the backs of our uniforms that allow us zip transport through the laser scanning of an invisible number on our right knuckles. There are no VATs, visual-audio trails, tracking conversations or actions when we ride the web of cords all over the city. It is far too difficult to bug a zip.”

If you travel with Pasha on her roll call journey you will find she is a character to love, laugh at, and frequently becomes an irritation. Pasha’s creation of the zips that traverse the skies and building tops of Reichel increase her character depth, showing her scientific ingenuity and her willingness to risk. I should add that part of that willingness to risk comes from the narcissism that is constantly whispering in her ear.

In the Roll Call Trilogy, settings become characters too! Imagine–there’s been an apocalypse that’s severed half the country, so what’s left of the country looks different–bizarre at times. So, if you’re not afraid to travel Pasha’s zips, it might be your best way to slip through the city without notice.

As the final pages of Roll Call unfold, the thriller climax combines the quirky character of Pasha and her unmistakable mark on the zips. The reader envisions the dangerous images of the cable network, seeing the personification of the sky-highway as a protector for Avery DeTornada and her comrades.

Juxtaposing what is happening above on the zips with the plot twists occurring below–suspense grows like my hour of hell on the earthquake bridge. So, alas, I must say thank you for my terrifying experience at the leadership event, which brought me absolutely no bonding but buried the idea of Pasha’s zips deep in my memory to bring them to my readers years later. As I tell my creative writing students frequently: Never waste a moment. Never waste a word. Hopefully, my readers will feel the thrill and the terror of hooking up to those zips with their favorite characters!

Join me next time…in a cartwheel for Kirkus!

About Gwen Mansfield

Gwen Mansfield loves words, and the thought of a good story sends ideas capering through her mind until they sift into characters, settings, and plots. Roll Call, Book #2 in the Roll Call Trilogy debuted as Gwen’s first post-apocalyptic, sci-fi survival thriller, and the surprises she found on the pages made it impossible to say goodbye to Avery DeTornada and her comrades. So—Welcome Book #2, Inside The Third and Book #3, Reluctant Warriors. Characters drive the creative process of Gwen’ writing. She says, “I can’t escape the quirky characters who romp through the pages of my stories—I guess ‘cause I’ve had so many of them in my own life. Almost every week I discover someone whose idiosyncrasies are a trigger to a character in a still-to-be-written story. And then, there are those people who wander through my life on a regular basis. Through the eyes of others, they may seem quite ordinary, but the influence they’ve had on my life is extraordinary. They too are the catalysts my books are made of. My kids always say, ‘If you stick around long enough, you’ll end up as a character in one of my mom’s books.’” Author of the Roll Call Trilogy, the novel Experiment Station Road, the stage play Grace Diner, and the musical Resistance! (based on the book Tales of the Resistance by David and Karen Mains)—Gwen Mansfield continues to bring the creation of new worlds to her latest release, Reluctant Warriors, Book #3. Gwen is an early recipient of the New Harmony Project, finalist in Reverie Productions’ Next Generation of Playwriting Contest, and a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Historical Fiction. She holds a BA in Theatre from Seattle Pacific University, an MA in Theatre Production from Central Washington University, and an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction from University of New Orleans. She lives in the forests of Washington with her family. “Maybe it’s only in my dreams that I’ve descended into post-apocalyptic danger, run from dystopian challengers, chased threatening asteroids, and climbed into a romantic relationship with my soulmate—but for my readers—I launch it on the page!”—Gwen Mansfield View all posts by Gwen Mansfield

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