My Two Favorite Wild Card Characters

(That I Didn’t Create)

by Stephen Leigh

I truly enjoy writing for the Wild Cards universe, as using characters other people have created (and using them in a manner that their creators intended) is part and parcel of the process, and that’s something that stretches the writing muscles. We’re required to send sections where we use someone else’s character to their creator and obtain their approval of how we’ve made their characters speak and act before we can call a story complete. It’s part of the (lengthy) revision process in the Wild Card universe.

But for me personally, the real kick is when I’m using another person’s character regularly and in close collaboration with her/his creator.  That’s happened to me twice over the course of the series: once in the ‘old’ original series, and once in the ‘new’ iteration of the series.

For the old series, where I was using Gregg Hartmann (aka “Puppetman”) frequently, I found myself often having to use Dr. Tachyon (aka Tisianne, prince of House Ilkazam on the planet Takis) in my scenes — and thus had to work closely with Melinda Snodgrass, Tachy’s creator, to get things right.


Mind you, I’m not anywhere close to alone in thinking Tachyon was one of the most compelling characters in the original series. It was Tachyon whose appearance propelled the events of the very first book, Tachyon who became the iconic figure within the alternate universe we created, Tachyon whose alien and huge presence was in the foreground of most of those books. In Dr. Tachyon, Melinda created a complex, full-fleshed, and sometime contradictory character, full of heroism, failures, and flaws that made him… well, extraordinarly human. Tachy was a fan favorite from the start, and remained so, justly. Melinda’s Tachyon stories were the highlights of many of the first ten books, from “Degradation Rites” in Book 1 to Melinda’s wonderful solo novel Double Solitaire, which was the 10th book of the series.  Along the way, Tachyon dealt with the alien Swarm, the Astronomer, founded and ran the Jokertown Clinic, went on a world tour with several other aces, met his grandson Blaise Andrieux.

My character Gregg Hartmann, as a senator and powerful political figure, would be required to engage with Tachyon frequently over the course of the initial series, and it would be Tachyon who eventually realized that Hartmann was also the vile Puppetman. Melinda used Hartmann in her stories where needed; I used Tachyon in mine in one scene or another nearly every time.


For me, the zenith of that process was in the full mosaic novel Ace In The Hole, where Hartmann lost his chance to become the Democratic nominee for president, and most specifically in the scene on Saturday where Tachyon and Hartmann have a face-to-face confrontation in his hotel room.  That conversation was pivotal for the character arc of both of Hartmann and Tachyon, and Melinda and I had a long phone conversation where we literally role-played the conversation together, Melinda playing Tachyon and me Hartmann, back and forth, making notes and occasional changes, until we both felt we had the scene down as it needed to be played. (Yes, this was pre-internet days; now we could use messaging to accomplish the same thing.)

I ended up ‘writing’ the scene from Hartmann’s POV, but really it was a complete and true collaboration, and Tachyon’s words are Melinda’s, not mine: a true two-person collaboration.

I was disappointed when Tachy returned to his hom eworld after the Rox War with Bloat, as that ended Tachyon’s presence in the books.  I understand Melinda’s decision to close out Tachyon’s character arc, but some portion of the sunlight in the books faded without his commanding presence.


When the series ‘re-booted’ with Inside Straight and the American Hero reality television show, the cast of characters was largely new and unknown.  One that immediately struck me as interesting and different was Wally Gunderson, more casually known as “Rustbelt” or “Rusty”, Ian Tregillis’ creation: a naïve, unsophisticated joker/ace from Mountain Iron, Minnesota whose favorite exclamation seemed to be “Cripes!”  Rusty was a lovable but not spectacularly bright character, yet he had enough compassion and homespun wisdom and honesty for three people.  I loved the way Ian wrote the character, who was nearly the polar opposite of my own character, Michael Vogali (aka “Drummer Boy” or “DB”), who was, to be honest, an egotistical and immature asshole of a musician.


Rusty and DB were thrown together by the events at the end of Inside Straight, and I enjoyed the interplay between the two characters, who couldn’t be more different, enough so that when it came time to pitch for the next book, Busted Flush, I asked Ian if I could borrow Rusty as a foil and companion for DB in my own story in that volume.  Ian very kindly said yes.

But thereal treasure of Rusty for me would come in the third volume, Suicide Kings, and it wouldn’t involve DB at all but Gardener, another of the ace characters I’d created for the new series. Suicide Kings would be another full mosaic, and both Ian and I were writing for it — Ian writing Rusty, of course, and me writing Gardener — and our Rustbelt and Gardener stories were intertwined as one of the main ‘threads’ of the plot. This involved (again) a close collaboration between and Ian and myself and a great deal of emailing back and forth as we were writing the scenes in each of our POV stories, and this was again one of the times that I will always treasure in writing for Wild Cards.

I love Rusty in this sequence: I love the humanity and sensitivity and pure empathy that Ian brought to the character, because that’s what made everything work. Our two stories grew together in that book to become one larger story that I feel ended up being greater than the sum of its parts. Rustbelt and Gardener slowly fell in love with each other, and Rusty would adopt a child in the dangerous joker-ace Ghost. I love that book, and that’s mostly because of Rusty (who very deservedly got the cover!)

So far, Ian has written three Rustbelt stories:  “The Tin Man’s Lament” in Inside Straight; the Rusty POV sections in Suicide Kings; and “No Parking…” in Lowball. I’ve enjoyed each of those stories, and want more! I love Rusty, and I hope Ian will find time for another Rusty story or three in future books.