Tribute to That Man in the Red Shirt

Today I decided to write a bit about one of my favorites of the characters I’ve created.  In some ways, he’s the least important–but only because he’s written to be that way.

Richard Samuel Jones is one of my earliest, longest enduring and certainly most suffering characters.

It began when I wrote Star Trek fanfiction.  For those not familiar with Star Trek, there’s a concept among Trek fans of a redshirt.  You see, the redshirts are the men who beam down to the planet with Captain Kirk and don’t come back.  It’s very typical on the original series for Kirk, several regular characters, and one or two crewmembers no one has seen before to beam into a dangerous situation.  Three guesses which one is going to get killed.  Both according to legend and according to statistics, the man who gets killed will most often be wearing red.  (This actually makes sense–security guards aboard the Enterprise wear red uniforms, and it’s logical to bring them into dangerous situations.)

In my Star Trek stories, Jones was my redshirt.  I never killed him off (because that would end the story) but whenever I needed something dreadful to happen, it would happen to Jones.  That sounds awful, but it might help to note that I don’t write bloody stories.  So usually Jones would end up attacked by carnivorous plants, or swept away in a flood of orange juice when the food replicators malfunctioned, or turned invisible when chemical beakers fell on him.

Jones is the quintessential redshirt.  He’s nondescript in every physical appearance.  He’s clumsy, hapless, and prone to accidents, of course, as well as nervous and beset by large numbers of phobias.  He is eternally well-meaning, and, though pessimistic in the moment, generally optimistic in his larger world-view.

His full name is Richard Samuel Jones.  Jones because it’s the nondescript, common sort of name you’d expect a redshirt to have.  Richard Samuel because R. S. can also abbreviate to Red Shirt, and because Sam Jones (which he goes by) is another very nondescript and common name.  Obviously I over-thought this!

I put a lot of Star Trek stories up on Fanfiction.net, and Jones actually became quite popular with my readers.  I think the haplessness was endearing.  I got attached to him too.  So when I went on to write non-Trek stories, I decided to take Jones with me–he is, after all, an original character.  He stopped being a security guard aboard the Enterprise, and simply became a nondescript, hapless, well-meaning man, usually in a red shirt, who turns up with at least a cameo in all of my major writing projects.

So far, Jones has been chased by a swarm of angry rabbits near Port Royal, Jamaica for my Pirates of the Caribbean novel (it was an odd story).  He has also been a scene changer at the Paris Opera; he went with a mob below the Opera and fell into the Phantom’s torture chamber, but was pulled out unharmed.  He’s also been a pirate during the Golden Age of Piracy, sailing with Captain Red Ballantyne aboard the Ocean Rose for my original pirate novel.  Most recently, Jones has been working at the Nightingale, an inn in the magical country of Perrelda.

Sometimes when I look at my stories, I feel like they’re all really the same story, in that they all have the same themes, whether I intended it or not.  Freedom comes up a lot.  So does chasing dreams.  The People the Fairies Forget is largely about realizing that everyone, even those people in the corners of the story who are rarely paid attention to, has a story to tell too.  But I think that’s been Jones’ message all along.

So this post is for Richard Samuel Jones.  And for all those men who beamed down with Captain Kirk, and had the misfortune to not be wearing blue.

3 thoughts on “Tribute to That Man in the Red Shirt

  1. Diane

    Thank you for the back story on R. S. Jones. I love it! So he’s kind of in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock, the director who used to make a cameo appearance in each movie he made. Since you can’t insert yourself into each story you write, you have Jones make a cameo appearance. Very clever.

    1. I hadn’t compared it to Hitchcock, but in a way it is similar! I do like to think of Jones as sort of an inside thing for people who’ve read a lot of my stories. I think what may have given me the idea was noticing that Gordon Korman liked to use the name Gavin Gunhold repeatedly in completely unrelated novels and with no connection to each other. A fun thing for readers of multiple books to notice.

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