Have you heard about the charity auctions where an author agrees to name a character after a person chosen by the highest bidder? It’s a delightful way to raise money for good causes, and fans enjoy discovering what the author has in store for them, whether they get to be an unfortunate victim or make a Hitchcock-style cameo.
I’m not yet famous enough to be asked to participate in such an event, which is fine, because I fear that the moment I was asked to assign a fictional persona to an actual – well, person – I would freeze up and be unable to think of a single creative attribute. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my characters sort of just tumble into being, showing up at the edges of my conscious mind and begging to be included. Linking them to actual people would be…well…horrendously awkward for me, because it would require me to leave the stream-of-consciousness mode in which I do most of my writing, and acknowledge that I spend much of my time in a hazy imagination sandbox, waiting for stuff to happen. Which is to say, I have serious doubts about whether I’m my own puppet-master. I’m more like the receiver – I’m picturing a 1960’s era model, a giant, clunky device that just sort of sits there waiting for lightning to strike and turn into words on a page.
The day that a fan asks me to insert their fictional namesake into a story, I’ll be beset with all kinds of anxiety – just who is this meta-person? How can I conjure him or her? And will I cause offense? Make him/her too clumsy/not credible/one-dimensional? Will my humor fall flat, my suspense fizzle, my best intentions evaporate in the harsh light of day?
I’m the first to admit that most of my characters are composites of the real and the fantastical. My young adults draw very strongly on the young people that live in or visit my house; my bad guys owe a debt to every jerk who ever pissed me off. My heros are a blush-inducing reflection of the men I admire and my heroines are my friends, all glommed together and rolled out like dough and cut into people-shapes.
Still…in the last year or so, I’ve found myself putting actual people into my books on more than one occasion. Well, their names, anyway – something about the character I’m building will remind me of someone and then suddenly it seems imperative that I use their name. It’s part homage, part an attempt to coax out the muse, part free-form play, but suddenly in the vast milling crowd of my characters one will pop up and holler “hey, pick me! Pick me!” and I’ll realize it’s someone I already know.
First there was the bad guy in my young adult series. Bryce Safian is just deliciously evil, a real monster (although he does have his redemptive moment at the end), but I named him after my dear old friend Roger Safian. Roger and I worked together from 1990 to 1995. He was the overseer of the computer labs where I worked, one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met, and a technology zealot. He was the first person I ever knew to own a DVD, for instance, back when they were like ten-pound pizzas. Anyway, Roger had a deliciously wicked way of raising one eyebrow and grinning – he looked like Puck mixed with Satan. So when I needed a mad, evil scientist – well, there was no other choice!
Then one day I was writing the girlfriend for a 1970s San Francisco homicide inspector. I knew she had strong convictions, was more beautiful and impassioned than reasonable, and was equal parts provocative and petulant. I also envisioned her as a redhead. Well, who should pop into my head, but Vicki Pettersson. If you’re not already familiar with Vicki, she is the author of the Signs of The Zodiac urban fantasy series. I don’t even know Vicki that well (we met during a wonderful Romantic Times weekend that – for me, anyway – alternated between hyper-caffeinated and pleasantly debauched) but I just *knew* that, with her extravagant red hair, she was exactly the woman that Inspector Yar Sanregret would have fallen hard for and then kicked himself forever for letting her go.
And then….just a week or two ago, I was working away on the final chapters of my work in progress, wrapping up loose ends, closing plot windows, when I got the word that our dear Jen would be leaving MurderSheWrites come the new year. Jen had good, logical reasons for making the change…but I am the woman who hates change, who clings to the familiar and the comfortable, who mourns every loss, big and small. After two years (really??!!) on MurderSheWrites I still feel lucky to be here and every kindness from every one of my peers seems memorable. And Jen was not only kind to me, she was the kind of thoughtful that notices small details and takes the time to encourage and appreciate.
There, in the midst of my scene, Jen suddenly sprang to life…as Nurse Apodaca,world-weary World War II volunteer, caregiver of an injured and psycichally wounded young woman. In this case it wasn’t a physical resemblance (my nurse is craggy and long in the tooth, and our Jen is pretty damn foxy!) but rather her wisdom and kindness.
I’m sure didn’t do you justice, Jen, but I appreciate the inspiration nonetheless!
So…here’s my question for all of you guys. If you could be a character in a book, would you want to be heroine, bad guy, or victim? I’ll give away a $15 Amazon gift certificate to a random commenter – perhaps you can use it to round out your Apodaca collection!