Recently a friend I have known since we were in college read my novel The Old Mermaid's Tale. She called me when she finished it and said, “I loved Pio! That was Tony (not his real name), wasn't it? I recognized him immediately.” Actually, it wasn't Tony—in fact I'd pretty much forgotten about Tony and, except for the fact that Pio in my story and Tony in real life are both Italian-Americans, they really bear no resemblance.
I say that because, while they bear no resemblance to me, they obviously did to her. This is a phenomenon that both baffles and pleases me in my readers. Very often I'll get an email or be talking to someone who tells me how much they loved a certain character—or hated—and they want to know who it was based on. Honestly, with very few exceptions, and all of those in my Marienstadt stories, I never base a character on a person I know.
Now, to be fair, I do sometimes find that I am creating a character who faces challenges similar to those faced by someone I know or who has personality quirks. When I created Miles Wainwright, the honest, loyal fisherman in Depraved Heart, I thought a lot about my dear friend Mark (it wasn't until much later that I realized they had the same initials.) But I do try to keep my characters original.
Often, when I am developing a character, I will cruise the internet looking for pictures of people who appear similar to what I have in mind. When I started work on The Crazy Old Lady's Secret I was obsessed with a new character named Ramin Aria. He is an Arab who grew up in Paris and is now a very wealthy art dealer. He's also mysterious and sexy. As a young man he boxed and has a scar across his nose and under one eye. I found a photo that was nearly perfect—I added the scar and changed the color of his eyes and I kept the picture on my desktop while I was writing scenes with Ramin in them. I had no idea who the man was—it seemed as though someone had taken a photograph of the inside of my head and captured him nearly perfectly.
Later, quite by accident, I saw the photograph on an article about an actor named Joe Manganiello, who is actually Italian. I was thrilled and delighted when I found out he was from Pittsburgh (and refers to himself as a “Pittsburgher” on his Facebook page) and even more delighted when I saw a couple pictures of him wearing a Steelers jersey. I obviously have good taste in picking models.
One of the best parts of writing for me is slipping into my world and describing it, populating it, bringing it to life. It's almost impossible to describe how real and full that world is when I am in it. Rarely does my real life intrude on my fictive life. As a writer it is my goal to bring my readers into that world with words—to let them experience what I experience when I go there. Whether or not I succeed only the reader can say.
The Crazy Old Lady's Secret is nearing completion. I have the first draft done and am now going through the painstaking process of massaging the order of events into place—ever trying to tease, tempt and tantalize without giving too much away. Will readers recognize people they know when they read it? I just hope they recognize people they long to know.
Thanks for reading.