Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Real people--by request

by Carola

I had an interesting meeting at Art and the Vineyard (a local outdoor art & wine show) yesterday.

Several years ago, I was asked to give a character in my next book the name of the person who bid highest at an auction in aid of the Eugene Opera (disclosure: I'm a classical music fan but don't care for opera). The winning bid was $800, a woman who want her husband's name used. Turned out his name was Polish, which made for complications, but I got him into Valley of the Shadow, my 3rd Cornish mystery, as a WWII Polish refugee-- If you've read the book, you may have wondered where Skipper Tom Kulick came from! (I had asked about him and learned he was in the US Coast Guard).

Yesterday, the Kulicks came to the Oregon Authors booth to see me, They were very happy with the way I wrote Tom in, brought copies to be signed, and asked if I'd be willing to attend a lunch for 12 opera supporters for this year's fund-raising. I'm still not keen on opera, but what could I say? I'll do anything for a free lunch (well, almost anything...)
Hope they can find 12 people willing to pay to have lunch with me!

Similarly, someone once paid $500 at a library supporters auction to have me put her sister (deceased) in a book. I asked for information about her and discovered that she had played a brass instrument and loved brass band music. Her name seemed to me more American than English, so I wrote her character as an American visiting England on her honeymoon, in A Colourful Death, the second Cornish mystery.

Nick Gresham, the artist neighbour of my protagonist, Eleanor Trewynn, meets the young couple while listening to and sketching a band playing "Land of Hope and Glory," at Horse Guards' Parade in London. They commission him to paint a picture of the band. Returning to Cornwall, and finding himself chief suspect in a murder case, he keeps humming snatches of the tune as he works out ideas for his painting.

The sister of the bride--so to speak--was thrilled that I'd woven the love of brass music into the story.


The only other time I've done something like this was a whole family, whom I put for free into A Mourning Wedding, one of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries.  It turned out their last name, Walsdorf, is from Luxembourg. It was an interesting challenge to fit them into a book set in England in 1923.

I made them a family of poor relations, a refugee from World War I, when the Germans invaded Luxembourg, who had married an Englishwoman. Given the xenophobic feelings of many of the English at that period, they made a great addition to the cast of suspects!


Bill Kirton said...

I've never reached your giddy heights, Carola, but was fascinated to read how, rather than being a chore, giving a character the name of a real person actually opens up possibilities which might not otherwise have occurred. I don't just mean in the way that it suggests characteristics but, from what you say, it can add narrative layers too. The only drawback might be if the individual involved or his/her family expected you to use his actual characteristics. I've tried using real people as models for characters but it doesn't workj for me. They get in the way of the fictional character.

Jackie King said...

I loved reading about the real people who became characters in your novels. Each one was such an interesting story.