I’m often asked if the characters in my books are based on real people. The simple answer is yes and no. Martha is totally a younger me, except I don’t stumble across real dead bodies.
When I create a new character, I like to have an image in my head of what that person might look like. Sometimes I may actually know somebody who inspires that character, so I’ll think of their image when I write. With a clear picture in mind, I can then extrapolate how they might think or act in a given situation.
Here’s one example. The husband of a good friend is a retired sheriff’s deputy. At six feet tall with white hair and mustache, his was the image I had in my head when I created the character of LAPD Homicide Detective Arlo Beavers. However, the resemblance ends there. The fictional Arlo is somewhat of a ladies’ man, whereas my friend’s spouse is a devoted husband. I simply used my imagination to give Arlo different traits for the stories.
Martha’s best friend, Lucy Mondello, was inspired by my late sister-in-law: a tall, slender red-head who never went out without matching clothes and perfect makeup. She also peppered her speech with clichés and finger quote, just like Lucy. Although the fictional Lucy’s life is very different than the real life of the woman who inspired her, writing about Lucy makes me feel close to my sister-in-law, who was always a dear friend.
In Something’s Knot Kosher, I introduce a new character, Jazz Fletcher. I wanted him to be talented, attractive, successful and gay. The real person who immediately came to mind was a famous fashion icon and television personality, who embodies all the traits I was looking for in my new character. I admire the man tremendously, and in real life I’d aspire to be his best friend. I wanted the reader to feel the same way about Jazz.
Other times, a character might be inspired by a certain type of person. We’ve all known people who like to gossip—I had one in my own neighborhood who used to patrol the streets every day looking for juicy information. Her behavior inspired the character of Martha’s neighbor, Sonia Spiegelman, a yenta and head of the Neighborhood Watch. In my stories, Sonia organizes a nighttime patrol called the Eyes of Encino. They keep a log of any unusual activity, much like the real gossip, who kept that information in her head.
The character of Crusher, aka Yossi Levy, was inspired by two learned rabbis I know, who have physical characteristics similar to Crusher’s. Although it was fun to imagine either of my rabbi friends riding a Harley, the fictional Yossi’s behavior, his job and his personality are made up strictly from my imagination.
And finally, I sometimes get secret satisfaction from creating villainous characters who are inspired by scoundrels I’ve known in real life. What I can’t do in actuality I can do through fiction: expose them or kill them off.
I’m always looking for inspiration for characters and their names. On a recent trip, I visited Daisy, a tiny town in Northeast Washington state. Now don’t you think the name Daisy Washington is perfect for a character in one of my stories?
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