This past week I received a “save the date” for the wedding of one of my oldest/closest friends. Perhaps because I was just a bit excited to receive mail that wasn’t a credit card offer or Netflix, I didn’t notice the envelope had the wrong name on it. I was just about the pull the card out when I stopped, flipped the envelope back over, and stared for a good ten seconds.
It had been addressed to Helen by the name I had given her character in my novel series (technically it’s Helena Greene, but semantics.) I quickly raced over to the nearest internet capable device in our apartment and pulled up my sent email box, just to make sure I hadn’t actually written the wrong name when providing our contact information. I hadn’t. It was merely serendipity.
See, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had written Helen[a] Greene. I’m pretty upfront about the fact that the majority of the characters in my novel series are “inspired” by people I’ve known in my life (more on that below). I’m lucky I don’t get real names/characters names mixed up more often, to tell the truth. These days I spend far more time with my characters than I do with their real life counterparts. Except, ironically, Helen. And now a piece of mail had been addressed to her as her character and it felt like life was having a fun little joke with me.
There’s actually very little chance any of this name crossover will occur. The majority of the people who have characters in my first novel inspired by them probably haven’t read it. A good portion of those don’t even know a book exists. Which is fine, my writing isn’t commentary on my life, their lives, or the interactions between us. I say at the very beginning of each novel the truth, because I see no reason not to be honest:
While this book is a work of fiction, life always plays a large role in any work of art. Names, characters, and locations may be derived from actual persons and places. The reader is reminded this is a fictitious work, set in a fictitious world, filled with fictitious creatures. It’s not meant to be read as anything but such.
Now, to get on with it…
A real publisher would tell me I can’t say that. I would need the boilerplate disclosure everyone else uses for legal reasons. I have strong doubts it will ever come to that. I rationalize it to myself because I know just how deep (or not) the ties between characters and real people go. Helen (the person) and Helena (the character) share the same name (roughly) and same unmanageable hair, but the comparisons pretty much stop there. Yes, okay, they are both women, but my point is the real life Helen isn’t the heiress to one of the most renown family houses, who has to contend with a murderous and deranged aunt while trying to come to terms with the fact she will be the last of her family name. I’d also say she doesn’t practice black magic, but, I suppose I can’t rule it out yet…
That’s really how it goes for the majority. I choose people from my own life because, well, they’re fascinating. Do I make up some characters entirely? Certainly! Most of the “villains” are my own creations because I haven’t met a lot of people who would be worthy of such devious and despicable roles. I am a far better listener than a talker (then why do you write stories, they ask?) and even in my pretty short, sheltered life I’ve listened to a lot of them retell moments or voice opinions that are really (here’s that word again) inspiring.
Side note: most people who have read my first novel, The Tales of Jayrith, assume I am the basis for the title character. While that was true when I first plotted out this tale over a decade before, when I began to write in earnest three years ago I realized I couldn’t leave it that way (I am still, however, the “inspiration” for another character.) Jayrith and I do still share a few traits: Jay is introverted, willing to go along with just about anything, and can just as easily meet new people as he can drift away from them. What I came to understand though was that Jay was a vessel to carry the message of my writing and I needed to be the one who guided him, both as the writer and somewhat as a character. Still, given the option, I would probably go back and change his name to something less like mine (he even has the same initials, by geezum.)