The Characters I Know

When friends read Snoop, they ask, “You’re writing about real people, aren’t you?” The question comes from the fact that once in a while to pay tribute to the people I love or who have been influential in my life, I use a real surname.  For one character I used the name Sue Marvin.  The character is a great cook so I blended the names of two of my chef-caliber friends, Sue Kerecman and Becky Marvin. But initially, my answer to the question was, “No.” I told them that part of the fun of writing fiction is that it is fictitious.  I get to play God and create.

But if I am to be totally honest–and the real truth is always blurred for people who make up stories in their heads–I would have to say that I do include real people in my books.  There’s no doubt that Aggie is a blend of many older women in my growing-up days in a small town. But she’s probably most accurately my friend Karen’s Grandma Lang. Karen grew up with her grandmother in her house; thus, we all grew up with Grandma Lang’s love of gossip and visits to the dead.  You see, the funeral home was just across the street from my house and just down the street from Karen’s.  Grandma Lang paid frequent visits to see how the people were “laid out.” She would then report back to friends and neighbors. When I created the main character’s old babysitter and dear friend Aggie, I didn’t think, “I’m going to write about Grandma Lang,” but I did think of colorful characters that dotted my life. In the back of my mind was a woman who loved tabloids and funeral homes. Grandma was that person.

In Snoop and my second book, I created best friends.  One of the characters is Lacy, a friend of Sam’s from summers in Cotter’s Corner. Sam is loyal, kind, and constant.  Again, I did it with no conscious intent to draw from a real life person, but my friend Karen fits the bill in the descriptors of Lacy. She taught me early on that there are friends so courageous and good that they’ll stick with you  through thick and thin. I’ve been lucky to have many more close friends in my adult life that also fit the Lacy mold, but it all started with Karen. Again, without my intending to have it be so, art imitated life.

In both Snoop and my next book Murder on Cinnamon Street (Watch for it from Cozy Cat Press), I created college roommates who are also best friends of the main character. In Snoop, the roommate is Rose, a Mormon from Utah, and in Murder on Cinnamon Street, the roommate is Suzi from Chicago. These two women are very different yet their similarities are loyalty, intelligence, and fairness. I’ve told everyone that Rose is an intentional homage to my cousin Kim, the sweetest, best person I know–and a Mormon.  The college roommate Suzi is actually my own college roommate Suzi Stobbelaar. We shared a room at Western Michigan University for four years, the first six months of which were occupied by my wallowing because I hadn’t been allowed to go to The University of Michigan as I’d dreamed. The last three-and-a-half years were punctuated by my gratitude that I hadn’t gone to Michigan. I would have missed Suzi who changed my life in unimaginable ways.

Fortunately, I didn’t know murderers as heinous as those in Snoop or Murder on Cinnamon Street, but I did have a Charley Cotter, the boy with whom Sam Hayes has been in love ever since she trailed after the three-years-older boy.  In Murder on Cinnamon Street, E also loves a three-years-older boy.  This is no accident  You see, I was in love forever with a three-years-older boy and trailed after him for a long time. His last name is Fox, just like my last name. Coincidence? Not one little bit. The men in my romantic twists are always based on my husband Bill Fox who has, for over forty years, done a masterful job of making fantasy meet reality.

I am not so quick now to disavow my characters’ connections to real life. I am,however, quick to appreciate that I’ve had colorful, unforgettable people stamp indelible memories in my writer’s mind.  Once in a while, I even  let those memories come back to life, through fiction.

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