Sunday, September 28, 2014

Drawing from real life

By Kristi Belcamino

When BLESSED ARE THE DEAD first came out, several journalist friends contacted me and said they recognized the pesky reporter antagonist, May, as someone we knew mutually.

But they were wrong.

While May was loosely based on a reporter I knew (and let's be honest here, disliked and was never friends with), the character is more of a composite than a real portrayal of that grabby, sociopathic, backstabbing reporter—whoops, did all that slip out?—who now is doing quite well as an extremely successful reporter.

But I digress.

What I've found is that I do draw aspects of my characters from people I know in real life.

For instance, Gabriella Giovanni's best friend, Nicole, is a loose composite made up of parts of my real life beloved reporter friends, Claire Booth and Celeste Altus. But the majority of her character and personality comes from my imagination. She is a made-up person that has some cool traits from my close friends.

Readers say one of their favorite characters is the photographer, Chris Lopez, known as C-Lo. He is a bad ass photographer who saw some crazy stuff in Vietnam and lives and breathes journalism.

Although one of my favorite editors in the world is named Chris Lopez, he and my book's photog character are really nothing alike.

I've heard that people you know who read your books will see themselves in characters who are nothing like them and not see themselves in characters you've modeled after them. Does that make sense?

For instance, one author I know based a character upon his mother and then worried when he gave her the book to read. Her response? "I loved your book and boy was that mother awful!"

Go figure.

All this came up when a journalism friend wrote me to say she enjoyed BAD and asked about the characters and people we knew. I messaged her and told her she should know that book two has a character with a similar name to hers because I wanted to give the character a cool name and do a small wink/nod to her in doing so. I sent her the passage, a few paragraphs of the character with the similar name. But after I sent it and didn't immediately here from her, I freaked out because she is an awesome reporter and cool chick and I hoped she liked what I had done with the character who shared a similar name.

Thank God, she later wrote and said she was honored because that was my intent, to give a nod and wink to my friends and those I've worked with over the years. But what if she hadn't? Or what if someone thinks a character who is awful is based on them? Then what? Tricky stuff, huh?

Not to mention in August, I told my priest friend that an entire major character was based on him and I hoped it didn't get him in trouble with the Archbishop -- Thank God, he laughed and said not to worry and then started telling all his friends that he was in a book! Then, he had his nun friend read the book and find the parts with him in it. (Which was great until I realized the first two pages alone have 15 F-bombs in them. Sigh.)

Then, coincidentally, also today, I got an email from a dear friend of mine. She said I could share it here:

"Kristi:  thanks for our 15 minutes of fame!!!   I had to read real slow to make it last that long or I guess you can look at it that we will always and forever be characters in print.  When I read Canadian with spiky red hair i wondered and then knew for sure when her husband's name is Arnt and they come to surf every year.  Thanks for thinking of us.  Made us remember our first meeting with you two when you arrived in the little bug with the little tent and camped beside our big camp."

So, dear writer and reader friends, what are your thoughts on this?


Al Tucher said...

I'm reminded of something Hilary Davidson said at the recent Deadly Ink conference: The villain is the hero of his own story and that's why really horrible people never recognize themselves in fiction.

Kristi said...

That Hilary is one smart writer!