Are your characters based on people you know?

The first novel I wrote (which needs work), A Little Short, involves a month in my senior year of high school. My closest friends are the characters and the main character, Mac, is naturally based on me at that age…with a little of how I thought my genetic father, Mac McGenty, might have behaved. I discovered he has passed away and I never met him, only heard about him from my mother’s friends. The only way to bring him to life, I figured, was to create a character. I did not write the book to be published, but to exorcize a demon that to this day pisses me off. I also saw the novel as practice developing characters: pegging my friends. A few people have read the script and encouraged I get it published. We’ll see.

Mikael Mullcahy in Back to the Island is loosely based on Mac in A Little Short. Also, I have two half-sisters I’ve never met, and so I have created the characters Kate and Sara McGennity in light of that. I have no idea, of course, if they are anything like Kate and Sara, but I have hopes they read the book and contact me. Then, we’ll see.

Barney, the best man at my wedding, is a character in Back to the Island and will likely be a recurring character… in homage to him. He died prematurely over a decade ago, but was as a good a friend as anybody could have. I definitely feel he’s floatin around up there with my son, Christopher Jon, and my grandson, Deano, keeping me honest. I hope his character doesn’t piss him off…that could be dangerous. Peewee will also recur, it appears, as he is a character in both Back to the Island and Will, which I’m working on now. Peewee is based on a kid I met in 4th grade. He had flunked two grades and was twice as big as any of us. He gave me my first “defining moment” lesson, and I feel I owe him. The “lesson” is as it appears in Back to the Island.

When I was writing Back to the Island on Elbow Cay, I would notice young men around high school age frequently walking by, obviously not in school, friendly yet listless…thus those characters in the story. And then one day I had noticed one young lady post a poem, literally, on a post. I’m mad at myself that I didn’t write it down as it was gone when I went back. It had been quite simple, yet quaint. She was the inspiration for the character of Heidi. Then it struck me that the little poem reminded me of the magnificent writings of a past student of mine, Heidi Spurlin. When I was teaching, I produced a literary magazine each year, and many of the students had the artist’s touch, and Heidi’s writings, I thought, were exceptionally touching: simple yet poignant. It struck me “somewhere” in the back of my mind I must have associated that island girl with Heidi, especially since the name “Heidi” had come to me out of “somewhere.” The girl was diminutive, pretty, and, although appearing demure, demonstrated spirit in posting her poem. Heidi was similar and had missed a lot of school due to undisclosed, private reasons. I dug out the old literary magazines and, bingo, once again fell in love with her writing. It took a resourceful search to locate her but finally did and got her permission to use her writings. She had finally said she “Would be honored.” I am the honored one. Poetry doesn’t seem to be very mainstream these days, maybe because us average joneses don”t like to work too hard to get meaning out the words we read. I do believe even poetry UNenthusiasts will feel Heidi’s fever.