Am I a Character in Your Book? by Maggie King
I’m frequently asked if my characters are based on real people: “Am I in your book?” “Is that woman like your mother?” For the most part, my answer is no. But, as my characters are a hodge-podge of the many “real” people I’ve known over the years, snippets of their experiences wind up on my pages. And it’s inevitable that someone will cry in delight—or displeasure—“That’s me! That’s me she’s writing about.”
I think people expect similarities between myself and Hazel Rose, the amateur sleuth of my debut mystery, Murder at the Book Group. Hazel, born and raised on the East coast, lived in Los Angeles for many years, toiling as a computer programmer. When her fourth husband went on a skiing trip with a sweet young thing and wrapped himself around a tree, he left Hazel well-fixed. That prompted Hazel to pack up and return to the East coast with her fortune and calico cat Shammy in tow. They settled in Richmond, Virginia with Hazel’s cousin Lucy and her cat, Daisy.
With no money worries, Hazel busies herself with volunteer work and eventually tries to pen a romance. But she’s stuck in a rut and can’t work her way out of it. Commitment-phobic after so many failed marriages, she’s in an on-again, off-again (mostly off-again) relationship with Vince, a retired cop.
When Carlene Arness is killed at a book group meeting, Hazel decides to ferret out the killer. She has high-minded ideas about seeking justice—and maybe solving this mystery will help Hazel get her groove back.
Like Hazel, I was born on the east coast, moved to Los Angeles in my twenties, and started my career as a mainframe programmer. Like Hazel, I had a calico named Shammy who did accompany me when I moved back east in 1996 and settled in Richmond, Virginia. Hazel and I share a commitment to the environment, we’re both frugal and unimpressed with the high life.
But Divorce and widowhood have not touched my life—I just celebrated 25 years with my one and only husband. I may get stuck in ruts, but not for long. And, alas, I don’t have Hazel’s “money green” eyes.
Nope, Hazel is not me.
But “real” people did find their way into Murder at the Book Group.
A case in point is a woman I used to see at a gym in Richmond. I never knew her name or even talked to her except to say “Hi.” She was partial to leopard prints and chartreuse. The last time I saw her she sashayed into the gym sporting chartreuse stiletto boots and a leopard cowgirl, platinum blonde curls cascading down her back. She became Kat Berenger in Murder at the Book Group. As a perk, I gave her a personal trainer job at the same gym.
Jeanette Thacker “reminds” me of a former co-worker. Jeanette doesn’t feel the need to censor her speech. However, her language was much saltier in earlier versions. My editor advised me to ditch the swear words. I contended that certain people swore liberally and I wanted to reflect realistic speaking styles. My editor maintained that Murder at the Book Group was a cozy and that cozy readers objected to swearing. She offered alternatives to convey swearing (“She swore a blue streak”), and included a short list of the okay swear words. If the real Jeanette reads my tome and recognizes herself I think she’ll be pleased but will probably wonder why she’s using words like “frigging.”
Another character is based on a woman with whom I once had an adversarial work relationship. I made her nasty as all get out. But I had a runaway word count and some severe editing was in order. Ms. Nasty got whittled down and, lo and behold, she became quite nice! I’m still scratching my head about that. Do other writers unwittingly transform their characters via literary nip n tuck? Or is writing a vehicle for forgiveness? Someone with savvy in the spiritual realm can weigh in on this question.
As for “A Not So Genteel Murder”, my contribution to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology— The setting, the Kent-Valentine House in downtown Richmond, was an actual place. And that’s where reality ends and make-believe starts. I have no idea how I came up with that cast of characters (and maybe it’s best if I keep it that way!).
Readers, have you ever “recognized” yourself or someone else in a book? What was it like? Were you pleased? Displeased?
Maggie King’s debut mystery, Murder at the Book Group, comes out December 30, 2014 from Simon and Schuster. She contributed the short story, “A Not So Genteel Murder,” to the Sisters in Crime anthology Virginia is for Mysteries. Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor.
Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive.