It’s Probably Not You

You might recall that, in my last post, I said this:

Someone asked if there were things I worried about with my book. And, yes, there definitely are. Some are, I think, pretty universal artist concerns. I also had two specific worries that, whilst not unique to me, are less universal. You see, my book has bracing quantities of swearing and has characters with names that you might think are yours. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first. There will be another post for the other later on.

Well, today is “later on,” so I’m here to talk about names. Or, to keep it not-too-long, character names in Peace Fire. This is one of those that I hope everybody who has ever known me reads, because I’d like to not have to say a million times that, no, that character isn’t named after the person you think.

A toddler furiously reads a bookYou can probably just relax whilst you read

Even before I had a band, back in the murky reaches of my teen years, I started pulling together the ideas that would become Peace Fire. That process is a whole other post, but I’m trying to lay out a timeline, so it’s worth mentioning.

The year before I actually did form a band, I sat down and wrote out the roughest of rough drafts. It read something like the version you’d get if you didn’t care about spoilers and asked me to tell you the story on a lunch break. I did this in spite of being pretty sure I would never manage to follow through and write it out as an actual book.

Spock pets a black cat and raises an eyebrow to indicate that you are talking rubbishI know , Spock…I know…I was ridiculous…

One of the things on which I spent huge amounts of time was character names. I think names are really important, and I find it a painstaking task to choose a name for anything I care about. I wanted to find names that both fit the character and that would spare me from false accusations that I’d named a character after someone I knew. Fortunately for me, there were appropriate names for all the main characters, some of them appropriately common enough names to not make this a ridiculous affair, that fit both criteria. Hurrah!

In fact, in that initial draft, in the section with notes for another story that might happen in the same universe, there was only one name that was a purposeful “naming after.” But she isn’t in this book. (Don’t worry, curious kittens, I’ll say more about that below.) Though, for the record, the outlines for the ideas that became the next two books in the series were done enough that I can probably just post this or point to this for them too. And, if some new character pops up when I do my next drafts, because I already have one draft of book 2 and the outline of book 3…And if I happen to grab the name of someone I know for that character…Well, chances are good that I’ll drop you a note, like I did for the other people who I can still find whose names I stole. If it’s about you, you’ll know.

Now, fast-forward to 2015. Years after that initial work I did. I picked up my notes and my bits of scenes…and I realized that I now definitely had been social with some people whose names were like my characters’ names. In fact, for reasons there’s no need to go into, I felt pretty sure that certain groups of people would be positive I’d named particular characters after people in those groups. Oh, the drama! And I really hate drama.

And I really felt (and still feel) sure that those people wouldn’t believe me when I told them that those characters weren’t named for them. Ugh.

My initial instinct was to do a massive re-naming. I spent a whole day trying to do that for just one character. And then slapped myself. I know the truth; all I can do is tell it. In the end, I decided that it would be ridiculous to undo the careful work I’d done.

Drawing of an angel holding a man's hands. Text on picture: And the angel said to him, "Stop hitting yourself!" But he could not stop, for the angel was hitting him with his own hands.Dramatic recreation

So, instead of changing names, I’m writing this post. I’m pointing out the timeline. I’m trying to make it clear that, with the exception I’m going to list below, if you met me after I started making music, this definitely isn’t about you. If anything, naming the characters after people I know would have made it harder to stay true to the true characters of those characters. (Yeah, I know, that’s a bit of a tangled sentence.)

I did actually change one name. By some horrific consequence, there was a real-life parallel involving someone with a character’s name that was a little too spot-on. Even knowing better, I felt uncomfortable and felt sure the real-life person would see it as an attack.The character was…not unimportant, but not one of the absolute core crew, which made it easier.

Now, here’s the list of characters who are named after people I know, and notes enough that the people I know will know it’s them (even if I no longer know how to find them and send them a note to tell them I used their name):

Sarah! I actually have more than one amazing friend called Sarah. I’d kind of like to get you lot in a room together because I suspect just watching you talk all night would be magical. One of you actually met me post-band formation, but there’s no way you don’t know you are one of my inspirations. You are the exception to my “all namesakes are pre-band people,” and you bloody deserve the honour. I love you Sarahs so much.

Scott! But a particular Scott. And it’s your first name, not your last. Scott S. Scott with two Ts. Scott who used to dance with me every weekend. (At MachineWerks and other places…Oh, man, I miss those nights!) Scott who….well, a lot of things. I thought you’d appreciate being a doctor and wouldn’t fuss over being a woman. I should also note that Scott is why I know how awesome it is to let someone else scrub out your wounds.

Me glaring over my shoulder at someone at a dance club. Pale skin, long dark hair, black makeup and clothesPortrait of the author as a dancing queen (aka me at MachineWerks)

Paul? Paul! This is one of two people I’m not still in touch with. And I might be remembering incorrectly. Basically, when I needed to name a bouncer, I immediately thought of a bouncer I really liked back in those days when I was always out with Scott. I am pretty sure he was called Paul. But, hey, MachineWerks bouncer on Saturday nights, with your shaved head and ready smile, you deserved to be name-checked this way. Even if I maybe got the name wrong…(Updated to add the ! version of his name and to note that Scott has confirmed my memory is not entirely faulty. Whee!)

Marleina! You won’t meet her in Peace Fire, but I don’t want to write this blog, which should cover all the books, and not mention Marleina. What you can’t see is the way my eyes become hearts when I think of Marleina. Sadly, she is also one of the people I lost touch with. But you’ll know if you’re her, because you would have lived in the same building with me on Capitol Hill (you got me that flat, actually) and have danced with me at MachineWerks. (I guess there’s a theme here, isn’t there?) I’m glad we were friends enough that I got to call you Mina, and I hope you read my books and wonder if it’s about you. (It is! Though you are way cooler than the character. I just didn’t figure I could describe her like you and have people not consider it way too fictional to even include in fiction.)

And if you’re a friend who wonders why your name didn’t show up or why I won’t let you claim that the character is named for you…Don’t fret, my pet. You don’t need that to happen to be a loved or worthwhile person. Plus, how will you feel when that character I named after you dies or worse? Trust me; I’ve seen some really uncomfortable moments caused by well-intentioned authors naming characters for family or friends.

(And if you’re someone who wants to argue and accuse me of lying, please send those notes to Heh!)

Being reclusive decreases the number of people I know well enough that they might actually think a character is named after them, but it looks like I haven’t been consistently reclusive enough. I’ll try harder 😉

Peace Fire cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape
Peace Fire is out 11 October!
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