Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Playing The Name Game

Naming characters is not always easy. You never can be sure you've got it right.

In one of my earlier books, I'd slapped the moniker Dennis onto a character, and the howl out of my editor could have been heard in Zanzibar. "That's a very strong character," she snapped. "A Dennis would be a wimp." I'd never imagined Dennises as being at all wimpish, so I ran the matter past my wife. She shook her head. "I'd think of someone wishy-washy if I read 'Dennis,'" she said. I shrugged, and Dennis became Will, which satisfied both editor and wife.

The biggest snafu I ever got into over a character name came out of SCAMMING THE BIRDMAN, my second mystery novel, a caper. I'd seen a faded painted ad, probably from the '30s, on a brick building beside the Alaskan Way Viaduct here in Seattle. It advertised a meat company named LoPriore brothers. The villain in STB was definitely arch, the nastiest person I've ever invented. Right off, Vincent LoPriore struck me as the perfect name for him. It seemed to ooze menace.

So imagine my surprise one day, after the book came out, when I opened my email and in my inbox saw I had a message from Vincent LoPriore. I could not bring myself to open it until I'd finished dealing with all the other messages, and when I opened the scary email, I found it was from a man named, yes, Vincent LoPriore, who lived in Pennsylvania. Someone had seen a synopsis of my book on the web, and called it to his attention. He asked where I'd gotten the name from, so I told him, said I hoped he wouldn't be upset, and that I hadn't imagined there was any real person anywhere named Vincent LoPriore. Fortunately, he thought the whole thing was very funny, and said he liked being cast as the bad guy in a murder mystery. So I sent him a signed book, and that settled the matter.

Just in case you think you ever have all bases covered in this game.

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