Roadside signs have been great sources of names for characters in my books. Many of these signs have been along freeways, bearing names of two nearby cities or towns. A surprising number are reasonable people-names, often with just that little twist that makes a character stand out. I scribble them onto a page in my pocket notebook, and wait for characters to claim them.
Some years back, on my way from Malice Domestic to the Mystery Lovers Bookstore Festival in Oakmont, PA, I noticed a sign telling me I was approaching Irwin McKeesport. It took a while, but Irwin finally made the jump into fiction as "Iggy the Key," a locksmith and detective's sidekick in my current project, A PERILOUS CONCEPTION (due out from Poisoned Pen Press this coming December). Can you picture him?
The second sign that launched a character in STB was a faded painted ad, I'd guess from the 1930s, on a brick building beside the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle. It advertised a meat company named LoPriore Brothers. The villain in STB was the nastiest person I've ever characterized, and right off, Vincent LoPriore struck me as the perfect name for him. It just seemed to ooze menace. So imagine my surprise one day, after the book came out, when I opened my email and saw a message in my inbox from Vincent LoPriore. I could not bring myself to open it for over an hour, and when I did, I found it was from a man by that name who lived in Pennsylvania. He asked where I'd gotten his name from, so I explained, and told him I hadn't imagined there was anyone anywhere in real life named Vincent LoPriore. Fortunately, he thought it was funny, and said he kinda liked being the bad guy in a murder mystery. So I sent him a signed book, and that was that. Just in case you think you've ever got all bases covered.