Character inspirations are weird things, and we writers find them in the oddest places. One of the important characters in All in the Half-Vampire Family, for example, came from a 70s song called "Arizona," which is about a hippy girl with long braids and moccasins. I used her as Eric's cousin. Another one of my characters, Dougal in Becoming Brigid, walked around in my head for a couple of years before I finally found a face to put with his personality, while Pepper/Brigid herself is totally fictional and is really just someone I pieced together in my mind.
But most of the time I have to "cast" people to "play" the roles of my characters. I might give the person a totally different personality but steal their looks and a mannerism or two. Those who know about this usually think it's funny. I tell them their alter ego is playing a role in my novel.
Ten years ago this summer, I took some courses at a summer literature program at the University of Edinburgh. My tutor (as the Scots call such folks; Americans would call them "professors" or merely "teachers") was a fabulous Cypriot named Charis, and I loved working with her. But there were several other tutors as well, and one of them found his way into my photo album (for such it truly was; I did not have a digital camera a decade ago). He was a young, jovial Irishman finishing his PhD at the uni, and I took two photos of him at the final party where he had put on a top hat and was carrying a cane while he sang and danced solo to a medley of songs from Oliver! where he had re-written the words to reflect his student poverty and his groveling for a summer job. It was hilarious, and I remember thinking he had an acting talent buried under that researcher's facade.
In 2003, I needed a face to go with the character of the mentor vampire for Eric in Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire. As Eric himself is such a very normal kid, I did not want the older, wiser vampire to be dark or brooding: no Dracula, nothing out of Anne Rice (thank heaven there was no Twilight in those days, but I certainly would NOT have wanted sparklies on him either). I wanted a cheery, anti-vampire to be the vampire. Searching through albums to find a face, I was delighted to remember Jim, the rosy-cheeked fellow singing and dancing his way through a funny memory of mine. Hence, Jim was "borrowed."
Not much of the man, really, for I barely knew him. But I borrowed his looks, his surname, his country of origin, and his joviality for the character of the kind-hearted Irish vampire, Patrick Kelly. Everything else I made up. I had to; I knew absolutely nothing else about the real man.
The first two drafts of Half-Vampire written, it was put aside as I moved to Scotland to do my master's degree in 2004. Imagine my surprise when I walked into Blackwell's Books on Nicholson Street one afternoon not long after I'd moved in and found Jim working there. After several trips and several more times of having him take my money and give me books in return, I finally got the guts to tell him I'd created a vampire based on him. He laughed loud enough it was nearly a distraction in the store.
I saw him every now and then as he lectured at the uni and I studied, but I rarely had conversations with him.
Over the years, I've thought of the fellow once in a while, usually after reworking a scene that contained his alter ego playing a role in one of my books. And over this past weekend, after I'd finished editing what would become the first proof copy of All in the Half-Vampire Family, wherein the character of Patrick is so crucial to Eric's development, on a whim, I did a yahoo search for Dr. Jim Kelly, the cheerful Irishman who gave me the inspiration for one of my favorite characters ever.
And I found him.
I must say, he has aged very well. Very well indeed. *blinks* Wow.
I am quite certain that this fellow never lacks for female attendees at his lectures. In fact, I'm willing to bet that his courses are strangely popular with undergrad ladies.
I'm also pleased to see that his career is going well, as I found him here. (Since this is a public webpage and this photo was meant to appear online, I feel no qualms about posting his photo on my blog, especially since I've said nothing but positive or neutral things about the man anyway.)
So now my readers know what "Patrick" looks like.
And, if I ever sell enough books to be even remotely impressive, I'm going to contact Dr. Kelly and send him copies of the Half-Vampire books. Chances are, he'll laugh. :)