Working Lunches

Friday, May 15th, 2015

At a library event I spoke at this past summer, a woman said to me that she thoroughly enjoys Pete Thorsen and the other major characters of my books, but that the minor characters “really give your work color” (her words). Not all minor characters, of course, but the ones who play a significant role in the story. The “major-minor” characters if you will.

Are those characters purely a product of my imagination? I’d like to say yes, but I have a confession to make: many times the appearance and mannerisms of minor characters are modeled after real people. I have a half-dozen favorite lunch places and every day I go to one of them, mostly to take a break from my keyboard, but secondarily to observe people. The most interesting of my fellow diners sometimes find their way into my novels. I’ll give you two examples. I kept seeing this guy at one of the restaurants who was rail-thin, always wore outlandish clothes like a jacket festooned with cannabis leaves and ornate cowboy boots decorated with serpents and roses and toes so pointy he must have made every woman in the place envious. Topping it off was a shock of obviously dyed shaggy dark hair with a lavender streak on one side, hoop earrings in each ear, and a western style hat. After seeing him a dozen times, I asked and was told by a waitress that he was a local rock music impresario. This guy eventually made it into DECEIT as the Seattle real estate agent who feeds Pete information—not willingly, of course—and worshipped Jimi Hendrix like he was God.

A second example is a man I saw several times in another restaurant. He had a long thatch of unruly red hair pulled back in a ponytail and, regardless of season, wore long-sleeved plaid shirts with some shade of purple as the base color. He usually wore baggy camouflage pants held up by broad brown suspenders decorated by waterfowl taking flight. When I was designing a major-minor character for PAYBACK, he kept creeping into my mind. I slimmed him down a bit, tweaked another feature or two, and he slid into the part like a duck slides into water (no pun intended, of course).

So if you see me in a restaurant, don’t get the misguided impression that I like to eat. I’m really there working.