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  • John Michael Gallagher

Where do names, faces and characteristics of characters in fiction books come from?

Have you ever wondered where characters come from in fiction books? Of course you have to a degree. That's the beauty of books. We get to use our imaginations and create our own mental pictures of how a character looks and acts. In the Devil's Work, the main character is Tommy MacDonald and his long term girl friend is Claire. Tommy MacDonald was one of my favorite Uncles. Claire was his wife. The only thing though that the characters in the book have in common with my Aunt and Uncle is their names.

As a child I hated Sunday afternoons almost as much as Sunday evenings. On Sunday afternoons my parents would load us all into the car for a ride in the country or to visit with relatives. Both of these activities were terminally boring for a boy between the age of 6 and 12. "Oh look how big you have grown and even more handsome", as they squeeze your cheeks and offer you macaroons and milk. There was one exception to the rule though and that was visiting my Aunt Claire and Uncle Tommy. He was actually my Dad's Uncle being his mother's brother. Their house was neat and decorated tastefully, albeit with a lot of race horse pictures. Uncle Tommy would instantly offer guests a high ball and ginger ale for the kids in high ball glasses. He would often be smoking a cigar, which back in the fifties wasn't considered offensive. The cigars he bought always came in glass tubes and he would give me his empty tubes and cigar boxes. I enjoy a good cigar especially at a horse race and I keep some of my collections in cigar boxes. When I purchase or receive a cigar as a gift that is packaged in a metal or glass tube, I have a hard time throwing it away and rarely do I light up a cigar or see a cigar box without thinking, fondly, of my Uncle Tommy.

My younger brother was named Tommy, after Uncle Tommy of course, and he would constantly say something like, "Look at T, he's a hot shot. Oh boy that T is a hot shot". Uncle Tommy was lively and fun. During the summer, for several summers, Uncle Tommy and Aunt Claire took me to the Jersey shore with them; Avalon to be precise. Since they never had children and it was the fifties, they let me out all day by myself. In the morning, Uncle Tommy would give me some money and Aunt Claire would remind me to be home to get ready for dinner by 4:00. I would then be free to roam the beach and bay area on my own all day long. What a gift. In the evening after dinner, we would go to Stone Harbor where they would treat me to ice cream and let me pick out a toy for tomorrow's adventures. One day when I was much older, I asked my Dad what Uncle Tommy did for a living and he laughed heartily telling me that Uncle Tommy was a booky. My Dad was responsible for getting my Uncle Tommy arrested once. He was sent by my Uncle to a nearby store to sharpen a bunch of pencils. Along the way a police officer stopped him and asked him why he had so many pencils. Kids never lie. He explained that his Uncle's guys needed the pencils to record bets. The police officer then followed my Dad back to the boiler room and arrested my Uncle.

I have two World War I pictures among my Dad's things and I know that one of them is of Uncle Tommy, but I don't remember which one. The picture to the right looks more like my Grandmother, but he could be the one on the left. The one on the left is closer to what I imagined Tommy MacDonald looked like when I was writing the book.

The picture I had in mind of Claire as I wrote the book did not look like my Aunt Claire at all. If you ask me I'll tell you (send me an email), but I won't mention it here and ruin it for those of you who don't want to be influenced. She was an actress in the fifties and sixties, and she very closely fit the description of Claire in The Devil's Work.

Another fun thing about characters is that we will often think of who we would cast in the part if the book were made into a movie. I am not sure who I would pick as Tommy MacDonald, but there is one actress who would be absolutely perfect as Claire. Again, I wouldn't want to spoil it for you, but if you ask I would share my thoughts with you, but more importantly, who would you cast? Again, the nice thing about books is that we get to decide. What do you think?

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