May 19, 2010

Often, maybe not always, names of your characters have wonderful meaning. I laughed when Mark Ahriman showed up in FALSE MEMORY–”the Mark of Satan.” In VELOCITY, the doctor who wants to let Barbara die is Jordan Ferrier–Jordan the river between life and death, and a ferry driver takes the dead to the other side. Valis in that book–doesn’t he refer to the Vast Active Living Intelligence System in Philip K. Dick’s novel Valis? And the guy named himself Valis. What an ego! But the lead characters’ names in VELOCITY: Billy Wiles, Barbara Mandell. I don’t get those. Do they have meaningful references?–Tom, Iowa

Very meaningful. In real life, Barbara Mandell’s husband paid a lot of money at a Canine Companions for Independence fund-raising auction to have his wife’s name used in one of my novels. And at another auction for another charity, Billy Wiles’s wife paid a handsome sum to have his name used in a novel. They both ended up in VELOCITY. The names of characters are not always symbolic, but they are always important and need to ring true, and they have to resonate in a particular way in each story, supporting mood if nothing else. That’s why when people have won charity auctions to have their names in a book, they sometimes have to wait a couple of years until I find a story in which they will fit. As for Phil Dick: I knew him a little bit and admired his work a lot; Phil would have gotten a kick out of seeing Valis in VELOCITY. In FRANKENSTEIN: PRODIGAL SON, I got to use an anecdote about Chinese cuisine that Phil once told me over lunch. I remember his smile when he got to the punch line. He had a killer smile, though you seldom see a photograph of him that isn’t somber.

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