Friday, March 18, 2016

Everyone is Fair Game

Did you base any characters in your books off of friends or family?

by Paul D. Marks

Most of my characters are based on people I know or have known, or see or have seen in my various life adventures, at least in part. Those adventures can be anything from mundane daily life events like walking the dogs, going to the market or bookstore, to more exciting things, such as SCUBA diving and a hopefully once-in-a-lifetime experience like pulling a gun on the LAPD! They are also, of course, based on me and most of them have a part of me in them. It could be a big part or a little part, but since I know me better than I know anyone else there’s always some seepage by osmosis. Sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously.

Both my lead and secondary characters are based on people I’ve known through the years. And then there’s part of a name here or there, from people I’ve known. Bad guys are often based on people I, uh, don’t like... But to say that this character or that is based on me or so-and-so wouldn’t be accurate because for the most part they’re composites of people I know or have come across.

And some of them are simply based on observations of people I see here or there. For example, I was in the original Barney’s Beanery (click the link for Barney’s to read a history of it, it’s pretty interesting:, a famous LA dive and two guys were playing pool, got into a fight. Beer flying. Pool cues cracking. It ended up as a scene in something I was working on.

My latest story, Nature of the Beast, up at David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp (, is a noir story about a
hitman with a heart of lead. Now, I’m not saying I do or don’t know any hitmen. But either way, the character of hitman Jack Lake is based on the experiences and world outlooks of people I’ve known over the years, as well as on parts of my own experiences (and no, I’m not a hitman). We extrapolate traits, characteristics and motivations for characters from our own lives or the lives of people we’ve known or have come across, even if the characters are different in some ways from the real people. So you can take character traits from anyone and insert them into any character that they’ll work for. I may not know any hitmen, but I know some hard people and so their traits make it into Jack.

Everything and everyone is fair game. Writers observe and borrow from everything – people watching in the airport, making up stories in our heads about who they are and what they’re doing. Or sometimes a friend does something or tells us about an experience in their life that we find compelling, which we “borrow” for a story. Often they’ll be very loosely based on something we’ve heard or read about. For example a friend might have gone through an unpleasant divorce and told you about it, but in your story you embellish so one of the divorcing couple plots to murder the other, whereas in real life the unpleasantness might have only been in arguing over who gets to keep the dog. So watch what you say or do in front of a writer, you might just end up in their next book….

And now for the usual BSP: Check out David Cranmer's interview with me at:

And check out my article on Vortex and the Green Absinthe Fairy at Mystery Playground's Drinks with Reads:

Anthony voters please consider my short story, "My Enemies Have Sweet Voices", from Down & Out Books’ anthology Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea, for Best Short Story.

And please consider Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea for Best Anthology.


Jack Getze said...

Barney's Beanery is my ultimate LA insider's spot. Back in the 1980s, you'd have some famous actor on one side of you at the bar and a Hell's Angel on the other. Took my wife there on our second date, she put a quarter on (what used be?) the center pool table and ran 9 guys off the table playing 8-ball. "You didn't tell me you could play pool," i said. "My parents had a table in the basement," Barb told me.

GBPool said...

I used some of my dad's exploits in my three spy novels. He wasn't a spy per se, but Air Force pilots were the wings of the CIA and my dad was a pilot. The fact he brought me back sugar cane from one of those trips made its way into the part of the book where his character goes to Cuba right before the Bay of Pigs. Yeah, Paul, I use real people and places. It makes fiction fun.

Paul D. Marks said...

Hey, Jack, your wife sounds like the perfect denizen of Barney’s. That’s a great story. And love the image of the famous actor on one side and Hell’s Angel on the other. That’s Barney’s.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Gayle. That’s cool about your dad’s exploits and how you’ve used them. Maybe some day you can write a book about him, whether fictionalized or non-fiction.

Ellen Byron said...

Totally relate. And you really capture the fascinating aspects of L.A.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Ellen!