Alfred Hitchcock was famous, among other things, for his cameo appearances in the films he directed. Cameos are, by definition, brief appearances in a work of the performing arts, and the people play themselves.
The topic of this blog is not quite cameo appearances, but it is akin, because I always write myself into my novels, usually as a sidekick or other minor figure. I’m guessing other writers – maybe all writers – do this, and I’d love to hear from you if you do.
In my contemporary DeMarco’s Café, for instance, the avant-garde sculptor Tina, who is a friend of the main character Dayna, is me, more or less. The ‘less’ part is that I based her artistic work on the real-life sculptor Nancy Rubins of Topanga Canyon, California. Some years ago I heard a talk by Nancy at Duke University. She was invited to campus by my good friend, Kristine Stiles. I absolutely adored her work. Here are some examples:
As you see, these sculptures are delirious concoctions of everyday objects such as mattresses, old rowboats and canoes, and small electrical appliances. The fictional Tina’s art is inspired by the real-life Nancy’s work. Otherwise, Tina is just me, a friend to Dayna and there for Dayna when Dayna needs her.
I also wrote myself into my historical And Heaven Too as the comic dramatist Harry Webster. The setting is England in 1639, the sunset of English Renaissance theaters, which were going to be closed by the Puritans in 1642. Almost every scene is staged as a play, or a play within a play, and so forth, so naturally I had to have a character who was a playwright. I made him a hack, one who wouldn’t recognize an original idea if he fell across it. I was playing around here, for my own amusement, with the idea of hackery, and who better than a romance writer knows what hack writing is? (Note: I am playing around with this idea ironically. Oh, you already got that?)
Needless to say, one of the scenes in And Heaven Too takes place in the Globe Theater.
I’m not sure what came over me, but for my upcoming contemporary Love After All (April 2016), I based the main character, Laurel Jennings, on me as the main character. It was the first time I’ve ever done that.
Of course, she’s not 100% me. She’s a Professor of English at NYU, and she lives in Greenwich Village. My field is linguistics, not literature, but I am a Professor in the English Department at Duke University.
So, she’s not me, but she’s close, and her character was not a stretch. She’s divorced, which I am not (my husband died), but she lives alone, as do I. She loves her research, does yoga, and likes to go out to eat with friends. If she thinks something, it’s usually because I’ve already thought of it or would think of it and, in fact, did think of it as I was writing the story.
Now the fun part was coming up with my hero, because if I don’t have a boyfriend of my own, I may as well invent one for my alter ego Laurel. I came up with Gino Milano. He’s lightly based on the famous New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer. Gino is less like Meyer than I am like Laurel, mostly because I don’t actually know the real-life Meyer. Most importantly, Meyer is happily married (or, at least, I assume he is, because he’s in a long-term marriage), and it was important to me that fictional Gino would be capable of being happily married. He was in a long-term happy marriage, but now he’s a widower.
I thought of the character Gino because some months before starting the story, I happened to read Meyer’s Setting the Table, which I really liked.
My blog post Centering Your Salt Shaker is based on an anecdote Meyer tells.
My two main characters, Laurel and Gino, are high-functioning New York City professionals in their mid-fifties. I wanted the story to unfold so that any time Laurel thought things were going well, Gino didn’t, and vice versa. They had to figure out what romantic love would be like and feel like at this stage in their lives.
You’ll have to read the story to see if they did figure it out, and if they did, how they did it. The how is always the most important part.
This post was written by Julie Andresen