I was going to wait until part 2 of the backstory before writing and posting this, but enough people have raised questions about “the man” that I thought it might be worth a separate post.
I met the man in Corner Brook, NL. Or at least, I met the person who inspired him. I was sitting outside the hotel on some concrete retaining wall doing what I do best (sitting and smoking), watching the traffic and happenings on the street, when an older (say, 40’s) man carrying a duffle bag walked by on the other side of the street. He spotted me, put down the duffle bag and walked across the street. He was neat and well-groomed and clean but, let’s say, a bit travelworn.
“Can you spare a cigarette?” he asked, in a voice reminiscent of a Dan Rather or (for Canadians) Peter Mansbridge.
“Sure,” I replied, and handed him the pack to take one. He plucked one out and placed it behind his ear.
“Need a light?” I offered.
“No,” he said, and paused. “Things have been a little rough lately. Thanks.”
He crossed the street again, picked up his duffle from where he left it and continued walking. He seemed both determined and a little sad, and I wondered where he was coming from and where he was going.
So, why doesn’t the man have a name?
The reason, gentle reader, is that the author, yours truly, is a bona fide idiot and painted himself into a corner.
I started the novel deliberately not naming or describing the man (or Mary, for that matter, except in the very basics) because I truly love novels that make you wonder and form your own pictures. As an aside, I firmly believe that the best fiction takes place in a reader’s mind, and teasing that out (rather than providing a photograph, as it were) makes for a more enjoyable, thought provoking read. Letting the reader participate by exercising their own imagination and kind of making the story their own. Lots of people would disagree with that philosophy, but I’m sure at least some would agree.
The downside, of course, is that once I’d reached the point where I did name him, I met with apoplectic beta reviewers who had come up with their own idea of what his name should and shouldn’t be and what he should look like. I’ll point out that none of them was the same. My choice (and my choice was Jake) didn’t fit what they’d built up in their own minds. This was, of course, both a good thing (that their imaginations had been invoked) and a bad thing (in that their imaginations weren’t the same as mine).
The net result is that I had to struggle and go through literary gymnastics to not name him. It was tiring and in some cases ended up with some awkward prose.
I’m hoping, in the sequel, to give him a name that doesn’t draw too much annoyance or blow up reader’s concepts of the character, and in a manner that isn’t, as my old friend Philip Bury exclaimed in outrage the last time I tried it, a “cheap copout”.
Wish me luck.