People often ask me how I come up with my kooky characters, and the truth is that my creative process is really random. If you don’t already know this, I live in Austin, Texas, and the motto of the city is “Keep Austin Weird.” Honestly, the phrase refers to supporting local business. But the truth is there is a lot of actual weirdness in Austin, and my books have benefitted greatly from that.
Take Nadezhda Dmitriyeva. She’s a character from my forthcoming Franki Amato mystery, AMARETTO AMBER. Like most of my characters, Nadezhda was born when I was walking my dogs at 4:30 a.m. (yes, that’s earrrrly) down a spooky street in my neighborhood. The street is called North Loop, and it has a lot of, shall we say, “unique” shops that attract locals and tourists alike (one of whom is Guy Fieri, who I almost hit with my car when I was scowling at my son in the back seat). My personal fave is the salon in the picture: VAXING FOR VOMEN.
Now, I don’t know who scratched the other half of the w’s from the sign, but I’m grateful to them. Because after I noticed it, I starting imagining the type of woman who would work in a waxing salon that was actually called Vaxing for Vomen. My assumption was that she would be from a country that pronounced w’s like v’s, so I went with Russia. Then little bits of dialogue started coming to me. Given the salon setting, I imagined her abruptly asking a client, “You vant vax?”
Next, I had to come up with her name. She had to be tough, because anyone who pronounces their w’s like v’s sounds like a bad-ass to me. So I went with the toughest-sounding Russian name I know—Nadezhda, which I discovered thanks to the news coverage of the Russian female punk band, Pussy Riot. Of course, I based her physical description on Russian nesting “matryoshka” dolls, and I made sure to work in the word “babushka,” just because.
There, in a nutshell, is my creative process—some random item or word or place will inspire a character. But not all of them are figments of my warped imagination. In fact, my recurring characters are usually based on real people, like Franki, Veronica, David, and, yes, even Nonna.
By the way, besides Vaxing for Vomen, there is also a creepy old cemetery on North Loop, kind of like the one across the street from where Franki, Veronica, and Glenda live. There is also a sex shop called “Forbidden Fruit.” I snapped this picture of one of its shop windows on a recent nighttime dog walk because it reflects a few of the key elements in AMARETTO AMBER—pasties, a feather boa, and tombs…