Dream Wide Awake: How real-life people, like Donna Vahey, become characters in a book. This might surprise You.

Can a bad memory get an author in trouble?

Donna Vahey is someone I know from my time spent working at city hall in my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. She worked for the police chief, and I remember her as sweet, kind, and very efficient. She dealt with officers and federal grants without ever raising her voice—need I say more?

When my manuscript called for me to attach a name to the Police Chief’s secretary, I pictured Donna in my head but named her Mary. No harm there, right?

Ugh. My memory.

I gave Mary a last name, but chapters after she first appeared, I couldn’t remember it.  So I was forced to sift through pages to find her. Her name came up a third and fourth time, and I forgot it again and again. Understand, there are a myriad of minor characters in a book. How many people does a main character come across in a day? Too many. I finally gave up and named her Donna Vahey. That, I could remember.

And that in itself wasn’t the problem. The problem was Donna was just too nice and normal. So I spiced the character up. Made her a bit louder. Bossier. And in the end I loved the fictitious Donna—but only for the book. She wouldn’t be as easy to work with as the real Donna.

Hence this formal apology. Donna, I’m sorry.

Flash this apology in your husband’s face when he reads about the chief wanting to get Donna’s voice out of his head or that her trigger was touchier than a recalled Remington. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. (If it is any consolation, I only put people that I like and admire in my novels.)

There are other people in my book who are friends of mine.

Sorry Donna

Chapters 31, 44, and 58 are titled with real people—well, dressed up a little like Donna. And main character Billy Mack? I patterned him after one of my husband’s friends who worked as a cop years ago. Just changed the name to protect the innocent a bit.

I’ll save those apologies for another day.

Read on…


Cyndie Zahner is the author of Dream Wide Awake and The Suicide Gene. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Amazon, Bookbub, or goodreads. Purchase her books on Amazon or Barnes and Noble through her website.

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