How did you choose the names for your characters?
In Delaney’s Hope there is a character named Mandaro, that everyone seems to like right away. Mandaro comes from real life.
I had two amazing men in my prison writing class. Mike was a boxer before he was arrested in Mexico for smuggling drugs. He was a talented writer, who could produce an entertaining story in a week’s time. The guys in the class loved his work. One time I said that many men wrote romances using a female name. The next week he came down to class with “Breach of the Heart,” and he read chapter one aloud. Again the men in the class liked it.
One guy asked, “Mike, how did you do it? How did you get inside that chick’s head?”
I will never forget Mike’s answer, and only he could say it in a prison and get away with it. Mike said, “I just got in touch with the female part of myself.”
But it is the other man that I based a character on. His name was Ricardo. He had a million ideas for TV shows and he wrote a novel about an Italian drug king. (Write what you know, the saying is.) He loved his Italian heritage and his novel was full of characters named Rocco, Alfonso, and Vincenzo. They hung out in a restaurant called La Dolce Vita. He had real talent to promote and to write.
Together the two of them energized my class.
Ricardo got out on parole first. I knew that the first days out of prison are very hard for a man, so I met him for coffee and we chatted. He told me how much he hated prison, and I reminded him that the best thing he could do about that was never go back. It was clear to him that I expected him to go straight, but lurking behind him, I saw the high life he used to live. I knew he had little money and I worried about what he would do to get it.
I set up another coffee the next Saturday at the Starbucks by Science World. He lived downtown and that would be convenient for him. I took the Skytrain from Surrey and I waited a half hour for him. I called his cell and got the answering message. He never showed. He knew what I expected.
The rumors started – he had gone back into crime and Ricardo did nothing in a small way.
Mike got out a year later and he went straight – poor but straight. Today he’s in a great relationship and has his own business. The writing will come back, but earning a living is on his mind now. He told me he’s seen countless crime opportunities, but turned them down. Often he runs into old friends who present him with tempting plans, but he refuses.
I kept hearing of Ricardo’s rise in the crime world. One night he rented a downtown nightclub to have an invitation-only party to announce his engagement. Of course, I wasn’t invited.
The next day I read the papers. On the way to the party a rival gang gunned him down. His fiancé and their six-month old baby were not injured, but were badly shaken.
I went to his funeral where six beefy gang members carried his coffin and the police photographed everyone there. It was a Godfather rerun and this also made me sad, that there was no mention of the artistic side of the man.
I’m writing a novel now about a new kind of prison, one that is about rehabilitation, not punishment. I have a character there named Nino Mandaro. He’s just like Ricardo, used to the high life and making big drug deals. Neither Mike nor Ricardo used drugs, but they dealt them. Mandaro is the same, he doesn’t use, but he deals – and in a big way. In the story he even figures out a way to get drugs into the prison.
Mandaro loves his Italian heritage and he sings Italian songs while he works in the prison.
I tried hard with Ricardo, but failed. Every time I drive by the cemetery where he’s buried, I say hello to him. Tears come to my eyes. Such a creative young man dead in his early thirties.
To handle my grief, I write. I write Nino Mandaro. He is my tribute to Ricardo.