Some concern has been raised over my use of actual area names in my recently published novel, “Everything Important Happens on a Hillside.” Please allow me to explain.
Although the names of the characters in the book are those of actual people from the towns of Pikeville, Prestonsburg and Paintsville, the three towns I’ve lived in for most of my life, they are neither disguised satirical portraits of the actual people nor modeled after them. Characters in a book are sometimes hard to name, because most names already have associative qualities that define the character at the onset. For instance, a fictional name like Jack Bingham has to belong to an architect or an insurance agent, and in no way can be a country music star or politician. And names like Jill Randolph sound phoney, but lots of writers can’t do any better. In other words, the right name, especially in a novel, is a hard choice.
During the first draft of my novel, I used a woman’s first name that I had heard for many years, one that stuck in my mind. Although I had never seen the woman, I once spoke to her on the phone. And when I envisioned this certain character in the book, no other name but hers would fit. The character just had to have the name, “Lillian Pearl.” But after using this particular name, it was easy to go on from there. Each time a new character emerged, I simply named him or her after someone I knew — a relative, a friend, a close acquaintance — just people I have known throughout my life and, for the most part, people of whom I’m quite fond. But the rule was that I had to be connected to them in some direct way.
Of course, in a work of fiction, there has to be heroes and villains, but I tried to be non-judgmental about who would be who in the book. It was just that the name had to fit and in now way directly reflect the character of the real person nor his or her situation in life. I was simply using that name for an imaginary character totally unrelated to the actual person.
I did Google some names and found that some of them have as many as 50 matches throughout the world, and my own name, John Preston, is a dime a dozen, especially in Eastern Kentucky. In the end, I chose to do this for the simple ease and fun of it, in good faith, with no mal intent, hoping that the people named would be pleased to be in a book — and, of course, that it would help sell the book, at least area wide — thinking, “When was the last time some of these people have sat down to read (according to nearly all early responses) a good, entertaining and informative novel?”
All in all, if anyone is offended, shouldn’t it be the ones I left out of the book?
But in hopes that my book may reach a wider readership, beyond the Big Sandy Valley (which it is beginning to do), all this will make no difference at all. See the “John H. Preston, author” Facebook page for further details.
John H. Preston