I have mentioned in earlier posts that the characters in my novels are not based on actual people. Rather, I normally create my characters from the ground up, so to speak, in order to move these stories in the direction they need to go.
Prior to writing the fifth novel in my Rebecca Series – A Fearful Thing – there had been just one exception. In my fourth novel, Choose You This Day, there appears a Dutch woman whom I named Greta van Dijk. Although Ms. van Dijk’s experiences in that novel are 100% fictional, her background story is that of an actual person. And so, after I completed the novel, I wrote, on one of its back pages, an “Acknowledgement and Tribute.” Here are the first two paragraphs of that tribute:
Greta van Dijk’s character, while wholly fictional in this novel, is based upon the life of an actual person. Sietske Postma was a twenty eight year old schoolteacher – a Christian – living in her native Ferwerd, Holland, in 1943, when a twenty two year old blonde Jewish woman, Noortje Hegt, knocked on her door. For two full years the Postma family hid Noortje “in the open,” in the midst of the German occupying forces.
Sietske never allowed Noortje (who took the Christian name Franciska during her time with Sietske) to leave the house without her, risking her own life every day and every night in order to save this young woman – a complete stranger when she appeared on the Postmas’ doorstep – from the death camps. At war’s end, they learned that Noortje’s mother and sister had been murdered at Auschwitz.
Because that fourth novel dealt with1980s terrorists seeking to attack, kidnap, or murder Christian people who had saved Jewish people from the Nazi death camps during the Second World War, I felt that that real-life person deserved to be featured.
In the latest novel, A Fearful Thing, one of several new characters introduced there is a young Sudanese American whom I named Kazim Deng. While readers of the Rebecca stories will need to await the sixth in the series to learn more details of his history, I can tell you now that his background will be similar to that of an actual person.
Luol Deng – the real person – was born in Wau, Sudan, and is a member of the Dinka ethnic group. When Luol was still a child, his father moved the family to Egypt to escape the Second Sudanese Civil War, and then, eventually, on to London, England. At age14, by then an excellent English language speaker, Luol won a scholarship to attend Blair Academy, a boarding school in New Jersey. He later received a scholarship to Duke University, from which he went on to a career in professional basketball.
Kazim Deng – the fictional person – has already been introduced in A Fearful Thing. We know that he is a graduate student in the Washington, DC, area, and is employed part time as a data analyst with the DC police force. In that context, he has already played a crucial role in Rebecca’s ongoing story. We will see more of him in the upcoming sixth book in the series, and we will want to read something of his backstory there. I intend to give him a background similar to that of the real person, Luol Deng.
So, while it is true that I normally create my characters simply to serve the story I am developing, in the case of Greta van Dijk, in the fourth novel, and of Kazim Deng, in the fifth and upcoming sixth novels, I have chosen to use two actual persons’ backgrounds to enhance the realism of these stories as they unfold.