Over the last several days, I’ve brought to you inside information related to The Edge of Nowhere. I’ve talked about the “Easter Eggs” I’ve left for a few friends, as well as the inspiration behind a few of the characters. Today I’d like to continue this train of thought and talk more about the naming of characters in The Edge of Nowhere.
The Oldest Five Children
When Will Harrison marries Victoria, he comes to the marriage a widower with five children. This part of The Edge of Nowhere is entirely true. Like Will Harrison, my grandfather was roughly 23 years older than my grandmother when they married, and was a widower with five children. Those children (in real life) were named Opal, Cecil, Bayless, Earl and Pete.
While I knew four of these five children from my grandfather, the only three I knew well were my Aunts Opal and Cecil, and my Uncle Pete. And, like many during this era, at least four of the five children moved West to California where their children and grandchildren remain today. The only one who didn’t go (or who moved back) was my Uncle Pete, who was a lifelong farmer and lived until his death in Calumet, Oklahoma.
So for purposes of this novel, the first five children’s storylines are a product of my imagination and are represented as Caroline, Olivia, Daniel, Joseph and Catherine. The interesting thing about Catherine’s name is that she was never intended to remain as Catherine. I selected the name — my own name — only as a place holder until I could come up with something better. Interestingly, as the story progressed, the character of Catherine evolved until I couldn’t find another name for her that “fit.” The character “became” Catherine, and to rename her once she’d become “real” to me seemed wrong…like bringing home a dog named Joe from the shelter and changing his name to Scamp. Wrong — just wrong. So Catherine’s name stood the test of time.
Troy Snyder is a drifter who enters the story in Chapter Twenty-Eight, which I have lovingly renamed in my head to “Sara and the Cottonmouths.”
When I sat down to write Troy’s character, I never imagined him remaining for more than a chapter or two. He was a drifter, and my original intent was to see him gone in short order. For that reason, I didn’t think twice about giving him a place holder name — this time using the name Troy, my husband’s name.
As the story progressed, I began to like Troy Snyder quite a bit, and then Catherine’s character in my head refused to let me say goodbye to him. Without any real forethought or intent, Catherine fell in love with Troy Snyder. At that point, I just couldn’t change Troy’s name. Not only had he become “real” as Troy Snyder, but now I had an interesting situation: The characters, Catherine and Troy, fell in love and would presumably get married. I had temporarily given these characters the names of my husband and myself, and now I just couldn’t bring myself to rename one of them — especially since the two would end up together. So an Easter Egg of sorts for my husband, Troy. Art imitates life and Troy ends up with the girl.
Earl Sykes is a character who is very vivid in my mind, though he plays a small role in the book as the husband to Victoria’s adopted sister, Julianne (Kirk) Sykes. Physically, Earl Sykes is built most like the actor Bull Pullman, and has many of his facial expressions as depicted in the movie While You Were Sleeping. Though unlike Pullman, Earl’s hair is very dark, and he sports a chronic five o’clock shadow.
After all, who could resist this man?
(Bill Pullman as Jack Callahan in While you were Sleeping)
Once I knew who my prototype for Earl Snyder would be, then I had to think long and hard about his mannerisms. What kind of man was he? I knew what he looked like, physically, but who was he and why had Julianne married him? The first person who popped into my head was my dad’s old friend from my hometown of El Reno, OK — a man named Leroy Stanley. Mr. Stanley (or “Uncle Leroy” as I called him as child) was a farmer in the truest sense of the word. He was quiet and rugged, yet gentle and always gracious. He was truly a wonderful man, and I’ve thought of him often in the many, many years since his passing.
I remember my dad helping Mr. Stanley with his wheat harvest one summer when I was about six. We’d load up in my dad’s old, white, circa 1960-something Ford pickup and drive it right out into the middle of Mr. Stanley’s wheat field where he’d fill the bed with as much cut wheat as it would hold. We’d then drive it over to Banner Co-op (located in the approximate 3-mile strip of area where the farms of Earl Sykes, Will Harrison, Atticus Harrison and the Janicek brothers’ farms were located). It was always fun to pull right up onto the scales and watching last they took a sample of the wheat before sending us over to the big grain elevators to remove the wheat. Funny that I don’t remember how they got the wheat out of the back of our truck, as the truck didn’t have a titling bed. In any case, we’d repeat this process several times each day from the early hours of the morning, until the sun had nearly descended entirely; and, though there was nothing particularly exciting about it, I found the whole experience to be one of my best memories from childhood. So it’s no wonder that Mr. Stanley was the first person I thought of when I considered Earl Sykes’ character. In my mind, “Oklahoma Farmer” has always been synonymous with the name Leroy Stanley, so it’s no wonder that I would imagine him as a character in my novel.
All of the early copy of this manuscript shows Earl Sykes with the surname of “Stanley.” In fact, the last name didn’t change to Sykes until literally hours before I sent it out to the first literary agents and publishers. I thought about keeping the name as “Stanley,” but felt it wasn’t right to deliberately use someone’s family name without first asking permission…so Stanley became Sykes. I’d like to hope that Mr. Stanley would be pleased at the idea that a character was modeled after him. Sadly, I’ll never know as Mr. Stanley passed away many years ago.
Come find me next week as I continue this series. I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.
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