What’s in a Name

Names Have Been On My Mind…

Because last Friday afternoon, my publisher posted a Fan Page for The Heights on Facebook. Since I’m not a member of Facebook, I didn’t know much about how it all works. I wasn’t ready for what followed. People from my Iowa past, my North Carolina School of the Arts past, and those early New York City years, have resurfaced and posted kind words on the “Wall”.

Seeing so many familiar names and faces has kicked up lots of memories. It’s also made writing a little difficult these last few days.

Recently Jeanne Struck became a fan of The Heights. Well, I’ve been a fan of Jeanne Struck since I was five.

Jeanne Struck is the mother of Dan Struck, who was one of my best childhood friends. The Struck family was one of the great West Des Moines families: Three boys, three girls, fantastic parents. They were the Brady Bunch without Alice. In elementary school, Dan and I were inseparable. A football star in high school, Dan Struck married Darcy Kruger, his high school sweetheart. I am a BIG FAN of the Struck family.

Here’s Where It Gets Complicated.

The name Struck is also great for fiction. It’s a vivid name and it’s a verb. It also turned out to be the perfect last name for Mitchell Struck, a minor character who appears on page 23 of my new novel, The Heights. Believe me, Mitchell may have the same last name, but he is no relation.

In high school, I was a member of the Baker’s Dozen mime troupe, where we wore black tights, white bibs with colorful bow ties, and mime make-up. If we were rock stars, Brian VandeVenter was our Mick Jagger. But he is nothing like Dr. Milicent Vandeventer, the nasty headmistress of the Montague Academy, who readers will meet on page 39. Brian and Millicent only share a last name.

This holds true for another great mime – Scott Fabritz. He is no relation to Frida Fabritz, a desperate real-estate agent, who first appears on page 8. Or Leslie Hosford, who out sang me in the choir. She’s not the basis for the social-climbing Abigail Hosford…

And There Are Others.

Sometimes I’ll use a real name for inspiration and then change the name later. For instance, Gilbert Grape’s original name was Gary Gilbreath, named after a fourth-grade friend who moved away.

Finding the right name for a character is one of the most important and pleasurable parts of writing. More often than not, when the name clicks, everything else starts to fall into place.

46 Responses »

  1. I am going to enjoy reading your blogs friend!!

  2. Love it!

  3. Thank you, Pam, my fellow mime.

    And thank you, Len, friend from long ago. (Where in New Hampshire are you living? See you at the reunion?)

  4. We keep up with you and your great accomplishments thru Russ. Can’t wait till March 23 to see you in Plano at the Legacy book signing. Russ really enjoyed spending time with you and your family last week. Good Luck on the book.

  5. no one believes me when I talk about how popular the mimes were at my high school. Now I have written proof to back up my story. I’m not a facebooker, but was emailed by a colleague (who knew you at NCSA)to check out the Fan Page. it blew me away to see all of those names inter-connected in space and time by six degrees of Peter Hedges. So awesome.

  6. You are now part of my morning routine, coffee and Peter’s blog. It’s about time you started a blog, my dear Luddite. Sending you my love. xxoo

  7. Hooray yay!!!!! Congratulations Peter on book/blog/beautiful world view. You continue to inspire and amaze me.

  8. Enjoying your blog and where you get inspired since I have always enjoyed your writing!…Looking forward to the new book- especially since we moved to Ditmas Park and I have o keep up with my Heights past…hope Susan and the boys are well- can’t believe Lucas and Emily are HS age!

  9. Lori, nice to hear from you. Come back and visit. And, yes, it’s hard to believe Lucas (7th grade) and Emily (7th or 8th?) are getting older. I hear Ditmas Park is lovely. I hope you and your family are well. Thanks for your support.

  10. This comment is in response to three earlier posts — all coming from high school friends Janet “Annie Sullivan” Hess, Michelle “Mrs. Webb” Zelinsky, and Andrea “Free to be You and Me” Craig.

    As Michelle noted, I’m a bit of a Luddite, so I’m still navigating how to manage this web site/comment section, but hearing from all of you really means a lot. Because I missed the window to respond to each of you individually, I’ll do my best to address all three of you. Something about doing plays in high school, something about that experience bonds you with people in a particular way. Even though our lives have pulled us in different directions, we will always have those experiences of making theater together.

    Janet, I was hoping to see you in Iowa City on my tour, but I don’t think you’re there anymore. Thanks for your kind words. Please come to our 30th reunion, so we can catch up.

    Michelle, I’m happy you plan to start the day with my blog, but I won’t be posting every day. At least, not yet. You know I wanted to play George more than anything in OUR TOWN, but playing Mr. Webb, your husband, was awfully sweet. Thanks for your Christmas card. Please come to our reunion, so we can see each other and I can hear your incredible laugh.

    And, Andrea, I was happy to hear from you after all these years. I’ve wondered how you’re doing. And, yes, for any of your friends who doubt, it’s true, being a Mime was like being a Rock Star. Maybe a minor Rock Star — like Rick Springfield or Jon Bon Jovi. (Personally, I wanted to be the Elvis of mimes, but I was more like Donny Osmond.) You were a freshman when I was a senior, but I remember thinking when I graduated that with you the future of Valley High School drama was in very good hands.

    Thanks again all of you for your support.

    And, finally, John Jolly wrote a comment, and I just want to say in this public forum, that your son, Russ Jolly, is a wonderful man. He’s my best man. I know you and Barbara love him very much. My family and I do, too.

  11. I can’t wait for this book to come out, I’m very excited to read it. Especially since it is by a former Baker’s Dozen member. So since there is a lot of mime talk in this post, I figured it would only be proper to invite you to the 2010 Spring Nite O’ Mime. Yes, The Bakers Dozen is still going strong and we are about ready to start the process of creating the show for Thursday March 25th. I just thought i would let you know in case you happened to be able to make it in town, and wanted to relive some of your past by coming to see it.

    “also yes, being a mime is like being a rockstar” well put.

  12. Thanks for the invite, Eric, but I’ll be in Texas on my book tour at that time. I really wish I could be there. I’ve been wanting to come back for a Spring Nite or Fall Nite for some time now. Please give my regards to the rest of the current Dozen. Good luck with Hell Week, and break a leg on the 25th! (Do you still have those very cool white jersey shirts with the Bakers Dozen logo?)

  13. Congrats, Peter! (This is Andrea, not ON-drea. Girl baby, free to be) Can’t wait to read the book!

    I probably never had a chance to tell you when Suzanne & I saw you in NYC years ago, but my mom told me once that when I got a boyfriend, she hoped that he was like you. We Valley alums are proud of you. btw, you may not know that you’re mentioned at the Iowa Hall of Pride in a kiosk.

  14. I believe they got rid of the jerseys some time ago, and replaced them with just white v-neck shirts that have the logo on front, and then our name and number on the back. Ah hell week, coming so soon. Well have fun in Texas and hopefully we’ll see you at some show in the future. Also, this Brian Vandeventer, does he have a brother? Because our current sponsor is Ted Vandeventer who was in the troupe in the 90′s and had an older brother i believe.

  15. I don’t believe that Brian and Ted are related. Brian was a brilliant mime. One of the greats. And, yes, I hope to see you at some show in the future.

  16. Peter…so glad to have found your blog so I can keep up with your latest. Will def read the newest book! You mentioned several names I recognized. Wonder where all these people are now?! Cindy

  17. glad my kids were so good at educating an innocent little boy about the facts of life..hope it didn’t mark you for life…Ruthanne Silverstein

  18. Peter, I love your “Playing with the Silversteins”. Keep the stories coming!

  19. Thank you, Jane. Nice to hear from you. Hello to you and your family.

    And nice to hear from you, Mrs. Silverstein — and, no, your boys did not scar me — on the contrary, they made my childhood a lot better.

    And Cindy Mansfield, my 7th grade girlfriend, a big hello to you. And thanks for liking me way back then.

  20. So Peter I could not resist on the subject of names! I married a man named David Cornfield. We were set up on a blind date and when he called to ask me out I seriously thought he was making up his last name to tease me for being from Iowa. (You know how those Wisconsinites can be). Needless to say I kept my maiden name Myers since besides my feminist ideals I could not be Margo Cornfield from Iowa! Good luck with the book! I can’t wait to read it. If you come to the Bay area you will have to let me know.

  21. Margo Cornfield? If I were writing Gilbert Grape today, I think I’d have to use that one. Gilbert would have especially loved that name.

    It’s so nice to hear from you, Margo, and my regards to Mr. Cornfield and the Cornfield girls.

  22. Peter, I am so looking forward to your new book coming out next week! As a former West Des Moines resident myself (my family lived next door to the Strucks on 22nd Street in the 1970s and knew them well!), I especially appreciate how you incorporate aspects of our hometown into your work. Part of the fun for me in reading your work is to recognize landmarks and names, which certainly sparks great memories!

    In addition to being a great talent, you are a kind and generous person as well–I know this because about 10 years ago I wrote you a letter expressing my interest in writing. Even though we didn’t really know each other from the WDM days, you took the time to respond and were so encouraging to me with your insights and suggestions. I am happy to say that, motivated by your words, I have plugged along with my efforts and was pleasantly surprised when I was able to get a short story published a few years back. So I just wanted to say publicly how much I appreciated your encouragement. You really are an inspiration to many people!

    Congratulations on your well-deserved success, and I look forward to reading The Heights when it comes out next week!

    Best regards,

    Will McNamara
    Albuquerque, New Mexico

  23. Thank you, Will. It’s nice to hear from you after all these years. I hope you have continued success with your writing.

  24. Hi Peter. I live in a small town called Brookline in southern New Hampshire. So far south, that if I had the Silversteins’ athletic abilities, I oould almost literally throw a rock into Massachusetts.

    Brookline is not as inspirational a New Hampshire location as say Lake Winnipesaukee or Mt. Washington, but definitely a nice place to raise a family.

    I have this vague recollection that you used to come to NH in the summer to teach or something? Maybe at Dartmouth?

    I’ll most definitely see you at the reunion!


  25. Peter, You are a pure joy to read. Whether or not you intended, it is fun to put all kinds of occasions from the past into the context of your writing. And thanks for the good words, Dan is still a good kid. So is Darcy. I just miss you in Austin tomorrow night as my flight gets in after 10:00 p.m. and the rest of your stops are not there for a working woman. Enjoy yourself and your success. You do make us all very proud. Mrs. S

  26. Dear Mrs. Struck,

    I’m sorry to be missing you in Austin. But how nice to hear from you. As a kid growing in Iowa, you were for me one of those singular moms — like Mrs. Hickey or Mrs. Brattebo — so loving, so constant, and always so kind to me. I wish you and your family all the best.



  27. Hey, Mr. Hedges. As a current Baker’s Dozen mime, I’m proud to know that you’ve found so much success and the you still remember your time at Valley High School. We just had our Spring Nite two days ago, and it was an awesome experience. I know we’d love to get in contact with you, send you a DVD of the show, whatever. Actually, I think you spoke to my step-dad, Mike Kilen from the Register a few days ago. Anyway, good luck with The Heights. I really like your work so far, and the current B.D. says hello!

  28. Jocelyn, thanks for the post. And a big hello to the current Baker’s Dozen from a proud member from oh so long ago.

  29. Oh Peter,
    One of joys in reading your books is the memories that come with all of those names. Having left Iowa years ago, it is so fun to have some bizarre memory just at the mention of a name. We had such fun back in the day, making doughnuts at St. Tim’s and all the rest. I am hoping for a book signing somewhere a little closer to Michigan so that I can have you sign my copy of THE HEIGHTS. Congrats on all your success. –Lisa

  30. Peter, I just finished your book and I really enjoyed
    the little bits of you sprinkled in to Tim (2 sons,
    a lefty, converse tennis shoes and going to the
    Episcopal church)as well as some childhood names.
    Since you won’t be in my city to eat poptarts this go
    around, my son will bring my book to Ames if you could
    please sign it. Best wishes and continued success, see
    you in September.

  31. Peter, Congrats on the book and now film! I just finished reading
    it and couldn’t help but smile at the similiarities between you
    and Tim (2 boys,a lefty, converse tennis shoes, and the Episcopalian church.) Since you will not be here this time to
    eat our poptarts, I am hoping to have you sign my book when you
    are in Ames this week. Ben will be at your signing. I will see
    you in September. Take care!

  32. Pete, I would like to thank all the little people who made me such an influence. I too remember the black tight days. Now a distant misty memory of our lives. I even think that I have a photo or two of us that still brings a chuckle. Once I find them I will forward for your enjoyment.

  33. PETER!
    I’m in the middle of writing you a letter, and decided to Google you!

    OK–You’re still trying to figure out who I am!! You won’t recognize my last name, but I hope you will remember me from Cincinnati Photo!

    I am LOVING reading your blog! I also cannot wait to read (or watch it when the movie comes out) of, “The Heights”! Memories indeed! It’s been almost five years since a trip to the Heights have been a part of my everyday routine.

    Thank you also for you to walk us down these wonderful experiences that most of us think we know about just because we see it so often on TV.

    I’ll be mailing my letter this week, but will read your blog regularly, as I have always enjoyed your writing and Gilbert is one of my favorites!

    Best to you and your family!

  34. Of course I remember you, Donna. I hope all is well with you. Best Wishes, Peter

  35. Dear Peter:

    Mom told me all about your talk at Hoyt Sherman the other night in Des Moines and this started a flood of joint remembrances about the intertwining hijinks of the Hedges/Hickey boys in those 23rd Street days. It was a continuation of a nostalgia kick I have been on as I recently friended Phillip on Facebook and it was great catching up with him.

    I bought a copy of The Heights last week . I had planned to finish it under canvas on a rainy Boyscout camping trip I squired for my son Aidan and a sampling of DC’s finest unwashed adolescents this weekend, but my wife Mary Elizabeth spirited the book away for a weeklong trip to Cambridge this week…she tells me by phone she’s loving it, so I’m anticipating completing a good read next week. Take care, and hope to catch up with you at the VHS 30th(!) reunion this September.



    P.S., Mom mentioned how we squabbled for the better part of one summer over our joint business venture in ’69…she is adamant I should not have embezzled the extra nickel we made selling lemonade as it represented at least 75% of the profits of our joint venture. So I owe you 5 cents plus 41 years interest…

    P.P.S. No, this is not part of a 12-step recovery program…

  36. Peter,
    It was such a pleasure meeting you at the Christamore Book & Author event. I saw the kind note you sent, and I hope we do get one or two of your friends to speak at a future event. Make sure they know stuffing the gift bags is a requirement, and carrying the endless boxes of books would be nice, too!

    I read The Heights over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. The characters all had such dimension, and I could connect with virtually every single one. It’s one of those stories that you’re still mulling over days later…

    I have to ask about “Bobette.” My dad had a cousin named Bobette, and I always thought it was one of those made-up names. So imagine my surprise to see you have a Bobette as Tim’s mom!

    So speaking of names and characters, I just want to know if you are going to have Indy’s Winona Ryder/Keira Knightly as a character in your next book? Keira Ryder or Winona Knightly come to mind! Great fun.

    Take care,

  37. Peter,
    What a joy it was for Rich and I to see you in Iowa City. No distance is too far when it comes to you. Just finished your book, and loved every moment. Like Joe says, it’s your best ever.
    Sorry we didn’t get to spend more time with you, you’re like a second son to us, and we couldn’t be more proud. We love you.

  38. Peter-glad to see you are making good…..heck…I never got out of DM! Remebr C. Pfieffer??

  39. Yes, I will never forget Chris Pfieffer, even though I don’t remember exactly how to spell her last name. I hope all is well with you, Jeff.

  40. It’s great to talk about the Baker’s Dozen. I see you have gotten a few of the old mimes responding to the blog. I felt honored to have been a part of the troupe. If not for Brian Vande Venter I never would have done so. We spent hours practicing behind the Preferd Risk Insurance loading dock. I was so proud to have gotten in with such a diverse group of people. It took every one of those people (all three years) to make it work. I can still take credit for being the only one to pull off the back flip in “I’m not dead yet”. If I remember right Eric came up a little bloody and bruised. Great blog Peter


  41. Mark,

    You were the Axl Rose of Mimes. The Evil Kneival (sp?) of Mimes. I will never forget your backflip in “I’m Not Dead Yet.” I’m looking forward to seeing you at the reunion.

    Your brother mime,


  42. hey Peter, i never got a chance to say thanks for being in our show, you can come back any time!!!! you were great!!!!

  43. Dear Trey,

    I had a wonderful time being a Mime again. You all did a great job and thank you for including me. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

    Best Wishes,

    Peter H

  44. Dear Peter,

    Just stumbling across the internet tonight and realized that you have a website and new book! What a great surprise! I read both of your other novels and really loved them — I am from Iowa originally & thought you really captured it, but also let everyone have their dignity. “Dan In Real Life’ is also one of my fav movies…one of the only times I went to the theater IMMEDIATELY following a review, where they mentioned your involvement, because I knew I would love it!

    On a funny note about names: authors sometimes try to name a character that reveals something about who they are, and this happens in real life, sometimes accidentally. Reading your blog made me laugh, thinking of all the people this year alone who asked if I made up my own name. I am a painter, and my subject is often plants and nature. It’s pretty funny but I didn’t plan it that way…named after my mother, which is unusual enough, and she was a wildlife painter.

    I’ll check out the new book and best to your future creative projects!


  45. Peter,
    Congratulations on your continued success.
    I remember your family well.
    Your dad would occasionally join my dad for a beer while he was grilling out in the front driveway.
    I live in Phoenix Arizona with my husband Burrell who is a skin cancer specialist. We have 2 wonderful sons.
    I wish you much continued success.
    Julie Lally Wolk.

  46. Dear Julie,

    How nice to hear from you. I remember you and your family so very well. I’m happy to hear you have a wonderful life in Phoenix. My best to your family.


Leave a Response