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Is Joey Boloccini Really . . . ?

November 18, 2013

The question I’m asked most about my novels, The Coffin Haulers and The Champagne Ladies, is: Are the characters based on real people?

Just one, I answer.

Everyone else is a figment of my imagination. I never knew anyone who wanted to be a private detective like Joey Boloccini, better known as Joey Baloney. Never knew a family that made their living by hauling coffins, or two erotic women like Rita and Sandra (and I feel the less for that), or anyone who enlisted in the army during the Vietnam War and then went AWOL, though I know a few guys who were drafted during the war and a couple who were killed. Luckily, I never was drafted.

Everything I write, except for historical references, is based on what I remember growing up in my neighborhood of Little Village in Chicago, when it was predominantly an enclave of Eastern European immigrants and their first-generation children. I used to sit on my front porch in the summer and watch the neighbors go by, old women carrying bags from the corner store, the men walking to and from the tavern on the corner, and make up stories about them.

The names I use for the characters are names I grew up with: Emil, Bogdan, Boller, Anton, Mamie, Adeline, etc. I use them because they seem natural to me.

The characters have personalities and traits that I believe actual people would exhibit in real situations. Joey talks a certain way because a private detective with his personality would talk like that. Adeline Podlowski in The Champagne Ladies is a woman looking to be more than a housewife because it’s 1968 when the story takes place and many women wanted that.

People ask if Ben Podlowski, a central figure in The Champagne Ladies, is baed on me. Not really, but some of his actions are. Ben works as a busboy at Bohemian Inn Restaurant; I was a busboy at Little Village Restaurant. Ben plays baseball for a Liberty League team; so did I. That’s the extent of the resemblance.

The one character based on a real person is Claudine Dabec in The Champagne Ladies. She’s a noncomforming individualist who can’t abide phoniness, has no patience with the wilfully foolish, despises pretense and lives life by her own rules.

She’s the author.

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