Thursday, July 8, 2010
The Case of an Autisic Savant!
Lots of interviewers ask me if I base my characters on real people. And the answer is yes and no. While I always write about real people and real events, I'm pretty good at twisting around the truth to suit my purposes. In the case of The Remains, my newest thriller, I borrowed a real life character from my childhood by the name of Francis Scaramuzzi.
Francis worked in my high school, The Albany Academy, which at the time was a military themed, country day prep school. He was a simple man. What we then called mentally challenged. A sweet, short, portly character who seemed more boy than man, despite his middle age, Francis loved the school and the boys who attended it. He worked in the cafeteria, or what was called, The Buttery, and on occasion he'd hand out towels to the boys on their way out of the showers after athletics. Often, at the end of the day, I'd see Francis waiting at the bus stop on the corner, standing anxiously, wool cap pulled over his head, over-sized jeans yanked way up over his belly, a paper shopping bag in his hand.
I couldn't help but wonder where he lived, and what his home was like. If he lived alone or if he lived with relatives or friends. But it wasn't until many years later, when Francis was in ill health and close to death, that it was discovered he spent many of his nights painting. His painting contained brilliant colors and crafty illustrations and very much reminded the school's art prof of Grandma Moses in theme, tone and delivery. Many of these paintings were sold on Francis's behalf and for a short time, he enjoyed some local fame and notoriety from the local Albany, New York art scene.
Francis, it was discovered, wasn't a simple mentally challenged man so much as he was a gifted painter. A savant. He was the real thing and more.
When I set out to write The Remains, I wanted to make the fascinating Francis a central character and a kind of hero. So I created an autism for him, and made him into a savant who, like the real man, has a terrific gift for painting. In the story, his paintings send messages to the book's central character, Rebecca Underhill, and warning her about a man who has been released from prison and who is now out to get her.
Thanks Francis, where ever you are. For me you are both real and imagined. Your memory is not lost with the ages but lives on in your paintings and your humble character, which now is immortalized in, The Remains.