01 August 2020

Recognized and Tuckerized

Tuckerization (or tuckerism) is the act of using a person's name (and sometimes other characteristics) in an original story as an in-joke.

It occurred to me, after I started writing this, that I'd done a SleuthSayers piece on this topic almost four years ago, called "Namedropping." If you take the trouble to go back and read that post, be sure to read the comments also, from readers--I think those are more interesting than what I wrote in the column.

Anyhow, I want to say a little more about the subject, especially because I have since discovered that this practice has a name. The term tuckerization is derived from the late Arthur Wilson Tucker, an American writer of science fiction who--that sly dog--made a habit of using his friends' names for minor characters in his stories. (Most of you probably know this already. I think I was the last writer on earth to find out.)

Mr. Tucker would've been proud of me, because I've been merrily plugging the names of friends and fans into my short stories for a long time. (Well, at least friends; the word fans might be overstating things a bit.) The satisfying thing is, every time I've tuckerized someone, I've been encouraged to do it again because the tuckerizee seemed so tickled by it. I would assume that's probably one of the rules of this practice: Do it only if you're fairly sure the person being mentioned will enjoy seeing his/her name in your writing, rather than want to sue your ass off.

My tuckerizing has so far consisted of the following:

As mentioned in the earlier SleuthSayers column . . .

- Teresa Garver, a childhood friend who now lives four hundred miles away, became an English teacher in "Gone Goes the Weasel," Woman's World, June 27, 2013.

- Chuck Thomas, one of my banking customers at IBM, was a mischievous high-school student in "Not One Word," Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, July/Aug/Sep 2002.

- Cheryl Grubbs, a classmate of mine at Kosciusko High School, was featured as a deputy sheriff in "Trail's End," AHMM, July/Aug 2017, which became the first story in a series.

- Charlotte Hudson, a friend and former writing student, appeared in "A King's Ransom," Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue #19, 2015; and both Charlotte and her husband Bill were characters in "Ball and Chain," Woman's World, July 27, 2015. (I said in the previous SS post that Charlotte was in two Woman's World stories, but I later discovered it was one in WW and one in SHMM.)

- Charles Heisley, a fellow engineer and old Air Force buddy, became an officer in the Louisiana State Police in "The Blue Delta," Blood on the Bayou anthology, Sep 2016. Chuck lives in Hawaii now, but he's originally from Florida, so Louisiana wasn't too big a reach.

Since then:

- Deputy Cheryl Grubbs has made additional appearances in two more of my Sheriff Ray Douglas series installments--"Scavenger Hunt," AHMM, Jan/Feb 2018, and "Quarterback Sneak," AHMM, Mar/Apr 2020--and will be featured in two more stories already accepted and coming up at AHMM and one at Down & Out: The Magazine.

- My friend Terri Fisher was a physician in one of my Law and Daughter series stories, called "Doctor in the House," Flash Bang Mysteries, Spring 2017.

- Donna Fairley (the maiden name of one of my IBM colleagues, now Donna Huebsch) was a teenaged genius in "Ace in the Hole," Flash Bang Mysteries, Summer 2017. In real life, I can easily believe Donna might've been a teenaged genius.

- The first names of our oldest son's three children--Lily, Anna, and Gabe--were the first names of my three main characters in "The Music of Angels," The Saturday Evening Post, Sep/Oct 2018. In fact those were that story's only three characters. I didn't tell the kids about it, so when I sent them the magazine and they read the story, they thought that was a hoot.

- My old DP friend Alan Collums (we used to call the computer business Data Processing instead of Information Technology) will make an appearance as a cop in the Jackson, Mississippi, police department in "Friends and Neighbors," a story that AHMM has accepted but hasn't yet published.

Also, I've worked a lot of friends' last names into the names of story titles and fictional locations, over the years: "The Dolan Killings," "Driving Miss Lacey," "Knight Vision," "Purple Martin," "Dawson's Curse," "The Three Little Biggs," "Field Engineering," "Merrill's Run," "Byrd and Ernie," "The Barlow Boys," "Remembering Tally," "An Hour at Finley's," "The Pullman Case," "Dooley's Code," "The Zeller Files," Hardison Park, Chavis Island, Dentonville, etc. This kind of thing is mostly self-serving, because certain names from the past can sometimes just "sound" right.

On the other side of all this, I have found my own name in two stories--both of them written by my SleuthSayers co-conspirators Robert Lopresti and Michael Bracken. I knew about Rob's story beforehand--and blogged about that one in my "Namedropping" post--but I didn't know about my role in Michael's story until I happened across it while reading for pleasure, in the 2017 anthology Passport to Murder (which included stories by both of us). That was a pleasant surprise. O'Neil De Noux and I were both featured in Michael's story--O'Neil as a policeman (which he once was) and I as a systems engineer (which I once was).

What are some of your own experiences, with this crazy practice? Have you tuckerized friends' names in your fiction? If not, have you considered doing it? Have you discovered your own name in the writing of others? If so, were you told about it beforehand? Did you sue 'em? (Just kidding.)

As you might imagine, part of the fun of writing this post was the research it required: I went back and checked most of my stories (not all--there are a lot of 'em) to try to remember the times I had mentioned friends and colleagues and family members as a part of the plot. And that in itself brought back some fond memories.

Lately, though, nobody's been lobbying too much for it--which might be a good thing.

Maybe I'm all tuckered out.


  1. A writer I know, Anthony Cardno (who seems to know everybody!), has gotten himself Tuckerized a lot! There's even an anthology "The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno" where a bunch of authors donated their talents and Tuckerized him with proceeds from the anthology going to fight cancer. (Anthony is a cancer survivor.)

  2. Tuckered out. Funny. I've been doing that since my first novel. I usually change the first name and sometimes spell the last name differently. Done it a lot. I collect names. From the Olympics to get foreign names and from Walmart to get unique names. Recently, I've been collecting the names of Karens and Kens from the internet to use as the names of bad people in my stories.

  3. John, every time I've done this, I've gotten flack. The fictional friend is never clever enough, or good-looking enough, or perfect enough. Or even on stage enough. This could be a female thing, now that I think about it. It's sort of the ole mom syndrome: your mother will think every mother in your story is her, and if you don't make her perfect, she'll be upset that you feel that way about her!

  4. Jeff, that's interesting, about Cardno. I get the impression this kind of thing happens way more than I once realized.

    I too find myself collecting names to use later, O'Neil, and I do a lot of what you described: changing names slightly to maybe create some that are unique. Most of my tuckerizing has been using the exact names such that the tuckerizee recognizes himself or herself. (And how can anybody resist using a name like De Noux now and then?)

    Hey Melodie! Interesting!--I'm a little surprised to hear about the flack you've described. I would think most folks would be honored to be mentioned in that way. Maybe a good rule would be to avoid using the names of friends with insecurities, though I suspect that could narrow down anyone's field a bit.

  5. That was a great article and thank you. I do think of people I’d use as I continue to write stories in my head. I know. It doesn’t count if it isn’t on paper. Like you, I didn’t know that there was a term for that process. I’ve learned something new today and it’s only 8:28 am so old dogs can learn new things. Learning is always an on-going process.

  6. Thank you for reading it! And yes, you need to get some of those dreamed-up stories of yours on paper! (Or on your hard-drive.)

    Hey, I learn something new every day, about writing. Thanks for stopping in, here!

  7. John, so far, everyone whose name I've used as a story character has enjoyed the small bit of fame that gave them and usually told their friends and relatives about it. One couple still asks me from time to time what their dark relatives on the branch (they didn't know they had) on their family tree are up to these days.

    I was in the hotel lobby at one of the Bouchercons talking with Ted Hertel and happened to mention that his last name and my last name were used as story characters in one of Bill Crider's novels. (my character was a deputy sheriff, don't remember Ted's character now) So, we went over and teased Bill about using the names.

  8. RT, I've received the same kinds of comments, the times I've used friends' names in my stories. (And I often use the entire name, so there ain't much doubt who's who.

    I miss Bill Crider. The only times I saw him were at Bcons, but we sure had a good time visiting. And I corresponded with him a lot otherwise.

  9. I'm a frequent Tuckerizer, John — one of the main characters in my newest publication ("The Odds Are Good," which appears in the brand-new August issue of Mystery Weekly, is named Ginny Krause, after a woman I worked with at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland fifteen years ago.

    And speaking of The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno, there's also the much more recent Killing Malmon (Down and Out Books, 2017), in which thirty crime writers murdered co-editor (with his wife Kate) Dan Malmon to raise money to fight multiple sclerosis.


  10. I've never used anyone I know's full name in a story. I have, however, occasionally left clues for those who know me and know him/her as to who it might be (mainly for villains, who wouldn't read my stuff anyway).

  11. Josh, I bet Ms. Krause will be pleased you used her in your story. (Looking forward to reading that.)

    Eve, sounds like you're being extra mysterious, with your tuckerizing. I like your leaving of clues to their identities.

    I suspect all this is just a way for us to have fun with the writing. I know it is for me.

  12. My full name has appeared in at least two crime novels by people I don't know. No clue as to whether it was intentional or not.

  13. How funny, Rob! Maybe they saw your name and it just stuck with them. I love that!

    My full name was in one of the James Michener novels (SPACE, I think). I was even an engineer. How crazy is that.

  14. When I first began writing, as a teenager, I was instructed to never use someone's real name, so in all the years since I've been very careful to follow that advice. I make up names using the phone book (remember those?), odd stories in newspapers and now on line, and name-generators on line. I met a woman some years back who picked up a book by John Updike and found her name in it; she was very upset. But her name is a common old New England name so she really couldn't complain. I have no trouble using those--they're historically accurate and besides I've been listening to them most of my life. They're as common as the names of trees. Creating the right list of names for a story is work but also a lot of fun.

  15. Susan, it IS a lot of fun, to create names for stories. I jot down interesting names whenever I hear them, and wind up picking up names from just about anywhere--credits at the end of movies, news articles, obituaries, whatever. The tuckerizations are always done using the names of people I know pretty well, and who I know would be pleased by it.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  16. Most of the people I tuckerize are other writers, and they're usually used in minor roles so I don't risk offending them.

    I've been tuckerized at least once, in a science fiction novel by Thomas F. Monteleone. I died.

  17. Michael, I've been tuckerized only by you and Rob and (unintentionally) James A. Michener. A major role in Rob's, minor in yours and JAM's. At least y'all are the only tuckerizers I know about.

    Sorry you suffered such a rude fate in Monteleone's book. Later you must tell me which book it was.

  18. Great post. I also went back and read the other one. Love the term Tuckerized. I also learned something new today.

    I found my name in a book by Alice Orr. Can't remember the title but I think the story took place in NYC.

    I've used two cousins's names for characters in short stories. They were thrilled. I think that is the only time I used names of someone I know. I also, by accident used my late step-sister as a Kidnap villain in an anthology mystery. I didn't notice it at the time but my twin sister pointed it out. She laughed and asked if I had hard feelings about the step-sister. Didn't have an answer for her. Maybe I should go for counseling to find out why I did it. LOL

    I keep a list of spam names in a computer file. I figure if those people spend the time to put a nice sounding name together, I should make use of it. I also collect names of streets, towns, lakes, and rivers that I like to use in my fiction.

  19. Pat, that's funny about your use of the stepsister's name--yep, maybe there's some dim dark reasoning, there.

    As mentioned, I also like to collect neat-sounding names, and yes, for locations as well as for people. It pays off. And I like your practice of keeping a list of spam names. (I'd like to use the names of the spammers themselves, as villains of unspeakable crimes.)

    Thanks as always for your comments/thoughts/insights. Take care!

  20. Loved the article, John. I’m familiar with the practice, but you must have been the next to last writer on earth to learn that it had a name. For the most part, I use similar names to people I know. The main character’s name in my upcoming series is Tash, inspired by my daughter, Ashton.

    I used a teacher from my school’s name along with her practice of praying for “the sick, sad, and lonely.” Though she is in a different school in another town, I kept her name and subject the same. She was humbled by the mention.

  21. Great post, John. I've never used real names--scared to. But I am amused by those who do. Maybe you've heard that Elaine Viets, best-selling mystery writer, has as a very prominent character in one of her series named Margery Flax. I understand Margery gave Elaine permission to use her name. I always smile when I see it. There's always something interesting to talk about, isn't there? Looking forward to your next post.

  22. I've been Tuckerized once and half-Tuckered as well. Lee Goldberg used my name (with permission) for "Mr. Monk and the Crooked Cop," and an author of cozies who objected to my review of her debut book left me by the side of the road being eaten by a buzzard under a modified form of my name.

  23. Hey Al -- Good to "see" you here! I can easily understand why your former teacher was pleased by your mention of her name. And yes, I think that at times it is a matter of honor and respect that we give certain characters the names of people we know, love, or remember fondly. Well, maybe unless they're the killer in your mystery.

    Part of all this is fun because it makes me aware of the total control we have of the people and events in these stories of ours. That control is scary at times: if the story turns out good, we can be proud, and if it doesn't, well, it's no one's fault but our own.

    Again, thanks for stopping in at SleuthSayers, old friend. Please stay in touch!

  24. HA! Jan, I did NOT know that about Elaine's character. I bet Margery enjoys that!

    As someone said earlier in this discussion on Facebook, it really IS a way to give folks a little bit of fame and immortality, and it's fun for the writer, the tuckerizee, and the reader. A win/win/win situation.

    You stay safe, and keep me posted.

  25. Hi Bill--thank you for dropping in, here. I love it that Lee Goldberg used your name--quite an honor--and I must remember your account of what happened after you gave this other author a tough review. A little literary justice, there. (At least it sounds as if she changed your name up a bit . . .)

    Be safe. Thanks again for the comment!

  26. I spend a lot of time at our local beach in SW Florida, and I meet a lot of people every day, start a conversation and ask for first names, then tell them I collect names to use in my novels and short stories, and they usually love the idea. I've started asking the women if they want to be a "good girl" or a "bad girl," and many of the older ones say "bad," so I tell 'em they'll be an assassin; if they say "good," bodyguard. And I like using the really unusual ones; part of today's batch included Thi (Vietnamese, pronounced "Tee"), Van, Tally, Dami, Misha, Aurora, Haley, Audrena, Daya, Eli, Shiloh, Niki, Madison, Morgan, Troy, Corey, Summer and a few others my memory has lost. Some of them I've used in the past have actually bought or downloaded the books.

  27. Jake, you are indeed a writer who does his research! I'm not sure I've ever heard of a better way of working while you're playing.

    My problem is, I'd probably ask them and then forget the names.

    Thanks for chiming in, here!

  28. This is such fun! I've not included names of real people in my own stories (hesitant to do so, I'll admit) but I've been grateful to make cameos in several writers' work:

    Margaret Maron had me as a waiter in her novel Sand Sharks—a college student from George Mason University working a summer job at the beach!

    Toni Kelner/Leigh Perry used my name as one of Sid the Skeleton's aliases in The Skeleton Stuffs a Stocking.

    And David Swinson has me as victim in his book Trigger--I first appear in a death photo in that book, sad to say....

    David and I actually get along well, I should stress. I don't think that last cameo is vindictive in any way....

  29. Art, you've got some high-powered cameos, there. You're famous not only via your own writing but via the writing of others.

    The surprising thing, as I've learned more about tuckerizing, is that it seems to happen so often, and in so many ways. And, hey, maybe it means we should be even more attentive as we read. No telling where we might turn up!

    Thanks, Art, and best to Tara and Dash. You folks stay safe!

  30. Nobody’s mentioned the practice at live mystery conventions in the Before time of auctioning off the privilege of having their name used in an author’s book to fans. Yep, readers PAY to have writers tuckerize them. And speaking of Margery Flax, SJ Rozan used her name for a hooker in her novel Mandarin Plaid, and I found it jarring, it was so NOT my image of the real Margery. (If anyone reading this doesn’t know, she’s the administrative Grand Pooh-Bah of Mystery Writers of America.)

  31. Hey Liz. Yep, a lot of writers are charging for that, these days, and there are always a lot of takers. I didn't know about the auctioning at the conferences, though.

    You're right, any reader who knows Margery would be jarred out of the story when that name came up, for that character. Maybe that's one of the disadvantages of the practice (?).

  32. In my first published short story, I used everyone in my extended family's names -- I mixed them up so XY and AB became XB and AY. I proudly sent the story to my mother, sister, children, etc. ... Most thought it was funny, but my sister called and with an icy-tone mentioned that "It would be better for the sake of privacy if you stick to using your imagination." I did - I killed her off in my next story.

  33. Ha! Good for you, Debra--I'm afraid your sis got what she deserved. I too have swapped first and last names for characters quite a bit, and have also otherwise massaged names almost every way imaginable to come up with what I needed/wanted.

    I just received a Facebook note a few minutes ago from an old friend thanking me for the news that I'll be using his name as a character in an upcoming story. As I mentioned earlier, I think it's usually fun for the writer and the reader and the real person too. Why not?

    Take care--and thanks again for allowing me to be a part, the other day, of Murder in the Midlands--I had a great time!

  34. Oops--I meant Mystery in the Midlands. My bad.

  35. Hey John! Great post! I have always wondered how you writers develop your character names. Thanks for Tuckerizing Brother Alan in your soon to be published story. He is honored to be in a 'John M. Floyd' story and I can't wait to read it! Jerry Collums

  36. Hey JerryMan. I'll have to get you into one of these stories too! As for naming characters, I use a lot of sources. There are a few neat Internet sites for names, some of them based on time period or location. Now and then I'll look at baby-name sites, and sometimes I'll just jot down names that I hear or read about, for later use. I find myself using a lot of combinations of the names of folks you and I used to know, at IBM, the bank, etc. When I sit down and start writing the story itself, I'll often use abbreviations as place-holders and later insert the names. One story I wrote the other day started out with H for husband, W for wife, WF for wife's friend, N for neighbor, V for villain, etc. Hey, whatever works, right?

    You take care, and keep me posted! Thanks for stopping in, here.


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