Where do character names come from?

In a current WIP my main character’s wife is named Marta. I’ve loved that name since I met my first Marta in Esteli, Nicaragua, back when the U.S. government was funding the Contras in an attempt to destabilize the Sandinista government.

Marta was a young woman who’d been kidnapped by the Contras — according to what she told my guide. They had raped her a hundred times and used her as a pack mule to carry weapons and gear. Nobody in town knew her, she had just appeared wearing a muddy soldier’s uniform, shoeless.

I was on a layover between scouting missions with a Sandinista BLI unit and had three days off. I told my guide that we should pay for a room for her and make sure she had food and saw a doctor. But he was hesitant, saying two Americans — he was originally an aid worker from San Francisco — paying and caring for some Nica woman who danced into town late at night, claiming to be a victim of the Contras, might bring trouble. He worried she might turn on us, accuse us of hurting her.

We argued for a while and Marta ended up sleeping on the front porch of the small restaurant where we’d been having dinner. The owner brought her a blanket and we gave him some money to feed her in the morning.

But she was gone when we came back just after dawn. She’d left the blanket behind, folded on top of a table. That was the last I saw of the woman until I brought her name back to life on my computer screen.

About colealpaugh

Cole Alpaugh's newspaper career began in the early 80s, starting with small daily papers in Maryland and Massachusetts, where his stories won national awards. His most recent job was at a large daily in Central New Jersey, where his "true life" essays included award-winning pieces on a traveling rodeo and an in-depth story on an emergency room doctor that was nominated by Gannett News Service for a 1991 Pulitzer Prize. Cole also contracted with two Manhattan-based news agencies, covering conflicts in Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Thailand and Cambodia. His work has appeared in dozens of magazines, as well as most newspapers in America. Cole is currently a freelance photographer and novelist living in Northeast Pennsylvania, where he spends afternoons in a virtual running race around the equator, and evenings watching his daughter's magical stage performances. You can find him online at ColeAlpaugh.com.
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