Recently in an interview I was asked about the name Vincent Calvino. What had inspired me to use this name? In 1990-91 when I started the Calvino series, I began going through the possible names for the central character of the book I planned to write. Naming is an important act in the creation of a work of fiction. If the name fits, it somehow makes the act of imagining the character easier, more fluid and the person becomes, in a sense, “real.”
During this time, I had no idea that what became Spirit House would become the first in what would become a 9-book series (soon to become a 10-book series). I was working in the office of my apartment in Soi 27, Sukhumvit Road one morning, going over my notes. I had a very limited budget in those days. A part of the money was spent on books. Mostly second hand books that hotel staff would find left behind by guest. They would sell them for small change to second hand bookstores. On my desk were several such left behind books. My reading practice has always been to switch my reading between two or three books. I’d read a hour or more, then slip in a bookmark, and start on another book, and go back and forth until the books were read. One of the books I had been reading Italo Calvino’s The Uses of Literature.
Certain authors and their books come into your life at the right moment. The Uses of Literature was one of those books. I still have the original copy with my underscoring from the early 1990s. One of those underscored passages is:
“The telling of stories allowed certain relationships among the various elements and not others, things could happen in a certain order and not in others: prohibition had to come before transgression, punishment after transgression, the gift of magic objects before the trial of courage.”
The second Italo Calvino book I was reading at the same time was “If on a winter’s night a traveler.” I flipped back and forth between these two books. And in so doing, it was hard not to fall under Calvino’s spell. Together the two books delivered a one-two punch. One punch was a sidewinder of insight, the other a body blow of inspiration. Naming my the private eye who would work the mean streets of Bangkok became an obvious choice. Vincent Calvino became my small gesture to pay homage to a great master in literature who had influenced my own thinking about the tradition of literature.
As a footnote, Calvino’s influence hasn’t lessened over the years. When I was invited to attend Semana Negra in Gijon, Spain in 2007 I found a number of Latin American writers had also been greatly influenced by Calvino’s “Six Memos for The Next Millennium.” This small book (128 pages) is a series of lectures Italo Calvino delivered in the 1980s, where Italo Calvino examined the essential elements that he believed were part of our literary tradition. Those lectures have had a significant influence on a generation of Latin American and European writers. I am not certain what influence it may have had in North America.
Vincent Calvino has been the persona used to transmit evolving traditions and values of Western and Eastern cultures, showing their relationship, fault lines, and conflicts. Calvino has allowed me as a storyteller to record the dance of these two partners who have no choice but to find a way to move across the dance floor together.