I wanted to follow up on my Nicholas D. Bryson post from a few weeks ago! Based on the lively discussion in the comments section, I am once again asking for your input:
The simplest and (in my opinion) most elegant solution would be to name the character after Phileas Fogg, the protagonist from the Jules Verne story Around the World in Eighty Days. Making him a (somewhat) recognizable character would justify his bombastic entrance, and Verne’s association with high-flying adventure fits the character well.
But this choice rides on one very important question: Uh, was Verne racist? Like, more racist than your average 19th century European? To be honest, I’m not terribly familiar with Verne, which would dissuade me from including one of his characters were I not in desperate need of a band-aid solution to this Bryson problem. I’d never thought that he was particularly known for being racist, but when I mentioned him to a friend, she was like, “All I know about those books is that they’re racist.” Which was alarming, because my impression until that point was, “Fun balloon guy! Unproblematic fave.”
My general impression is that the racism in question is pretty standard for an adventure story of that era, but to be blunt: Would it be offensive to name a Black character after a Jules Verne character? Would anyone care?
I may be massively overthinking this. My intention here is for readers to go, “That name sounds kinda familiar. Oh, he’s the guy from that book with the balloon on the cover? Sure, that makes sense.”
Also, I am aware that there are no hot air balloons in Around the World in Eighty Days! The better solution might be Dr. Fergusson from Five Weeks In a Balloon, but my concern is—and I may be even more off base on this one—that it’s a little strange to give a Black character the name Ferguson? And the racism concern applies double here—the subtitle for that one is “A Journey of Discovery by Three Englishmen in Africa,” which definitely sets off my “ruh roh” sensors.
The alternative solution is to just make him a wholly original character, though that might make the end of the Lodgers’ intro sequence play a little flat. Several folks suggested simply replacing the Neil deGrasse Tyson reference with a Carl Sagan reference, which would be quite clever! But from the publisher’s perspective, the thing we’re actually trying to avoid is referencing any real person. You know those little "Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental” disclaimer that they write in the beginning of books? That’s what this is!
Apologies for the Patreon-length blog post this week! This character is such a headache, and the deadline for submitting finished materials to my editor is approaching fast.