Ger­ald Kol­pans newest book, Mag­ic Words: The Tale of a Jew­ish Boy-Inter­preter, the World’s Most Estimable Magi­cian, a Mur­der­ous Har­lot, and Amer­i­ca’s Great­est Indi­an Chief, is now avail­able. He will be blog­ging here for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing all week.

When you’re writ­ing a nov­el, it’s often sur­pris­ing how a char­ac­ter will insin­u­ate him­self into your sto­ry.

Some­times they appear out of nowhere — as in the case of Prophet John McGar­rigle, the clair­voy­ant Indi­an scout in my new nov­el, Mag­ic Words. I was writ­ing a pas­sage in which one of my main char­ac­ters, Julius Mey­er, walks into an over­heat­ed shack seek­ing shel­ter from the cold. Inside that shack was Prophet John.

Sure, Julius was sur­prised, by not half as sur­prised as me. I had no idea who John was, what he was doing in that shack or why he was in my book. I had to write him to find out.

The sto­ry of Eli Ger­shon­son, a Jew­ish ped­dler in the Old West, is just the oppo­site. He took a long and cir­cuitous route to his sup­port­ing role in Mag­ic Words.

Eli start­ed life in my lit­tle son’s bed­room. He was part of an imag­i­nary gang of pro­tec­tors” I would tell Ned about at bed­time; their job was to fight off his night­mares.

The group includ­ed the Bagel Man (the hero of a song I made up), the Guys Up The Street (some tough dudes who hung at 2nd & Kenil­worth, our Philadel­phia cor­ner), and Eli Ger­shon­son, Esq., a lawyer who would take the bad dreams to court if they dared both­er my boy (noth­ing like a law­suit to scare off Fred­dy Krueger).

It may sound a bit elab­o­rate, but most nights, it worked.

Cut to 15 years lat­er.

I was writ­ing my first nov­el, Etta, and found myself in need of a name for a char­ac­ter – a Jew­ish ped­dler of the type who roamed the West by the hun­dreds at the turn of the cen­tu­ry. By this time, my son was 21 and no longer need­ed a night­side attor­ney, so I appro­pri­at­ed Mr. Gershonson’s moniker, revoked his law degree and gave him a wag­on filled with pots, pans, cloth, nee­dles, pins and oth­er chaz­erai. In the end, he appeared in less than two pages in the book, but that was all he need­ed to advance the plot.

I fig­ured that was my farewell to Eli.

Then, in 2009, when I was writ­ing Mag­ic Words, I need­ed a name and back­ground for anoth­er Jew­ish ped­dler who would be Julius Meyer’s uncle in the book. He need­ed to be patient, hon­est, and kind, but with a qui­et author­i­ty.

I soon real­ized that the char­ac­ter I was envi­sion­ing had all of the qual­i­ties of the char­ac­ter I already had.

So, Eli Ger­shon­son jumped from my first book to my sec­ond, pots and pan intact, though shed­ding some 30 years in the tran­si­tion. In Mag­ic Words, his part isn’t a page-and-a-half cameo, but a major role woven through­out the nar­ra­tive. In fact, he’s one of the last char­ac­ters we see in the book.

I’m thank­ful to Eli for allow­ing me to move him from one sto­ry to the next. His pres­ence gave my two books a kind of crazy con­ti­nu­ity, not to men­tion that I was afford­ed the great plea­sure of get­ting to know him bet­ter.

Believe me, he’s a men­sch.

Vis­it Ger­ald Kol­pan’s web­site for more about Mag­ic Words and his first nov­el, Etta.