What’s In a Name?


telephone book - white pagesHow many times have we, as writers, sat down to write something new, and gotten stuck on the very basics – picking names for our characters?  I know this has happened to me more than once, and I’ve put in a “stand-in” name to take the place of what I’ll eventually use.  A find and replace later will fix it.

But I’d like to start with the right name to begin with, and sometimes I won’t allow myself to write until I figure out what that character’s name is.  It seems important, somehow, that they have the right name.  At least, for the hero and heroine, it feels like it is important.  For ancillary characters, names can wait, or any name will do.

So where do I find names?  I have multiple sources, but my favorite for last names has to be the phone book.  Not that we really get those anymore, but I have an old rather dog-eared one I use to look at names.  I lived in a large metropolitan area up until a few years ago, so our white pages were four inches thick.  Plenty to choose from there.  For first names, I often hit my “60,000 Baby Name” book.  If I can’t find it in there, it probably doesn’t exist.

But what about ethnic names, historical names, etc.?  Well, in this case, the web is my friend.  There are hundreds of websites that list names from all ethnicities and nationalities.  There are lists for Jewish names, Mexican names, Portuguese names, Italian names, etc.  Need a name for an Aboriginal from Australia?  There are web sites for that too!

I have also been known to use old families from my own background when I’m looking for something unusual.  I might also write down an unusual name of someone I read about in the newspaper.  I have a running list of unusual names on my bulletin board.  I keep adding to it.  You never know when you’re going to need an unusual or striking name for a character.  Having that running list means I’ve always got something to pick from.

How do you pick names for your characters?  What are your favorite sites to look at, or favorite ways to look at names?

Contemporary World-Building


Shelf of booksI always say I don’t write historical romance novels because the research is daunting.  If you get something wrong in a historical, your readers will know.  Were there trains in Wyoming in 1865?  Did people take baths in Italy in 1838? What did they eat on the long journey the Santa Maria took from the old world to the new world?  What rights did women have in Colonial India?

It’s a lot of work.  And I’m lazy.  I do have two historical novels I’ve written, but are not ready for publication.  I know I’ve gotten a ton of elements wrong.  I know there is more research to be done.  I would just change them to contemporaries to make it easier, but the tropes I’m using would never translate to contemporary times.  I’ve thought about both of those stories for years.  The stories are good, the plots are awesome.  It’s all that troublesome historical detail that has me hung up.

So I write contemporaries.  But even in contemporary stories, there is research, and world building.  How many hours a day does an architect work, and how much money does he make?  Do firemen sleep at their fire stations?  Can a woman who owns a coffee-shop-slash-bakery ever take a day off?  What does a rural veterinarian’s day look like?

This takes some research too.  I don’t want my characters to seem unrealistic, and I also want them to live “normal” lives, whatever that means.  I know a lot about what I do for a living, and what a day for me is like, but I’m not writing about me.  So the research has to happen.

I also have to build realistic scenes, realistic events, and realistic living situations.  What is the weather in October like in Wisconsin, as opposed to California?  What are holiday events like in rural areas, as opposed to urban areas?  What kinds of industry might be more likely in Pennsylvania, as opposed to Montana?  Is there a lake, ocean, or river?  Or just a lot of rocks and pine trees?  Are there wild animals, or just the neighbor’s dogs?  j

This takes thought, as well as some research.  In my first novel, set in a generic town in Wisconsin in October, the heroine runs a bed and breakfast in a town known for fall tourism and antiquing, and the hero is a fire chief.  Halloween and the season’s first snowfall came at the same time in that story, because, in Wisconsin, that can happen.  I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t gone and looked it up.  The young fire chief lived at the fire station.  The heroine was extremely busy on the weekends, but not so much during the week, as she had guests in her B & B from Friday through Sunday.

Scene-building and world-building are important to make a story believable, but also to set a certain tone for the characters, and by extension, the readers. We read for entertainment, and all of that work on building the world our characters are living in, even if it is modern day, makes all the difference.  Our readers get to escape to someone else’s, world, even if only for a couple hundred pages.

My research begins with Google, and often ends at the local library and a well-read reference librarian.  Yes, even for a contemporary novel, there is research to be done.  It’s a good thing I like libraries.  And there’s no better research partner than an excited reference librarian.

How do you do your research for world-building?  Do you write a particular genre because of the research (either because you like the research or are avoiding doing too much research, like me)?  What are your go-to sources?  Would love to hear your comments!

Fall Beckons, As Does My Writing Desk


Stand of Aspen in fall in ColoradoFall approaches, and quickly.  The over-90 degree weather of a couple weeks ago is already a memory, and we wake up to temperatures in the upper 40’s.  Frost is still a few weeks away, but you can start to feel that bite in the air.  Here in Colorado, the high country is already ablaze with the gold of the Aspen in fall color.  Their coin-shaped leaves dance in the lightest breeze, reminding one of a belly dancer’s coined belt.  Fall is here.

It is cliche to say this is my favorite time of year.  It is many people’s favorite time of the year.  The cool, crisp air, the gorgeous fall colors, the evenings that beg for a fire in the fireplace (or firepit, in our case), and the smells of filling comfort foods like soups and stews.

For me, this time also means a natural slow-down in the mundane activities of everyday life.  The gardens are done, or almost done.  The bounty of summer has been preserved in freezers and jars and dehydrators, to be enjoyed over the winter.  There is no longer grass to cut, sporting events to attend with children, or outdoor activities to take up every weekend.

It is time to…WRITE!  Fall means I have more time to write.  More time to sit and think.  More time to go over previous work and make edits.  A long, cool afternoon spent at my writing desk, wrapped in my favorite sweater, a steaming cup of tea at the ready, is my idea of a perfect day.  Nothing calls to me, no things that “have” to be done.  I have few distractions.

Fall comes early here in Colorado, at least, earlier than I’m used to with my Midwestern upbringing.  But that’s okay.  Summer is intense here, and it is nice to know this break is coming.  And of course, there is also the pull of National Novel Writing Month, which happens in November.  I’ve never missed a year in the last 12.  I don’t intend to miss year 13.

What do you like best about fall?  Is it also your writing time?

Fairest of the Faire – available now!

Fairest of the Faire book coverBlurb:

Schoolteacher Connie Meyers is suddenly a young widow, her husband killed in a horrific car accident. Heartbroken to find out he had gambled away everything they had, she moves to her sister-in-law’s Midwest home to rebuild her life. A trip to the local Renaissance Faire with her nieces leads to a summer job as a costumed storyteller.

Avowed bad boy and fair performer Gage Youngblood is infatuated with Connie at first sight. Despite his deliberately commitment-free life, and Connie’s don’t-touch-me attitude, he soon has her in his arms, realizing quickly she is also in his heart.

When she is threatened by her late husband’s bookie, he steps into the role of protector, his fate forever sealed with hers.

Available NOW!

Buy at Wild Rose Press:  (eBook and paperback)

Buy at Amazon (Kindle and paperback)

Buy at Barnes and Noble (Nook)

Fiction Reading That Influences Writing


Bench made of books in a public spaceI read a lot.  I read articles online, I get two magazines each month (Mother Earth News and MaryJane’s Farm), and I have a stack of books I want to read in my closet, on my nightstand, and on my bookshelf in my office.  I have books on writing, editing, communicating.  I have books full of interesting and obscure words, books of funny phrases and colloquialisms, books of physical descriptions, and more than one dictionary and more than one thesaurus.  I have books of general fiction, short stories, women’s fiction, and romance.  I have books I can’t categorize.

How many of the things I read influence my writing?  Probably all of it, to one degree or another.  My magazines are mostly about gardening and cooking, and those are practical skills that I use every day, especially this time of year.  But I am also letting some of that “country” into my current WIP.  The non-fiction books help me with crafting my novels – how to build characters, how to write effective opening scenes, how to craft my sentences for maximum effect.  I’ve been writing for more than 40 years, but I always have new things to learn, new techniques to try, new ways of saying old things.

But what about all that fiction?  I am by no means a voracious reader, but I do read fiction regularly.  I also have “no patience for bad books,” as I like to say sometimes.  If a book doesn’t catch me in the first 50 pages, I’m not likely to finish it.  It will go to the discard pile in a hurry.  Since I read a broad variety of fiction, I feel I’m always stretching my wings with fiction.  I used to read romance exclusively – historicals wen I was younger, and contemporaries as I passed 30.  I still read a lot of romance.  But I read other things as well.  And I think all of those things help me to see a bigger world.  And sometimes, I get ideas about something I want to write, from some element of a story I’ve read.

To be clear, I am not lifting scenes from fiction I’ve read and using them in my own work.  As a “spiral writer” who writes around a small seed of an idea, that would be impractical to say the least.  But a scene in a novel, or a description of a place or person, might spark an idea that I will take into a novel that I am working on.  And I think that is one of the biggest values, for me, of reading fiction.

In a perfect world, I’d spend half my day writing, and half my day reading.  But I live in the real world, a practical world.  There is the day J.O.B., the gardens in my own yard I need to maintain, the cooking and cleaning required of any wife and mother, the crafts I like to do – sewing, crochet, and whatever else I fancy at any given moment.  There is time to spend with family and friends, and events to attend in my small-town-big-city.  By necessity, my reading time is limited.  But I still do it, and I know it influences my writing.  And that’s just as it should be.

Fairest of the Faire – available now!

Fairest of the Faire book coverBlurb:

Schoolteacher Connie Meyers is suddenly a young widow, her husband killed in a horrific car accident. Heartbroken to find out he had gambled away everything they had, she moves to her sister-in-law’s Midwest home to rebuild her life. A trip to the local Renaissance Faire with her nieces leads to a summer job as a costumed storyteller.

Avowed bad boy and fair performer Gage Youngblood is infatuated with Connie at first sight. Despite his deliberately commitment-free life, and Connie’s don’t-touch-me attitude, he soon has her in his arms, realizing quickly she is also in his heart.

When she is threatened by her late husband’s bookie, he steps into the role of protector, his fate forever sealed with hers.

Available NOW!

Buy at Wild Rose Press:  (eBook and paperback)

Buy at Amazon (Kindle and paperback)

Buy at Barnes and Noble (Nook)