Archive for the ‘#writingcommunity’ Tag

Real Fictional Locations   14 comments

Do you use real or fictional cities in your writing? How do you incorporate them into the story?

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A Cautionary Tale

There’s something to be said for skipping some world-building, but authors generally need to be more careful when they use real locations in a work of fiction.

There was a book written in the 1970s about Fairbanks during the TransAlaska Pipeline construction boom. It wasn’t a very good book, but I was forced to read it as an assignment in an Alaska Literature summer course I took for extra credit. I wanted to graduate in four years but the University of Alaska tried to foist a 9th semester on me by saying one of my English credits didn’t qualify because…reasons. So I took a correspondence course because I had a life to get to.

This book, which I don’t remember the name of, supposedly described places in my hometown, and it got a LOT wrong. The writer supposedly lived in Fairbanks during the TAPS, but I’d bet he didn’t spend a lot of time here. So I’ve always been leery of using real locations, other than Fairbanks, Seattle (where I’ve spent a lot of time), or Manchester New Hampshire (where I’ve also spent a fair bit of time) as locations in my books because it’s offputting when authors get stuff wrong about your town. One of my favorite mystery novelists Phyllis A Whitney admitted at the start of a book that she’d moved some locations around in a novel for plot flow and that’s great. I’m sure the people of Charleston SC appreciated her honesty, but what if I get something inadvertently wrong and a reader goes to that location trying to find it.

Nope, I prefer not to do that.

Real as a Foundation for Fiction

But I do use real communities as the settings for my books. I just don’t identify them that way. For example, the town of Emmaus in Transformation Project is based on two real towns. One is my mother’s hometown in North Dakota. Some of the people in the town (renamed) and some of the buildings are borrowed from that location, transported by fictional magic to Kansas, where I use the statistical data of a Kansas town in that general location to tell me what highways run by it, whether they have natural gas or a nuclear plant nearby, and what the weather is like at different times of the year. What flight trajectory would you take if you were taking off from this town? What crops grow well there? I drove through that town 30 years ago. It seemed like a nice place, but I don’t think the residents would appreciate if I took liberties with their town in my fictional book. So it’s called Emmaus, Kansas, which is a very fictional town with some basis in reality.

I did the same thing in What If Wasn’t series. I picked a town where I wanted to situate the story. I’ve been there — once–15 years ago or so. I spent an afternoon. That’s not enough to say I really know the town. I use the town as a template for the fictional town in the novel series, but I feel much freer to take liberties because it’s not really that town. It’s Port Mallory, New York, and it only exists in my books.

Someday, I do plan to finish the story I’ve been noodling with that is set more or less in Fairbanks. But I don’t know for sure that I will identify it as such. Yes, I’m intimately familiar with this town, but the fact is I might need to make adjustments for plot flow and I’d rather not make a muddle of my hometown.

Welcome to the Mixed League   14 comments

Big internet fight: Are you team cat or team dog? (or something else?)

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Mildly Allergic

I am mildly allergic to dogs. They make my eyes itch. If I’m around them for a while, I stop being allergic to that particular dog, but this explains why my first pet as an adult was a cat. His name was Shakespeare and he was a long-haired Siamese who had an incredibly intelligent blue-eyed stare. Siamese are very people-oriented and he knew how to get attention. We’ve had five cats over the years, four males and a female. The males were much more friendly and kind of lazy compared to the female, who loved to go outside and hunt and was always bringing dead things to the deck. When she’d get bored in the winter, she’d hunt the dogs like they were gemsbok and she was a lioness. Fortunately, she didn’t have front claws, so she couldn’t actually kill them. The dogs thought she was playing and she never said a mumbling word.

He Brought Home a Guinea Pig

I came home from work one day and there was a guinea pig sleeping in a box. Only it wasn’t a guinea big. It was a four-week-old Lab-mix puppy my husband got as a tip at a furnace job. She had two stubby little teeth, she couldn’t really walk yet, and her eyes had just opened. Her mother was the product of two pure-bred guard dogs (a German Shepherd and a Doberman) who mated through a fence and her father was the prime breeding male Lab in this area. He broke a chain and climbed a 10-foot fence to get to her. For a mixed breed, she had a great pedigree. The mother had 16 pups on her first heat. The owners loved their dog and could see so many puppies were wearing her down, so they were giving them away in hopes of not having to drown half the litter. Since we lived in a tiny home at the time, Brad picked the smallest puppy. We called my brother, who owned a breeding kennel at the time, and asked him what we should do to keep her alive until she could eat regular food. “You picked the runt. It will be a miracle if she survives, but blended Puppy Chow and baby-food beef should get her through the next few weeks if she doesn’t die of hypothermia first.”

Cana became her name because that was the place of Jesus’ first miracle. She was our first baby. We had to get up in the middle of the night to feed her, change her blanket and rewarm her water bottle. Cana grew up to be a pretty big Labrador who had the longer legs and longer nose of her maternal grandparents. She mostly looked and acted like a Lab. She loved water, liked children, thought cats were awfully grumpy, and was always ready to have fun. She lived to be 14-1/2 years old. She hiked all over with us and wanted to play fetch until your arm fell off. She thought her job was to watch our kids and keep them from doing anything dangerous to themselves. She would try to rescue us when we swam (apparently she didn’t think we could).

Her best friend was Dickens, an old-type Siamese who probably weighed 25 pounds (muscle, not fat) and for some reason decided she wasn’t horrible. They would play together and lay together for hours. He would rub his ears on the inside of her canines because he trusted this dog who was three times his size.

When Dickens died, we got Cana a puppy — a Lab-Husky mix (Huskador) we named Good Friday (because that was the date of her birth). Friday turned out not to be a good dog. She ran away often, didn’t really care for children, stole other dogs; food (and pails of ice cream from neighbor’s porches), and had to be watched in the house or she’d climb on the table and eat whatever was there. We trained her the same way we trained Cana and nothing worked. My brother declared her untrainable. “She’s whip-smart and she will outwait you, so just learn to accommodate her.” Trying to outsmart our dog became a hobby. Our woodshed is impenetrable because it used to be Friday’s kennel and she was an escape artist. This winter as the price of diesel spirals up, we can be assured our wood isn’t at risk because “Good” Friday was a naughty dog.

When Cana died, we got Friday a puppy. Sunrise was an absolutely gorgeous yellow Lab with the sunniest personality possible. She wanted to please…Friday. When she was away from Friday, she was a great dog, but when she was with Friday she would cast us an apologetic look and do what her companion demanded. My husband was pretty sure she was stupid. But when Friday died (at 16), Sunrise took to hanging out with him. When he didn’t warm to her immediately, she stole his shoes — both of them and he found them in perfect condition in her rest area. She was clearly horrified that he was upset over his shoes going missing, but that cemented their bond and they spent a lot of time hiking, fishing, and driving around together. She also hung out with me as my combination footstool-muse when I was writing. And she adored our son. When Angel would try to hunt her in the winter, she’d mistake that as an invitation to play and come away all flustered by a left cross to the nose. Believing that “cats have claws” is a myth, she never really understood why Angel was so grumpy. She just wanted to be friends. She had a big enough heart even to love Friday and Angel.

And while Sunrise loved to chase sticks (or whatever you were willing to throw), she wouldn’t bring them back. This was part of the training she received from Friday, who would not allow her to return a fetch to us. Apparently, that was beneath Friday’s dignity, so Sunrise wasn’t allowed to do it either. She would bring the retrieving dummy back about five feet away, drop it on the ground, shake the water from her fur, and then just look at us like “You’re going to throw it again, aren’t you? Please, please, please.” Friday also taught Sunrise how to enjoy running full speed like a husky does, making her an odd one among Labs. She never lost her sense of humor. We once had her down by the river during spring migration. We heard honking and turned to find Sunrise with a Canadian goose in her mouth, too startled to fight back. Labs have really soft mouths and Sunrise was an excellent swimmer. The gander was alive and appeared merely ruffled when Brad made Sunrise release it. We watched for a while to assure it was uninjured while it told quite the tale to its mate.

Sunrise never got the memo that dogs grow old. Except for some grey in her muzzle, she was spry and bouncy at 14 years old. That summer, we discovered an old burn area on our remote property where hundreds of trees had fallen over in a giant pick-up-stick pile. We were picking our way across stepping from one tree trunk to another when I looked back to see Sunrise following us, jumping from one tree trunk to another and smiling like this was a grand adventure. Not bad for someone who was the equivalent of 100 years old.

She passed on July 4, looking like she’d jumped up from her dog bed to go do something fun and just keeled over. It was a pretty way to go and gave new meaning to Independent Day. I often think she’s probably running full tilt through the neighborhood as she did when Friday would orchestrate an escape.

Team ???

We talk about getting another pet sometimes. We like the independence and easy care of cats, but we also like the fact that dogs can go with us places. Neither of us really wants to clean up after a pet, but we do miss the companionship. We also have different philosophies on training. I want a dog that obeys us and he’s a bit of a pet anarchist. So, I don’t know if we’ll get another one or not. My guess is dogs nudge cats out of the running very slightly because of the indoor litterbox need in the winter, but truthfully, we’re fans of the mixed league. Cats and dogs raised together don’t know anything about hating the other species.

So welcome to the mixed league.

Posted November 21, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Intellectual Exploration   1 comment

If you could take a free class at a university, what course would you take??

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Why Free?

I still take an occasional class at our local university as finances and time allow. I pay for those and am glad to do it, which is why I wonder why it would need to be a free class. Though, I admit, I mostly take classes through the University’s Community College these days because it’s much less expensive.

There’s also the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which you pay a membership – $35 for a year and $15 a class (up to 10 courses a year, which I couldn’t manage so there’s no use looking at the more expensive tier. So, I can get courses nearly for free. Pre-covid, I was going to teach a creative writing class, but I haven’t gotten around to setting that up again.

Art Class

I think if I was going to take a course through the University these days, I’d be torn between taking an art class or a course in video storytelling. The world we live in today seems to lend itself to video storytelling, but I’m almost entirely certain I want to be behind the camera, not in front of it. Then again, a digital art class would be useful for cover design. Or I could just take a drawing or painting class for fun. Since it’s about $900 a course at UAF, free sounds interesting, but I have low-cost options available already.

Posted October 24, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Great Alaska Pizza   10 comments

What toppings do you put on your pizza? Is pineapple a real pizza topping?

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Simply Pizza

Ah, Pizza, one of North America’s food groups!

My husband and I consume pizza about twice a month. There’s a great pizza company here in Fairbanks that does a once-a-month Customer Appreciation Day. You have to pick it up, they only have mediums on that day and it only comes in cheese and pepperoni and cheese. We usually pick up two. We consume one that night and he has lunches for the next two days.

Then the other night when we consume pizza, it’s usually a weird one that I made myself.

Either way, there’s always going to be pepperoni on it because it ain’t pizza without pepperoni.

When we customize our pizza, our favorite ingredients are pepperoni, extra cheese, black olive, and mushrooms.

Libertarian Pizza

I’m libertarian, which means I don’t technically care what you put on your pizza. You do you. I will eat pineapple pizza, but I don’t make pizzas with pineapple on them and I don’t order them that way. I think pineapple on pizza is a dodgy idea. People put a lot of dodgy ingredients on pizza. A friend from Australia says Vegemite pizza is quite good. Uh….

But what you want to do with your pie is entirely your business. Enjoy. It’ll leave more pepperoni for me.

Posted October 10, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Let the Character Speak   6 comments

Does your writing style change depending upon what you are writing?

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Characters are My Guide

My writing style changes with the character and so often changes not just from one genre to another, but even within a book, especially if I’m writing from the first-person perspective. This is less so in third-person. The narrative style often stays the same, though in Daermad Cycle where I’m switching between cultures, I do make some changes to reflect the differences. The narrative in the Celdryan sections has a decided Gaelic lilt while the narrative in the Kin sections sounds like an American voice. I do this to provide some distance between the two very different peoples. It turns out to be pretty hard to write that way, so it takes me a lot longer between books than Transformation Project or What If Wasn’t, but I’m glad I made that choice because it does add depth to the books they otherwise might not have.

Obviously, when I’m writing in first-person perspective, the narrative is driven by the character’s voice, so the style changes depending on the character.

And that makes sense, right? No two people think alike and when you’re writing stories from within the head of a character, the character ought to sound like themselves and not any other character in the book.

I wonder what my fellow blog-hoppers are saying.

Posted October 3, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Interview with Cai Delaney   5 comments

Interview one of your characters (not your main character.) How do they feel playing second fiddle to your main character?

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Who Are You?

Tell us something about yourself.

I’m Malacai Delaney, oldest son of Rob and Jill Delaney, brother of Shane and Keri Delaney, husband of Dr. Marnie Callahan Delaney, a lawyer. Everybody calls me Cai.

You’ve actually had quite a lot of air time in the series. Are you still a secondary character?

Yeah, well — you’ve got a point. I was the main character for most of A Death in Jericho because Shane was healing up from an accident. And you’ve been really mean to me.

Have I?

You have. I was nearly killed at the Colorado-Kansas state line. I guess I should thank you for not putting me in the City Hall shelter with the hundred who died there. Then I ended up running from the military in Wichita. I spent the night under a bridge. Then I ended up enslaved in Hutchinson, Kansas. I had to kill a man. Then I had to save Mike’s life by threatening to kill people. I’ve been disposing of bodies all winter as people go hungry or get sick and die. And now at the end of Worm Moon, you seem to have killed me off. You’re really a blood-soaked author.

I’m just telling your story as you give it to me.

Hmmph. Well, I guess I should thank you for leaving my life status up in the air for the next book.

Anyone can die in my books. As I showed in Winter’s Reckoning, even Shane could die. Since right at the moment you and the readers don’t know if you’re living or dead, let’s talk about you a bit. Who is your best friend?

Oh! I have three, well, four. I’d say Alex Lufgren, but we just became friends after Shane left and now that Shane is back, Alex’s allegiance has shifted. Brian Callahan and I have gotten really close this winter. We were enslaved together at Hutchinson. That can be a bonding experience. My wife, Marnie, is probably the person I’m closest to, even though I often don’t understand her. And, oddly, Shane is becoming a good friend. He’s mellowed since he was hurt this winter. For a really long time, we didn’t get along at all, and then when he came back, he scared the hell out of me, but he’s showing sides of his personality that are new and I’m enjoying that.

So you’re a lawyer, but you’ve done very little lawyering in this book series.

Not a lot of legal matters to settle, really. I think the law is for more civilized times than this winter. I was kind of looking forward to helping to re-establish a basis of law in America as things recover. I kind of feel like I’m missing out if I die.

I’m not telling you or the readers if you live. It’s your story, man! Tell me! Do you live? Will you have brain damage? Until I started writing the next book, I had no idea, and I’m not telling. But, in the interest of this interview, how would you re-establish law in America now that things are coming out of the crisis?

Well, I don’t get to go to the constitutional convention. That sucks!

You were busy being injured and potentially dying. Or suffering brain damage. And do you really think this convention will be a bunch of lawyers poring over a lot of boring legal tomes?

I hope not! You won’t hear this from many lawyers — and I think a lot of us didn’t survive to say it — but a part of what was wrong with America was too many laws. They overlapped, contradicted one another, made ordinary activities illegal under certain specific circumstances. The system had just become so complicated. If I’d gone to the convention, I would have wanted to keep a lot of the old Constitution, but made it more state-based, assuring the federal government couldn’t overrule the states. I don’t think that was ever the thought for the original framers and since we’ve been utterly transformed in the last six months, now’s a really good time to do a rebalancing. And….

Hold on there, Cai! You might not even be alive in the next book. We get that you want to start with a clean slate.

It’s an opportunity to make a limited set of laws that don’t contradict one another or the Constitution. Sue me if I get excited about practicing my profession.

So what have you been doing with your time during the chaos? Disposing of bodies and…?

Shane refused to lead up the internal community patrol. He fears his skills from overseas might hurt our neighbors. Those skills are darned useful on the wire, keeping strangers out, but he might be right that the boundaries are a little blurry for him. So Dad asked me to lead the community patrol. We really haven’t had any instances since.

Instances?

A mob tried to loot Dell Conophor’s house. They had a big truck garden and animals to provide milk and cheese. People who are hungry get weird and dangerous, even toward people they played softball with just last summer. That’s why we created the community patrol. But its existence seems to have fixed the problem. Or people were just so shocked that neighbors had to shoot neighbors to protect their family that they remembered their civilization.

You don’t do the border patrol?

I do. I do both. I want to be useful. Lawyers are kind of useless even at the best of times, but in a survival situation, my skills are pretty useless. So I try to help where I can. I’m sick and tired of burying people, though.

How does your faith come into all of this?

I believe everything falls within God’s will, even when we don’t understand it. The events in September, the EMP later, the flu that’s paralyzing teenage kids, the hunger and lack of heat — it’s all working together within His plans, but it’s not always going to feel that way to us. When I got shot, it felt like I must have been doing something wrong, but I was coming out of that, grateful to be alive and starting to feel better physically when this happened. Now I don’t know if I’m going to survive to the next book.

Tell me about being a father.

(Long pause). That’s why I don’t want to die. Rebuilding the world sounds like this great adventure, but rebuilding it for him or her — that’s the miracle, right? It’s just a couple more months. I can leave Marnie now and my kid needs both parents. I need to live for her.

Then tell me more of your story. You’re not just a secondary character, so your story matters, but only if you keep talking to me. When you stop talking, I have to do something with you. I can’t just let you hang around as a non-playable character. Not after you’ve given me such a rich story so far. Talk, man, and let’s see where your story goes.

Posted September 5, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Editing is Writing   6 comments

How do you know when you’ve done all the editing you can on your story? Or that you’ve gone too far?

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As Many Times As It Takes

Editing is the working part of writing for me. I really enjoy the discovery of the story on the initial writing. As a discovery writer, I don’t really know what’s coming until I get to it. But after my first pass, the story isn’t over. There are holes in my story that you could drive a truck through and they need to be closed. Since I’m writing series, I need to check in with secondary threads. So my first editing pass fills in the holes and asks if things can be left off. I prune and fill in, reshape and move around. I actually enjoy this part almost as much as the first draft.

The second pass of editing is where the real work of looking for errors — spelling, grammar, passive voice construction, words I don’t need–begins.

The third pass is more of the same, but I run it through Grammarly to assure I didn’t miss any grammar errors. The fourth pass involves letting the computer read it aloud. I find a lot of errors this way and sometimes I hear sentence constructions that need to be revised that I missed when I was reading silently.

Then I send it to my editor who says she goes through it three times. She makes suggestions in the comments section rather than changing my writing and letting me figure out what she’s done. When it comes back to me, I do another pass and make the changes I think make sense and then I let my husband read the manuscript with a highlighter in hand. Sometimes he catches some stray errors.

When Has Editing Gone Too Far

In all honesty, I think I do enough editing passes, but I’m aware that you can edit too much. At writer’s guild meetings, I sometimes hear other writers talk about how they wrote 30 pages and then just deleted it all. I don’t do that. Although I change my manuscript, I save large passages in a slush document for later use — maybe. Sometimes I find gold mixed in on another pass of the dross and it shows up in a later book.

Posted August 22, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Speed Control   7 comments

Do you have any tips on controlling pacing in your stories? How do you manage it?

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It’s their story, but..

As a discovery writer who lets my characters tell me the story of their lives, I think pacing is one of the hardest writing goals to achieve. I earnestly believe that great characters drive the plot and their story matters more than just about anything else in the story, but sometimes they get so caught up in minutia that I have to move them along. Other times, they tell me story after story of unending motion and I have to slow them down. It’s all in trying to take the needs of the audience into account.

No matter how interesting a character might be, 20 pages of them making breakfast will wear down any reader and make the delete the book from their Kindle. So what do I do to keep things interesting?

It depends on the series. Transformation Project is much more of an action-oriented plot than What If Wasn’t or Daermad Cycle. And, yet, a fast pace isn’t always effective even for an apocalyptic. You need a balance between slow and fast scenes and probably some scenes that are moderate in pace too. It provides variety and that keeps the reader interested.

I do this by writing different types of chapters filled with sentences that are dissimilar.

Step on the Gas

When I want to speed up the pace or write an actual scene, I shorten my sentences to give them a sense a urgency. They take less time to read, so readers actually experience it that way. I get directly to the point and skip the unnecessary descriptions.

Short pithy exchanges of dialogue go a long way toward speeding up the pace. I try to add an element on confrontation and to let the way the characters use their words convey their underlying personalities.

The other thing I like to do to press on the accelerator is to employ cliffhangers. I’ll get to the climax of an action scene and hit the brakes, switch to a quieter scene and let the reader wait before resolving the action.

Using very active verbs that connote movement also contributes to the speed of the plot. A fight scene increases the pace as it adds a sense of urgency and danger. Even in What If Wasn’t, it sometimes pays to speed up the plot with something busy and quick in movement, to keep the reader interested.

All these make the reader feel as though he or she is rushing through the story. Everything contributes to the sense that the story is driving forward to an important arrival and we aren’t paying attention to anything else.

Now Slow It Down

Even thrillers need to slow down and smell the roses sometimes. I don’t want to wear my reader out by never giving them a rest.

You know how it is with a Beethoven piece — there’ll be a section of big music with a lot of movement and then suddenly it will be slowed down to just a piccolo and a violin pretending to be a bird in a forest glade? That’s kind of how I want my writing to be.

Slowing the pace means writing longer sentences and longer paragraphs and sometimes even longer chapters. My characters talk about their pasts, their philosophies, the day-to-day struggle of living after the apocalypse. I increase the number of passive voice sentences, but only by a little bit. I want to slow my readers down, not put them to sleep. My characters notice their setting–slower pacing is a great time for description. They also notice their own internal dialogue more. Now is the time to do some world-building.

Alternatively, since I’m writing series, a slower-paced section can be accomplished by shifting my focus to a secondary storyline. My stories are less a straight-road and move a web of interconnecting characters all with their own lives and stories to tell. Subplots are a great way to provide respite from the faster pace of the main narrative. These plot sloughs create great territory for flashbacks (which PTSD-sufferer Shane Delaney experiences often), backstory, character enrichment, or laying the groundwork for future plot. That said, I have to disallow myself some subplots as you can overdo and devolve into rabbit-chasing. I love subplots and characters, but I need to keep my reader in mind when I’m writing to publish.

I often keep the subplots I delete as story fodder for a future rainy day. I never know when the information you’ve put in a bit of writing will become a full-fledged plot someday in a future book.

Posted August 1, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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What That Makes You   7 comments

What assumptions do people make about you when they hear you are a writer?

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Making Assumptions

I suppose you’ve heard the old saw about what making assumptions says about you?

Enough said on that topic since this is a family-friendly blog.

Assumptions Made About Me

I’ve only really encountered three assumption from people who learn I’m a writer.

The first two are perhaps understandable. What do nonwriters know about the lives of writers?

First, they assume I’m unpublished. Twenty years ago, they would have been correct because back then the big publishing houses could control the gateways to publishing, but that’s changed in recent years. It’s an understandable assumption but an incorrect one. I wrote for my own entertainment for a long time, but now I write for the entertainment of a paying audience.

Then, upon hearing I’ve actually published 15 novels, they leap to another incorrect assumption — that writing is all I do. This is not true. I have a life outside of writing (or my life includes writing) and I also have a money job that pays for things like the mortgage, medical care, and funding my retirement. It takes a lot of effort and no small amount of luck to become a self-published author whose writing pays the bills. I’m not there yet. Because I don’t assume stuff, I am not expecting to quit my job before my retirement plan reaches maturity.

The third one is an assumption that I find annoying. They leap to the assumption that published authors make a lot of money and therefore I’m rich. This is most annoying when it’s my husband’s relatives making these assumptions. My books do make money, but they don’t make me rich. In fact, if you look at the lives of truly professional writers, you quickly learn that most aren’t rich. Even the ones who work for a big publishing house make middle incomes.

And, so this third type of assumers truly earn my first comment. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, folks, and I don’t have a huge bank account. Maybe someday my books will get the readership (and the earnings) I believe they deserve, but for now, they’re a hobby that pays for itself.

Introducing   8 comments

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

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Naming Conventions

I write in several genres, so naming my characters varies depending on what book I’m writing.

In Daermad Cycle, which is a Celtic-inspired fantasy, there are several races of peoples and of course they have different names. It wouldn’t make sense to just select names at random. For the Celtic names, I google Celtic names and then adapt to the novel’s naming conventions. For the Svard names, I google Scandinavian names. Those are pretty easy. However, there are no real-world equivalents for Kindred names because they are the indigenous population of a fictional world. I created a naming convention — paternal last name first, clan name second, first name last — and then I just began goggling names from various cultures around the world. I slowly developed a sense of what I thought the Kindred would consider to be good names and then I set about deciding what my characters, who mostly already existed, should be called.

In Transformation Project and What If Wasn’t, these are stories set in more or less contemporary America. Transformation Project is set in Kansas, but based loosely on the North Dakota town my mother grew up in. The culture of that town is a mixture of German-, Scandinavian-, and Irish-descended people. I mostly troll online telephone directories for American Midwestern towns. I find last names I think work for my fictional community’s ethnic structure and then I separately find first names that I think go well with those last names. I’ve run across some truly interesting names in my telephone book searches, but I (regretfully) choose not to use them as they are because I don’t want anyone with a unique name feeling as if I somehow stalked them.

What If Wasn’t is set in Long Island, New York, and I pretty much did the same thing, although the name Peter is one I’ve always liked and my husband doesn’t, so since it couldn’t be our son’s name, I set it on my main character. I wouldn’t want my child to go through the tough times Peter has been through. The name Ben Anderson actually is a real person’s name, the best friend of a high school friend of mine who gave his friends as much reason to be sad as Peter does. I guess it’s kind of a tribute to a guy I haven’t seen in 30 years.

Some names just come to you. In What If Wasn’t, there’s a character called Grey. He’s the father of Trevor Grey, one of Peter’s friends, and he’s also Alan Wyngate’s best friend (Alan is Peter’s father). He was Grey from about 30 seconds after I started writing the character and I didn’t really give much thought to his real first name. When I wrote the third book in the series, I found I needed him to have a first name for official reasons. Why would a man call himself “Grey Grey?” Well, if he had a dorky first name, that would be a good reason. So, I listed out a bunch of names my generation considered to be dorky back in our day and Melvin stood out. Of course, a lot of those kind of dorky names from back then are being revitalized and coming back into use, but that doesn’t mean Melvin Grey has to like his name. He’s a rich eccentric businessman. If he wants to just have one name, why not? It works for Cher and Bono.

So, I do have a method to naming of characters, but sometimes the method can be a little obscure. Sometimes, I just like a name. For example, Jazz Tully in Transformation Project. I worked with a woman several years ago who went by Jazz. She explained her real name was Jessica, but her toddler brother couldn’t manage Jess. It came out as something like Jazz, so she collected this nickname. I knew Shane’s eventual love interest would be named Jazz before I even sat down to create the character because it’s a name that should be used.

On the other hand, Marnie Callahan Delaney, Cai’s wife, was never supposed to be Marnie. The character had been around in my head for a while. I knew her personality, but not her name. When I wrote the initial scene with her in it, I choose “Marnie” (a friend’s name) as a placeholder, fully intending to try out names for her later. But when I got back on edit, the character had accepted “Marnie” as her name and resisted changing to the name I’d researched and selected.

I’ve said before that my characters can develop opinions of their own and if I try to push too hard, they stop talking to me, so I let her keep Marnie, even though it meant I had to reset Maggie’s name. She’s Marnie’s mother and I knew she would name her two daughters with a first initial that corresponded to hers and her son with a first initial that corresponded with his father’s. Although I never wrote the scene, I created one in my head where Maggie and Jason argued over the name change of their daughter on the day of her birth and in doing so, I convinced the character of Maggie–a very strong-willed woman–to accept her own name change. I also had to reset Marnie’s sister’s name to Marie, but since the character is dead when the series began, that was easy. Dead characters in my novels have no opinions, for which I am grateful.

I wonder how my fellow writers develop names for their characters.

Posted May 16, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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