Me? Write a Memoir? But…!

by Gail Kittleson

Decades ago, some friends invited us to go rafting on a local stream. I thought our son, three years old at the time, would be excited, but he said,

          “I’m scared of those rabbits, Mommy.”

          “Rabbits?”

          “Yeah. Evelyn said we’re going to come to some rabbits…”

Those rapids would’ve scared me, too, if I thought they might hop into our raft. After a bit of explanation about the mild rapids, our son loved rafting.

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Misunderstandings often ground our fears, and this proves true with writing. Being afraid to express our anxieties in black and white originates in false assumptions:

  1. What we write may be used against us.
  2. There’s a ‘right’ way to write, and we haven’t learned how.
  3. Once we write something down, we’re bound to the perspective we embraced at the time.
  4. Once written, our words will be “golden,” and therefore, we can’t destroy them.

          First of all, what we write may be used against us. But this is no reason to forego all the benefits of the process. Writing in a safe place that no one ever sees has done wonders for many people experiencing trials.

The feeling that we have no control over who might see what we write can keep us bound by the tide of emotions swirling inside us. Launching out to safely journal our thoughts, tied irrevocably to those emotions, may seem beyond our power.

          In order to take this tentative step, we must unlearn the second misconception, that there’s a ‘right’ way to write. Nothing could be farther from the truth. No perfect method for expressing what we feel exists.

In fact, the ‘perfect way’ will be the way our words come out. Each person’s story contains unique content, since it comes from our one-of-a-kind inner being. Each of us perceives even the identical situation with variations.

A family outsider, my sister, or my brother will see what I remember differently than I do. But my first feeble step—even if that amounts to writing one short paragraph about what’s transpiring inside me—unleashes immense healing power.

          Now to the third misnomer: we are not bound by our viewpoint at any given time. A glance around us reveals that everything changes constantly. The only constant is change, as they say.

If I still looked at what I experienced fifteen years ago with the same eyes, I would be in big trouble. But the thing is, I would never have arrived at my present perspective if I hadn’t started writing down my thoughts and feelings.

          At the time, my journal pages seemed somehow sacred, and they were. But as the years have passed, I’ve grown, and at certain points, I let go of certain writings from the pasts. Burned them, because they no longer seemed ‘golden.’ Some of them, I kept and edited. And re-edited, and re-re-edited into a memoir. That’s not the route for everyone, but proved to be an important part of my journey.

The point is, your writings are your writings. You have the right to choose what to do with them, including chucking them down a sinkhole never to be seen again.

And the broader point is that in the darkness of an emotional avalanche, we cannot even know what we think. By allowing words to flow from us, we invite clarity, and through this process, discover truths we would never have imagined.

Words equal an enormous gift—penned quietly in secret places, they blossom like hidden desert plants that bloom in darkness, where no one observes. But their flowers bear perfume, attracting the necessary insects for pollination. It may be that we will rework and launch our writings into a published memoir, but either way, this practice can become a powerful experience.

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than You.” 
Dr. Seuss

 

Gail Kittleson 2

When Gail’s not steeped in World War II historical research, writing, or editing, you’ll find her reading for fun, gardening, or enjoying her grandchildren in Northern Iowa. She delights in interacting with readers who fall in love with her characters.

Gail Kittleson taught college expository writing and ESL before writing women’s historical fiction. From northern Iowa, she facilitates writing workshops and women’s retreats, and enjoys the Arizona Ponderosa forest in winter.

catching up

Catching Up With Daylight; a Journey to Wholeness, is Gail’s own memoir. She and her husband began renovating an old house after he returned from a deployment in Iraq.  The book is “a gorgeous tapestry of non-fictional thoughts. This very gifted author knows how to weave her thoughts, memories, and the history of the old house she is refurbishing into a journey of emotional and spiritual wholeness.”

 

Women of the Heartland, Gail’s World War II series, highlights women of The Greatest Generation: In Times Like These, April 2016, With Each New Dawn, February, 2017 A True Purpose (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and Word Crafts Press, December, 2017.)

 

  Cover_APuroseTrue    With Each New Dawn    In-times-like-these
Visit her at the following social media sites:

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NOTE: This article was posted for Gail Kittleson by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin

Starting a New Series

by Elise M. Stone

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a writer. I put that dream on hold for decades while I got married, had a family, and built a career. It was one of the many things on my “someday” list. Then 9/11 happened, and I realized that “someday” might never happen. If I wanted to write a novel, I’d better get started.

I’ve written nine cozy mysteries in two different series over the past few years. Cozies generally have a romantic subplot, and mine are no different. While writing the last book, I realized I was enjoying writing the romance more than the mystery. What if my next book was a romance novel instead of a mystery? An intriguing question, which I decided to answer.

I began 2019 by starting on a sweet historical western romance series for a change of pace. This has been coming for a long time. Years, in fact, although I didn’t realize it myself at the time.

I have trouble sleeping. In the quiet, my brain is like a hamster on one of those spinning wheels. It thinks of all kinds of things it should not be worrying about at midnight. I have to distract it in order to fall asleep.

OTRW-TotTROne of the things that helps is listening to a podcast of Old Time Radio Westerns. Before most of the classic western series of the 1950s and 1960s were on television, they were on radio. I grew up with those TV series, so the stories, while different, are very familiar. Now I fall asleep to the Lone Ranger or Gunsmoke or the less-familiar Frontier Gentleman.

I’ve been absorbing these stories in my dreams for at least two years.

I find the time between the Civil War and the beginning of the twentieth century, when cowboys and outlaws and marshals were in their heyday, fascinating. The legends in themselves are romantic.

But I’d forgotten how hard it is to start a new series in a new genre. There are new characters in a new place in a new time.  The people are like cartoon outlines with indistinguishable features. They’re not even wearing any clothes. They’re white blobs like the Pillsbury Doughboy. This is quite a change from going back to my senior citizens in the fictional town of Rainbow Ranch, Arizona, characters I love who live in places I’ve visualized dozens of times.

Another stumbling block is the historical aspect of this series. I often find myself stopped with questions like when did the railroad arrive in Tucson? (1880, which means I can’t use it because my story takes place in 1872.) Or did Philadelphia have mass transit in 1872? (It did: a horse-drawn streetcar.) Or handling issues of diversity for today’s sensitive audience.

The biggest threat to the settling of southern Arizona was Apache raiders. The attitude of most back then was that the only way to solve the problem was to exterminate the Apache. This was the opinion of not only whites, but Mexicans and the Papago, an Indian tribe now known as the Tohono O’odham. In fact, these three groups banded together and massacred a group of over ninety Apaches, mostly women and children, in a peaceful settlement outside Camp Grant in 1871. But not all Apaches were peaceful, and they were a serious problem for the ranchers and miners and homesteaders in the late nineteenth century.

And then there’s the romance plot itself. I bought several books on how to write a romance novel because—ahem—I’d only read one or two of them prior to this year. Unlike cozy mysteries, where I’d read hundreds over the years before I tried to write one, I had no gut feel about how a romance needs to work. A lot of times, I feel like I’m stumbling in the dark.

I know, eventually, the whole story will start playing itself out in my head faster than I can type. I’m looking forward to that stage because that’s when the magic happens. In fact, it happened for a time his past week as I was writing a scene and the characters started interacting in a way I’d never thought they would. I love when that happens. So I’ll keep pushing forward, stumbles and all, because I’m addicted to that magic.

And I love a happily ever after.

 

 

Elise StoneBest Photo Reduced Size Lavender Background 2Brief Bio:

Elise M. Stone was born and raised in New York, went to college in Michigan, and lived in the Boston area for eight years. Ten years ago she moved to sunny Tucson, Arizona, where she doesn’t have to shovel snow. With a fondness for cowboys and westerns, Arizona is the perfect place for her to live.

Like the sleuth in her African Violet Club mysteries, she raises African violets, although not with as much success as Lilliana, who has been known to win the occasional prize ribbon. Elise likes a bit of romance with her mysteries. And mystery with her romance. Agatha and Spenser, her two cats, keep her company while she writes.

Elise StoneAVC Series Six Books
Elise M. Stone
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Elise M. Stone’s article was posted by The Writers In Residence member Jackie Houchin.

Kitchen Art and Edible Legacies

by Jackie Houchin

I’m so thankful that both my mom and my dad put pen to paper while they were alive to draw and write out lasting legacies for me to cherish now that they are gone.

Our Thanksgiving Dinner

Mom cooked the whole feast, all the fixings and desserts, until way after she had great-grandchildren. When she was no longer able, I took over the task for a few years before handing it down to my daughter-in law who excels in the kitchen.

IMG_4917Now, the week before Thanksgiving I thumb through the 3×5 cards in Mom’s old plastic recipe box, looking for the Cranberry Salad, the Holiday Mincemeat Cake, and the Chiffon Pumpkin Pie recipes. The writing is faint and blurred; the cards are stained. And my heart gives a twist as I picture Mom taking each one out and assembling the ingredients on the counter.  (This “treasured” box came to me 20 months ago when, at 94, she died.)

Six weeks ago my Dad joined her in Heaven. Now they are giving thanks to God continually, not just on our annual holiday.

In cleaning out my dad’s file drawers I found a stack of napkins about five inches high. I thought they were dust cloths for his crafting projects, until I took them out of the plastic bag. Instead of throwaways, I found ‘priceless’ pieces of art that I will treasure alongside my mom’s recipe box.

IMG_4915Daily for a year or so in 1999, Dad sat at their kitchen table and drew stick figure sketches of Mom in various situations, from housecleaning and cooking, to relaxing with a morning coffee on the patio, working a jigsaw puzzle, gardening,  and packing/traveling to Solvang on their anniversary.  Each filmy paper illustration has her comment in a balloon above her head. I can hear her saying them all! I admit, I cried as I looked at each one in the stack.

I’ll share a few of his sketches here, along with two of her “famous” Thanksgiving recipes.

Mom, baking her Chiffon Pumpkin Pies (Thin crusts; never soggy!)

IMG_4898 (Edited)    IMG_4900 (Edited)

Mom’s pie recipe:

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not pie mix)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs (separated)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 TBS. plain gelatin
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 TBS. granulated sugar
  • 1 baked pie shell

Soak Gelatin in water. Combine brown sugar, pumpkin, milk, egg yolks (lightly beaten), spices and salt.  Cook in top of double boiler until mixture begins to thicken (about 5 minutes)  Add gelatin to hot mixture. Chill until partially congealed. Beat egg whites stiff, but not dry. Beat granulated sugar into egg  whites. Fold into pumpkin mixture.  Pour into baked pie shell. Chill for 1-2 hours or until stiff enough to cut and hold its shape.  Garnish with whipped cream if desired.

Mom’s Cranberry Salad recipe:

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen whole cranberries
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup drained crushed pineapple
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 1 large package of strawberry Jell-O
  • 1 cup boiling water

Grind (or process) the cranberries roughly. Add sugar. Let set 3 hours.  Add pecans,  pineapple, and marshmallows.  Dissolve Jell-O thoroughly in boiling water. Add to the above mixture and set aside to mold. (When slightly thickened, stir down the marshmallows.)

Gratitude

How glad I am that my parents took time to write out and draw “every day” things.  They may never be published (other than on this blog), but they are as enduring and endearing to me as any literary classic or masterpiece painting.  They are the hearts of my Mom and Dad.

Creativity in any form is a gift from God and destined to bless (or change) someone.  Keep on creating from your heart. You’ll never know who will pick up a piece of “you” and smile (or cry).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving snoopy

“Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.” Psalm 136.1

#WriteMotivation    !    #Creativity

The Importance of Setting

Guest Post by Patricia Smiley*

michael-discenza-331452-unsplashYears ago I bought a novel written by a well-known author because it took place in Seattle, a city where I’d lived, went to school, and worked for many years. A few chapters in, I was dismayed that the descriptions of setting were so generic that the story could have taken place anywhere. It was almost as if that the author had never set foot in the city.

Setting matters. The place of your novel includes the broader vistas into which you set the story, such as the culture and customs of the people who live there, history, land, floral and fauna, and even the shape of the clouds. It’s also where each scene takes place, be it the backseat of a Mini Cooper, an English garden, a Federal prison cell, or a home kitchen.

We were given five senses for a reason. Detail specificity enriches your writing. Don’t just say the kitchen was messy; describe the smell of spaghetti sauce oozing down the wall, the feel of that sticky green substance puddled on the floor next to the baby highchair, and the tick tock of the antique grandfather clock in an otherwise silent room. Descriptions should not just be an inventory of the space. Each one must illuminate an element of plot, theme, or character and, in the case of this kitchen, raise a myriad of dramatic questions about what happened there and to whom.

Description as fine sauce. Descriptions need not be long and rambling, but a writer must persuade the reader that the story is real. Even people who’ve never been to a location should feel as though they’re experiencing it firsthand. This also applies to imaginary settings. To prevent long passages of boring prose, take Elmore Leonard’s advice, ”Don’t write the parts people skip.” Instead, distill the essence of a place into a fine sauce. Below is an example of reporter Jeffrey Fleishman’s brilliant and evocative description of Port Said, Egypt, from the Los Angeles Times:

“This shipping city of factory men, with its whispers of colonial-era architecture, was once a crossroads for intellectuals, spies and wanderers who conspired in cafes while the Suez Canal was dug and Egypt’s storied cotton was exported around the globe. Rising on a slender cusp in the Mediterranean Sea, the town exuded cosmopolitan allure amid the slap of fishing nets and the creak of trawlers.”

Don’t trust your memory—verify. Get the specifics right. Nothing takes a reader out of the story faster than getting hung up on inaccurate details. If you can’t visit the location, read travel blogs, talk to friends with knowledge of the area, consult Google Maps, online photos, and YouTube videos.

People like to “travel” when they read. Effective use of description creates atmosphere and mood, and stimulates emotions. Anyone who is familiar with the cold, bleak settings in Scandinavian crime novels or films knows how integral “place” is to every part of those stories. So, give your readers a compelling setting and then wish them a bon voyage.

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Patricia Smiley is the author of four novels featuring amateur sleuth Tucker Sinclair. Her new Pacific Homicide series profiles LAPD homicide detective Davie Richards and is based on her fifteen years as a volunteer and a Specialist Reserve Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department.

The third in that series, The Second Goodbye, is set for release on December 8, 2018.

Patty’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Two of the Deadliest, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George. She has taught writing at various conferences in the U.S. and Canada and also served as vice president for the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and as president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles.

PatriciaSmiley.com

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Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash
*This blog article is posted for Patricia Smiley by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin

 

The Fun of Writing “Retro-Cozies”

Guest Post by Sally Carpenter*

An interviewer once referred to my stories as “retro-cozies.” I liked the term and use it to describe my work.

A retro-cozy is an amateur sleuth mystery with no graphic gore, violence, sex, or language, and occurs in the past. What defines “the past” is up for grabs—I’d say any time before the 21st century.  My Sandy Fairfax series is set in 1993. The protagonist, a former teen idol, often refers to his TV show, which was filmed in the 1970s.  My newer series, the Psychedelic Spy, takes place in 1967.

Beatlemaniac_final_ large_2500Why do I use a time machine when I write? For Sandy Fairfax, I had no choice. I wanted to write about a ‘70s teen idol because of the culture of that time when teen idols were promoted through TV shows. I like the melodic songs from the era, the cheesy clothes, and the drama that often took place behind the idols’ innocent façades.  \

Sandy was 18 when his TV show started, so if I set the books in today’s world, he would have aged up to 61 or so. But I wanted to write about a younger man who could still do his own stunts and would be making a comeback, not plans for retirement. The year 1993 places Sandy at age 38, still agile but facing a midlife crises.

For the second series, the ‘60s is a ripe era for storytelling: war protests, civil rights and women’s movements, the generation gap, influence of Eastern religions, and the Cold War.  I love the culture of the age, the bright colors, pop art, rock music, movies, mod clothes and hairstyles. Let’s face it, women’s clothing styles in 2018 are—dare I say it—drab and ugly.

I like the simplicity of past times. I use a computer, but I’m out of touch with today’s technology. I don’t even own a cell phone (gasp!). I gave up trying to figure out streaming services, podcasts, YouTube videos, Twitter, social media and whatnot.

If a contemporary protagonist gets in trouble, all she has to do is whip out her cell phone and call for help. Ho hum. But my protags have to think and fight their way out of their predicaments. If my protags need information, they can’t Google or ask Alexis; they have to put in the legwork. They need hard evidence, not just a DNA sample. With fewer crime fighting tools at their disposal, my heroes work harder.

People who stare at their phones or computers all day bore me. Characters who talk face-to-face are more interesting than those who send texts. Modern technology is helpful in real life, but it’s a story killer.  When I read for pleasure, I want to escape into another world, away from the commotion of modern times. Writing a retro-cozy lets me, at least in my mind, take a break from today.

Flower_Power_Fatality_jpg (1)In “Flower Power Fatality,” Noelle McNabb is an actress at a Christmas-theme park in Yuletide, Indiana. Her drab routine is interrupted when a stranger shows up on her porch with a bullet in his chest. Then, a super-secret spy agency recruits Noelle to find missing microdots along with veteran agent Destiny King. As Noelle goes undercover, she finds herself dancing in sleazy nightclubs and chasing bad guys at night while wondering who is going to feed her pet cat.

My next project is putting my first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” back in print. Washed-up pop star Sandy Fairfax, in a desperate move to get his career back on track, takes his only job offer—a guest appearance at a disorganized Beatles fan convention in Evansville, Indiana. What look like an easy gig turns deadly when a member of the tribute band is killed and the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect.

“Beatlemaniac” will include a new cover art, new forward, updated author’s bio, re-edited text and a bonus short story, a brand new Sandy Fairfax adventure, “The Deadly Disco Caper,” in which the 1970s get skewered. Yowzah, yowzah, yowzah!

 

306141_347563052028408_642323995_n(2)Sally Carpenter was born and raised in southwest Indiana but now lives in Moorpark California, leaving the land of rain and snow for wildfires and earthquakes.  She has a master’s degree in theater from Indian State University. She also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s also “mom” to two black cats.

Her first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” was named by Left Coast Crime as a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel.  She penned chapter three of “Chasing the Codex,” a group mystery written by 34 authors with Cozy Cat Press and has stories in three other anthologies.  She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and blogs monthly at https://ladiesofmystery.com/ .

For more about Sally Carpenter and her books, go to http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com/   Reach her on Facebook or email her at:  scwriter@earthlink.net .

 

 

*This blog article is posted for Sally Carpenter by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin

 

Backpacking With a Pitcher

Guest post by Heather Ames*

lemonade unbornWhoever coined the phrase “making lemonade out of lemons” must have had an acerbic wit. As a champion receiver of citrus, I’ve always tried to look at each situation as a challenge instead of a mountain of acidity, despite the after-taste.

51NyNyt9s8L._UY250_My most recent pitcher of lemonade appeared last year, when I finished Book 2 of the “Indelible” mystery/suspense series and contacted the publisher of Book 1 to find out how much of the completed manuscript they wanted to see. After two attempts, I was told to send “whatever you want.” I sent a partial and waited, then waited some more. Much more. Months.

I then emailed the editor-in-chief, who said she had just returned from an extended hiatus. She told me to send the entire manuscript immediately, which I did. The contract came. I signed it. The CEO signed it. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then the momentum, which had built to its normal level, ground to a halt as I waited for my editor to be assigned. And waited.

A sense of foreboding crept over me. Bushels of lemons rolled onto the horizon and waited, poised to roll into my lap. I tried to ignore them. After all, progress had slowed one time before. They were probably just running behind due to the EIC’s absence.

But then it came…an email from the publisher, returning my rights due to their poor quarterly returns for the second quarter in a row. I wasn’t their only author to receive that email, the EIC assured me. She said the staff was upset about the situation. I found little comfort in that knowledge.

There had been other signs that the publisher, despite its growth and a propensity to purchase smaller competitors, was itself in trouble. One huge misstep resulted in all titles from one of those buy-outs, including one of my own e-books, suddenly disappearing from Amazon. Apparently, when the old site was pinged without success, Amazon believed the publisher had closed, not that the titles were in the process of being moved to their new home. A year later, despite an email from the publisher that explained all the titles would be reloaded “in a lengthy process,” that still hasn’t happened. Perhaps they are busy making lemonade, too.

A Swift Brand Of justiceI couldn’t afford to sit around waiting for my two year contract on “Indelible” Book 1 to expire before offering both books in the series to another publisher. Readers had been asking when Book 2 would be available. Since it had already taken me close to 3 years to get Book 2 out of the starting blocks (including the 9 months wasted over that abortive contract,) I decided there was only one way out of my dilemma, and that was to self-publish “Indelible” Book 2, “A Swift Brand of Justice.”

Self-publishing has become more accepted during the last few years. Many popular authors have departed their small publishers, taken back their rights and chosen that route. Financially, it makes more sense for them. They already have a fan base, and their back-listed books have all been edited and formatted. All they need are new covers. They no longer have to share their profits with the small publishers, who find themselves, as a result of this exodus, left with newer and less well-known authors. Their piece of the pie has become much smaller, and their bottom line has suffered as a result. Many of them have folded and others are in financial trouble.

For those of us who find our books orphaned (and there are a growing number of us,) “DIY” has morphed into an acceptable solution. I know of several other writers who have had to move their series from the original publisher. I will be another. After I complete Book 3’s manuscript, I hope to find another home for my series. If I don’t, then I know I can continue self-publishing and growing my brand, instead of waiting months, even years for a contract.

Night ShadowsI just self-published a second book. This one is the stand-alone suspense, “Night Shadows,” I was working on when my rights were returned for “A Swift Brand of Justice.” In order to retain and grow my readership, I need to offer new material on a regular basis. That won’t happen if I’m marking time while I wait for responses to queries, partials and even full manuscripts, or unexpectedly have my rights returned again.

I would much prefer the support and expertise of a new publisher. But if that doesn’t happen, and I need to self-publish again, I know I can do it. I still need to build my support list. Finding reasonably-priced editors is one challenge I haven’t yet mastered. But I’m getting better at designing my own covers, and the learning curve isn’t as steep or as angled as it was before those lemons rolled into my lap.

I’m keeping the pitcher handy as I write the first draft of “Swift Retribution,” Book 3 of the “Indelible” series, but I’m not resigning myself to using it yet. Hope springs eternal, but this time it’s couched. The publishing industry as a whole is in a state of flux, and these days, writers need to be ready for anything. Even a fresh bushel of lemons.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

my big picHeather Ames knew she was a writer from the time she won first prize in a high school novel contest. An unconventional upbringing gave her opportunities to travel extensively, leading to nomadic ways and an insatiable desire to see the world. She has made her home in 5 countries and 7 states, learning a couple of languages along the way. She is currently pitching her tents in Portland, Oregon, and after a long career in healthcare, made her dream of writing full-time come true.

Heather is a current board member of the Harriet Vane Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of Toastmasters International. She moderates an online critique group and a local book club.

Visit her website at www.heatherames.com 

 

*Posted for Heather Ames by Jackie Houchin

What’s in a Name?

Bonnie_Schroeder-McCarthy-Photo-Studio-Los-Angeles-7187

Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

 

As I get older, I seem to be experiencing an odd form of dyslexia (I think) where my brain transposes letters in words so that I read something that’s not there. Only on second glance do the letters rearrange into what they’re supposed to be.

This has been a boon for me in one way: character names. For example, I came across the surname “Murdock,” but my eyes thought they saw “Mudrock,” and after my initial annoyance at myself, I thought, what a great name for a character.

I collect names because few things are as frustrating to a writer as creating a new character and not being able to name them, right? First names are easier to come by; I pop open 1001 Names for Baby and can usually find one that works. But surnames? The tone must be just right.

In my novel Mending Dreams, the main character’s last name is Krajewski [yeah, even now I have to look it up in the book to spell it correctly], and that was intentional. I knew a fellow with that last name, and he used to joke about how people mispronounced it. I wanted the character, Susan, to have willingly kept the name even after she and her husband divorced. Her maiden name was Stafford, and it says volumes about her and her feelings about her ex-husband that she kept his name despite the difficulties it could cause.

My list of unusual surnames fills several pages in my notebook. One I’m trying to find a story for is “Evilsizer.” Meaning no disrespect to real people with this name—and I found several via Google—I think it would be perfect for a scheming couturier. Or maybe someone who is really nice. . .

Strong first and last names are essential to me so I can paint a picture in my own mind of the character before I start writing. Names help me visualize characters—sometimes even more than physical descriptions. Names bring with them associations for me personally that color a character’s nature and behavior.

Take the name “Joan,” for example. What does this name conjure up for you? Joan of Arc? Joan Crawford? Joan Baez? For me, it brings back the memory of a woman named “Joanie,” the utterly helpless wife of a fellow I worked for. This woman would call my boss with every little challenge life presented her. If she locked her keys in the car, her first call wasn’t to Auto Club; it was to her husband. I haven’t found a role for Joan or Joanie in my stories yet, but some day I will.

Names and the way they are used in a story also reveal behavior and sometimes emotion.  The main character in my novel Write My Name on the Sky goes by “Kate,” but when she exasperates her mother, she becomes “Kathryn Ann.” How many of you remember hearing the sound of your first and middle name as a cue that you were in big trouble with a parent? And if they added your last name—run for cover!

Sometimes the way a name is mis-used in a story can affect the outcome, too. For example, my flash fiction piece “What’s in a Name?” answers that question with one word at the end of the narrator’s date with the man of her dreams. If you want to check it out (it’s only 532 words), follow the link on my website: http://bit.ly/2En7TJw

Yes, names are important to writers, and to readers. And not just the human characters. The animals in our stories need particular names, too. After all, none other than the masterful poet T.S. Eliot admonishes us to give thought to the naming of cats:  http://bit.ly/2mZ47xQ

How about you writers: do you struggle as much as I do to come up with suitable character names? And, readers: any favorites among your literary heroes and heroines? Any tips for good name sources?