Monthly Archives: October 2012

Living With Books 06: Books Are Spooky, Too

For lovers of books, their display is part of a home’s design aesthetic. This is no less true when Hallow’s Eve has haunting at hand.

Aren’t books the magic potion that reveal all the greatest spooky stories? The dark wizardry of reading a well-told tale, hunkered down under the covers on a blustery October night? 

No surprise, then, to see books claiming their place in decking homes out for Halloween festivities. Welcome to this special holiday edition of Living With Books, featuring do-it-yourself tips for using books as you decorate your haunted manor.

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Classic Betty Grable pinup, getting spooked in style.

DIY writer Chris Nease features spells and ghost stories as centerpiece for a girls-glam Halloween party. link: http://goo.gl/BjSbp (commercial site)

SouthHouseBoutique on etsy.com sells these spook-themed book jackets to dress your books in their own holiday costumes. (link not available)

Because we have such riches on our shelves, we can readily decorate with books on hand. This, from the blog Young House Love. link: http://goo.gl/PoGk2

PoeticHome.com steals my heart with their vintage Halloween decorations, several featuring books and writing. Do click to view: http://www.poetichome.com/tag/vintage-halloween-decor/

PoeticHome.com steals my heart with their vintage Halloween decorations, several featuring books and writing. Do click to view: http://www.poetichome.com/tag/vintage-halloween-decor/

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Throughout the web*, decorators and crafters offer tips for decorating for Halloween, using books.

  • Prop open a copy of Edgar Allen Poe, open to “The Raven,” beneath candelabra draped with cobwebs and a silk raven lurking.
  • Damaged or cast-off books can be aged further by scorching their edges or dampening until they curl. Coffee or tea add the perfect aged cast. Paint covers black, or uneven brown (try shoe polish) to simulate aged leather or wood. Embellish with spooky titles — there’s the ordinary Spells and Potions, or get creative: Anatomy of a Monster, Forbidden Secrets, Rattling of Bones. Display on a drape of velvet or moss, with props like potion bottles and bones.
  • Use the loose pages of damaged books as background to Halloween artwork.  Roll them into scrolls (tie several around a form to make a haunting wreath) or use them as the backdrop to silhouettes of bats, mounted in a frame.

Of course, don’t forget the best part: if you have them, be sure to put your best spook tales on display:

  • Leave out a tub of Halloween stories for entertainment throughout the season or a quiet activity at a children’s party.
  • Move all tales of haunting and witchcraft to center stage on your shelves. Bring forth your Stephen King, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Harry Potter and Alice Hoffman.
  • Murder and mayhem count: don’t forget that set of Agatha Christie or John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
  • Check secondhand book shops for copies of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow or Henry James’ Turn of the Screw.
  • Not really spooky tales? When stood together, spines of provocative titles are good enough to evoke your theme.  Sure, think Something Wicked This Way Comes. But also: Manuel Puig’s The Kiss of the Spider Woman, Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion or Randall Kenan’s A Visitation of Spirits.
  • Age makes anything spooky. A vintage typewriter, old hat or leather bound books of any title turn spooky when mixed with a skull, flying bats or tumble of spiders.
  • In need of a graveyard tale? Try Nathan Englander’s Ministry of Special Cases or Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

*For more great Halloween decorating ideas, check out my Halloween board on Pinterest to find lots of links.

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For more from my series Living with Books:

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option, or via email or RSS feed. I love to connect with like minded bloggers!

Coming next:

  • October Fiction Challenge 5: Where & How Do You Write? – Part 2
  • Writing Character: Challenge of Writing the Character Most Like Yourself – Part 2

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October Fiction Challenge 4: Where and How Do You Write? – Part 1

A perfectly good workspace: the desk in my office (notably, with a box open for shipping off my fried laptop). To my Hawaiian friends or fans of The Descendents, the print on the wall, bought by my parents in DC 20 years ago, hung on the wall in the family’s HI house in the movie.

Today’s post continues a series of responses to October Writing Challenges posed by fellow bloggers.

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To catch up on October’s Writing Challenges:

If you join in, post your links in the comments!

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Today’s post returns to the great 30-question list featured in Herding the Dragon’s 30-day challenge, to address Part 1 of the theme, “Where and How Do You Write?”

Day 5.) Where are you most comfortable writing? At what time of day? Computer or good ol’ pen and paper?

We have an expression in our family — “Don’t poke a sleeping bear” — and this question is provoking me to rant over how frustrated I’ve been without a laptop since its meltdown in July. I am an adamant laptop writer.

Pen and paper is fine. Early on, my first mode of writing was a fountain pen and a cheap composition book (I’ve had tons of “fine” leather journals, but find something freeing about not having to live up to the cover). I liked fountain pens because they flow quickly, removing one more level of resistance — but over time (and surely in response to all the complications parenthood adds), I’ve simplified to “any pen on hand.”

Two interesting observations about writing by hand:

  • I learned in education classes that the physiology of writing something by hand records it more deeply in your memory. In this sense, if I’m in the car or on the run, the simple process of dashing something down (even if I never read it later) makes me more likely to remember the idea when I am back to a computer. Brain research shows this is particular to the wiring of eye-hand coordination and handwriting; typing and dictating do not have the same effect.
  • I was mortified as a teenager to have one of my writing notebooks passed around between tittering family members. Perfect cure to this is that my handwriting has evolved to something nearly illegible, as if only I have the spy decoder for transcribing it.

I have two main complaints about writing by hand. One is that I have come to hate paper in general, as it piles in drifts that are hard to relocate, get damaged or lost, and no one seems to read. Spoken as someone who once knocked a cup of coffee into my notes drawer while vacuuming.

Worse than this is the inefficiency of it. I was able to continue full days of revising my WIP over the summer, while traveling after my laptop died. I marked editing notes on a print copy, wrote new sections in a notebook, used flags and highlighters and… yes, I got a lot done. The wastefulness is that I now have to double that effort, as all those notations have to be typed in.  The greatest limit most of us have is time, and I’d rather type something once than have the same effort take my attention twice.  It’s hard to be stuck typing last month’s changes when you want to move on to the new thoughts in your head.

Overall, the computer is more organized and faster. When drafting, I work rapidly in what I call an “add on” document, writing sections out of order, not worrying about spelling, capitalization or punctuation. Quick keystrokes fix the conventions.  I then work with two documents open at once: I copy draft sections from the “add on” document, pasting only those I want to use into the actual draft document, fixing order, chapter/section breaks, etc. as I go.  To keep orderly, I switch the text I’ve used to blue in my add on document, so I know what I’ve used.  I’ve started using Scrivener, which is fabulous for tracking themes, getting perspective, reorganizing, and making revisions.

Where I am adamant about using a laptop is that a desktop computer is frustrating in allowing you to work in only one place. I have an actual office in the house — with a computer on a real desk, with files, bookcases and everything — but it kills productivity to only work there.

I write at all hours of the day and especially like being able to sit next to my boys, wherever they are, and not have my writing keep me isolated from our daily life. I don’t mind the desktop during my disciplined work time (in the morning after the boys are at school, before leaving to teach my afternoon classes), but prefer the lucid flow of ideas I get late at night, when I don’t want to be here at the desk. My favorite place to write, at any hour, is sitting in bed, as the light and energy in my room are like an airy treehouse.

When traveling, I write anywhere — but I am not generally a cafe writer.  I’m too curious for that. When I’m out, I’m watching and listening, not writing. That’s actually one of my greatest weaknesses when attending conferences or workshops: I’m easily distracted. Look! Squirrel! Yeah.

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Where and how do you write? Have you tried Scrivener, or have you wondered if it is an effective tool for novel writing?  Share your experience — or links to your own responses to October challenges — in the comments.

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option, or via email or RSS feed. I love to connect with like minded bloggers!

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Writing Character: Challenge of the Character Most Like Yourself – Part 1

Adapted fr a picture taken of me with my best friend (cropped, in adaptation) by his mother on the first day of 2nd grade. In many ways, characters are thinly disguised versions of the writer. Sometimes that grants vivid authenticity. Sometimes, not so much. (c. Elissa Field; repro w written permission)

Twice in previous articles, I mentioned the challenge of writing the character most like oneself, and it’s time I give the intended explanation.

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Where the idea for the post arose:

Along with posts on  internal and external conflict and character emotion, the impetus for this article arose from a small tangent during the fabulous workshop I had with Ann Hood in Miami last May.

Among stories I’ve worked on in the past, I knew who my trickiest, most elusive or least successful characters were, but hadn’t noticed a pattern until an offhand comment from Ann. In responding to another writer’s manuscript in workshop, she observed that the flattest characters we write are sometimes those most like ourselves.  A little bell went off inside as I realized it was these characters I wrote with the least interest.

In conversations with fellow writers shortly after, over and over they agreed, which provoked need to tie together Hood’s advice with other a-ha’s on how to bring these characters to life.

Today’s post, part 1, will define why this is a challenge. Part 2 of the series will offer revision strategies.

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First, what does that mean: “most like myself”? 

In discussing this with friends, many are writing fiction from an autobiographical story, so have a character who is literally modeled from themselves.  Others might write themselves as a character thrown into unfamiliar or fantastical settings as if the stories were vicarious lives.  Hood herself used the example of writing her novel, The Knitting Circle, which she wrote in response to grief overthe death of her daughter.  I don’t write autobiographically, but each story seems to have a character — not always the protagonist — who is most invested with my own history.  She is my gender, and may have a lifestyle, profession, interests, roots or age drawn from my own.

Each of these is an example of a character drawn from the author’s own identity.

But isn’t that what it means, to “write what you know”?

Obviously, the odd snippets drawn from our lives can set our work apart.  Such details give our work texture and voice and authenticity.  One of my favorites to write was the opening lines of a novel draft where the character has a memory of running from the shoreline carrying a minnow cupped in her hands as a girl.  I like the immediate connection to childhood and nature, and it was perfect metaphor to the mystery of the story.

Drawing on actual experience creates writing infused with and anchored in something vivid.  That’s why we do it.  That effective use of authorial experience is not the challenge this article addresses.

Yet writing from self — not just experience — develops its own challenge.

In the workshop with Hood and in conversation with writing friends, the challenge arose that characters written based on ourselves sometimes feel — at least in early drafts — flat.

In some cases the writer is aware of it.  In other cases, it was something reported back from beta readers or agents.  The character might be written accurately, but wasn’t engaging or dynamic.  They were lifeless or invisible or downright annoying or defensive or without motivation.

Hood is known for teaching nonfiction and memoir, and her fiction is often rooted in personal experience.  During our workshop, in responding to one writer’s manuscript, she gave example of the process she went through in revising one of her novels.

Making a connection to the weakness she addressed in her revisions and the manuscript at hand, she said: characters telling our own story “can suffer from attachment to reality.”  The problem, she said, is that reality often comes without the fullness and resonance of story.

In my experience, I was surprised to notice authorial blindness might have me writing vivid factual details of the character’s life, yet her emotions and motivation remain unrealized or unengaging, in the same way that you could have a vivid, accurate list of ingredients for the grocery store, yet that is not the same as visualizing a fully-prepared dinner laid out for Thanksgiving.

Like shaving or putting lipstick on without a mirror, you know where you are, but not quite how to see yourself — or therefore reveal yourself to a reader — without perspective.

Some examples:

My own weakness is that the character most like myself is often the one I am least curious about.  I am excited getting to know this shady, paramilitary character in my draft, Wake, or the Cuban-exile, artist mother in Breathing Water, or the fastidious doctor surrounded by monkeys in another draft.  The daughter or girlfriend character?  Not so much.  It’s not that I don’t like her, but, well, I sort of forget to write her. Raised to be a good, self-deprecating American, I might even tend to write her vaguely annoying.

Sometimes — especially if I was writing into unfamiliar territory — this character provided my own entry point into the story, the point at which I bridge my own knowledge or culture or personality, to the less familiar places and culture and experiences I might take the story and characters. The resulting character revealed my vulnerability and initial lack of insight, without yet contributing the meaning such a character was intended to offer.

Hood’s basic advice:

On a most basic level, Ann Hood said the key to writing characters based on the writer is for the writer to create authorial distance.

Begin with the value of your experience, but then create distance by changing key elements through the process of asking, “What if?”  Create differences between the character and self so that you start to feel that curiosity, start to imagine that character as someone fully fledged and outside yourself.

Having bashed my own characters to provide examples, I should offer one I’ve written where I saw Hood’s advice working.  I feel myself closely identified with the protagonist of my story Jar of Teeth.  Beginning with truths from my own life, this character had once marched on Washington for Roe v. Wade (as I once did) and made it through college and dating years never unwittingly pregnant and therefore breathed a sight of relief at never having had to use the rights of Roe v. Wade (also true).  But what if she were older than myself, living in a different city, and with a job cleaning the taxidermied exhibits in a museum? And what if her child were not my young sons but a college aged daughter, and what if that daughter was now asking her to pay to avert her own sudden emergency? Without giving away the whole story, I can say that I see this character as more three dimensional, being outside myself, than if I were imagining her from the inside-out.

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Can you share an example of a character that challenges you and may fit this pattern?  Does Hood’s advice ring true for you?  Or what other advice have you encountered?

Want more on this topic?

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Living With Books 05: If Only I Could Dress Myself in Words

Another photo taken of a dress of books in an Anthropologie window.

Anthropologie steals my heart, dressing its windows with fanciful dresses made of words.

Middle of the week is perfect time to take a breather with pictures. Clearly my family was not alone in our love of books, as these pictures show imagination extends to fantasizing: If only I could dress myself in words…

Last summer, I featured a dress from a Dallas homeshow that had been formed from the crimped pages of books (link to my summer reading list article, here). At the time, it was one of the most-favorited pictures fluttering around the internet. How better to combine a girl’s two loves — words & fashion — than in a dress assembled of the two? Surely, this dress was unique.  And yet… no.  As these pictures show, our love of books has inspired more than one designer.

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This model corsetted with a skirt of tumbling pages was featured in the promotional slideshow for the Book Lover's Ball. For more info and full photo credits, visit http://bookloversball.ca/

This model — corsetted with a skirt of tumbling pages — was featured in the promotional slideshow for the Book Lover’s Ball. For more info and full photo credits, visit http://bookloversball.ca/

Photo of an Anthropologie window taken by Lynne Byrne, featured on http://www.decorartsnow.com/2011/02/25/february-25-2011-now-and-then-paper-crafts/

Photo taken by Lynne Byrne of a dress of books in an Anthropologie window. Bestill my heart!

Another store window: "Once upon a time," this wearable bridal dress was "made of words" by Jennifer Pritchard Bridal. For more, go to http://jenniferpritchardbridal.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/once-upon-a-time%E2%80%A6-the-dress-made-from-books-for-a-fairy-tale-reading/

Another store window: “Once upon a time,” this wearable bridal dress was “made of words” by Jennifer Pritchard Bridal. For more, go to http://jenniferpritchardbridal.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/once-upon-a-time%E2%80%A6-the-dress-made-from-books-for-a-fairy-tale-reading/

Perhaps my favorite, is this dress, made by artist Peter Clark for the Holland Paper Biennial in 2010.  Is it not the perfect uniform for reading?

Artist Peter Clark's dress of pages, for the Holland Paper Biennial 2010. http://uponafold.com.au/blog/post/holland-paper-biennial-2010/

Artist Peter Clark’s dress of pages, for the Holland Paper Biennial 2010. http://uponafold.com.au/blog/post/holland-paper-biennial-2010/

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For more from my series Living with Books:

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Living With Books 04: Books and Fashion

It’s Thursday. It’s been a long week. Perfect time for a photo break. Continuing the theme begun with my interior design mother’s statement that she tucks a little bookcase in every room (click here for first post), this week’s Living With Books is a bit of eye candy with books in fashion spreads.

We’re stylish. We’re sexy. We read.

Credit photographer Benoit Peverelli, torn from Elle China.

attribute to shdwbxng on tumblr

For more Living With Books:

Living With Books 01: we were a family in houses with books

Living With Books 02: Dreamt Into Our Travels, Too

Living With Books 03: Books as Portal Into Another World (or Just the Next Room)

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October Fiction Challenge 3: Raising the Stakes on Character Motivation

copyright Elissa Field; all rights reserved, no repro without written permission

Father and son. copyright Elissa Field

Need a challenge to keep your writing moving in October? I’ve previously shared these two:

But Tuesday I came across another blog with a challenge near to my goals this year: character motivation.

In her 10/14 post, “Making Motivation Matter,” Writerlious blogger E. B. Pike shares insights and an exercise she gained from a Writers Block conference she attended in Louisville. Follow link to her post to read her full explanation of the challenge as presented to her in a workshop. I can’t resist trying it here.

The challenge (quoted from the Writerlious blog):

1.) Write down your character’s name

2.) Write down what your character wants, as succinctly as possible

3.) Ask yourself: If your character doesn’t get what he/she wants, what will happen?

4.) Now, write down three ways describing how you could make this matter even more.

5.) Again. Think of three ways you could make this matter even more. Write them down.

6.) You guessed it.  Look back at what you’ve written and ask yourself if there’s any way you could make it matter even more.

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Of all my characters, Michael Roonan is most likely to meet the bar of high stakes motivation. Let’s see:

  1. Michael Roonan.
  2. Roonan wants: the happiness his parents had.
  3. He cannot get what his parents had because of a tragedy he witnessed that caused him to take a life in self-defense, as a boy.  If he did not get over the tragedy, he would just grow up in isolation. Not yet a big stake.
  4. That violent act caused him to become alienated in fear.  He isolated himself to protect those around him but a loyal friend tried to rescue him.. Once the friend is involved, stakes are raised, as he is now focused on extricating the friend from guilt, beyond any hope of extricating himself.
  5. In an effort to correct the problem, he upheld his father’s paranoia about needing to protect the family and avoid violence. But the more he sought to avoid violence, the more he escalated it, and two members of his family are killed. Stakes raised twice: believing in his father’s integrity and lives lost.
  6. His involvement in violence is exonerated as “self-defense” — yet he becomes increasingly aware of his own flawed perceptions, so that his innocence or damnation hinges on whether his father’s values and paranoia were accurate. Stakes raised: loss of innocence, loss of faith, damnation. Against these, Roonan sees death as easy.
  7. At the moment Roonan judges himself damned, resigned to death, he is confronted by the unexpected birth of his own son — now faced once again with his original wish: for the simple happiness of family.

I’m not surprised to have full stakes for Roonan, but am curious to run the same test on the female protagonist, Carinne, as development of her character has been my focus in recent revisions:

  1. Carinne
  2. (Should I be honest and say I stalled out to even say what she wants?) Initially, for herself: love, acceptance.
  3. If she did not get love or acceptance for herself, she might just withdraw into herself. No big deal. She’s in company with half the planet, perhaps. Not yet a story.
  4. She then meets Michael Roonan. They are kindred in resignation to their individual isolation. Seeing it in each other, they fight to keep the other afloat. She begins to rebel against her own resignation, at the same time she becomes accomplice in his escape from the man pursuing him. She becomes a part of a mission to keep the man safe, which essentially parallels her own need to fight for herself. Story spark.
  5. She has fallen in love. There is the moment when things could turn and go well, but then Roonan is killed.  She believes he survived, but is told he died and she is sent out of the country.  At this point, it is interesting, but as far as her motivation, it’s still kind of “so what?” – she could move on with a new love, I suppose. He could be the exciting bad boy that got away – but not necessarily high stakes.
  6. She is pregnant and has a child (the first pages open with that child digging in her garden). She had been willing to give up on finding Roonan for herself, but won’t give up once it’s a matter of finding her son’s father. Stakes are raised the day he comes home asking who he’s supposed to take to the daddy party at nursery school. Ding!
  7. Once Roonan is found, the son’s need for his father to survive and be part of his life provokes the resolution, as living happily is at odds with the father’s need for atonement.

What a great exercise for identifying where motivation is clear and where it is still pedestrian.  I love romantic motivation, but am suspicious of it as the sole motivator, so had been questioning Carinne for some time. She is compelling, but not if her only motivation is loving Roonan.

What’s interesting in breaking it down is it pinpoints a truth I caught last spring: Carinne is not the real protagonist; the son is.  Carinne is essentially a stand-in for the son for much of the story.  While we might be moved by a love story, the son’s need for a father trumps the mother’s romantic motivation.  It is the son’s desire (and mother’s desire for his well being) that drives the story.  Once I hone in on that, how easy are the questions to answer.  What does the son want? A father. What will happen if he doesn’t get it? Parallel to the tragedy already modeled by the dad: questions of his manhood, his integrity, his identity, his worth. Resolution of that one desire addresses the needs and desires of his parents, as well.

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I applied Writerlious’s list to a finished draft, but a key point as it was presented to her in workshop is to take the time to define your characters and their motivation before starting to write.  For all those of you contemplating NaNoWriMo next month, this is perfect time to do just that!

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October is only halfway done! Jump in on one of these challenges, or share your own questions for developing story.

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October Writing Challenge 2: Reflections on Writing Character & Place

As mentioned in an earlier post, October is host to a couple interesting writing challenges from fellow bloggers.  Today’s post gathers reflections from Days 2-5 of Herding the Dragon’s 30-day challenge.

Visit my other “challenge” posts this month:

October Challenge 1: Submit-O-Rama & Herding the Dragon Fiction challenge

October Fiction Challenge 3: Raising the Stakes on Character Motivation
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Day 2)  How do you come up with names for characters (and for places if you’re writing about fictional places)? 

Some time back, we had a stray cat move in and dump a litter of kittens on us. Between that and my sons’ normal pets, I’ve gotten good at naming animals (Lilybird, Twinkle, Wolfie, Coco, Storm, Attaluna…). Same goes for children.  My mother tells me to stick with cats and hamsters, since I could end up with a half dozen kids to use up the names in waiting.  But I don’t always love naming characters.

Workshopping the opening pages of Wake in May, one of the key questions Ann Hood asked was if it was intentional that I kept referring to the two characters in the scene as “the mother” and “the son.”  Yeah, not altogether.  I forgot that I’d never added their names in.  I’d originally written the scene not knowing what I’d call them.  Wake isn’t my only work that was written almost entirely with the characters being called by who they are (the doctor, the man, the boy).

With some manuscripts, I identify a character quickly with the sound of a name. In Breathing Water, the mama was Clara from the first lines that ever came out. Equally, her daughter was undoubtedly Julia. Even more fun, most of the side characters stole names from people in my life as I wrote the story. About the lives of certain Cuban immigrants at a point of powerful emotion over the exodus from the island, I was continually affected by stories of friends around me, eager to share their family’s experience. Haydee was the bailiff in the office of the judge next to mine; Raul was named after a man I admired; Armando after an attorney who fled Cuba in 1957 then ended up in my LSAT class in 1992, finally trying to have his law license made official in the US.

But I’ve not been so quick with naming in other manuscripts.

I’m very picky that names 1) fit and 2) disappear.  I never want them to be a distraction.

Currently, the son in Wake is named Liam after my own son, only because I knew his mother would name him something Irish but I didn’t need the name so Irish it was dancing a jig. That would have been out of character for her. In fact, he’ll probably get renamed.  His mother is Carinne.  For her, I needed a name that was feminine and not common, yet not too fussy, either.  I didn’t want a flawless heroine.  Michael Roonan is the protagonist — a man questionably involved in paramilitary activities in Ireland. His first name was chosen to disappear. In choosing the last name, I’ve done research to be sure that no real person exists with a similar name, to avoid any suggestion he was based on fact.

As for names of places, I have maps of India, Cuba (including airspace maps) and Ireland hanging on my office walls from targeting settings.  In BW, I use the actual names for most places (in Virginia, Miami and Cuba), down to street names and neighborhoods.  The Miami house is based on a real house we used to stay in along the Miami River.  In other stories and novel drafts in the US, India and Ireland, I sometimes use real place names, but just as often use amalgams to invent towns, streets, house/cottage names, estate names, lakes and rivers. These are consistent with real places, but allow me to set scenes in anonymity. I invent names when detachment from reality serves the story, or to avoid appearing to make a statement about an actual place.  In most cases, I’ll follow naming conventions from the area this imaginary story would be set, but I have fun slipping in names from my family history or something odd my sons said to create the name. In another post, I mentioned how the source of the name of Crooked Moon Bay in one story was taken from how my son described the moon one night.

Day 3)  Tell us about one of your first stories/characters. 

I had a short story earn Honorable Mention in the Writers at Work fiction fellowship years ago, that was maybe the second story I’d written. I’d call it cringe-worthy now — I can’t help thinking it was full of cliches I didn’t know were cliche — but I’m still in love with certain lines about the musician that bring about affection I had for a coworker the year I wrote it. The character is a computer tech and hardworking father, but teaches guitar lessons at night. It comes out that he’d once been the real thing: he toured with the Cashmere Junglelords. Now he was picking up odd gigs at the Wild Ginger lounge, swearing each time would be his last night teaching the macarena. It wouldn’t make the list of stories I would include in a collection now, but it had its moments and readily takes me back to that time in my life.

Day 4)  By age, who is your youngest character? Oldest? How about “youngest” and “oldest” in terms of when you created them?

In Wake, Liam is about four in the opening scene, and appears in other scenes as a toddler. His innocent, clean slate is key to the story’s external conflict colliding with his father’s inner conflict.  For the adults in the story, there is the question whether anyone will make it to be old, which is perhaps fitting in the latent question whether Northern Ireland’s peace will hold.

In Breathing Water, Julia is in her late teens/early twenties at the opening, with memories recurring from when she lost her parents when she was six.  Her mother is in her fifties, with memories going back throughout her childhood in Cuba.  It is an “older” story than Wake, as it hinges on events that occurred in Cuba in the 50s, now coming to light in the 1990s.  It currently has the oldest timeframe of my drafts, but I have bones of a novel set in World War II and another set in 1817.

Generally, I’ve always started out with adult characters — although my interest in young adult fiction may take one work in that direction.

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What about your characters or naming conventions? What ideas do Herding the Dragon’s questions bring to mind for you about your writing?

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Filed under Inspiration, Novel Writing, Setting Place Roots, Writing Character, Writing Prompt