Friday, February 27, 2009

Upcoming Texas Trip

So I have my tentative travel schedule for my Dallas trip. I’m hugely excited about this. The great news is I’m going to be doing events at two wonderful bookstores in the area, a new indie bookstore in Plano, just outside of Dallas, that sounds amazing, and the other in Austin! I have heard so many great things about Austin and have never been there. Plus Book People is supposed to be one of the best bookstores ever. Can’t wait!

Friday, March 20 8:15 PM
Arts and Letters Live “Fresh Ink” Series
Horchow Auditorium
Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, TX 75201

Saturday, March 21 11 AM
Legacy Books, Plano TX
7300 N Dallas Pky
Plano, TX

Sunday, March 22 3 PM
BookPeople Austin, TX
603 N. Lamar
Austin, TX 78703

If any of you out there live nearby I would love to see you!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Evoking the Right Emotion

One thing that occurred to me about names, that may or may not have bearing for you is this - One of the first decisions I make about a book, when the very first sliver of an idea begins to form is:

What emotional reaction do I want my reader to walk away with?

For me, this is one of the most important questions I grapple with when trying to decide what I want the tone of the book to be, what themes I want to explore. Oftentimes, I don’t “decide” it at all, it comes part and parcel with the idea.

But the answer to that question will color everything, from the type of action you have, to the way your characters behave, to the details you choose to highlight throughout your book, most definitely including names.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Names Are Destiny

Of course, one of the most obvious things names do is convey shades of character. Clearly a person named Mandy gives off an entirely different feel than one named Cassandra.

Not only can you have a lot of fun with this, you can let the names do some of the heavy lifting in terms of setting the tone. I do this a lot in the Theodosia books. It was especially fun naming the three governesses who bedevil Theo in Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris. They were short, walk on roles, so I didn’t have much space to dedicate to describing them, so I turned to their names to help set the tone of their personalities. One was unbearably repressive, another a tippling nervous wreck, and the last was a lovely looking woman, but with a vicious edge to her. The names I assigned them were Miss Chittle, Miss Sneath, and Miss Sharpe.

There is also a pompous lord named Lord Chudleigh, the chu being very reminiscent of chump.

For the Beastologist books, I wanted a family name with the venerable weight of generations and tradition behind it. But I didn’t want it to take itself too seriously, almost like an inside joke. My first choice was Dinwiddie. I’d seen that name on a billboard somewhere and fell in love with it. However, the Beastologist books are chapter books, so I needed a shorter name. I finally came up with Fludd. (Note how many of my favorite letters it has in there!) It’s short, not too common, and carries a slight sense of ridiculousness about it—especially when paired with the concept of veneration.

That’s actually something I do a lot—go far back in family history to understand where the names came from. For example, a mother who has an unusual name and hates it, will often give her daughter a more popular name. Someone who felt their name was too bland, will be inclined to give their child a more unique, individual name. Ethnic roots come into play here too, many people trying to tap into those as they name their children. Names in the 1950s were wildly different than the names we give our children now. But also the interests and focus of the family can effect names. A family of classical scholars might name their children Persephone and Augustus.

If you feel that approaching names this way feels too contrived, let me tell you that you couldn’t possibly make up the following names of REAL PEOPLE I’ve run into:

Mr. Swindle – a bank manager—no lie (and he's very upright and responsible!)
Dr. Kwacko – a doctor (Now tell me name’s aren’t destiny!)
A name I used in the Theodosia books, Fagenbush came from a kid in one of my kid’s classes back in elementary school.

Here’s an exercise I do in workshops that can be a lot of fun. Name the four following people, trying to have their names convey the attributes assigned to them:
A firm-but-fair female principal
The old, musty smelling math teacher
The boy who plays the tuba in the high school band
The girl who has been home schooled and feels socially awkward on her first day of school

Don’t forget that names aren’t limited to people. You can bring the same wealth of texture to your setting with the place names that you choose. But I’ll talk about that next week when I talk about setting

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What's In A Name? A lot!

Forgive me blogger, for I have sinned. I have been a very boring blogger lately, and I apologize!! Profusely, no less.

To make it up to you, I promise to talk about meaty subjects for the next few weeks. Of course, many of you will have wandered away, (and rightly so) bored to tears by the lack of anything new going on here. That’s okay. Someday, in the distant future, you may wander back here and be happily surprised.

I thought I’d spent this week talking about names. Names you say? How is that a meaty subject?

Well, I get a fair amount of email asking me how I come up with the names in my book. For me, naming is a huge part of character. In fact, I cannot get very far in a novel until I have the correct name. I can be brainstorming and jotting down plot notes and some basic character sketching but until the true name clicks, I’m rudderless. The character doesn’t become real to me until that name solidifies.

The truth is, names matter. A lot. Both in real life and in fiction. So much goes into a name; parental hopes, ancestry, gender, ethnicity, and social status.

Because names carry all that weight, they can also be a hugely valuable tool in terms of world-building, setting an emotional tone, creating an integrated setting, and of course, characterization. The right name can also help anchor us in the story world, whether it be historical or contemporary or Other. Think how different the name Araminta is from Jennifer, or Carradoc is from Justin.

Plus all words have connotations, even names. The way they sound, feel, roll around in our mouths as we say them. All those elements affect how we perceive a name as well. As writers, we can use that, make it work for us. The names can do a significant amount of “showing” so we don’t have to waste time “telling.”

And then some letters are just funnier than others. I think u is the funniest of the vowels. Perhaps it's something as juvenile as being reminiscent of certain forbidden words, or hearkens back to the ugh of the caveman. I don’t know, but it amuses me.

There are also certain consonants that are funny (b, f, d, g, k) and others that are stately (s, t, r, c) and others still whose sound brings a lot to the table, (b, g, s, l, z) Let those inherent qualities in letters work for you as you choose your names.

(Of course, now you all know how slightly whacked I am about letters, but that can’t be helped.)

Tomorrow we'll talk about the different way names help convey shades of character.

p.s. Also, Mary Hershey and I are guest blogging today over on Becky Levine's blog about marketing tips for when you're pre-published, in case that's something you're interested in.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I'm Back!

Sorry for being gone for so long, but I was recuperating from a wee bit o' surgery.

Lots better now and ready to chat. Also got a lot of books read. I adored Meg Cabot's new middle grade book, Allie Finkle's Rules For Girls. Such a great read. And you know, even though there are lots of best friend stories out there, there's always room for a new one. Especially one with as great a voice at Cabot's. In fact, that was my takeaway lesson from this read, with a great, big, fresh voice, everything is new again.

I also started The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. This blew my writing world wide open, daring things I would never have even allowed myself to consider. I adore it when books do that.

I also read a couple of adult books; Mistress of the Art of Death by Arianna Franklin and I reread Silent in the Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn. Those last two books in particular are comfort reads for me. I love these books because they're such great historicals, Mistress in the Art of Death taking place in medieval England, while the Silent books take place in Victorian England. While they both center on murder plots, for me the overwhelming appeal is the characters and the lovely historical accuracy, not just of the setting, but the worldview of the characters. Anyway, great reads, although I must warn you, the Mistress of the Art of Death book deals with some very guresome children's murders--I read those parts with my eyes squinched shut.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Dallas On My Mind

Sorry, last week got away from me. Probably because I was busy thinking about my very exciting upcoming trip to DALLAS! Woo-hoo!

Since the Theodosia books tie in very nicely with the Dallas Art Museum's current King Tut exhibit, I'll be part of their arts and lectures series, speaking on Friday night, March 20. I'll also be doing some bookstore events in the area at the same time, so stay tuned for more details on that. It would be great fun to see some of my readers from the Dallas area!