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Friday, July 8, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: My Work Space

One thing every writer needs is a work space. Back in the day, mine was the kitchen table, converted into an office by the addition of a portable typewriter.

These days I'm blessed to have a dedicated office space that has no need to be anything else.

True, it's tiny, smaller than many walk-in closets. And it's crowded. With two desks, a file cabinet, three book shelves and a printer table, we have trouble finding space to turn around if both my husband and I are in the space at the same time.

But really, how much space does a writer need? Mostly we need mental space: time and freedom for ideas to grow, sprout and bear fruit. The space inside my office is plenty big enough for that.

It also seems bigger than it is, what with the windows that open onto my rose garden and hummingbird feeder. It's perfect for what I need -- and after all those years when I relied on the kitchen table, I'm grateful for it.

What do you use for a work space? Share?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Maggie: Getting the Name Right

For a couple of weeks I've been looking at the process of naming characters. Yesterday I used Maggie's name as an example. From near the opening of MAGGIE RISING, here's Maggie's own take on how she was named:

[Mr. Haskins] lifted an eyebrow in a speculative look. “If you didn’t file a fictitious business name –“

“I was told I didn’t have to if I used my own legal name for my business.”

He looked up at my business sign. “Your legal name is Eastern Star Rising?”

“Since birth,” I assured him. “Would you care to see my driver’s license?”

“I don’t believe it. Nobody names their kid Eastern Star Rising.”

“Apparently you don’t know my parents,” I answered sweetly. “In the late eighties, my mother changed her own name to Sunflower.”

“Sunflower Rising?” Haskins asked, sneering. “Not likely.”

“Sunflower Holben,” I said. “Rising is her married name, my father’s name.”

“Nobody’s name is Rising.”

I took a deep breath, licked my lips, and tried to smile again, but I could hear the tension in my voice. “Mr. Haskins, my family name is Rising. It has been Rising for at least the past century. According to family lore, it comes from a Teutonic root, perhaps Reisen. We think it was changed at Ellis Island, but that isn’t your concern, is it? The fact is, my family name is Rising and my parents stuck me with the given names Eastern Star. I did not have to file a Fictitious Business Name because my name is not fictitious.” I paused for breath. “Now, if we’re done, I have work to do.” I opened the door.

I'm enjoying working with Maggie -- whatever her name is.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

More on Character Names

For a couple of weeks now, I've looked at how we name our fictional children, the "people" born of our imaginations. I've even included some helpful tips.

This week I've found a baby names site that includes some helpful tips for writers. Check it out if you're looking for ideas.

I love that first hint about making the names age-appropriate. When I was working on A CHRISTMAS RECIPE, I was so conscious of the generational changes in popular names that I figured out which year each of my characters had been born and used my computer to look up the ten most popular baby names for that year.

With the exception of the character named Michael (#1 for decades!), most of my characters got the sixth-through-tenth most popular names of their birth years.

The baby names site has some great ideas, especially about using unique names for unusual characters. Since my character from MAGGIE RISING has some highly unusual abilities, I decided to stick her with a highly unusual legal name (Eastern Star Rising), but to give her a common nickname so readers might identify with her more readily. I think it worked!

Do you have any hints for how you choose character names?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Eating my Cake Without Wearing it, too

In my ideal world, many things would be different:

I could eat exactly what I wanted, and as much as I wanted of it, any time I liked and I'd still look like a runway model.

I could sit all day at the computer and then sit all evening with a book or a movie and yet I'd be as fit and as svelte as a marathoner.

I could even bark and growl when in a bad mood without having to apologize after I felt better.

In short, my ideal world is far from where we all live. Whether we call it karma, what-goes-around-comes-around, you-get-what-you-pay-for or the Law of the Harvest, the principle applies: We don't get the reward until we do the work.

I was reminded of this recently when I heard a multi-published novelist say to an aspiring writer, "Do you really want to write? Or do you want to have written?" She nailed it.

Holding the finished book in your hand, talking to people about your work, that's the payoff and almost everybody I know thinks that would be way cool. The everyday struggle with characters who won't cooperate and plots that go astray and writing blocks that just won't quit is the messy, no-nonsense WORK that goes into writing. The willingness to do that is what separates serious writers from the dilettantes.

And since I won't have the payoff without doing the work, I think I'd better get back to work now.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Finding the Right Name

First things first: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICA! And a happy Independence Day to all.

Now let's talk about names.

Last week I led you to a web source that discussed finding the right names for your characters. How do you find those names? And how do you know when they're the right names?

These are tricky questions for both parents and fiction writers. We name babies or characters and the kids or creations we name have to live with what we stick on them.

We want the names to be original, or we want them to be common. We want them to be memorable or less so. Mostly we want them to fit the character. And since most of us already know multiple people (and/or characters) with any name we're considering, and those people/characters display a world's worth of personalities, we can't always turn to the folk we know for examples.

So what do we do?

First hint (and I mentioned this last week): Surveys have found that most American readers have little patience with names they can't pronounce. Use a common name or one readers can easily figure out.

Second: Go with a name that works for you. Talk your character into it. Two examples:

1. A major character in the historical novel I'm developing "told" me her name is Felice, but Felice is not a name. (It means happy in Italian.) I spent several weeks wrangling with her. She finally gave up and accepted Lucia.

2. My main character in MAGGIE RISING has neo-hippie parents who stuck her with the name Eastern Star Rising. I had to give her a nickname both she and I can live with; hence, I found an excuse for her to be called Maggie.

Finally if you really want to publish with X NYC Big House and the editor there loves everything but your character's name, be prepared to change in the twinkling of an eye -- and to love that change as well.

Names have power. Getting them right makes all the difference.