Monday, September 28, 2015

The Name Game

We had an interesting discussion last week on my publishing house's round-robin e-mail. A fellow author asked if any of us had ever used a real person's name (knowingly) for one of their characters.

I say "knowingly" because there is always the distinct possibility that the name you made up for one of your characters--whether it's the hero, the villain, the victim, a secondary character--actually belongs to a real person. That's completely out of the author's control, of course, that someone, somewhere happens to have a name you've chosen for a character. But suppose the author knows someone who has the perfect name for a character?

First off, I always think that it's simple courtesy to ask someone if you can use their name for one of your characters. And it's very wise to make sure that, unless you discuss it first with the person and are 100% sure they're a good sport with a fabulous sense of humor, you don't name your nefarious villain or irritating busybody secondary character after them (last time I checked, no one complained if the hero or heroine--you know, the one with the ripped bod, the marvelous sense of wit, and the genius IQ to foil the most nefarious of villains--had the same name....)

Second, the author must ask him/herself what it is they hope to accomplish by naming a character after their sister, best friend, the local bartender, etc. Is it an attempt to pay tribute to the person whose name you're using? If so, make sure the character is worthy of being the trophy (unless, as I stated before, the person whose name you're using has a great sense of humor!) Is it a lazy way to create a character? Be warned that most people might not see themselves the way you see them; there's a chance that the author might, without meaning to, offend the person.

Third, there's always the author who will include a real person--name and all--as a minor character in the story. This is something I've done with two good friends, Patty and Mike. But there is a stipulation to doing this; they (your friends/characters) should have a reason to be in the story in the first place. In my third Black Horse Campground mystery, "No Vacancy", J.D. had to follow up the investigation at a motorcycle shop. It just so happens that Mike and Patty own one. I used them to deliver information to J.D. about a suspect and I used their real names. The scene wasn't forced because they had a purpose in being in the story. I probably won't use this element very often, but it also served to thank them for helping me get the details right in the story!

No friends were harmed in the creation of this story!

Naming the characters after real people might work in some instances, but an author should always be aware of the pitfalls and always, ALWAYS, ask for permission to do so. It certainly will inspire the character's namesake to promote the book for you!

Monday, September 21, 2015

A visit with Oak Tree Press Author Marilyn Meredith: WHAT DOES ETHIOPIA HAVE TO DO WITH MY LATEST MYSTERY?

Today, I'm hosting fellow mystery writer and Oak Tree Press author, Marilyn Meredith, whose credits include the Rocky Bluff P.D. series as well as the Tempe Crabtree series. Marilyn, tell us about your latest Tempe Crabtree mystery, "Not As It Seems".

In the last Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, River Spirits, Blair announces his engagement to a young woman whose family came from Ethiopia.  I felt like the next book should incorporate the wedding which, of course, should include the bride’s family.

This meant of course, doing some research into several things.

The bride’s name is Amaresh Barili. I mentioned in the previous book that she is Ethiopian and Italian. I needed some history about why Italian.

Of course I had to find names for her mother and father, and come up with a history for both of them.

For their home, I described the house that our Italian neighbors  built and lived in across the street from me when I was growing up in Los Angeles.

Because I like to include food in my mysteries, I needed to discover some Ethiopian dishes for the parents to serve. Though I’ve never tasted what I included, writing about them made me hungry.

I love legends. A major part of the plot is the Ethiopian legend of the disappearing hitchhiker which comes from the New Testament.

Though the wedding itself isn’t Ethiopian, I wanted to include some Ethiopian touches.

While doing the research, I also learned a few things from a friend on the Central Coast, Paul Fahey, who’d been assigned to Ethiopia while in the Peace Corp.

Research took me on a fascinating journey to a most intriguing place.
--Marilyn Meredith

Not as It Seems Blurb:
Tempe and Hutch travel to Morro Bay for son Blair’s wedding, but when the maid-of-honor disappears, Tempe tries to find her. The search is complicated by ghosts and Native spirits.

Character Naming Contest:
Once again, I’ll name a character after the person who leaves a comment on the most blogs.
Tomorrow I’ll be stopping by
with the topic, Eating Your Way Through a Mystery.  

Bio: Marilyn Meredith now lives in the foothills of the Southern Sierra, about 1000 feet lower than Tempe’s Bear Creek, but much resembles the fictional town and surroundings. She has nearly 40 books published, mostly mysteries. Besides writing, she loves to give presentations to writers’ groups. She’s on the board of the Public Safety Writers Association, and a member of Mystery Writers of America and three chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Central Coast chapter.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Home Stretch

It's getting close... that time when the first draft of a new book is almost finished. The end is in sight, I know how the story is going to wrap up (I think!), and the germ of an idea is in place for the next book.

This is about the time the relief and exhilaration kick in, along with niggling doubts and a tiny whisper of panic.

Obviously, a writer feels a sense of accomplishment and excitement at having done it again--created a story and written it from start to finish--especially since, many times, I have started a project with that whisper (or is it a roar?) of panic: "Can I do it again? What am I going to write about? What if I can't make it work? What if it's boring?"

Strangely enough, those same whispers of panic come back at the end of the first draft, when I read it through for the first time. I cringe at obvious mistakes in continuity, mixed-up names or places, bloated exposition or dialogue, and tired descriptions I'm sure I've used in the three previous books. For a brief moment, the panic blooms into worry if I can fix what I've already written.

It helps to remember that I've lived through this three times already. And every time, I managed to get my focus right and I was able to edit my books well (with the help of my amazing beta-readers and editors!), send them in, get them published, and, most incredible of all, sell them! I tell myself that if I've done it before, I can do it again... and I'll be telling myself that every time I set out to write another book!

So now, as I take a deep breath to plunge toward the finish line, I keep in mind that the work is still, in some ways, just beginning: the edits, the cover art, the title, the promotion. But despite all the seemingly never-ending work and stress and confusion, there is the over-riding feeling of joy and excitement in doing what I love to do.

Now, back to work....

Next week, I'll be turning the Back Deck Blog over to fellow Oak Tree Press author, Marilyn Meredith, author of the Rocky Bluff PD series and the Tempe Crabtree series. She'll be promoting her latest Tempe book, "Not as it Seems". Follow her book tour and see how she crafts her mysteries!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Setting and Mood: How a Writer Takes a Vacation

It's Labor Day and I've had a busy weekend with a family wedding and then working a wine festival so today's Back Deck Blog is a reprint from September 15, 2014. Hope you enjoyed your weekend as well!

Labor Day weekend Paul and I were lucky enough to be able to take a couple days off to get away from our neck of the woods to visit his sister, a Carmelite nun in Santa Fe, and visit the Santuario de Chimayo, a well-known shrine in northern New Mexico. In addition to recharging our spiritual batteries (always a necessity a few times a year), I was also able to recharge my creative batteries.

One of the things that a writer must do in order to draw the reader in, besides create interesting characters, is to be able to create a setting, a world if you will, where these characters will live and breathe and move... in short, where the story will take place. Often I've read a story or novel where I find myself feeling lost and disoriented. The characters appear to be floating in space, talking heads. Where are they? Are they inside or out? Is it summer or winter, warm or cold? A big city or small town? In a familiar place or a strange place?

Being able to describe the setting in a way that doesn't intrude on the story helps create a mood for the story as well. A foggy, cold evening sets a different mood than a bright, clear morning, and either of those can convey a different feeling based on whether it's on a crowded city street or a deserted city street. Depending on what the writer wants to convey to the reader, the mood can foreshadow the events to come or set up a surprise.

Paul and I did a lot of walking in Santa Fe and Chimayo at different hours of the day and evening. A few pictures, a few notes, and a lot of observation helped me refill my "tank" of setting and mood, even though my stories are set in a completely different area of New Mexico. It's always a good thing for a writer to get away from the familiar and explore the unusual and use it to see things in a different way.

Plus, you can always use the excuse that you were "working" while you were checking out that interesting little café with the flamenco musicians (darn, I seemed to have left my camera and notebook in the car....)