One of the things that’s increasingly hard to do is find names for my characters. At first, it was so much fun! The names I might’ve used if I’d had more kids. Names I wished I’d had. Funky, interesting names. Literary names. You trip merrily through the book, choosing names out of the ether. “Sam? Great! Jonah? Love! Maggie? Of course!”
Then, around the fourth book, you realize you’ve already used certain names…your friends, your friends’ moms, kids from high school. Most of my books have around 50 named characters. Yep, just that fast, all the names on your list are gone.
The hero and heroine names are the hardest. Also, the mean people.
You can’t use your nieces or nephews’ names (you already did, naming the heroine’s nieces and nephews after yours, you clever thing!), your cousins’ name (ditto), your editor’s name, her husband’s name, your friend’s kid’s name. Maybe you find a great name, but it’s also the name of the kid who bullied you in middle school. Or you hate that name because it was the bully’s name, and you use it for the mean person in the book—ha!—and then have to find another bad-person name for all the other meanies to come. You think about using the name of the friend who hurt your feelings 20 years ago, but then you’re afraid she’ll know and you don’t want to give her the satisfaction.
You to go the Social Security Administration website and look up the most popular names of the year your character was born. You’ve used the first 67 names on the list, and the rest are horrible.
You go to Nameberry and see that Faustina, Zoyya and Borys are trending.You ask your readers for suggestions, and they all seem to suggest your son’s name or names you’ve already used. “How about Ian/Sam/Levi/Connor?” Used, used, used, used. “How about Callie/Maggie/Kate/Honor?” Used, used, used, used. “How about Liam/Tom/Jack/Nebucchanezar?” Used, used, used, hm.
You fall in love with a name, only to realize that nine other characters in the book have names that start with the same letter. You love a name, but it’s hard to pronounce. It’s hard to spell. You don’t want readers struggling over it. You love a name, and then a celebrity names her kid the same thing (looking at you, Beyonce, and not you, Kimye). You love a name and your writer friends hate it (looking at you, Shana, Huntley, Shaunee, Jen, Karen).
You find THE PERFECT NAME and open a book and there it is, used by someone else (looking at you, Robyn, Sally, Sarah). You name a character after the actor you have a crush on. You then try that again, only to find the actors have the same first name (looking at you, Hardy & Hiddleston). You look for other actors as inspiration, but realize you can’t name a character Benedict without it being way too obvious you’re a little obsessed with Mr. Cumberbatch. Idris, ditto.
In the end, you pick a name that’s not so bad, that you haven’t used, that isn’t too weird, too hard to pronounce, too overused in your genre. And eventually, it starts to grow on you. By the time you’re done with the book, you’re kind of in love with that name. And you realize it’s a shame, because you can never use it again.
Got any names that you really loved or hated as a character? Names that you couldn’t pronounce that really got in the way of reading a book? A name you couldn’t get past? Or, if you were (or are) writing a book, what would you name the hero and heroine?
The winner of Theresa Romain’s giveaway is catslady. Congrats! Catslady, I’ll email you about getting your choice of a Holiday Pleasures or Matchmaker book to you.
Planning Ahead by Stacy Hoff
For those of who don’t know me (which is probably a lot of you since I’m a relatively new author) my “day job” is as a lawyer. I have two active boys. A husband who works a heck of a lot of hours. Parents I don’t get to see often enough. A local Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapter I want to be active in. And I’m a regular blogger. I crank out new novels and short stories frequently, less than six months apart. By the way, I also take art classes every month. Scheduling everything I need to do in a day is absolutely no problem. I never mess up appointments or deadlines. Because I have super powers. Not.
Planning ahead is as easy and fun for me as mythology’s Sisyphus trying to move the bolder up the mountain, only to have that sucker roll back down. But I have learned a few techniques that help me get the enormous rock close to the pinnacle. My favorite is a big, blotter-sized, plan-by-the-month paper calendar. This tool helps me understand what events are coming up, so I can figure out by what day I need to start working. This planning tool may be old-fashioned, but since I was born in 1970 (and therefore, according to my kids, older than dirt) it suits me just fine.
What’s my second best technique? Asking my ten-year-old where he needs to be. That kid has this scheduling thing down. Much better than me, darn it. Not that I’ll ever admit it to him. (Okay, maybe when he’s fifty.)
Given the constant challenges I always face when planning ahead, it’s perhaps not a big surprise that I plunged headlong into writing my first published book, DESIRE IN THE EVERGLADES, with nary a thought as to the future. I never dreamed there would be a sequel. At the time, I had been consumed with only one goal— getting one of my many manuscripts published. I had written a bunch of stories, all very different, trying to find one catchy enough to grab a publisher’s eye. Since I was trying out different sub-genres of romance, and writing in different styles, and different POV’s, seriously contemplating a sequel to any of them was as realistic as my suddenly sprouting wings.
It was only when DESIRE IN THE EVERGLADES finally got published that I started playing around with the concept of a follow up book. Which character(s) would I (re)cast? I decided on the quirky best friend in EVERGLADES who had a snappy sense of humor, Ana Davis. Luckily, I had sufficiently developed Ana’s personality in the first book to give her a starring role in the second. Who knew?
Then I had to pick a locale as awe inspiring as Florida’s Everglades. Preferably a place I had actually visited so I could write realistically about it. The main reason I had set my first story in the Everglades was because my parents had taken me there when I was a teenager. Because the Everglades is the most dangerous place I’ve visited, I was sequel-stumped.
Ultimately, I chose to have my follow-up book take place in the Arctic Circle. Had I ever been to the Arctic? No. But I had traveled to Gros Morne National Park—a World Heritage site in Newfoundland, Canada. Gros Morne’s unique plant life and “tundra” landscape is very similar to the Arctic’s. Oddly, this similarity is caused by acidic soil more than the park’s Northern locale, since the acidity makes plant life a scarcity. The flora that does exist is undersized and lies low to the ground, just like in the Arctic. As a bonus prize, Gros Morne has a lot of the same wildlife found in Alaska. Black bear, lynx, caribou, arctic hare and moose.
I also had something else persuading me to select the Arctic—my fascination with Northern wilderness. I’ve been watching Alaskan reality television for years, including Railroad Alaska, Buying Alaska, Life Below Zero, The Last Alaskans, as well as all the cold-climate episodes of Survivorman and Bear Grylls I could get my hands on. (I am so fascinated by survival shows that the DESIRE books are premised on surviving the worst wilderness conditions in order to win a television show’s million-dollar prize.)
With the Arctic Circle as my general locale, it wasn’t too hard to pinpoint an exact spot. I chose the most remote park in the US, and the only one in the Arctic Circle, Gates of the Arctic National Park. It’s located at the foothills of the Brooks Mountain Range (if you’ve ever heard of it). It has no direct access. Visitors either need to fly in, or hike five miles from the nearest highway and then cross a raging river (not recommended by the US Park Department, by the way). There are no park accommodations of any kind. Very few people ever visit. Those that do, put their life in danger.
So Gates of the Arctic was perfect. Now all I had to do was write the bugger.
Some days I’m fortunate enough to find myself on top of things. On those days, I get my kids to their after-school activities on time. Dinner on the table before seven o’clock. My legal work all wrapped up at the office so I don’t need to take it home. My blog articles all scheduled and my manuscripts off to the publisher on time. Some days. On most days, however, my life happens by mere happenstance. I make the best of whatever situation I’m in, and try to re-structure enough events to make my family’s life viable. Just like I did when I wrote my sequel, DESIRE IN THE ARCTIC.
Hmmmm, maybe I should change the word “sequel” to “serendipity.”
Ana Davis has been given the promotion of the century—from secretary to television producer. But the new job is not without its problems.
The network will do anything for ratings. In the executive’s scramble to come out on top, they reveal Ana’s newest show—one she’s forced to star in herself. She’ll have to survive in the Arctic Circle for twelve days. If she wins, she’ll get the prize money she desperately needs. But the stakes are high, she could lose her very life. Good thing she’s been paired with expert survivalist William “Redd” Redding, a mysterious, solitary and very sexy man. Too bad she thinks he doesn’t even want to talk to her.
William “Redd” Redding is a former Special Ops Marine in need of cash to help a cause near and dear to his heart. What he’s not in need of, however, is Ana Davis—his clueless but captivating partner. It’s up to Redd to ensure the two of them survive in the most dangerous, hostile environment of all. But worse than snowstorms, predators, and a scarcity of food is an even greater danger—Ana. Resisting her, when he wants her more than anything, is his hardest challenge yet. How does he go about protecting her when his ultimate goal is to protect his heart?
“I’m not into surprises, Ana,” Redd said gruffly. “Not when our lives are on the line. Do you have any survival skills or don’t you? I’ve got to know exactly what I’m dealing with.”
“I-I’m sorry,” Ana stuttered, although she wasn’t sure what she was apologizing for. Her slow response, or for not being somebody better?
“Just level with me, okay?” he said again, gentler this time. “I won’t be mad. Panicked, maybe. But not mad. At least not mad at you.” He managed to give her a small smile. She wished to God it was sincere.
“All right, I’ll level. But I hope you won’t be too upset. I don’t have any survival skills at all.”
“None at all,” he repeated tonelessly.
“Well, no. I grew up in Brooklyn. The show wants me to say I’m from Manhattan but you said you want me to be honest.”
“Have you at least gone camping before?”
“Great.” He exhaled hard, his expression showing relief. “How often do you go?”
“I’ve only been once, actually. But that still counts, right?”
“That depends,” he said, looking as if he had a sudden, severe headache.
“I went during summer camp, right after seventh grade. My whole bunk slept outside. It was fun. The counselors even let us roast a whole bag of marshmallows.”
She could have sworn she heard him swallow. It was almost as if he was choking on one of those marshmallows.
“Any hiking experience?” he asked weakly.
Be engaging, Ana. Don’t look so scared. Crack a joke or something. She managed a playful smile. “Close. I’ve told people to take a hike.”
He bit down on his lip. It looked like he was in pain. “Fishing?”
“No. The closest I’ve gotten to fishing is picking up jars of herring from the supermarket.” Taking one look at his ashen expression, she added, “I’m a fast learner though. If you teach me how to do these things, I’ll catch on quick. I even managed to learn a whole lot about wilderness survival before I came up here.”
“I think I need a beer,” he said, abruptly changing the topic.
“I can get you one, if you want.” Ana felt her face go hot.
When he stepped away, she put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him. “Look, I’m sorry I’m not what you wanted in a partner,” she said quietly. “I kinda got forced into this. With no notice for me to prepare.”
He swallowed again, seemingly making a determined effort to soften his countenance. “I’m sure you’ll do fine. Just do what I tell you, and we’ll get through this ordeal as best as we can.” His face was so scrunched up now he could have been a shar-pei puppy. “How’d they force you?”
“I’m their newest producer. I don’t have much track record yet, so . . .”
“That explains it.”
The two photos above, taken of Gates of the Arctic National Park, are property of the U.S. government and public domain.
WEBSITE & SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS FOR STACY HOFF:
AMAZON LINK FOR DESIRE IN THE ARCTIC by Stacy Hoff:
AMAZON LINK FOR DESIRE IN THE EVERGLADES by Stacy Hoff:
AMAZON LINK FOR HOT SEDUCTION (box set contributors: Jamie K. Schmidt, Stacy Hoff, Holly Roberts, Theresa Hissong, Susan Griscom & Leia Shaw):
AMAZON LINK FOR SEASON OF LOVE (Box set with Stacy Hoff)
Thanks so much for having me here today, Nancy. I love a chance to hang out with the Jaunty Quills! [So glad you're here with us today, Michelle! :)]
I had a conversation recently with a friend around the idea of ‘the one’. While I love the idea that there is a perfect match for each of us, I also believe that we grow and change so much that sometimes it takes a little bit of internal knowing before we are ready to welcome the right person into our life–yes, second chance romances are some of my favorites.
But there was a distinct moment when I knew my hubby was the one for me. We’d been dating for about five months, set up on a blind date. We were a bit of an unlikely pair—he’s outgoing, uber-athletic, social, adventurous and MacGyver-level handy to have around. I’m pretty much of none of those things but we still clicked. So when he suggested a backpacking trip over Memorial Day weekend, I said yes–mainly because I was in too in love to make a rational decision.
I quickly bought all kinds of camping gear and we headed up to the Maroon Bells, a gorgeous mountain range near Aspen. But after a grueling (and let’s face it – miserable) hike to our first campsite, a storm blew in. A snowstorm. Over Memorial Day weekend. We struggled to put up the tent in the sideways snow and crawled in with the wind howling around us. The tent wasn’t equipped for the conditions and neither were we. I remember lying next to him, shivering in my sleeping back, and I said (like the brave woman I am), “I’m scared”. And he turned and said, “yeah, me too”.
Not comforting words…except they were. Because this strong, manly man just admitted he was afraid. He said other things about how we’d be ok and we talked and snuggled and freaked out together. But that one little moment of vulnerability was it. I was sure he was the one for me.
It also helped that the next morning, when the storm had passed and the view was gorgeous, he said that if I wanted we could keep hiking but if it was up to him we’d go back down to the city, eat Mexican until we popped and rent movies for the rest of the weekend. Way more my happy place!
In my new release, Recipe For Kisses, sweet toy store owner Chloe Daniels doesn’t expect to fall for bad-boy chef Ben Haddox. But it’s the flashes of vulnerability and heart she sees in him, especially as his world is turned upside down by his niece and nephew, that draw her in. It’s all about the heart, after all.
Tell me something you love about an important person in your life – a detail that makes them special to you. I’ll pick two winners to receive copies of Recipe For Kisses.
A while back, a friend asked me which three fictional characters I’d like to take a road trip with. I found the question strangely hard to answer. Many of my favorite fictional characters, I discovered, would make terrible traveling companions.
A Sixteenth Century gorgeous genius named Francis Crawford of Lymond is my Number One imaginary guy, and I have to admit he’s simply too smart for me. He’s always quoting poetry in other languages, which would probably be romantic for a while, but I suspect it would grow old fast.
And can you see spending hours cooped up in a car with Heathcliff (cranky), Scarlett O’Hara (spoiled), or Mr. Darcy (critical)?
Heck, even Romeo is way too emo. And while the Great Gatsby might be fun, you know he’d drive too fast.
Honestly, I was stumped. So I’ve come to you for some good ideas. Which fictional character do you think it would be fun to drive across country with? The most memorable characters always have intense, quirky personalities, I’ve found…so whose quirks wouldn’t drive you mad? What are the ideal traits you’d be looking for?
I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift certificate today to one randomly chosen poster, and another $10 gift certificate to the poster who comes up with the very best idea!