I spend a lot of time thinking about names for my characters. I do it early in the process of writing a novel because I find the name informs the character and the character informs the name. I like to find a name with just the right sound to it, sometimes symbolic meaning, family background or ancestry. But first it starts with sound. It has to sound right, especially for my protagonist. Dickens understood this and unerringly was a master at naming his characters both primary and secondary. My favorite is Uriah Heap from David Copperfield but there’s also, Oliver Twist, Fagin, Ebenezer Scrooge, Edwin Drood, and Mr. Crummins. Here are a few of my recent contemporary character names from books I’ve read in the last year:
- Stick from Stick by Andrew Smith.
- Vera Dietz from Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S.King.
- Phineas T. Pimiscule from Return to Exile by E.J.Patten.
- Nailer from Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
- Winston Arnolf Leftingsham (Lefty) from my own Open Wounds.
Which leads us back to Uranus. Uranus was the first Greek lord of the universe, first of the titans, god of the sky. He was created by Gaea in order to surround and cover her, but soon he became her mate and together they produced the remaining twelve Titans, three Cyclopes and three Hecatoncheires, hundred handed creatures – all of whom Uranus hated. So… he stuffed them back into Gaea’s womb. She had no choice. Cronus escapes, though, with Gaea’s help and eventually castrates Uranus while he’s sleeping one day and so son takes father’s place, all kinds of creatures spring from the drops of his blood and his genitals get thrown into a sea from which is born Aphrodite. I’m not kidding.
I did not know this about the word Uranus. I always thought it was simply the seventh planet out from our sun with the name that everyone had trouble saying out loud because the second half of it spelled anus. We should all say that out loud, just so we can practice. It’s a good word, long besmirched. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Excellent. Ahh the power of a name.
What are your favorite character’s names? What is it that makes them sing?
We talked about a lot of things writing and non-writing. I found out things that surprised me about him and found myself talking about things I haven’t talked about with anyone in a long, long time. I’m still processing the evening.
I will tell you that Andrew is the real deal. He’s a writer’s writer who can talk about words and how to use them to tell stories in the most extraordinary way. He works his ass off on his writing. He’s very disciplined in the way he writes and accomplishes an incredible amount of completed pitch perfect work in addition to being part of a family with two kids, holding a day job, raising horses, and feeding a running habit. He paid his dues working as a journalist and has found a true mastery of the written word in his work as a novelist. If you haven’t read one of his books your life as a reader of books is not complete. You’ve been slumming.
I hung out with Andrew Smith on Friday evening.
I took him to The Fencer’s Club. Outside of rugby, fencing is the greatest sport in the world. You heard it here first. You can close your eyes, sitting on the spectator’s bench and just listen to the music of the blades, tapping, beating, sliding, cutting into the air, and pressing into canvas.
Andrew introduced me to Macallan 12 year old scotch.
Of course I forgot to take pictures.
My wife just rolled her eyes when I told her. Perhaps some things need to be savored in the mind and not on the photographic pixilated plate. Okay. I’m taking pictures first next time I have the fortune to see him so I don’t forget.
What Andrew made me want to do more than anything else when I went home that evening was write. Now because I’d had two scotches and could barely feel my toes much less navigate a keyboard I had to wait until the morning.
But the next morning I got up early and got back to work on my next book, his many words of wisdom ringing in my head.
It’s Friday. I love Fridays.
Today is an especially good Friday (no pun intended) because I’m meeting Andrew Smith this evening and hanging out with him.
I don’t really hang out much not being a real hang out kind of guy – but I thought I should say the words because they would make me sound cool. I got special dispensation from my family to have a hang-out night. I mean… it’s Andrew Smith.
So I’m going in to the city early and not working (really, I’m taking the day off). I’m going to have an hour or two of precious writing time before I meet Andrew. And I’m looking forward to it. This is after going to my son’s holiday show at school in which he will be singing with his class all kinds of christmas and holiday ditties. Now there’s a word, ditties, that doesn’t get used much these days. Maybe this post will help it make a come-back… probably not. And I’m really looking forward to hearing him sing. He’s been practicing a lot. Anyway it’s going to be a great Friday from beginning to end.
Oh yeah. I’m bringing my books to get signed too. Seriously. This chance won’t come around too often.
Also I’m reading on Saturday in Manhattan in Gramercy.
Fellow WestSider Karen DelleCava (author of the YA debut novel A Closer Look) was invited to read at the NYC LearningSpring School Book Fair this Saturday and was kind enough to get me and another WestSider Selene Byrack-Castrovilla (author of Saved by the Music, The Girl Next Store, and Melt) invited too. All three of us will be reading from our novels and signing books this Saturday, December 10th, 247 East 20th Street NY, NY from 1-3pm. If you’re in the neighborhood, come on by.
I’ve been doing family things this last week and I’m completely behind on my posts. I went to Boston what was already almost two weeks ago to read at the Cambridge Public Library (a story or two there but I’ll get to that later this week) and visit some bookstores and fencing salles. Then of course there was Thanksgiving. And my son finished his video of occupy wall street (to come later this week also).
And I’ve been reading, in the planning phase for my next book. I just finished Six Weeks, by John Lewis-Stemple and I reread A Storm in Flanders by Winston Groom (the man who wrote Forest Gump). I’m writing little pieces in Scrivener, creating the world bit by bit. A very different process for me than Open Wounds. But then, things change, writing process, life, many things. I’m in that kind of mood.
So I was listening to a lot of car radio, NPR to be exact. I love the talk shows when I drive. I heard Fran Drescher being interviewed last week and couldn’t help myself from frantically scribbling down what she said because I thought it so appropriate to writers.
“Turning pain into purpose is extremely healing.”
Now I should give this context. She was talking about her Cancer Schmancer movement. I heard it speak to me as a writer. Andrew Smith’s blog addressed this not too long ago and I thought what he said and the comments posted from that day to be very deeply felt and true. I think that so many of us write because it is healing and there is pain to heal. But does that mean you need to have had a crappy life filled with sorrow in order to find the right notes in your work? I don’t think so, but then on the other hand if you want to write deep work it helps to have been there. I think it depends on what you want to write. I remember some Frank Sinatra bio (hey… I like Fran Sinatra’s voice – he’s got a great voice – so cut me some slack) I saw on TV a long long time ago. I don’t remember the name of the film or the stars but I do remember one scene in the movie early on when he’s just starting to sing. He’s told by a nightclub owner that he has a great voice but that it has no feeling to it. The man says, go on out and live some and then come back when you can understand what the words mean. It made an impression on me.
As someone who has lived long enough to have had my share of loss (the longer you life the more you experience – that’s just the way it works) and probably a few extra thrown in just to make my life more interesting, I can say I didn’t write the hard stuff well, until life had happened. My understanding of my character’s pain deepened and my ability to write about it got better.
This has been my process.
Would I choose an easier one if I could?
A third review in one week! The Gods are smiling on me. It’s a reviewers hat-trick (three goals in a hockey game).
This is a review from Bryan Russell, writer, blogger, and one of the alchemists of Alchemy of Writing blog. Bryan’s review is one of my favorite. The last paragraph about historical novels in general and how Open Wounds fits into his view of them is all by itself, worth the trip to his blog. It’s insightful and wonderfully specific. Thanks, Bryan, for the kind words about my book.
Bryan mentions that he usually doesn’t read YA and that he was surprised by my book. So many people don’t read YA books because they perceive them as children’s books or not adult books and so not worth reading. I wish there was some way to help people get past that. My life is richer for reading books such as, Ghost Medicine, Marbury Lens, Stick, Sunrise Over Fallujah, The Subtle Knife, the Edge Chronicles, Hunger Games, and Crossing the Tracks.
Targeted marketing or the creation of genre ghettos?
I wonder which it is?