What’s in Characters’ Names?

DSC00814How do writers choose their characters’ names? The question came up at a writers’ group and made me think. A large part of it is intuition, but there are resources to back that up and to provide inspiration.

Part of the art of naming involves knowing the region and how names have changed over time. For example, Emma is a popular name today throughout Europe and North America. Yet in 1976, Emma was decidedly old and uncool. Your great-grannie might be “Emma.” Now it’s young and popular again.

Names vary by region, too. In Scotland in 2015, Jack and Oliver were the two most popular names for baby boys. In Canada, it was Aiden and Jacob. In the U.S. the same year, Noah and Liam topped the list. Jack came in at number 40, although Jackson – which could be shortened to Jack – was number 17. In German, Ben was most popular. In Spain, it was Santiago. In Sweden it was William, followed by Lucas!

For girls, Emma or Emily (which I consider a variant) seems to be the most popular name in Europe and North America, hands down. Emily and Sophie were the top baby names in Scotland. In the US, Emma and Sophia, in the number 1 and 3 spots and Emma and Emily in Canada. Emma took the Number 1 spot in Germany, too, according unofficial chronicler Nameberry.com In Spain, the top choice was Sofia, though Emma was number 5. In Sweden, the top name is Elsa – what is it about “E” names? – Emma was number 30.
I don’t know why the girls’ names are so similar in the Western world and the boys’ names so varied.

I do know that writers seeking names appropriate for specific ethnicities and years of birth have a treasure trove of options, all readily available through the Internet. Type in “top baby names”, (year) and (nationality) and see what pops up.

I found one of my favorite character names through a chance meeting with a family in Canada. Their daughter’s name was Prairie. Years later I remembered and used that name when I wrote “Perspective,” a novel about a young female photographer in Canada. More compliments have come in regarding the character’s name than any other element of the book!

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What I’ve Learned From Fiction

I was watching a romantic comedy yesterday in which the heroine announced she was a pluviophile. A what? Good thing the movie was recorded. My husband and I ran it back, listened a few times and finally caught the word. Then I looked it up. As it turns out, a pluviophile is someone who loves the rain. Those folks get the same euphoric boost from rainy weather that others do from sunny days.

It made we wonder what else I’ve learned from fiction. Aside from historical fiction that sent me to the library or, in this century, to the Internet to learn about such staples of Georgian life as reticules and Corinthians, what other elements of trivia had I picked up by osmosis as I read romance?

Well…I now can identify monkey puzzle trees (from “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”) and have a keener appreciation of beach glass thanks to Claire Cook’s novel “Life’s a Beach.” Recently, reading Cora Seton’s “The Navy Seal’s E-Mail Order Bride,” I learned that cattle, while counted by head (as in “Zane has 40 head of cattle”) are also counted by pair, as in “I need to buy 6 pair — cows and calves — to rebuild the herd.” Growing up in ranching country, you would have thought I’d have known that!

My life is richer for these bits of information. Sometimes they’re even worth a few points in Scrabble.

Moral of the story: People learn from the darnedest things. Sometimes it’s just a snippet of fresh knowledge. Sometimes it’s a lot.

My soon to be released novel Home to Glenhoolie, is an example. Laird Glenhoolie is developing a wind farm. Naturally, details from real wind farms are woven into the story. Did you know it takes 1,000 tons of concrete to form the base of a large wind turbine? Or that the industrial scale blades have been thrown a few feet short of a mile when they came apart during operation? That’s not the focus of the story, but it’s part of the world the characters inhabit so it’s good to get the facts straight.

Think about it. As writers, you can entertain and inform, imparting snippets of knowledge that enrich readers’ lives in small, but countless ways. As readers, what tidbits have you found that make your life more interesting?

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Get Ready for the Capital Indie Book Con

Authors from all over western Washington and Oregon are convening at Evergreen State College for the Capital Indie Book Con in Olympia Washington July 16.

This is a great time for readers to come, meet favorite authors and get acquainted with some new ones, too, at this free readers conference. Authors writing in pretty much every genre will be there, from romance to sci-fi, westerns to fantasy.

I’ll be there with the Olympia chapters of Romance Writers of America and will have copies of three of my books available for sale: “Perspective,” “Giant Tales Beyond the Mystic Door” and “Giant Tales From the Misty Swamp.”

I look forward to seeing you there!


Capital Indie Book Con
July 16, 2016, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Evergreen State College
2700 Evergreen Pkwy NW, Olympia, Washington

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For Weddings, Beautiful Can Also Be Practical

June is wedding month. But all that romDSC04212ance comes with a hefty price tag. According to The Knot’s Real Weddings Study, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is $32,641. That’s nearly half the average down payment on a house ($72,590), according to RealtyTrac. The average guest list include 139 people. (That’s just over $234 per guest.) Europeans, if you’re wondering, spend an average of $5,494 on weddings. I’ll bet theirs are just as nice.

Least you think I’m against romance, I’m not. The gorgeous dress, the horse and carriage, the spectacular cake and everything else is wonderful.

I’m just a fan of practicality, even as a romance writer. I’ve witnessed beautiful weddings that weren’t enormously expensive. For instance, the wedding at the park, just as dawn was breaking. The wedding and reception on a paddle wheeler in the bay. Flowers from the farmer’s market, placed in Mason jars tied with ribbons. The antique fire truck, owned by a friend, rather than a limousine.

As a romance writer, I encourage my couples to use what they have to create a beautiful wedding, but more importantly, a beautiful life together. To me, that means starting out with minimal debt. So, have your horse and carriage, if you or friends have a ranch. Have your beautiful dress (the best sales on wedding dresses are in December – or find a seamstress to make one just for you). Whatever you choose – for yourself or your characters – give it meaning, and get the marriage off on the right foot!

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Sunny Days Plotting of Scotland

Sunny days are a huge distraction for me. Huge. HUGE. After a rainy season that starts in September and ends in late June, any chance to actually see shadows, not to mention blue sky is a treat. Some days, I take my laptop outside and plot the comings and goings of Alec and Claire, soon to be of Castle Glenhoolie.


Their story started with a speedy proposal before they were separated by responsibilities on separate continents. Now they’re dealing with the aftermath and finding their way back to each other.

I’m polishing their story now, adding the scenes that ought to be there and trimming and tweaking those that are less necessary, I need to make an addition to the final scene still, and then give this book a good front to back read before turning it over for editing.

For me, this is the hard part. Since I know their story, my mind fills in the blanks. So, I put the book down for a while and work on something else. Having done that for the past two months, I’m coming back to it with, I hope, fresh eyes. I’m aiming for publication in early autumn.


The title? Well, that’s still being discussed. It’s #2 in the Winds of Glenhoolie series, and #3 in the Glenhoolie world. Wish me luck.

Coffee…by the Books

I like the coffeehouse culture even though I’m not a coffee drinker. (Personally, I favor tea, hot or cold, with extra lemon).


For a little literary pick-me-up, check out LiteraryStarbucks.com http://literarystarbucks.com/

Here’s a sample from a few days ago: The coffee order of J. Alfred Profrock, the lead in T.S. Elliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Profrock.”

When the morning is spread out against the skyLike a coffee spilled across a counter…”

Interesting, yes? You’ll need to link to LiteraryStarbucks.com to read the rest.

Every wonder how Voltaire would order? Jane Austen? We know Richard Castle likes his cappuccino. Would J.K. Rowling enjoy a frothy latte? Something to think about in the wee hours of the night when sleep eludes you.

Tweeting Happily Ever After

I’ve read a few modern fairy tales in the past year. Some are classic updates for modern times, and I generally enjoy them. In these tales  Prince Charming may be the boy next door, but these modern rifts still deliver the happily-ever-after we expect. Others have a twist that not only removes the sugar-coating, but injects a dose of reality I’d rather reserve for the evening news. (Imagine Tom Thumb prescribed growth hormones. No, I’d rather not.)

On Twitter, @midnight challenged people to rewrite the classics with hashtag #UpdateAFairyTale.  Check it out and see what you think. There’s something for every fairy tale taste.