characters, children, favorites, heroines, world-building

Names and Naming

I realized, a few years back, that every single story I was writing had a main-ish character with some version of the name Katherine. Every one. The funny thing is, that name was never even on my list of favorite names, certainly not one I considered for either Joy or Grace (although if I had a third daughter …), and yet it kept cropping up in every one of my stories, until I had to consciously edit it out. Magic Most Deadly’s Julia was a Kate first, for example. As were the main protagonists in the two other stories I was writing/plotting at the same time as that. I kept one as was, changed MMD’s Kate to Julia, and abandoned the other story entirely, at least for a time.

Other names, or name-sounds, crop up with frequency, too. I adore Lloyd Alexander’s Princess Eilonwy (I think the E and the I look ugly next to each other, especially with that W showing up so soon after (W is just an ugly-looking letter anyway), which is one reason why I never considered Eilonwy as a name for Joy or Grace, but the sound of the name – Aye-LON-Wee – is pure music). I love JRR Tolkien’s Eowyn as well (though the E-O-W is even uglier to look at than E-I…W), and have found myself using very similar names in many of my stories. I have an Eilwen in one, her daughter Eirlys in another (plotted but not written). I’ve used Owen, Will, Gwen, in several of my non-fantasy stories. And I have yet to write this character, but I love the name Telyn and am eagerly waiting for the right story to put her in.

I sat down and analyzed Wings of Song the other day and realized it pretty much needed to be torn apart and begun again. Part of that tearing apart meant changing my main protagonist’s name. So much of her character was bound up in her name. If she needed a different personality, she needed a different name. I wanted this new heroine to be a combination of two previously-written protags: one named Meggie, one Gwen. At first I thought I wanted a name that preserved that middle “eh” sound, but in the end (and it was surprisingly difficult), I went with something entirely different.

And it’s working.

Poor Carl – I used to scare him half to death when we’d be driving along in the car, talking of something completely different, and I’d suddenly fire off: “What do you think of ___ for a name?” “Are you pregnant?” he’d howl.

He’s since learned to just roll with it. He married a person with an endless fascination for names, how they look, how they sound, what sort of associations they conjure up in people’s minds, all that. When I did get pregnant, and we finally did start talking names for real, I couldn’t settle down to think about anything in the pregnancy seriously until we had decided on names. (Joy and Grace, for newer readers, are not their real names. I decided when Joy was a baby that I could use photos OR real names, but not both, and at that point I went with photos. As they’re getting older and their faces are getting more recognizable, I’m starting to rethink even that policy. We’ll see.) And even though we didn’t use the boy name we had chosen for Joy, I couldn’t consider that name (Evan, by the way) for Grace. That was Joy’s-boy-name. Grace (of course, at the time we were discussing names, we didn’t know she was a girl) needed her own unique boy-name (she would have been Tristan, if you’re curious).

What about you? Are names something that fascinate you, or are they just convenient handles for keeping people and characters from getting confused? Do you find yourself drawn to similar-sounding names without even realizing it, or re-using one name across many different stories? And which is more important to you, a name that looks beautiful written, or sounds beautiful spoken?

1920s, Books, characters, favorites, fiction, heroes, heroines, influences, publishing, research, world-building, writing

Truth

I recently read Emma Thompson’s charge against the current generation of film stars, how they don’t seem to believe enough in their work to promote it, and that if one loves what one does enough, one should be willing to shout it from the rooftops.

It hit home. Because I have been doing a terrible job of promoting Magic Most Deadly. Granted, it’s not because I don’t believe in it, but it’s fear of being found annoying or arrogant or pompous. Or who knows? Maybe it is a lack of self-confidence – not it the book, but in me. I’m not going to try to psycho-analyze myself too deeply here. I just know that, to do justice to my book, I need to be bold about it.

So, truth:

Magic Most Deadly is the best damn thing I’ve ever written. It’s not highbrow literature. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea. But it is a fun story, with characters who became very real and individual people to me throughout the writing, and with a twisty and entertaining plot. It’s my tribute to Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and Lloyd Alexander and Brian Jacques and all those writers I’ve mentioned in every one of my “Influences” posts.

I loved writing it. I even enjoyed editing and polishing it. I researched the heck out of that thing, and even enjoyed that part. I grew as a writer (and a person, really) throughout its creation process.

It’s a great little book. And I hope everyone who likes mystery and fantasy and humor and English country houses and strong-minded heroines and a hero who respects that and a fussy, stubborn mentor in the background will pick up a copy and give it a read.

Not because I want to be rich and famous and everybody loves meeeeee and thinks I’m wonderful! But because I really, I honestly do, think you’ll enjoy it.

Magic Most Deadly. Get your tickets today.

(Did I do okay, Ms Thompson?)

1920s, characters, fantasy, goals, heroes, heroines, publishing, world-building, writing

Character Sketches

By which title I mean, real sketches of my characters. Not written sketches of their personalities, etc.  Art. Done by me. Not an artist.

I was trying to put together a concept sketch for a potential cover designer last week, and got enormously fed up at my inability to draw anything better than stick figures. I used to take art lessons, said I, and the pencil drawing I did of a horse has hung in my parents’ house for years and nobody ever guessed it was drawn by a kid, and the bird in pastels I did for Grandma is now hanging in my kitchen, and looks lovely, so why do my fingers no longer obey my brain when it comes to drawing?

Enough is enough, said I. If I’m going to be teaching art to my children, I better start believing and practicing some of the precepts.

A few hours later, I had come up with two reasonable sketches – one of Maia, and one of Len.

They aren’t perfect. If I were to draw them again, and again, and again, I know I could get them better.

But you know what? I like them just the way they are. And I think they convey a lot of strength and personality that wouldn’t necessarily show in a more polished and perfected piece.

So here, without further ado, is the first public appearance of Miss Maia Whitney and Mr Lennox Davies, co-protagonists of Magic Most Deadly:

Maia Whitney
Maia Whitney
Lennox Davies
Lennox Davies

After finishing Len’s portrait, I was bitten by the art bug, and now every time I sit down for a few moments you can find me picking up a pencil and paper and working away on noses, eyes, and ears. I drew a couple fairies for my daughters to play with, and even got bold and attempted a unicorn (er … definitely need work in the direction. Proportions were WAY off).

After telling myself for years that “I wish I could draw, but I’m just not an artist,” it’s fun to prove myself wrong. Anyone can become an artist, especially if you’re willing to accept that your first attempts will not be great.

Who knows, maybe by the time I’m ready to publish the next Maia and Len book, I’ll have even better portraits of them ready to go!

And speaking of publishing, and speaking of art …

I found a cover designer! Amanda of Fly Casual, and she did the most amazing job, I am so blown away. I can’t wait to share the cover with all of you. So that’s what I’m going to do. NEXT WEEK. Monday the 16th.

If anyone wants to help me share the cover, let me know in the comments and I will email you the details. In the meantime, go check out Fly Casual! Amanda is a wonderful graphic designer, and a joy to work with.

Books, fantasy, goals, heroines, publishing, stories, writing

Responsibilities and Inspirations

The thing about being an independently-published author (or at least journeying toward that goal – Magic Most Deadly, is so, so close to being ready!) is that you still have to be responsible about your writing.

By which I mean, if you have two books planned for this year, and two more planned for next, and you know that you are a slow enough writer it will take you all year to get those books written and ready for publication, you cannot, no matter how much you want to, hare off on a side trail and write something completely different. Because you have responsibilities just as surely as if you have a contract with an outside publishing house.

Which is why I am not writing that heavily female, POC, straight-up high fantasy quest-and-battle novel I want to write after seeing this, and reading this and this.

But I want to.

And so I am jotting down notes and character ideas and possible plots in my handy-dandy notebook here and there, as I think of it, and maybe, just maybe, once my self-imposed contracts are up, the spark will still be there and I will be able to write it. Or there’s even the possibility that I might be spurred to write these stories that much faster, so I can get to that one sooner.

In any case, it’s always nice to have inspiration bubbling, even if one can’t go chasing every will-o-the-wisp idea that floats across one’s path. Not, in any case, if one wishes to be that responsible writer one is trying so hard to achieve.

Seriously, who hasn’t read LOTR and wanted to see Eowyn get her shot at adventure? She would be an amazing protagonist.

 

(I am also, in trying to be responsible, not taking up my Welsh language studies again. Though that has more to do with homeschooling/packing/moving/I have no time for a new time-consuming hobby than it does with writing!)

families, heroines, influences, Life Talk

My Strong Heritage

I have a love/hate relationship with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and the like. I don’t like how exclusive they are. For Mother’s Day especially, I don’t like how a culture that usually treats women, mothers in particular, as “less than,” takes one day to say “Oh yeah, moms are great,” and then goes back to sneering at them.

On the other hand, I also like any opportunity I get to show the people I love how thankful I am for them. So I’m usually torn, these sorts of holidays.

But today, I’m not torn at all. I want to sing praise not just to my mother, but to all the women in my family who have contributed to make me the person I am today. It’s the day after Mother’s Day, and the day I choose to celebrate these amazing women.

My mom. She’s getting her Master’s degree on Saturday. Her granddaughters get to watch their Oma get a degree, how amazing is that? She taught me everything I know about sewing, cooking, teaching, and more importantly, how to use my brain (OK, Dad contributed to that part as well. Don’t worry, Dad, your post will come after Father’s Day!). She taught me about sacrifice and hard work, and the importance of having dreams while keeping your practicality. She’s the best mom I could imagine.

Gram, Mom’s mother. Just as my girls get to watch their grandmother earn her degree, I can still remember going to Grammie’s college graduation. She’s tackled every challenge that comes her way with zest and determination, and her energy puts me to shame. She’d do anything for her family, except let them get away with doing less than they are capable of.

Grandma, Dad’s mom. Raised eight children and had a hand in the raising of many of her grandchildren. Kept a sense of humor up to the very end. Faced a hard life with laughter and courage. Also went to college, to become a teacher. Instilled a love for reading and love for music in all her family.

My great-grandmothers. Some of them I only really know through stories. Some of them I knew well. One of them got to meet my Joy right after she was born. One of them had a name I am proud to now carry as my own. All of them strong, independent, courageous women.

My sister. My best friend, one of the smartest people I know, with the kindest heart to match her keen wits. She’s going to get to hold her first baby this fall, and I am so excited to see her become a mom. She’s going to be as spectacular at that as she is at everything else, I know.

My aunts, great-aunts, cousins … really, the list is too long to go on. And if I get started on the women who aren’t in my family who have influenced me and contributed to the person I am today, we’d be here all day. I am so thankful for all of them. I rejoice that my daughters have such a strong heritage – and one of equally brave, smart, loving women from their dad’s side – behind them.

Not just Mother’s Day, but every day I thank God for them!

Gram meeting our Joy for the first time.
Gram meeting our Joy for the first time.
Books, characters, favorites, God, heroines

My Name, My Friend … Emily

Here’s a tidbit about me many of you might not know – my first name is Emily.

I quite like my first name. I disliked it for a time when I was young, when it seemed like every second person I met was named Emily and I desperately wanted to be unique – but I like it well enough now. I don’t use it, of course. I mean, many of the members of my family still call me Emily (except my grandfather – when I was twelve years old and starting asking to be called Louise, he promptly switched and has only ever called me Louise or Emmy Lou (old family pet name which nobody outside said family is allowed to use, so nobody get any cute ideas) since), and I have some stubborn friends who still can’t make the switch, but I only ever refer to myself as Louise.

And it’s not because I don’t like the name Emily, but because I am a Louise. I can’t even think of myself as Emily – and the fact that my name never really sat quite comfortable on my shoulders, while Louise was just right was the main reason why I switched as an almost-teenager, not just because I was a snob who wanted a name that wasn’t shared with dozens of other girls.

(The other reason was to honor my great-grandmother, who was Pauline Louise, and who was one of the most wonderful human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to know.)

But (and now I’m finally getting to the main point of this post), I still like the name Emily. It’s not as common now as it was when I was young. It’s old-fashioned but not completely dated. It’s sweet and yet still simple and strong. It goes well with most middle names and last names. Even when it was popular it was never trendy. And, most importantly, it’s the name of one of my favorite book characters of all time.

No, not Emily Starr. Not Emma Woodhouse. Not even Emily Pollifax.

 

 

It’s none other than Emily Webster, star of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Emily of Deep Valley.

Unlike Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, alongside whom I grew up, reading about their escapades usually around the same time I was their age for each book (nice planning there, Mom), I didn’t meet Emily until I was an adult. A very young, very lonely newlywed, as a matter of fact, living in a strange city in a strange state, knowing nobody there outside my husband (who was working long hours and only wanted to crash at home when he was done), not working myself at the time, without a car, feeling very adrift as I was away from my family for the first time in my life (the one danger in going to a local university, I suppose).

There was a bookstore within walking distance of my apartment, however. True, I had to clamber through a hole in a fence, pick my way down a steep hill, sprint across a restaurant’s parking lot, cross a very busy road, and then dart through another parking lot to get there, but I could do it.

And it was there, one day as I had fled from the incessant noise of the neighbor below us, that I met Emily. If I did not believe in God, I would call it a fluke. Why would a large, mainstream bookstore that barely carried any of the Betsy-Tacy books have this, the least well-known out of all Lovelace’s books? Since I do believe in God, I prefer to think of it as him sending me just what I needed at just the right time.

I sat down in an armchair right there in the store and starting reading it. After a couple of chapters, I felt my throat close up. Rather than burst into tears in public, I got up, paid for the book, made my perilous way back to my apartment, curled up in bed, and kept reading.

And for a few hours, the noise from the downstairs neighbor that filled the entire block of apartments ceased to bother me. My loneliness went away for a time, for I had found a new friend.

Emily, you see, found herself all alone at the start of the book. All her friends went off to college, and while she desperately wanted to go as well, she couldn’t leave her elderly grandfather, who had raised her and who didn’t understand the concept of higher education for women. Despite her best efforts, depression settles in.

But she doesn’t let it stay! Inspired by Shakespeare to “muster her wits,” Emily sets out to live a full, worthwhile life no matter where she is. She lets go of her nostalgic longing for the life she had in high school (the chapter where she changes hairstyles is sheer genius) and looks for ways to learn and grow and help others right where she is. Before long, her life is so full and rich that she’s almost forgotten her longings for college!

There’s romance in the book as well, but even that is shown as part of Emily’s self-growth. It’s never the main focus.

It’s no coincidence that after meeting Emily, I started a blog of my own, and tentatively joined the fanfiction community, starting to find a circle of friends online that are still with me today. She gave me the courage to push through the terrible ennui that threatened me in those early years and find ways to fill my life with purpose and joy. She helped me behave like an adult even when I felt like a little kid at the first church we attended and wanted to hide from all the perfectly-polished other young married women there, all of whom seemed so much more sophisticated and comfortable in their own skin than I was. She helped me understand that it doesn’t matter so much where you are as who you are, and that using your wits is something that will never go out of style.

So yes, Emily became and is still one of my dearest friends. And even though I don’t think of us as having the same name exactly, is it any wonder the name Emily holds such a special place in my heart?

heroes, heroines, philosophy

Once Upon a Time, and Good vs Evil

Once Upon a Time is one of my favorite shows (I almost wrote “new” favorite shows, but since it is more than halfway through its second season, I can’t really call it new anymore, can I? I still think of NCIS:LA as new, though, and it’s in its fourth season. I guess it just takes me a really long time to get used to a show!). I am not quite as enamored of it as I was in its first season, but I still really enjoy it. I’d enjoy it more if all of the characters except, possibly, Gold and Granny, didn’t do really stupid things on a really regular basis, and then act shocked when said stupid decisions come back to haunt them, but even so. It’s a fun show to watch.

Last Sunday’s episode really got me thinking. (Ahead lie theme-spoilers, though I won’t be giving any details away. Still, stop reading if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know anything about it.)

*****

*****

*****

Still here? Right.

At the end of this episode, it looked like Evil had taken another giant leap forward toward defeating good. And Snow was sick of it. Tired of doing the right thing every time, and coming out poorer for it. Tired of always showing mercy and having it come back around to haunt her. Tired of always taking the high road, when it seemed only to hurt those she loved.

David tried to comfort her, but let’s face it, David is really good at hitting things and making noble-sounding proclamations, not so much at … well, anything else. So his comforting speech and meant-to-be-encouraging words fell flat. In fact, he was lucky, because if I’d been Snow, I would have decked him for his lame, cliched words. She just basically ignored him. Kind, kind Snow.

Here’s what he should have said:

“You are absolutely right. We have been fighting evil our entire lives, and every time we think we’ve won, it crops back up and steals our happy ending. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? We aren’t fighting for our own happy ending. We’re fighting for Emma’s happy ending, for Henry’s. If we are just fighting for ourselves, how are we any different? Regina wants her happy ending, and we want ours. The means we take to that end are different, but they’re both driven by selfish motivations.

“What makes us different, is that we aren’t just fighting for ourselves. We are fighting to make the world – both this world and our other home – better for everyone. Safer. We are fighting so our daughter and grandson can live in freedom, instead of in bondage to evil.

“And yes, I know that you are tired. It’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to want to lay this burden down. It’s understandable that you feel it isn’t worth it. That’s why I’m here. I still believe. I’ll carry you through this period of doubt, and someday, when I’m the one struggling, you’ll carry me. That’s what we do for each other.”

I think sometimes, especially in fantasy, it’s almost easier to make Evil nuanced than Good. We’re been trained to go against the cliched “bad for the sake of being bad” guy, giving them all kinds of depth and interest, but in this era of anti-heroes, it can be hard to remember what it is that makes the true hero stand out.

I recently re-read Stephen Lawhead’s Taliesin, and while it isn’t the brilliant, gripping prose I remembered it being when I was eleven and enthralled by it all, parts of it did still stand out to me with a shining, brilliant light. The notion of true heroism being fighting against the dark even when you know it’s hopeless, even when you know you will lose, simply because it is the Right Thing, and because you have faith that eventually, even if you’re not there to see it, light will overcome the darkness, and you want to be a part, however small, of that light.

I’m interested to see where OUAT goes with this “Dark Snow” theme they’ve brought up. I hope they’ll use it as a chance to bring in some of these deeper motivations behind “being good.” Given their track record, I kind of doubt it, but I can hope, right?

Do you watch Once Upon a Time? Are there any TV shows that you do watch that cause you to ponder philosophical questions on a semi-regular basis? Do you think it’s harder to make a hero interesting than it is to make the villain sympathetic?