How Authors Choose Names with Amber West

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and discover something interesting about words.

Early this year, I had the joy of reading Amber West’s debut novel, The Ruth Valley Missing. I’m thrilled to have Amber join us today to talk about how authors choose the names of fictional characters and places.

Amber West (photoshopped with Nathan Fillion)
Amber West (showing off her mad Photoshop skills)

Julie: Authors invent names for their characters and sometimes names for fictional locations. Do you have a typical process for naming people and places in your writing?

Amber: Not really. Sometimes I just start writing and the name comes. There have been times where I started with a name that didn’t feel right and changed it later. But process? Not so much.

(Naming my child went pretty much the same way. I wanted to name him Dexter Haven West, but at a certain point during the pregnancy, the name didn’t feel right.)

One of these days, I should relate sometime how my husband and I chose our sons’ names. It was a rather logical process, yet somehow the names seem to fit our children.

I read The Ruth Valley Missing back in January, and your choices of names stuck with me. Tell me how you came up with the main character’s name? And what about the original of “Ruth Valley”?

I like names that can have shortened versions, and I really like names on girls that sound like boys names. Jameson fit the bill. Her last name was a result of a little looking around. Since Jameson is a redhead, I wanted something with Irish origins and one syllable. A quick internet search and there was Quinn.

I love Jameson’s name. If I had a girl, there’s a solid chance that would be her name.

Ruth Valley came about in a few ways. One, I wanted a fictional town. While I have been to various small towns in North Carolina, I wanted a town that I had some license in creating. After all, I just dropped a Catholic church with convent in the middle of this little town, something not at all typical of the region, so I wanted it to be clear that this was a place that was invented.

I always thought of Ruth as a strong female name, and given the presence of a convent–one very involved in the community–I wanted that strength. Adding Valley to it gave it that idyllic little town vibe.

It definitely had that feel to me, Amber.

Have you ever used a Random Name Generator to brainstorm names? What do you think of that practice?

I’ve used one once, but didn’t care for the results. I’ve got nothing against them, though. They can be a good starting point when you’re stuck.

Scrivener has a random name generator, which I’ve tried, but the names always seem rather odd to me. I’ve done better myself culling the internet.

What about people you know? Have you harvested names from people in your past or present?

Haha. Yes.

One of the main characters in The Ruth Valley Missing is named after a good friend and early supporter of my work. The owners of the Bed and Breakfast? One of my aunts and uncles.

The Contemporary YA I’m working on has quite a few names pulled from real life.

I’m guilty as well. I don’t write people I know into my books, but I have used their names as inspiration.

Why is it important to get the name right? What does an author convey to the reader in the choice of a name?

I think there are things that are definitely more important, but names shouldn’t be ignored. Difficult to pronounce names, for example, can make your reader stumble as they read, which can take away from the whole experience.

Sound means a lot to me, too. I studied Latin in school and when you explicated poetry in Latin, sound is a big part of it. The sounds you use contribute to the imagery in the poem. Same thing can go for names. A mean and difficult character might have more harsh sounds. Or you might employ opposites–sounds that go against their nature.

I think sometimes authors have to be careful, too, when using unique names that are already in use. Calling your character “Katniss” or “Obama” might make it difficult for the reader to picture your character.

I’ve use the opposites approach on one of my recent books, with a drug dealer named Skip. Usually, however, I try to make the name conjure up the mood of the character I’m writing.

Do you have favorite character or fictional location names? What people and places from books have stuck with you because of their name?

I do really love Jameson. The serial fic I started on my blog a few weeks ago has a main character who goes by “Battie” and, while I wouldn’t love the name for me, I love it for her character.

Outside of my own stories? Oddly enough, Beatrice and Benedict from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing came to mind. Partly because I’ve heard writers cluck their tongues at using the same first letter for multiple characters in a story, particularly two major characters–but I always felt their names fit them so well. And in real life? It happens.

Just a few weeks ago I had some girls over for tea – we had three Ambers, an Arin, an Erin, and an Emily. Rule breaking nightmare! 🙂

I am so glad you said that because I’ve been looking at one of my novels with a Lacey and  Leah (who appears much less). I don’t want to change either name, but I’ve heard the “too close” advice. We’ll see what I decide.

And one last question, just because you’re here: What Star Trek celebrity and author bought your book again?

Speaking of cool names and alliteration: Wil Wheaton.

Check out that story from Amber’s blog: The One Where I Ramble about Anxiety, Megacon, and Wil Wheaton.

Thanks for coming on, Amber! I think you did a great job naming characters and the fictional town in your book, The Ruth Valley Missing.

I give this book a thumbs-up, y’all! Check it out.

The Ruth Valley Missing book cover

Jameson Quinn is sick of trying to find herself in the big city. After a gallery opening ends in a trip to the ER and an argument with her self-involved boyfriend, she decides to take off for the peace and quiet of a small town — Ruth Valley.

The small town has everything Brooklyn lacked: simple people, peaceful surroundings, and a feeling of safety. Jameson even finds the perfect house to rent from the town’s most eligible bachelor, Sheriff Jack. Life is finally headed in a promising direction.

But something isn’t right. A young man is mysteriously injured, then disappears — and Jameson finds he isn’t the only person to suddenly vanish. The suspicious behavior of an abrasive nun and a creepy priest set her off on an investigation of what’s really happening. Will she figure out the secrets of Ruth Valley before she’s the next to go missing?

Buy from Amazon.com (Kindle & paperback editions available)

Amber West behind a cameraAmber West is a Northeastern transplant dodging rodent sized bugs and sweltering heat in the jungles of Central Florida. When she isn’t battling the urge to pass out, she’s busy being a wife, mother, geek, photographer, and writer, in no particular order. You can read her ramblings at http://www.withoutsushi.com or find her on Twitter (@amberwest) where she abuses hashtags and makes people laugh. Or at least, makes herself laugh.

What I’m Watching and Why

Every week, I follow Tiffany A. White‘s Tele-Tuesday posts and Tiffany’s and Amber West‘s What to Watch Wednesday posts on their blogs. They have done an excellent job of breaking down television series, classics, and specials so that readers can discern what might be worth their time.

After trying out various series and being well into the fall season, I wanted to give my two cents on what I’m watching and why. For Deep-Fried Friday, I hope you’ll add your own recommendations.

The Big Bang Theory. Perhaps the funniest sitcom on television right now, this show tracks four brilliant but geeky scientists attempting to make it in a world where they don’t fit in. When beautiful but shallow Penny (Kaley Cuoco) moves in next door to Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki), their lives are permanently altered. We have all known someone like these nerds. They are not understood and socially awkward, and yet we feel for them trying to navigate social situations and find love and meaning in their lives. Still, there is enough to mock there. I also have to credit this series with introducing the word “Bazinga!”

Castle. Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is a bestselling author who has killed off his long-running series main character and needs a new idea. Maybe that alone endeared me to him, since there are some writers out there who need to kill off their cash-cow star and write something else for a change. But when a killer begins to copycat murders from Castle’s novels, detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) brings him in to assist. The partnership turns permanent and Castle finds his idea (Beckett inspires his Nikki Heat series), even though there is tension of all kinds between the two and their differing backgrounds and personalities. Another great supporting cast here with fellow detectives Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Castle’s mother (Susan Sullivan) and daughter (Molly C. Quinn). The plot lines are intriguing, the relationships are complicated, and the script-writing is excellent. In addition, Castle has featured real-life writers playing poker with Richard Castle – Stephen J. Cannell, James Patterson, Dennis Lehane, and Michael Connelly.

Grimm. I have initially enjoyed how this series presents the original Grimm’s fairy tales brought to life in modern day. Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is a police detective who is informed by his mysterious aunt that he is a Grimm – a descendent of the family that has fought against the evil fairy tale characters for generations. He must now balance his own police work with the new knowledge of odd creatures living in their community, which he can see but other humans cannot. Of course, there is the solving of a crime each week, alongside his partner Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby). But the crimes weave a tale into them (e.g., Red Riding Hood, the Pied Piper). So far, a supporting character is outshining the rest in this series – Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), a reformed Bludbad (wolf creature) who helps Nick navigate the fairy tale world. I don’t know if I’ll stick with Grimm. It’s interesting, but not yet a must-see on my list.

Hart of Dixie. New York doctor Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson) must complete a year of family medicine before she can obtain the position she has wanted for . . . well, ever. As it turns out, she ends up in Bluebell, Georgia, where her practice partner and a few other townspeople don’t want her. In addition, she struggles to adjust to small-town Southern life. Like other favorite series set in small towns – Northern Exposure, Gilmore Girls, Jericho – the rich characterization carries the storyline. The residents’ charm and quirkiness pull me in, and their conflict, both internal and interpersonal, keep me engaged.

How I Met Your Mother. Main character Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) tells his children the story of how he met their mother. Being long-winded, he also tells about a thousand stories that led up to that moment. The ensemble cast – with Marshall and Lily (couple friends from college, Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan), Barney (a womanizer and opportunist, Neil Patrick Harris), and Robin (a tough-minded, tender-hearted newcomer, Cobie Smulders) – is the focus of the show. Each character has a distinct personality, but the viewer can understand how these people would gravitate to one another. The slapping phenomenon of several shows is one of the best running gags. My only complaint is that the show has recently had a few sad episodes in a row. I’m ready for the comedy to return.

Psych. Break out the pineapple, it’s fun-time with Psych! Shawn Spencer (James Roday) is a slacker whose detective father trained him from an early age to notice every teeny, tiny detail in his environment so that he can solve crimes. He’s so good at it that he catches what others miss and then claims a psychic vision. The police end up hiring him as a psychic police consultant. Shawn drags along his best buddy, Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill), and their antics alone are worth the price of admission. Psych has done a particularly good job of borrowing from other series and films (Twin Peaks, Hitchcock). That tongue-in-cheek humor treats the audience with a clever wink-wink. Best recurring one-liner? Perhaps it’s Shawn’s “I’ve heard it both ways.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I am catching up on the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer series years after it aired. Thanks to my Netflix account, I am currently in the third season. I can see why it was such a popular series. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a California high school student chosen as the One to slay demonic vampires in their midst. Armed with her wits, physical prowess, a knowledgeable and caring mentor, and supportive friends, she battles the forces of evil. It’s interesting to watch her shift between the intense end-of-world rescues and her daily concerns as a high school student and teen. The characterization and acting are good enough that I believe just about anything they throw at me. With as far as I’ve gotten, I can honestly say, forget Team Jacob or Team Edward; I’m on Team Angel (David Boreanaz).

In addition, I look forward to continuing to watch Downton Abbey, Sherlock, The Glades, and Necessary Roughness when they return in 2012.

It’s your turn! What are you watching and why?

Tag, You’re IT!

In elementary school, I hated being IT. I was puny, an awkward runner, and not particularly interested in slapping people to make them freeze or become the new IT kid. But in the blogosphere, it’s fun!

So my thanks to author friend Tiffany A. White for hunting me down on the virtual playground and tagging me for the Writer’s Platform Building Campaign hosted by Rachael Harrie.

Here are the three simple rules:

You get tagged by someone;

You list 10 random facts about yourself; and

You tag 4 more people.

As if I didn’t already feel adequately esteemed, Tia Bach at Depression Cookies passed on the Kreativ Blogger Award to me! Given my love of grammar, it was a little hard for me to type that creative spelling. Just joking! I can totally relax and enjoy this award. Thanks so much to Tia! (You gotta love the title Depression Cookies, right? And she’s as much fun as you’d expect!)

For the Kreativ Blogger Award, I have:

The privilege of thanking the person who passed on the award;

The duty of writing seven things about yourself;

The honor of passing the award to 7 blogs.

So here it goes for both:

Rule#2:

1.  The only two theater movies I’ve ever walked out of were The Fly(1986) and District 9 (2009). I wish I had left Pet Sematary (1989) – which disturbed my dreams for weeks – but I was on a date and too shy to demand we get out of there. Obviously, I hate gore.

2.  I have narrow feet. It’s hard to find shoes! If not for online shopping at Easy Spirit, Naturalizer, and Zappos, I would have to hire a cobbler to craft shoes to fit my skinny feet.

3.  I am adamant that the toilet paper should unfurl over not under. If you try to pull the T.P. from underneath, it can start a tissue avalanche and you end up with a heap on the floor. Wasted toilet paper. A shame!

4.  I collect matchboxes. It’s a little sad because I don’t get to add to it much. The collection began with my grandmother and was carried on by my sister and me. However, this was when smoking in public areas was common, and restaurants and businesses gave out matchbooks. It’s rare now. But I still like looking at the boxes and remembering places I’ve been.

5.  I hate coffee. When I drive through Starbucks, I order a peppermint hot chocolate with whipped cream. It’s absolutely delicious!

6.  I’m determined to reintroduce the word “kench” back into the English language. It’s an obsolete term that means to laugh loudly. Isn’t it great? Y’all can help by throwing it into conversation anytime you see an opportunity.

7.  I have a scar on my forehead from an injury when I was 5 years old. I was jumping on the bed (against my parents’ rule) and slammed into the door’s corner. Blood gushed all over my Mom’s white shirt as she picked me up, and I got several stitches in my head. No more monkeys jumping on the bed!

8.  I took a year of Italian in college, and the best thing about it is that I can pronounce everything on the Olive Garden menu with no problem. Ciao!

9.  I love roller coasters. My heart broke when Astroworld in Houston closed. Still, I haven’t ridden the Boardwalk Bullet – which is only 30 minutes away. It’s on my list.

Boardwalk Bullet, Kemah, Texas

10.  I live in Ron Paul’s congressional district. Make of that what you will.

Rule#3

It’s my turn to slap tap 4 blogger friends in this Writer’s Campaign game of tag and to deliver 7 bloggers the Kreativ Blogger Award.

Double Whammy Winners – Tagged for Writer’s Platform Building Campaign AND Kreativ Blogger Award:

Erin Brambilla – I adore reading Erin’s blog and seeing the way she expertly juggles mommyhood and authorship. She’s terrific at both!

Jolyse Barnett – Jolyse’s posts make me appreciate the beauty and joys of life. I can imagine Jimmy Buffet songs playing in the background. After all, it’s entitled Margarita Moments & Other Escapes.

Catie Rhodes – Another favorite blogger who tells true crime and paranomal like no other! Catie also throws in fun posts about movies and more. Check out her Full-Tilt Backwoods Boogie blog.

Julia King – Her Writing Jewels blog has a perfect balance of writing, reading, and Julia herself. Check out this young adult author.

Kreativ Blogger Winners – Tagged for a Kreativ Blogger Award:

Jennifer McCoy – Young adult author and fabulously stylish attendee at the #TambernyParty. Check out her blog with a book of the month and a movie of the week.

Amanda Bozeman – Romantic suspense author who writes about this and that on her Danger and Dancing blog.

Anne-Mhairi Simpson – Young adult fantasy author who blogs about health, books, and interviews.

Tamberny Awards Virtual After Party

Amber & Tiffany

In case you missed it, you haven’t really missed it! Amber West and Tiffany A. White hosted a Tamberny Awards show with their picks for the Emmys. I am hosting the Virtual After Party for this event. See more details at my post: I’m Throwing an After Party! You’re welcome to continue posting anything Emmy or Tamberny related on Twitter with the hashtag #Tambernyparty.

By the way, I had not seen most of the televisions shows nominated for Emmys. However, I was doing a happy dance when Downton Abbey received awards because that show was wonderful! You can watch season one on Netflix.

What did you enjoy most about the Emmys?

I’m Throwing an After Party!

I interrupt the regular Friday Fiction programming to make the following important announcement.

Even though I’m an admitted introvert, I love a good party! Fun people, delicious food, cool activities, decorations, even dress-up . . . I’m up for pretty much whatever. However, I’m not usually the party-thrower, and I would like for that to change. In fact, it’s on my 40 After 40 List to host a costume party one of these days. (Wanna come?)

But after reading some great posts from authors Tiffany A. White and Amber West about their Tamberny Awards (they pick Emmy winners!), I had a brilliant, or insane, idea! How about a Tamberny Awards Virtual After Party? This way, I can look like a fabulous hostess while avoiding preparatory housecleaning; hunting down themed plates and napkins; choosing the perfect dress and shoes within my limited budget; catering or, heaven forbid, cooking for umpteen guests; tactfully hustling people out of my house when they have overstayed their welcome; and cleaning up for a several hours and still finding a dried cocktail shrimp underneath the couch when I move it to vacuum two weeks later. Perhaps I’m merely using Tiffany and Amber’s Tamberny Awards as an excuse to say I’ve hosted a party when I’m too lazy to actually do so. For whatever reason, I have volunteered to host a virtual After Party.

I’ll be wearing this:

Well, imagine me in that! Actually, I’ll probably be wearing a robe and slippers with my hair in a ponytail and a Pop Tart and a Coca-Cola in hand . . . but if the party was real, I would look stunning!

Now what does this After Party entail? Thankfully, there is WikiHow that gave me How to Throw an Awesome Hollywood Party tips! These appear to be the necessary components:

Design a Creative Invitation.

You are officially invited!

Have a red carpet ready.

Voila!

Interview VIP attendees.

If you are reading this blog post, you are an attendee. Please answer the following interview questions in the Comment section: Who is the designer of your gown or tuxedo? What do you think of this year’s nominees? Who are you rooting for to win this year?

Provide entertainment.

I thought long and hard about what entertainer should perform at our party. Since, I am three degrees of Kevin Bacon and still want to meet him, I’m going with this:

It’s a really cool song about us fabulous gals. Plus, if the Bacon Brothers perform, we might all get to meet the Closer (Kyra Sedgewick) in person!

Come up with a good name for our awards.

Um, Tamberny Awards – already beautifully named by Amber and Tiffany!

Serve delicious food.

Here’s the buffet spread. Have as much as you’d like!

Since it’s a virtual party, I found the photo at Fake-Foods.com™.Hey, it looks real to me!

Hand out awards.

I’m not handing out awards. But check out the faves that Tiffany and Amber have chosen in their posts:

Welcome to the Tamberny Show

The Continuation of the Tamberny Awards

Take plenty of pics.

The professional photographer called and said that he won’t be arriving on time. Apparently, he got caught up with a band of paparazzi filming Charlie Sheen’s demand of a Tamberny award for his genius performance in Two and a Half Men. You might want to watch your Twitter feed for Charlie’s tidbits of wisdom on why he should get a gold statue and Ashton Krutcher should give him back his job.

But you’re welcome to take pictures of yourself in black tie attire on the red carpet and post them to Twitter with the hashtag #Tambernyparty. We promise to make you feel like you were really there by lambasting your fashion sense like Joan and Melissa Rivers would have.

Seriously, post whatever party stuff you want at #Tambernyparty on Twitter – Sunday evening, Monday, Tuesday, or whenever you get around to it. Just promise not to jump on the stage like Kanye West and demand that someone else deserved the award. That’s just rude, people! Order your dress or tux, rent your bling-bling, and reserve your limo: This is going to be the best awards After Party you’ve ever (virtually) attended!