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 (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 or find her on Twitter (@amberwest) where she abuses hashtags and makes people laugh. Or at least, makes herself laugh.

Catie Rhodes & Texas, the Rich Setting of Forever Road

It’s Scarlet Thread Sunday, when I share a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. Today, however, I used my thread to tug Catie Rhodes over to the blog to tell us about her paranormal mystery, FOREVER ROAD.

First, here’s the book blurb:

Seeing ghosts is rough, but owing a ghost a favor flat out sucks.

Forever Road Cover My name’s Peri Jean Mace, and I’ve seen ghosts ever since I can remember. Don’t get too excited. Seeing across the veil branded me as a loony during my growing up years, and I learned to keep my yap shut about it. 

Now I’m not sure I can anymore. 

 See, my cousin up and got herself killed the very same day I promised her a favor.  Now she’s back in spirit form and determined to make me pay. If I don’t solve her murder, she’s going to haunt me forever. Talk about the debt collector from hell. 

That’s not my only problem. An obnoxiously hot cop wants to arrest my best friend for the murder.  My bigmouthed archenemy holds a clue to the killer’s identity. And there’s this mean—and ugly—woman who wants to beat me up. 

None of this can turn out good. 

Buy now at

Catie and I became friends online, but eventually discovered that we don’t live terribly far from one another. Thus, Catie has become a face-to-face friend as well. When I received an advanced copy of her book, I confess that I really wanted it to be good. (What do you do if a good friend writes a book and you don’t like it?)

I needn’t have worried. FOREVER ROAD is well-worth your time! An awesome debut novel. One thing stood out to me as I read–how Catie’s description of the East Texas setting and its people added depth to the novel. So I asked Catie to chat with us about her love of the Lone Star State.


Thanks for having me, Julie. I’ve been looking forward to joining you for some greasy deep-fried food stimulating conversation for quite some time. Thanks for inviting me to talk about one of my pet subjects—Texas.

Before I get into my version of a Travel Tex commercial, let me explain why we’re talking about Texas. When I sat down to write FOREVER ROAD, I created a fictional East Texas town called Gaslight City. I spent hours figuring out the geography of this town. By the time I wrote about it, the place seemed real to me. That’s why Julie invited me to explain why I set my book in Texas.

I am fond of saying Texas is in my blood, in my bones…and it is.

My family has been in Texas a very long time.  One of my many-greats-grandfather’s name appears on musters from the Texas Revolution. He was John C. Gallion (listed on the musters of the Northeast Beat as J.C. Galion). My father’s side of the family is descended from John C. Gallion’s daughter Ellen.

My Thornton ancestors, on my mothers side of the family, came to Texas by covered wagon in the 1850s. James D. Thornton and his wife Princess Clarky Ann Tullos (a Native American) settled in Trinity County, Texas. Their descendants still live on the land James and Clarky settled all those years ago.

The people from whom I am descended came to Texas for opportunity, to secure a better future. They survived obstacles unimaginable to a generation who is lost without high speed internet. Texas was a frontier when my ancestors came here. It was either sink or swim. Whatever happened, help was not coming. In spite of adversity, wars, and poverty, my ancestors survived well enough that I’m here telling y’all where I came from.

To me, that’s what Texas is all about. It’s about working hard and taking chances to achieve dreams. It’s about independence and individuality. It’s about never giving up in the face of adversity.

There is one famous Texan who best expressed this sentiment. Surrounded by the Mexican Army at the Alamo, William B. Travis wrote

“I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna—I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man—The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken—I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls—I shall never surrender or retreat…”

Travis’s resolve never fails to inspire me. His words encourage me to keep going through adversity, doubt, and fear. There is no way I can be more afraid than he must have been as he faced the last days of his life.  But even facing certain death, Travis reacted with dignity and faith. And defiance.

I like to think we all have our place in the world, and Texas is mine. To repeat myself: this land is in my blood, in my bones…and even in the sweat of my effort. That’s why I write about Texas.

I hope some of you will check out FOREVER ROAD.  It is a mystery featuring ghosts, but it is ultimately about surviving life’s curveballs and having the inner strength to keep going anyway…in small town East Texas.

Catie Rhodes PhotoCatie Rhodes decided to turn her love of lying into writing fiction after she got fired for telling her boss the President was on the phone. It didn’t take Catie long to figure out what she wanted to do when she grew up. Drawing on her East Texas roots, her love of true crime, and her love of the paranormal, she writes the kind of stories she wishes the book stores sold. With her faithful Pomeranian, Cosmo, at her side, Catie relishes being that kid your mother warned you about, the one who cusses and never washes her hands after petting the dog.

Find Catie Online:

Long Roads and Dark Ends Blog


Thanks to Catie for coming by! You can also see my review of FOREVER ROAD on Amazon or Goodreads.


Feel free to ask Catie or me any questions about FOREVER ROAD, Texas, ghosts, whatever in the comments.

ROW80 goals met: Wrote 9430 words on YA mystery; finished Margie Lawson’s course on Writing Body Language; exercised twice this week.