What’s in a Character Name?

Dear  Stiletto Gang Readers: I am pleased today to welcome Author Annette Dashofy to The Stiletto Gang blog. I’ve beta read her Detective Honeywell series and all I can say is you’re in for a roller coaster ride treat!  ~ Donnell

Annette Dashofy

Most writers I know share one common problem. Character names. Not only do we need to create a name that feels “right” for that character, we need to make sure it doesn’t break any of the “rules.”

For instance, we shouldn’t have multiple characters with the same first initial. In the real world, you might have Sharon, Susie, Stephanie, and Sandra all in the same room and be able to tell them apart, no problem. But in a book, readers tend to see the first letter and skim over the rest, causing confusion. This is one of the things my critique buddies almost always catch. The guilty party then bangs our head against the table.

The dreaded duplicate first initial issue becomes even trickier when writing a series. I’ve had a character from an earlier book…one I never planned to have show up again…return and come into close and frequent contact with another character created in another earlier book…and they both have the same first initial. And since they’ve already been established in a published novel, I can’t change either name.

Adding to the befuddlement are town names. In my Zoe Chambers series, one of my regular secondary characters is Detective Wayne Baronick. Wayne works for the county police department, which is based in Brunswick. Yes, Baronick works in Brunswick.

Why did no one point this out to me before publication? Now I have to live with it.

But I’ve upped the ante with my new Detective Honeywell series, which is set in Erie, PA. One of the main characters is Emma Anderson, a recent transplant to the city. Yes, Emma now lives in Erie. This is bad enough, but Emma has a friend from back home, named Eric. (Do you see where this is going?) Eric is a very minor character in Where the Guilty Hide. He lives back in Emma’s hometown and only appears in phone calls and texts. As I created him, I had no plans to bring him back in future books. But I’m working on the second in the series, and Eric has insisted on becoming a bigger character. So now I have Emma and Eric in Erie.

Just shoot me now.

Another issue with character names crops up when the writer discovers the name we’ve chosen is already taken by some celebrity who may not appreciate a namesake who’s a crazed killer, even a fictional one. I do my best to Google the names I choose, especially for the despicable bad guys.

I don’t think there’s a name out there that hasn’t been used.

Honestly, I had big plans to avoid all these pitfalls when I started writing the Detective Honeywell mysteries. Take Matthias Honeywell and Emma Anderson for example. Emma Anderson was my maternal grandmother. I always loved her name. And I don’t believe any of her heirs will sue me for using it.

Emma (the character) has a sister named Nell Anderson. Nell was Grandma Emma’s nickname. (Her middle name was Nelena.) So, I got two characters from one grandparent.

But where on earth did Matthias Honeywell come from, you ask?

A few years ago, I fell into the trap of signing up for Ancestry and was immediately hooked. As I researched my family tree, I discovered Matthias Honeywell was my five-times great-grandfather, who served in the Revolutionary War. Being a war hero was cool enough, but the name? Matthias Honeywell? I knew immediately I had to use it!

Even as unique as it is, I still managed to write myself into a first-initial corner. Matthias’s partner in the Major Crimes Unit is Detective Cassie MALONE.

Matthias and Malone.

I give up.

Fellow writers, do you have character name horror stories you could share? And readers, do these things trip you up when you’re immersed in a novel? (If so, I’m deeply sorry.)

About the Book: On the shore of Lake Erie, Pennsylvania, a body lays half hidden, the waves slowly moving it with the rising tide…

In the early morning mist, freelance photographer Emma Anderson takes pictures of the rocky coastline. She moved to Erie to escape a past that haunts her but the last thing she expects to capture is a dead body.

Erie City Police Detective Matthias Honeywell has been investigating a spate of home invasions but when one of the robbery victims turns up dead, his case evolves into homicide. Emma’s first encounter with Detective Honeywell leaves her shaken when he reminds her of her ex-fiancé-turned-stalker. Matthias misinterprets Emma’s anxiety and suspects she knows more than she’s letting on.

With the threat of another murder and no obvious leads, will Emma and Matthias overcome their mutual distrust and work together to capture a killer?

About the Author: USA Today bestseller Annette Dashofy is the author of over a dozen novels including the five-time Agatha Award nominated Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic-turned-coroner in rural Pennsylvania. Her standalone novel, Death By Equine is the 2021 winner of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for excellence in thoroughbred racing literature. Where the Guilty Hide (One More Chapter/HarperCollins UK, January 20, 2023) is the first in her new Detective Honeywell series set on the shores of Lake Erie.

 

 

A Good Use for a Dead Darling – Catriona McPherson

Sparkle Abbey’s guest – Catriona McPherson

 

I was at a two-and-a-half hour Zoom meeting earlier today (the UK Society of Authors’ AGM) and in the montage of the year’s highlights there was a wee tiny clip of another Scottish writer, Damien Barr, talking about how he no longer minds cutting stuff out of his drafts, now he’s published, because he can always return to the cut subject in blogs.

How, how, did that never occur to me in the course of writing thirty novels and mourning the stuff that ended up in the bin?

So, Stiletto Gang, here goes: you are the captive audience for my first resurrected-darlings blog post. Hope that’s okay.

SCOT IN A TRAP (Last Ditch Motel Book 5) is set in the present day but it concerns a time almost twenty years ago when Lexy Campbell was a school and then a university student, falling in (and out) of love for the first time. I wrote her first date, her first [billowing curtains] and the party at which her romance hit the skids. Inevitably, in the over-written first draft, I catalogued everything she wore. (I say “inevitably” because, if anyone can write about twenty years ago and not get there by visualising the fashion,  I never want to go shopping with them.)

In the first draft, however, I made a rookie mistake. I cast my mind back. When I was at school, we were in the height of  New-Romanticism. We crimped our hair, sewed brocade on shoulders and tied scarves round our legs. (Why did we tie scarves round our legs? We had necks.) By  the time I got to university, I was dressing like Bruce Springsteen: sawn-off checked shirt, tight jeans, work boots. I stole my dad’s old cardigans. He didn’t mind: he had moved on to fleeces because it was modern times.

The trouble with mining these memories for Lexy’s look is that she’s twenty years younger than me. Oops.

So, in the second draft, she had ironed hair and wore low-rise boot-cut jeans, hanky tops, and rocked many a barely-there sandal – remember those bloody things? Like a slice of toast with a single piece of string glued to it?

She also wore the ubiquitous gap-year chic of a dress and trousers. I still remember the first time I ever saw someone in a dress and trousers. It was one of my students at the University of Leeds – literally just back from her gap year. Note, I don’t mean a salwar kameez; lots of Pakistani diaspora women wore them throughout my childhood in Edinburgh and, in Leeds, men wore them too. But a western dress over wide-leg jeans? Mind blowing. That was the first time I ever felt old. I genuinely thought she’d been in a rush that morning and got mixed up about what she meant to wear. Like the time I put my skirt on the ironing board, left the iron to heat up, grabbed some toast, brushed my teeth, put my coat on and went to work.

Once I’d got used to the idea, I embraced the dress and trousers trend enthusiastically. And Lexy looked fantastic in the second draft, wearing hers. She was slightly under-dressed in the third draft and, by the time I’d got to page-proof stage, I wasn’t relying on clothes to ground the story in its time at all, which freed up her fashion choices to play a role in the plot. (No spoilers.) It was fun while it lasted, though.

Have you got happy memories of the fashions of yore? Anything you swore you’d never wear and ended up loving? Anything you still swear you won’t be caught dead in if it comes back? I’m not sure I could go round by flares for a third time, but you never know . . .

 

SCOT IN A TRAP

A mysterious object the size of a suitcase, all wrapped in bacon and smelling of syrup, can mean only one thing: Thanksgiving at the Last Ditch Motel. This year the motel residents are in extra-celebratory mood as the holiday brings a new arrival to the group – a bouncing baby girl.

But as one life enters the Ditch, another leaves it. Menzies Lassiter has only just checked in. When resident counsellor Lexy Campbell tries to deliver his breakfast the next day, she finds him checked out. Permanently.  Shocking enough if he were stranger, but Lexy recognises that face. Menzies was her first love until he broke her heart many years ago.

What’s he doing at the Last Ditch? What’s he doing dead? And how can Lexy escape the fact that she alone had the means, the opportunity – and certainly the motive – to kill him?

 

Catriona McPherson (she/her) was born in Scotland and immigrated to the US in 2010. She writes: preposterous 1930s detective stories, set in the old country and featuring an aristocratic sleuth; modern comedies set in the Last Ditch Motel in fictional (yeah, sure) California; and, darker than both of those (which is not difficult), a strand of contemporary psychological thrillers.

Her books have won or been shortlisted for the Edgar, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Lefty, the Macavity, the Mary Higgins Clark award and the UK Ellery Queen Dagger. She has just introduced a fresh character in IN PLACE OF FEAR, which finally marries her love of historicals with her own working-class roots, but right now, she’s writing the sixth book in what was supposed to be the Last Ditch trilogy.

Catriona is a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime.  www.catrionamcpherson.com