Saturday, March 31, 2018

Choosing the Right Name for a Character by Joanie MacNeil

From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 1600: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
The meaning of this phrase: What matters is what something is, not what it is called.

There are authors who write a novel and then choose the names of their characters. There is nothing wrong with this. However, some of us can’t bring ourselves to do that.
Before I begin to write the first draft of a new story, I’m compelled to name my characters. It’s not a case of any name will do for now, I’ll change it later. The name must match the perception of how I envision the essence of my character. I like strong names and these must suit my hero and heroine.
Early in my writing career I’d flick through baby names books to look for the right name for my hero and heroine, especially if I wanted something a little bit different, like my Scottish heroes, Galen and Regan. These days I am more likely to run a few names through my mind, then choose the one that I believe best matches my character.
When choosing a surname for the hero, and a Christian name for the heroine, I make sure that if they are to marry, her first name goes well with the hero’s surname. Of course, in reality, she might want to keep her own surname.
In Sapphire Kisses, I wanted something a little different for my hero, and chose Kent for his Christian name. But the name just didn’t fit how I perceived my hero to be. For me, Kent wasn’t strong enough. He wasn’t the hero I’d envisioned. I changed his name to David, which fitted so much better…bringing life to my perception of him. Only then could I move on with his story…a photographer and author, a recluse, struggling with the reality of losing his sight. I felt it was important for his character to have a strong name to carry him through his difficult journey to his happily ever after with the heroine.

Luke, Jack and Nick are favourites of mine.

Luke DeMarco – back in Natalie’s life in The Trouble with Natalie
Jack Shannon – the talents of Paige Delaney will help save his company in No Boundaries
Nick Sheridan – the bad boy from Claire’s past in Loving Nick…Again

And I’ve always liked Liam. That name suited my up-and-coming executive hero. Not an outdoors man, but responsible for the well-being of his teenage brother, Daniel, in Desperate and Dateless 

In December Heat Wave, my heroine is Nicolette. The hero calls her Nic. I remember watching an interview with Tom Cruise when he was married to Nicole, and when he referred to her as Nic, there was something intimate about the way he spoke the shortened form of her name that struck a chord with me.
I also like my heroines to have strong names, names that will suit from newborn to mature woman.

In my upcoming release, Sweet Temptations, my heroine is called Elizabeth. She hates being called Lizzie. Only her favourite uncle is allowed to call her that. I worked with a Liz who hated being referred to as Lizzie. The hero is Zac. I have always liked that name too.
When choosing a name, the advice is not to give your characters similar names as it confuses the reader. In my current work-in-progress I chose Matty and Mardi as names for my twin characters, but have now changed Matty to Matt, which does make a smoother read.
So, for me, naming my characters with the right name, makes them who they are.

’Bye for now


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Priscilla Brown overhauls a manuscript

A contemporary romance set on a dreamy Caribbean island

This and my other contemporary romance novels are available on Amazon and on Kobo. For details, visit my Books We Love Author page.

Fiction writing and working with textiles are my creative interests. I attended a textile class where we layered differently textured fabrics and embellishments to assemble a small wall hanging. My piece was based on handmade felt. The next three layers were of frayed-edge organza in decreasing sizes from red through gold to white, this last with holes burnt into it for a different look. On top of these I randomly placed various sizes of kitchen foil scrunched into ridges and painted, and scraps of pretty fabrics formed into tiny flowers. Dabs of glue, beads and stitching with wool and embroidery threads held it all together.

As I worked, I thought how constructing fiction is similar, and how 'layering' concentrates on aspects of a manuscript, structuring them into a cohesive whole and bringing the story to life.

An early draft of Where the Heart Is was too long and such a mess that it had no chance of credibility as a publishable piece and demanded a major re-write. While the basic plot idea had potential, the story's 'building blocks' were at best shaky, at worst crumbling. I attempted this overhaul by employing a 'layering' process.

The first fresh layer concentrated on the two lead characters, whose motivations for their actions and emotions needed to be much stronger and more credible. What is Cristina's agenda on this particular island? Why is Cameron so cagey? Questions such as these led to the development of their backstories; in this novel, these personal histories became a layer in  themselves, only to be condensed and slotted in as the storyline proceeded. Another layer dealt with secondary characters, establishing their credentials for their presence and making sure they were there to move the story along while not allowing them to take over. I found several secondary and tertiary characters and plot episodes involving these to be superfluous; their removal resulted in a tighter faster-paced story.

A further layer worked on strengthening physical situations, including a hurricane, a hazardous motorbike ride in a forest, a risky sea incident, and intensifying the characters' responses to danger.

This led to heightening the emotional layers throughout the story. These can, perhaps especially in a romance, be sources of tension and conflict between the lead female and male characters. Such emotions may be temporary in reaction to an immediate situation, or they may include 'baggage' held due to past events and experiences, an undercurrent of strong emotions such a lack of trust, anger, confusion, insecurity, impacting the characters' relationships and actions. Cristina brings these and more to her relationship with Cameron.

Now the layer which holds it all together, like the glue, beads and threads.This involves fixing any plot holes, tying up loose ends, checking the ms for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, and for repetitions and inconsistencies. The final layer for me, undertaken after the ms has been allowed to hibernate for some time, is a comprehensive re-read, extremely valuable as I always find something previously missed. The ultimate layer consists of the professional editor's revisions.

Layers are everywhere in our daily lives. Right now, it's getting cold so I'll put on a warm sweater layer, then I'm going to bake a multi-layer chocolate cake. After writing about layers, I deserve to eat them.

Enjoy your reading! Priscilla

Thursday, March 29, 2018

West on I-70.

I don’t do much long distance driving these days, except to western Ohio to visit my 91 year old Aunt J. She was the last the 3 girls born to my grandparents. Paradoxically, she was the one always in ill health. She had trichinosis in her 1930’s childhood and barely survived. She had spinal fusion during the 60’s—not an optimum decade for surgical tinkering with the skeleton. Though she’s weak as a kitten—between busted spine and unused muscles—here she still is in 2018—breathing and talking, as full of opinions and stories as she ever was. A  perfect description for her would be Shakespeare’s: “though she be but little, she is fierce.”

ALL my female relatives were spacey in one sense or another, so I come by it naturally, but with my aunt, I am just beginning to note a faint slippage between her past and future selves. Aging is such a bitch, as it takes place on in both body and brain. Read a Thurber story, like “The Night the Ghost Got in” and you’ll have a acquired good sense of what my family is/was like. (Even the cousin who has become a big shot cousin politician.)

I’ve done a lot of traveling on I-70 over the last thirty years, always making the “homeplace” pilgrimage. In the beginning there would be mixed messages when I arrived. Yellow Springs has acquired a Disneyland quality in my mind. When I was nine, I chronicled the tears in a diary, written on my way home from “Grandma and Grandpa’s house” on the train. We were little and good.
Later, my family and I developed a troubled relationship. There was a rift between their perfect 1950’s genteel world and what I saw acted out by my parents during and after their divorce, and later, traveling around the UK and West Indies, dealing as a teen with my mother’s alcoholism. When I passed 30, mother wrote me off, and so therefore did my grandmother.  This, even though I paid tribute to the old girls (Mother and Grandmother and even both aunts) the old fashioned way with 19th century letters sent almost weekly.

Physics—a long side by side train of vehicles emerging in a long snake as we go west out of Columbus, OH. Construction, construction, on I-70 and on I-71, as well as I-270, causes a pinch point of driving stress.  The semis are rolling; FDX with pups, Crete, and they are not the only ones, the heavy equipment long bed, except for some big chains, want to run back for the next load at 75-80 mph, and a whole bunch of what I am told are called by the professionals “Roller Skates” are sharing the road with them, driving like fools. There are some grayhairs out there beside me, but I flatter myself that I’m the best driver of the lot. 

The rest are “Kids” which is now, in my book, anyone under 50. Of course, the real kids, the backwards hat twenty-thirty somethings—both male and female—can be a real problem. A couple of them in a beat up black Japanese something or other—maybe a fifteen year old Civic—decided that the tiny crack between a semi and the aforesaid heavy equipment long bed would be a good spot into which to wedge. 

Maybe they were playing automobile roulette, or maybe they thought they were still in the video game they’d been playing earlier, the one which automatically resets the players at start. From my vantage point, there appeared to be no sense that where we were, this could be "game over," --and not only for them. I took a quick look at the shoulder in case I had to escape. I, at 73, have much less faith in this kind of magical thinking, so, instinctively—I was traveling the inside lane so I had a clear sight line of  their dice with Death—I tapped my breaks, just to tune up the guys traveling (naturally) too close behind me.

The long bed hit his brakes and the back of the rig lit up like a Christmas tree. I don’t know if the dopes who’d just asked the truck driver to perform a miracle in order to keep them alive—this, while the poor working stiff is just out there trying to have a decent day in the office. I prayed he did have a decent day, and cast a glance to my right--the shoulder. Fortunately, that part of Ohio is still flat as a pancake, even beside the sculpted earth vandalism of an interstate. No ditches, fences or trees—good! To my great relief—and I don’t think I was the only one in the queue who noticed—there was no collision. We and the backwards hats were spared one of those fatal lessons in the laws of physics.
Yellow Springs: 1.9 square miles surrounded by Reality.
The Sixties landed and never took off from this town (my hometown) in a sometimes less than pleasant way. Some things delight me, the flash back pipe shops, the book stores, the import and antique/junk/clothing shops, the deli, restaurants, and Tom’s incredible grocery store, full of organic free-range everything. It’s the attitude of the visitors, and of many of downtown folks and new residents too that grates. Some towns have town drunks, but YS also has it’s downtown tattooed/pierced posers, coffee table sitters, scattering cigarettes and dog poop indiscriminately.  I mean, you can be tattooed and pierced and have green hair—no problem—just be polite. Smile and say hello to people—and don’t let your dogs bite me –or more to the point—my aunt -- in the leg as we pass by. And of course there’s the 21st Century too, to contend with. The cell phone users who insist that everyone needs to listen to their very important conversation, the ones in cars who can barely operate the vehicle because they are busy talking, the scofflaws who don’t use the crosswalks—of which there are a plethora.

Birds—black vultures and where they hang  American Eagle by Mcconnellsburg—probably dropped down from Raystown Lake.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

OB/GYN and the historical

Amazon  and   

For women's history month, I thought I'd check into a topic that isn't exactly hearts and flowers, but which (perversely, maybe), drew my searching feminist interest. After all, what did our fore-mothers' experience in their real lives? Inevitably, after the romance comes the babies. It's Mother Nature's plan to trick us that way.) Women then had to cope with their bodies as well as their emotions when caught up in an amorous physical relationship. Exactly what, in the 18th Century, did that mean? 

The very first historical novel I wrote, Mozart's Wife, got me researching a kind of social history that has, until lately, been little regarded.  Back in the 1980's when I began to write a novel from the POV of a young Viennese woman  who had the fortune/misfortune to marry the Rock Star of her day, I had to do some serious digging to unearth information about these female rites of passage, from birthing customs, feminine hygiene to contraception. It's top secret info into caring for what--believe it or not--one of our modern (?) politicians is still referring to as "lady parts." 

A good part of Constanze’s life, and rarely mentioned by Wolfgang’s biographers--who, for many years, loved to pile on her for not being the same sort of caretaker of genius that his father had been--the poor girl was pregnant or convalescent from childbirth. For six  out of the nine years their marriage lasted, she was expecting. The longest interval between her pregnancies was seventeen months, the shortest (on two occasions) six months. In 1789 she was bedridden for months. Her legs swelled, she had intermittent fevers and racking pains in her legs and abdomen throughout the entire pregnancy. The daughter she bore that year died at birth and very nearly took Constanze with her. No wonder the poor creature was often distracted. Not only was she struggling to manage a household with an income that came in and went out like some kind of wildly irregular tide; her energies were concentrated upon staying alive.

From the Mozart Family Letters, and from what I’ve read to research her symptoms, it would appear that Constanze nearly died of puerperal fever on two separate occasions. Childbirth and the resulting illnesses brought doctors, midwives, wet-nurses, and prescriptions--and attendant expense. It would be difficult, even today, to keep a woman with such an obstetrical record “in good general health.” And the cure for her ailments? Trips to the spa to bathe in the hot water--and who knows what microbes lurked in those pools, in continual use since Roman Times--and, of course, leeches. The leeches actually might have helped, as they draw blood through areas where swelling or infection has caused circulation to stagnate. They are so used in hospitals today. There is also an anesthetic the critters secrete when they latch on which may have a welcome local effect.

All large European cities were dirty. There were backhouses behind the apartment buildings. If the latrines were inside, this meant a collection point at the bottom of the house which was occasionally scooped out. What this meant for the summer water supply is not hard to guess. The brief life of four of Mozart’s children and the illnesses of the parents are not unusual for the 18th Century. However, it can only be imagined how difficult the birth and death of four infants in such a short space of time was upon the mother.

Congratulations, you are a grandpapa! Yesterday, at half past six in the morning, my dear wife was safely delivered of a fine sturdy boy, as round as a ball. Her pains began at half past one in the morning so that night we both lost our rest and sleep. At four o’clock I sent for my mother-in-law and then for the midwife. At six o’clock the child began to appear and at half past six the trouble was all over. My mother-in-law by her great kindness to her daughter has made full amends for all the harm she did her before her marriage. She spends the whole day with her.”

Raimund Leopold, as he was named, was born strong and healthy, but what the proud father originally wrote to his father is an 18th Century tale, one that today sounds totally crazy. 

“My dear wife….will make a full recovery from her confinement. From the condition of her breasts I am rather afraid of milk-fever. And now the child has been given to a foster-nurse against my will, or rather, at my wish! For I was quite determined that whether she should be able to do so or not, my wife was never to feed her child. Yet I was equally determined that my child was never to take the milk of a stranger! I wanted the child to be brought up on water, like my sister and myself. However, the midwife, my mother-in-law and most people here have begged and implored me not to allow it, if only for the reason that most children here who are brought up on water do not survive as the people here don’t know how to give it properly. That induced me to give in, for I should not like to have anything to reproach myself with.”

It was a good thing that Grandma Cecelia, tactful for once, managed to persuade Mozart that babies do not live long on sugar water! And, certainly, Constanze doubtless did have milk fever more than once, because while they had money, Mozart, that 18th Century husband-whose-word-must-be-obeyed, never allowed her to nurse. Of their six children, only two survived to adulthood. Her last baby, Franz Wolfgang, was probably nursed by his mother, but this was only because that final summer of 1791, the couple were stony broke. In Mozart's mind, breast feeding was "lower class," a stigma that, if you think about it, has lasted for a very long time in our western "civilized" society.  

After Mozart died, Constanze never bore another baby, though she did marry again. I had to assume that such a fertile woman had at last learned the unholy secret of contraception. When I did a little research into that veiled subject, I learned that there weren't a whole lot of options for a "decent" married couple in the late 18th Century. Perhaps she'd learned the trick with the natural sponge and lemon juice or vinegar douche. Perhaps her new husband used a sheep gut condom--there are images of these quaint relics online--complete with a red ribbon to keep it snugly fitted.

~~Juliet Waldron

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