KAREN’S KILLER BOOK BENCH: Welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench where readers can discover talented new authors and take a peek inside their wonderful books. This is not an age-filtered site so all book peeks are PG-13 or better. Come back and visit often. Happy reading!
Jane Marsh wants to shake off the empty nest syndrome, plus the notoriety of the death of her first and second husbands, by starting over in a new place. She sells her family home to move to a far northern suburb of Denver. At the same time, Jane’s dinner club is undergoing a transformation, and a new man—a gourmet chef—enters her life.
But, things turn sour when, on the day Jane moves into her new home, she discovers a dead body. She cannot feel at home in this town where she’s surrounded by cowboys, horse pastures, and suspects. Not to mention where a murder was committed practically on her doorstep. How can she focus on romance and dinner clubs when one of her new friends—or maybe even her old ones—might be a murderer?
KAREN C. WHALEN
TALKS CHARACTER NAMES
Writers are often asked how we come up with the names for our characters. After the question of how we come up with the ideas for our books, the naming question is asked the most frequently. Plots form and morph and solidify over time, but often the initial name authors give their character sticks and lasts to the final galley—and this can be a mistake. But, changing a character’s name after his or her creation is like changing one’s baby’s name after his or her first birthday.
Writers are taught a descriptive name helps define the character for the reader. J.R. Rowling knew this when she named Lord Voldemort, Severus Snape, Draco Malfoy, Luna Lovegood, and the rest. Even the more minor players are important. Luna Lovegood is ditzy, but by her sweet nature provides courage to those suffering around her, and Neville Longbottom starts out as a klutz, but ends up a sword-brandishing hero. Examples of this abound in literature. In David Cooperfield, Uriah Heep is a slimy human being, and his name does leave a distaste. Going back to biblical times, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Jacob’s to Israel in line with their roles in history.
In fantasies, such as the Harry Potter series, liberty can be taken with inventing names, like Draco or Luna. In cozy mysteries, writers use a little more restraint. The protagonist in my dinner club murder mystery series is an average, middle-aged professional woman, and I gave her the common name of Jane, paired with a last name from my family tree, Marsh. Most other names are taken from lists of popular names from certain years. I named an upper-crust character the more formal name of Olivia.
One lesson I learned too late is that attention must be paid to each person’s name, not just the major characters. I introduced a minor character in the first book, Dale Capricorn. One of my editors liked the name, thinking the last name was memorable, so I kept it. Dale found his way back into the third and fourth books. However, another member of the dinner club is named Doug. I was advised by my critique group that Doug and Dale were too similar, but book one and two are already published so neither name could be changed. I considered giving Dale a nickname when reintroduced in book three, but Dale doesn’t lend itself to shortening. I considered “Cap,” but there is already another character named Caleb. I considered the initials, D.J., but D.J. is Jane’s love interest and their names together would be D.J. and Jane, sounding once again similar. I posted these suggestions on my Facebook page to gather the opinions of other authors and readers alike, but no one seemed to embrace the change.
If only I’d considered Dale’s name more carefully from the moment of his creation.
The solution was to organize an alphabetical character chart, listing all the names of any character introduced by name in all the books in the series. The only letters not taken were I, O, Q, X, and Y. If only I’d named him Ian, Oliver, Quentin, Xavier, or Yates! I put out a Facebook post for my readers to help pick the name of the next character from that list. One reader’s comment was: “Remember the show Rawhide? The lead in it was Eastwood, who was named Rowdy Yates. Always associated a macho character with the name,” which goes to show that a name does help describe the character.
After much angst, I left Dale’s name alone. It was just too painful to change his name after the fact. I figured only God could do that.
Karen C. Whalen is the author of the Dinner Club Murder Mystery series. She worked for many years as a paralegal at a law firm in Denver, Colorado. Karen has been a columnist and regular contributor to The National Paralegal Reporter magazine. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and participates in a local writing group, the Louisville Writers Workshop.
Links to Karen’s website, blog, books, etc.
Link to Not According to Flan:
Links to Everything Bundt the Truth: