Tuesday, March 29, 2011


One weird thing I have noticed when I write is how easy it is to come up with names for characters when the story has ripened well enough to be written. Yick, that's an awkward sentence.

Anyway, if I am struggling with names, chances are, I don't know or understand the character well enough to begin writing that story. What's wonderful is when the name seems to float right in, almost as if the character is telling you her name.

I've always loved the name Jane Eyre - such a grounded first name, followed by the sound of "air" - perfect for that character. Then Edward Rochester - what a perfectly rhythmical name for a brooding, Byronic hero. I had trouble though with his ex wife who was supposed to be a wild, romantic nut job -- you would think, back in the days of the Brontes, a name like Flora or Stella maybe. But Charlotte Bronte chose Bertha.

I would name my diner waitress with the dark roots and the bad manicure Bertha, not the madwoman in the attic. But that's okay; the rest of the novel wasn't too shabby. 

Recently, I began writing a first chapter featuring a difficult protagonist. Only I could not think of her name. I could see what she was doing, I had her voice down, but like I said, she was difficult. I read Wiccan naming charts, looked at ancient Celtic names, browsed my old baby name books and even ate a bowl of soup while looking at a phone book. Nothing stuck. So she's not ready to be written.

My friends who don't write, and these are the ones I actually speak to, not the bloggy ones, don't understand why I abandoned the difficult protagonist because I seemed to like her so much. But I think my writing friends (the ones whose voices I have never heard, the ones whose thoughts I read instead), might get it. If you get to a certain point, and the name isn't there, it's time to go on to a different project. It's hard to explain to non-writers; I'm not abandoning my witchy character - she's just not ready yet.

It's probably because names are so important, even in life. Imagine if the Prince of England were marrying a Bambi or a Tammy. Wouldn't work. It sort of has to be a Kate or maybe a Millicent. I wouldn't name my difficult character any of those names. I was thinking of Leda, something short like that. But it didn't sound authentic.

It's not like I don't have lots of other stories to work on; I just sort of mourned that one because I could envision the plot so well. I feel like I'll be looking at a class roster one day in July, and say, "Morgana! That's it." (No, she's not a Morgana)

But I know she's not ready yet. I have no idea how other writers generate names. I know I have to disqualify a lot of names if they are anywhere near the names of my kids or their friends. And I don't want anyone's name in my immediate or extended family either. So the choices get narrower.

How do you generate names? Do you ever change them mid-manuscript if they don't seem to fit?


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Interview with A Middle Grade Reader

Today I had the double pleasure of picking up the laundry from Emma's room and helping her edit a rough draft of her life story. Just in case I was developing any kind of ego, I discovered that she loves me slightly more than her Aeropostale clothes and slightly less than her kittens. But she did agree to two offers.

One, she read the first chapter of my new middle grade (of which there is only a first chapter) and she agreed to honestly answer some questions about her own reading habits.

"You have reading habits?" I asked her.
"They force us to read at school," she reminded me.

She liked my new middle grade, mostly, but she thought the first paragraph was really boring. She's a fairly reluctant reader as she spends most of her time listening to and reading song lyrics. But her answers might shed some light on any middle grade you might be writing.

1. What types of stories do you like to read?

I only read realistic fiction or fantasy.

2. What makes those books good?

With realistic fiction, you can relate to what's going on with the characters or the plot. I love when not everything is perfect, like the character fails a subject or has nerdy friends. The perfect stuff is just not interesting.

With fantasy, I love the feeling that anything can happen. I can't stand when I can predict what will happen next.

3. How do you pick a book to read?

By the cover. Like the cover of Dear, Dumb Diary there's a girl petting a brain. That's the best cover because it makes you want to read the book. Or at least the summary.

4. How long do you read a book before you decide whether or not to finish it?

First of all, I am not mad weird like you, Mom. I don't read a book to the end even if it's bad. I give it maybe two or three pages. Then I just go on to the next one.

5. What is your all time favorite book?

The Midnight Library series. The best.

6. If twelve year olds could control what students read, what would the choice be?

Music on youtube, lyrics. After that, just nothing from a teacher. Let them go pick out what they like to read and don't force books on kids because you just ask your friends what they're about and what happens if you don't want to read them.

7. What type of setting do you like the best?

For fantasy, it has to be a different place, and creepy. An old house or a creepy lake. For realistic fiction, I like home and school only.

8. What do most of your friends read?

Boy and girl stories, romance and Twilight. I can't stand those. I like fantasy and most twelve year olds don't really like fantasy.

9. Do you have any advice for your mom's new middle grade?

Ummm, honestly?


Your first paragraph is dull. No one cares about description. But the creepiness is good. I like that. I like not knowing what will happen.

10. If I finish this one, will you read it?

Not if there's a lot of description, but probably if there's action and scary stuff.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Revision Revisited, Then Revisited Again

I have been MIA from the Internet as of late due to three things: story revision, my crazy life, and story revision.Currently, I loathe revision more than I ever have.

For Christmas, I got a bright and shiny new laptop. For a time, I felt really cool moving my laptop around. In those spare minutes when all was quiet in the house, I was working on stories. I can write that way, in short periods of time. I always read about those writers who do yoga for an hour while gazing at the sunrise, have a cup of organic green tea and summon the muse prior to beginning writing.

Here, it's more like gag some coffee down, throw wet towels into the washing machine, get the kids out, go to work, transfer wash to dryer, then grab at a few quiet minutes here and there. My muse is not hearing --

So I was getting a whole lot more done since the minute I shut my door, it seemed to trigger mini emergencies. Somehow, if I was right there at the kitchen table typing, no one seemed to need anything quite as urgently. I stayed off the huge distraction of the Internet. And I finished the revision.

I should add that I don't really like the hardware aspect of writing, as in sending files and using the computer. If a legal pad and a good Bic pen (like one that costs over $4.00) were as fast, I would sit and do the scrivener thing. But it's too slow and you end up having to type in the end, so I type from the beginning.

Okay, so finished the revision, and after one last look, ready to send. All writers love those words, READY TO SEND.

Only...no file. Gone. Vanished. I had even saved it under a bright and shiny new name on my bright and shiny new computer. Teenagers were summoned. They who had computers for their Sesame Street characters (seriously, Christopher's Big Bird computer is still in a cabinet in the living room) No luck. No one could find the story. I had the old version of it on my big old computer upstairs, so I emailed it back to myself and redid the revision. This time, I had them watch me save the file.

"That's exactly what I did last time," I insisted.

"Couldn't have been," teenagers insisted, "it would still be there."

"Fine, so it's definitely there?"

They nodded. I was sure it was there. I was now on say, hour eight of revision time.

So no one could figure out what happened when the SECOND complete revision disappeared. Vanished. Gone. They searched all the files. They did things I never knew about like system restores and actions that sounded like upwill sync primes. It seemed a little like sorcery.

Still gone.

 I have given up my convenient laptop and gone back to the computer that seems rooted into an ancient part of the earth. After three days of ignoring the laptop, teenagers asked, "What's going on? Did you do a third revision?"

"Not yet. And not on that thing," I said, pointing to the laptop. "I can't stand that computer."

The teenagers exchanged glances that whispered, "How old is she now? Could she be getting..."

"Mom, you act like that computer is being mean. It doesn't have a personality.  You're just unfamiliar with the word program on that one."

"It hates me. And it's haunted. You forgot to mention that little detail."

I'm hoping the third time is a charm.

And I'm not using the laptop again, just to up my odds.