Saturday, February 23, 2019

Did you write stories or books when you were a child as well?

Megan Pagan asked, “Did you write stories or books when you were a child as well?"
“I know you ask because you have little ones at home,” I commented.
“That’s what made me think of it. It’s so interesting to hear how some things stick with people since childhood or how people stumble into something they’re passionate about later in life. Also, Levi writes books all the time. It’s so cute.”
I’m going to answer this from two angles: Firstly, did I write as a child and secondly, how to be an encouragement to the little writers in your charge.
My beginnings as a story teller started with just that… story telling (some call this fibs). Plus, I was an avid reader from childhood and was encouraged to relate what I’d read to my family. We all loved ghost stories and would sit around the campfire (we camped a lot) telling goose bumpy tales. Even when I was little I was expected to tell a ghost story. My dad was a bit of a prankster, and loved to tell us tall tales just to see how much we’d believe. We would sit around for hours and tell jokes. To add to that environment, my mom had the nickname, “Little Miss Adjective.” She could describe things to death! It was never a simple cloud in the sky… it was a puff of dragon’s breath chasing a dream! Or some other equally extravagant description. A favorite game on road trips was Mad Lib. Have you ever played that? It’s a fun way to engage the whole family in silly creativity.
English classes were always my easy classes. I started a couple of really, really cheesy romance novels in high school. I’ve kept them for a good laugh. My college coursework required an English class so I took creative writing. My professor challenged me to clean up the cute little stories I wrote, and to get serious. He felt I had the potential to be a writer. I was going to college to become a physical therapist, not a writer. It turns out there’s a lot of writing going on in that career. I found I had a skill for documentation and Medicare rebuttals.
In the meantime I had an intense dream bordering on nightmare that woke me up from a dead sleep. I wrote down the dream and that was the first chapter of my first serious work of literature—Counterpart. It took a decade to write while going to college and then working, but I finally did it.
My recommendation to parents of any child who writes is to let them write. Don’t correct anything they write. Even if you’re an English teacher. Writing can be taught, but creatively expressing yourself cannot. It’s a natural instinct (I think in everyone) that should be allowed to develop young. If a child thinks their ideas are stupid, they will usually stop. Let their teachers teach them the rules later in life. If a child shows you something they wrote, my recommendation is to make a private moment and have them read it to you.
Listen with sincerity. Question things that don’t make sense graciously. They can become good when they’re twenty. I also think this teaches them to start writing projects without getting too hung up on how it should turn out. That’s paralyzing. There’s nothing wrong with being overly confident when they’re ten! Trust me when they go to publish their first book they will become humble.
Okay, I’m stepping down off my soapbox now :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

How do you select the names of your characters?

Debra Lewis and Kelly Spencer asked: How do you select the names of your characters?
Good question. It really depends on the character. I choose names based on personality, age, and nationality. For basic American characters, I just name them whatever seems right. I may (probably will) change my mind and go with a different name before I publish it. I may feel I have too many people with names starting in M. Or the names are too similar in cadence, such as Harry, Larry, and Gary. That can be confusing to a reader. So I’ll go back and change Harry to Hank. It still fits the age group and style of the name, but sounds different.
Sometimes the character just has a name. When I change the name for my reasons I feel guilty. For example in The Crossfire of Revenge the youth pastor’s name is Pastor Tim. Period. That’s his name. I know this guy in real life. When I’d completely finished the book, I changed his name from Tim to Tom. Mainly because I didn’t want people to think it was a true story about Tim… though he was the inspiration behind the character.
If it’s a really important character with a major role (especially an evil role), or a deceptive character, I’ll refer to Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon. This gives a breakdown of names by country of origin and what the name means. For a character who will seem good but is actually evil, I’ll choose a name meaning “trustworthy” or “noble.” If the character is immediately evil and remains so, I’ll choose a name meaning “dark” or “deceptive.” Sometimes it will be based on modern perceptions, such as Adolph, or Damien, which are both considered dark names. Sadly, Adolph is actually a cool name meaning “noble wolf,” and Damien means “untamed.”
Otherwise I just surf the web, especially if I’m looking for a teen name of let’s say an Italian girl: Sofia, Emma, Chiara, Aurora…. Or maybe I’m looking for a cool upbeat name for a teen boy? I’ll search teen movie stars: Keegan, Skylar, Jake, Penn…. 
There’s lots of different ways to choose a name, but each name is important. As I said earlier, I may change a character’s name a couple of times. My name for example has very specific meanings. Heidi means “female warrior,” Schussman means “sharp shooter” (it was the ancient title for the dude who sat up in the turret and shot arrows down at the bad guys trying to invade his master’s castle), and Gilbert means “shield.” So I’m a female warrior, sharp shooter, with a shield! Hmmm… now maybe you understand why I write espionage :)