I am so happy Mary Ellen Hughes could stop by for a visit today!
Let’s give her a great welcome!
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
by Mary Ellen Hughes
When I talk to people about my books, there’s one question I can count on being asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” But a question I rarely hear is, “How do you come up with names for your characters?”
I suppose that’s because most people take character names for granted. A reader makes note of them in order to keep everybody in the story straight but mostly doesn’t think much about them. For me, though, and I suspect most authors, character names are very important. Margaret Mitchell, for example, changed Scarlett O’Hara’s first name several times before settling on one, calling her star character Pansy for a while. I think we can all be glad Ms. Mitchell moved on from that one.
When I started putting ideas together for THE PICKLED PIPER, the first book of my Pickled and Preserved mystery series, I had no problem coming up with a name for my main character. Since she was a young woman who would be making and selling all things pickle-related, what could be better than Piper?
But Piper wasn’t the only character in the book. She has an aunt and uncle living nearby, a shop assistant, neighboring store owners and other townspeople, along with, of course, the victim and murderer. All these characters needed names, and ones that fit. I wouldn’t, for example, name Piper’s aunt, who is around sixty years old, Britny. And for Piper’s twenty year-old helper, Gladys would be all wrong but Amy was right.
A novelist has to come with more names than you might realize, sometimes just for walk-on characters who need a name simply to avoid being continually referred to as “elderly gentleman,” or “her.” Where do we get them all? When I first started writing and needed a name for an older person, I’d flip through the obituary section of my newspaper. If the obituaries had photos attached, all the better. Mixing and matching first and last names kept me out of lawsuit territory.
Younger characters were a little tougher. A copy of a baby-naming book helped there—though it did startle my family at first until I explained why I needed it. Then I discovered the Social Security website, which lists baby names that were popular in each decade. That was—and is–so helpful! I also found a few random name generator websites, which come up with combinations of first and last names, sorted by gender or ethnicity, as well as “common” or “rare.” A great time saver!
Until I settle on a character’s name, I often can’t completely picture him or her. Martin will look and act differently from Matt, and, though close, Patsy won’t be quite the same as Patty, at least to my mind. If, farther down the road, I see the need to change a character’s name, I’ll often go back and tweak their description to go with the new moniker.
In SCENE OF THE BRINE, my latest and third Pickled and Preserved Mystery book, I needed a name for a character new to the series, a forty-something, female caterer. “Sugar” popped into my head, and with it I immediately knew what she looked like: attractive, silver-blond, and with a Rubenesque figure. Her personality grew from that, and I was soon good to go.
Sugar had a college-aged son, and it didn’t take me long to name him Zach, a popular name of his generation. Zach majored in botany and, while bright, also had a bit of a temper. It was that last thing that got him into a pile of trouble in my story. Would that have happened if I’d named him Nigel or Preston? Doubtful. But we’ll never know because a mother called Sugar would never give her son either of those names, would she?
Family names, for me, at least, are off-limits, as are close friends, since the image that comes with them is too strong to shape into the character I want to write. Also in that “don’t touch” category are one-of-a-kind celebrity monikers and names already famous in fiction such as Scarlett, Kinsey, or Reacher.
It tends to narrow the choices, which makes me sometimes envy science fiction and fantasy writers. If they need a name, they can just scramble a few letters or make it vaguely middle-earth-ish. So much simpler. And they don’t have to worry about age, either.
But then, I’d have a hard time picturing a Ruavu Flagmatag.
Thank you so much for visiting today Mary Ellen! Feel free to add a Lori or a Dolly to your stories anytime 🙂
Scene of the Brine:
Pickled and Preserved Mystery
3rd in Series
Setting – New York
Release Date: February 2, 2016
A Berkley Prime Crime Mystery
The Berkley Publishing Group
Published by The Penguin Group
Cover Illustration by Chris O’Leary
Cover Design by Karen Oberrender
Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
E-Book ASIN: B00W2ZKQ9Q
The national bestselling author of License to Dill returns with a dilly of a pickle.
Piper Lamb has to take a break from jarring her delicious pickles and preserves to blow the lid off a poisoner….
Business is booming at Piper’s Picklings in Cloverdale, New York. But not all is sweet in the life of Piper’s number one customer and friend, local caterer Sugar Heywood. Sugar is dating wealthy realtor Jeremy Porter, but his family doesn’t approve. After their unscrupulous accountant finds some dirt on Sugar, the family quickly urges Jeremy to throw her out like rotten fruit.
Things are further spoiled after the accountant is found poisoned, and all evidence points to Sugar’s son, Zach. With the Porter family determined to avoid scandal, it won’t be easy for Piper to preserve Zach’s innocence. And after someone falls victim to a poisoned jar of some of her brandied cherries, Piper’s got a peck of trouble to deal with herself…
Check out that cover and the new door to Piper’s Picklings! Handcrafted and a true work of art. Piper has a party to celebrate her new entrance and it seems almost everyone from Cloverdale attends. Thankfully new resident, Jeremy Porter and his right hand man, Dirk Unger skipped the festivities. Unger has been making life difficult for some people in town, like Piper’s friend, Sugar Heywood. Dirk, the jerk, dug up some dirt and Sugar was terribly hurt. She lost her boyfriend and a huge catering gig. When “the jerk” is murdered, Sugar’s son becomes the prime suspect but before the murder is solved, others are hurt and Piper finds herself in hot water.
Trips to Cloverdale are never dull, that is for sure. Hughes introduces us to the Porter family. I hated the whole snobby bunch and that was just awesome. These characters like all my favorites were wonderfully written and totally believable. I wasn’t surprised when Dirk Unger was killed. He was a nasty man. What surprised me was the twists and turns we took to find the murderer. Just when I thought “I know who it is!”, something happened to prove me wrong. It sure was a fun as I kept trying.
There is a bit of romance as Will remains patient while Scott still tries to worm his way back into Piper’s life. The man has been trouble since he showed up in Cloverdale. I think Piper may be on the verge of making a decision.
Mary Ellen Hughes has written a really smart mystery delightfully flavored with some of the best cozy characters. I have liked each of these stories more than the last. The characters continue to evolve and even the mysteries get better and better and each were great already.
For someone that doesn’t like pickles I sure do love these pickled and preserved mysteries.
About This Author
Mary Ellen Hughes may live in Maryland today but she started out right here in Wisconsin!!! Find out more about Mary Ellen and her books here on her webpage.
Just click on book covers for more information or to order.
Thanks to the people at Penguin I have 2 copies to give away!
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”