Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Naming Names

Choosing names is a lot more fun than picking a title. Early on I learned from the best. My friend and critique buddy, Leslie Guccione, guided me as I wrote a mid-grade novel in my first critique group. At first the sisters were named Virginia and Alice Ann. Nope, kids might be confused by Virginia. Even though the story takes place in 1964 and Virginia was more popular then, we (my critique group) decided most kids nowadays think of Virginia as a state. Then Jesslyn popped into my head, and it was the perfect name for a bossy, big sister. Alice Ann was working just fine until I read a new book, set in approximately the same time, with a main character named--you guessed it-- Alice Ann! So Alice Ann became Gloriana, Glory for short. Great name changes. Both girls grew into their names and were better for it.

In my current manuscript, the character is a 12-year-old boy who longs to play the piano. His uncle forbids him to, but he manages to find a way around Uncle Chester's rules. He started out as Shelton. Don't ask. The name appeared to me. I began this manuscript in the amazing Writing for Children class at the New School, taught by Bunny Gabel. A Southerner like me, she understands how wonderfully unusual Southern names might be but she pointed out that, on the first page of the earliest version, she didn't have a clear idea of whether Shelton was male or female. It took me over a year to go back to the drawing board and find him a new name. This piano-playing character is now named Theo, short for Thelonious Monk Smith. Destiny!

I love names, collect them in my head and in notebooks and on pieces of paper tucked into boxes. Southerners seem particularly adept at names. Names like Squirrel (it's true!), double-named girls, Big Jack and Little Jack (my brother and dad). Play around with the USA DeepSouth website if you want to know everything there is to know about Southern names.

Perhaps choosing the perfect name for a character is my way of avoiding the perfect plot. I could create names forever, but without a problem to solve, thorny issues to get in the way, and an interesting backstory, it's just a group of kids and their grownups sitting on the porch under the ceiling fan.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Meme

I've been tagged by Barbara O'Connor, for the following meme:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.

2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.

3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 3 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.

4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

What were you doing ten years ago?
Hard at work at my library at the Kent Place School.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order):
1. Finish the review I'mwriting for the Christian Science Monitor on a wonderful book: HUNGRY FOR PARIS.

2. Take a walk.

3. Go to my Writers' Group.

4. Fly to Tampa.

5. Pack for my friend Patty's daughter's wedding.

What are some snacks you enjoy?
Pita sea salt crackers
Greek yogurt

What would you do if you were a billionaire?
Wow. Give me a minute.

What are three of your bad habits?
Bossing people around (Hey, I'm a Leo.)
No tolerance for people who are habitually late.
Reading in bed with a bag of pita chips.

What are five places where you have lived?
Cleveland, Mississippi
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Newport, R.I.
Baltimore, MD
Chatham, NJ
St. Petersburg, FL

(whoops, that was six. And I had to leave out a few.)

What are five jobs you have had?
Lifeguard/ swimming instructor
Camp Counselor
Library assistant at the Harvard Medical School library
School librarian

What people do you want to tag?
Wendy Mass, Greg Neri, Janet McLaughlin

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Title Picking

Titles are really hard for me. I latch onto one that should be considered a "working title" and then abolished forever, and I can't let it go. This is the case of my mid-grade ms about Sister Cockersole and the Rest Easy Boarding House. Originally it was known (only to me) as Train Doctor. Don't ask. Then it became Pretty Nearly, which has a nice ring. But some thought that meant nothing (some, obviously not Southern). So I'm going with Sixteen Rules for Living at the Rest Easy. At least for now.

I put that title into Lulu's titlescorer. A handy little gadget, probably useless in the real world, but kind of fun. Having read about it in The Writer Magazine, I figured it might be legit. So I filled in the blanks and tried out Sixteen Rules for Living at the Rest Easy. Turns out my novel has a 14 % chance of becoming a best seller with that title. But I'm not sure the folks at Lulu are up on the latest kids' book titles. How to Steal a Dog. Higher Power of Lucky. Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You.

I could go on and on with the funny, quirky, often very long titles writers give their books for kids.

Titles for essays are easier. And often get changed so it doesn't seem to matter that much what I title an essay. Editors, especially newspaper editors, have a real knack for writing catchy titles.

I like what Linda George advises in an article on the ICL website- Titles should be fun to say out loud. I think I need more alliteration. More fun. Back to work on my Sixteen Rules thing.