Thursday, August 15, 2013

Julie? Melissa? Perhaps Hildegard? What's In A Name and Does It Matter?

You bet that it matters!
It is neither as important nor as damaging as a poorly written or flat story, but giving your characters the right name is certainly key.

I find it is rather like choosing a name for your child; the name has to suit the personality and it has to make sense for the time and, in some respects, the place.  In fact, some countries have rules about what you can name your child, but that is another topic.

Of course, it should be memorable or represent something (be it a value or an idea) that defines your child - or your character, in this case. And if we are talking about fiction, the type of book you are writing also dictates how freely you may choose.

Although I had no difficulty choosing names for my children (luckily, my husband and I were on the same page there), selecting a name for each of my characters in my first novel has been grueling.  Yes, that painful and difficult.  The only name I settled on with relative ease was that of the main character.  The rest?  I may still change them.

That said, here are a few, common sense rules I read about that I have found helpful in tackling this task.

1.  The name should match the era and the place
If you are writing historical fiction and your novel is set in 18th century Romania, Jennifer is obviously not the name to go with. Catalina or Constanta would be a better choice.  On the other hand, if  your novel is set in the future, somewhere far in space, Jennifer and, say, Fhyssia could work equally well.

2.  The names of the cast of characters should, in the collective, make sense
Whether your novel has a large or a small cast of characters, the names should make sense collectively as well.  You might not want every name to be short and snappy, of the same number of syllables or with the same places of emphasis.  It might be boring to the reader and certainly easier to forget.  Also, unless you have a good reason for it, vary the first initials. A family of five with Lilly, Lenny, Kelly, Pippi, and Patty, does sound rather mundane, does it not?

3.  Think about the first and last (and middle, if any) names together - and pronounce them
Although the complete name of a character is not necessarily prominent throughout the work, you want to make sure it is realistic or interesting (depending on your genre) and memorable.  Also consider that your book may become an audio book or even an e-book with text-to-speech features. Whereas Myra Mendelssohn rolls off rather easily, Myrtle Isles is more of a tongue twister and (sorry to any Myrtle Isles who may be our there) rather clumsy. Use your imagination - I bet there are lots of Jim Cook's out there already.

Thank you for your time and your thoughts.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Fault In Our Stars

Every once in a while a book comes along that hits all the right notes and you cannot bring yourself to put it down until you read the last sentence - and then you start over.  Whether it is the tone, the characters, the underlying story itself, or all three, it captivates you from the first word to the last, every time you read it.
For me, the tone of the book is always the initial determining factor.  I can fall in love with a story after just three or four sentences (or still keep reading and trying after 50 pages before finally giving up) and know that I must buy it and read it right away. 
And for me, such a book is The Fault In Our Stars.
The first sentence (Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death) immediately drew me in.  I was curious - why was she thinking about death? Why did she as a seventeen-year-old feel like she had abundant time to do anything? Who ever does? And why does she sound like an overachiever?
The main character Hazel, who suffers from thyroid cancer and metastatic lung cancer since age thirteen, is captivating.  She is a simple girl yet there is nothing average about her; in a way she is completely withdrawn from the entrapments of teenage life, but in other ways she is your girl next door, living as if she were healthy, not ready to give up.  Almost dying from pneumonia, a side effect of cancer, she travels to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author, mother, boyfriend, BiPAP and oxygen tanks in tow.  Therein lies her strength and the appeal of the story - it is not just a book about cancer, it is a book about living despite it. The other characters are great as well, and the unexpected relationship between Hazel and Augustus is perhaps more emotionally mature than most fictional adult relationships.  He lost a leg to cancer and thus can relate to her and understand her, more than we first realize. The characters you feel sorry for are the parents - as Hazel puts it, "There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you're sixteen, and that's having a kid who bites it from cancer."
And that is something I, as a mother, can well imagine but hope to never ever have to understand.
Anyway, if you are looking for a great book that is a pageturner where you can wait to turn each page so as to savor the well written words - pick up The Fault In Our Stars

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Can you use a title that has been used before? Would you want to?

I am not actually looking to use a title that has been used before, but what if I did?  What if I thought that a title already given to a story was also perfect for my work? Or perhaps someone used a title and somehow I fail to discover this coincidence?

Although I am not an intellectual property lawyer (I focus on the much more exciting area of tax law....) I do know the answer to this one.

Like ideas, names, and slogans, titles are not protected by U.S. copyright laws - which is why you may find that certain books share the same title.

Copyright protection,is generally available only if a work possesses “a significant amount of original expression.”  While “a significant amount of original expression” has not been specifically defined for this purpose, courts have found that expressions as short as book titles lack the required amount of original expression and cannot receive copyright protection.

However, while copyright laws will not protect a title, trademark laws may. 

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has declared that a trademark protects words, phrases, symbols or designs that identify the source of the service or good offered by one party - in effect allowing a word or phrase that is a recognizable "brand" (think Twilight) to receive trademark protection.

Thus, while you are not going to be able to title your next vampire teen series "Twilight" (why you would want to is another matter), calling it "One More Bite" is not going to violate any laws (but would make an awfully boring and predictable title).

Any titles that are taken that you would have loved to use? 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How Much Can An Editor Edit Your Work?

Seeing that I do not even have an agent yet, this subject might just be a bit premature to address, but a recent article on this subject in Writer's Digest caught my eye for obvious reasons.  I have been working on my "work in progress" for over three years (yes, that's three years).  I am as finished as I will ever be; I just re-read it after taking a few months break and I actually really do like it and have changed no more than a word here and there.

So, assuming that I am fortunate enough to land an agent and then get signed by a publishing house, am I back to square one?   What if the editor is not too thrilled with the work and starts re-writing?  How much re-writing can she or he do or ask for?  What types of edits can they request or recommend? Can they rip into pieces what I spent years to put together?

Thanks for your thoughts on this.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I am back!

Well, I never physically left (although a few months traveling around the world sounds pretty good right about now) but my mind and heart had been absent from the creative world for a while.  I had set my novel-in-progress aside, almost afraid to touch it for some reason I still cannot identify, hardly any reading, and no writing at all.
But I turned on my computer last night, opened my writing folder, and there I was!  The dread lifted and I am going through the final edits - and have dropped three books on my coffee table. 
What was the source of my problem?  Fear of failure and rejection, lack of time, and "unripeness."  While I might fail at this art, will certainly receive rejections, and definitely do not have time for this pursuit, I know one day I would regret not trying.  And the time that passed has allowed the work to sink in and become ripe for the final review.
But now back to the more important and interesting things!
As I read my query letter again for the first time in months, it almost felt like I did not write it, allowing me to read and digest it without emotional involvement.  I was able to determine whether it worked or not and why.  In the process I thought about what should and should not be on a query letter.
Of course we all have exhaustive lists of what we should have on our query letters (and I will not bore you with more of that) but what we omit is equally important.
Here is what I have learned NOT to do on a query letter:
- Address it to "Sir or Madam" or provide other general salutation.  Pick an agent and know his or her name.
- Be reasonable and try to avoid any comparison to other authors, especially bestsellers like Dan Brown etc.
- Mention or explain things about you that in no way or tangentially relate to your writing and the novel you are submitting.
Do you have any to add?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Out With The Old, In With The New

The golden masks were aglow under the chandeliers,  the smiles were genuine and enchanting, and the feet were sashaying to Strauss' Blue Danube.  And the company was exceptional, as only family can be. It was New Year's Eve 2006.

It was a different life for us, the closing year of a decade of fancy New Year's Eve Balls in old capitals of Europe.  Before my child was born, before I switched jobs, before my father passed.

I was thumbing through photo albums yesterday, bringing back the years that passed so fast.  And they were good years.  I was lucky and I knew it.  They will stay with me forever.

But things change, some for the worse, inevitable.  Others change for the better, always welcome.

May this new year bring only the good (and so far so good).

Have a happy and healthy 2013!