Monday, July 30, 2018

What's in a Name?

Naming characters can be a nightmare. I've heard it said editors will reject a manuscript simply due to a character sharing the name of a former partner or person they don't like. While I think that's more myth than fact, contrived to illustrate how subjective rejections can be sometimes, getting character names right is very tricky.

Brian once told me he was reading a book with a character named Brianna and reached a sex scene she was in. He couldn't read it.

Chalk that up to having a daughter with the same name, even if the spelling is different. Names can have powerful associations.

Thanks to a recent Publisher's Weekly review of The Spying Moon, I'm reminded that I have a quirk with names. I was reading the review and really surprised by the references to Kendall. All the promo and back copy refers to Moreau. She's a cop and is referenced by surname throughout 99% of the story.

And there's kind of a deal with her name. She doesn't volunteer her first name until she feels comfortable with someone, which is very deep into the book. One of her colleagues - who can be a real jerk - thinks her name is Casey... but even when that was used by someone else it was K.C. because those are her initials.

It reminded me that one of my characters in Suspicious Circumstances had a misleading name.

Why do I do this? This realization prompted a little self-examination.

I think I have a heightened sensitivity because of having the name Sandra. No matter how many times I introduce myself as Sandra people assume I go by Sandy.

And I don't. When people call you something that isn't your name there's typically one of two reasons. It's either meant as an insult or it's meant as a sign of familiarity.

With Moreau, she sticks to her last name and is occasionally called K.C. because she's a very private person. In some respects a shell, because of being an orphan. She doesn't trust easily but giving someone permission to address her in a familiar way with her first name is a sign of that trust.

She doesn't offer up any part of herself lightly.

Having a protagonist with that disposition creates its own challenges because there's even a sense of her withholding from herself at times. She isn't one to dwell on things. That's why her personal issues are soon put in a box and she tries not to think about them.

So when you read PW's review, you may want to substitute Moreau for Kendall.

(And don't equate sincerity with goodness. Some characters are sincerely awful. And there may just be an American in the mix.)

I'm thankful for a good PW review. What's in a name? When it comes to the trades, PW has a good rep they've built and maintained over the years.

At the start of this dour yet lucid police procedural from Ruttan (Suspicious Circumstances), Kendall Moreau, a recent graduate of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police training center, is on her way to her first posting. Since early childhood, everything she has done has been motivated by her desire to find out the truth about her mother’s disappearance, and now she’s set to be stationed in the area of British Columbia where it happened. But Kendall is redirected to the “beautiful but broken” town of Maple River to join a task force investigating drug traffickers. The team’s first meeting is interrupted by the news of the discovery of a body. At the scene, the police find teenager Sammy Petersen, “a good kid from a good home,” shot through the head. The postmortem reveals that he had a lethal dose of drugs in his system. Kendall soon finds that the drug problem is just the tip of the iceberg, and she suspects that at least one of her new colleagues may be involved in the murders, assaults, and robberies that are plaguing Maple River. The subject matter may be grim, but the Canadian sensibility—everyone is so sincere—is refreshing. (Sept.) 

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