Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Denise Swanson, Guest Blogger

I'm sure many of you are familiar with Denise Swanson, author of the mysteries that feature Skye Denison, a school psychologist in Scumble River, Illinois. Today, she's joining us for a guest blog in which she's talking about names.  Thank you, Denise.

The Name Game

I’ve always been fascinate with names—maybe because I always hated my first name. Granted, Denise is better than my parents’ first thought, which was to name me Ernestina after my father. But I would have much preferred a more elegant name like Kathryn or Laura—which were my grandmothers’ names.

As a teenager, I used to write down the names of characters from books that I read. I had a system where I would group the names under heroes, heroines, and villains. I still have those index cards and find that my taste has changed a bit, but not too much. I also collected baby-naming books. When my mother first discovered my cache of these books, she was convinced I was pregnant—and since I was thirteen at the time, she nearly had a heart attack.

I continued to buy baby-naming books, finally having a legitimate reason once I started writing. Two of my favorites are Beyond Jennifer and Jason and The Baby Name Personality Survey. But I like the traditional ones, as well.

One of the best parts of starting to write a new book is picking out the characters names. Until I find the right name for a character, he or she doesn’t come alive to me. And even though names are important to me, I really goofed in my first book, Murder of a Small-Town Honey. If I’d had any idea that Wally was going to become a love interest for Skye, I would have chosen another name. Like the Johnny Cash song goes—Blake or Caleb or Max—anything but Wally. The worst part about choosing Wally is that I went to kindergarten with a Wally and everyone is now convinced I was secretly in love with him. Geesh!

Another lesson I learned from early books is that like clothes, names go in and out of fashion, and it’s important to give your characters names that are appropriate for their ages. For instance, most Debbies, Nancys, Barbaras, and Denises are from the Baby Boomer generation. I’ve made a few goofs in this area, as well.

Still, I love names. And in writing my newest book, Murder of a Bookstore Babe, which debuted March 1, the character’s names are a much better fit. I chose Risé for a strong, but unique woman, Kayla for a young woman with big dreams, and Orlando, a battle scarred Vietnam Vet who wants the peace of being a small town baker.

Do you like your name? If not, what would you choose and why?

--Denise Swanson is the New York Times bestselling author of the Scumble River Mystery series featuring Skye Denison and the new (coming in 2012) Devereaux’s Dime Store Mystery series featuring Devereaux Sinclair. She’s been nominated for the Agatha, Mary Higgins Clark, RT Reviewers Choice, and Daphne Du Maurier awards. She enjoys hanging out with her husband and black cat. You can catch her on Facebook or at http://www.deniseswanson.com/.

Thank you, Denise! And, good luck with Murder of a Bookstore Babe.

Murder of a Bookstore Babe by Denise Swanson. Obsidian. ©2011. ISBN 9780451232809 (paperback), 254p.


caite said...

Great post...lol

I have often wondered at how authors pick the names for their characters..because often I think they do a fairly bad job.
Some seem to delight in the oddest name, which I think is a distraction. And then I HATE when two characters have name that are too similar. What can I say. I have a poor memory and start to get confused sometimes.

So there was nothing between you and Wally?

Kris said...

I hate when author's use really odd names too, I find it distracts from the story itself. I think I tend to lean towards more traditional names myself though.

I hated my middle name, which was Darlene, so when I got married I legally made my maiden name my middle name and removed my given middle name. I like it that way, I feel it has a nice ring to it. I didn't have to give up my maiden name, which was important to me since my father was an only child and had 3 daughters. I feel like I'm at least carrying on the family name a bit longer.

caryn said...

I do not like my name nor the spelling of it. Caryn (Karen ) is so ordinary! But my mother decided to honor my grandfather Cary so my ordinary name is spelled oddly. I hate it.
I was thought to be twins for awhile. If I would have been twin girls my names would have been Victoria Charlene and Theodora Carlene. All four of those names are wonderful. Why couldn't my parents have used one of those names????
Caryn in St.Louis

Pamela Keener said...

I liked my name Pamela but not my middle name Rosalie. I shortened it to Rose & I like that better. I loved your blog especially the story about buying a book of baby names and scaring your poor mother.
You are a new to me author but I am going to check out your books.
Love & Hugs,

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great points, Denise! I think names say so much about a character--it always takes me a while to come up with names for them. :)

Lesa said...

I know Denise intended to stop by today, but something must have come up. And, I was traveling to Santa Fe, so it's the first time I've had a chance to be on the blog.

I've always liked my name, and liked the unusual spelling. I'm glad my parents came up with it. It's just different enough to be unusual.

Denise Swanson said...

Sorry everyone! I got called away for a family issue and by the time I got home, I was too tired to get back on the computer.

Caite--I try to be very careful about not using similar sounding names (unless I'm trying to confuse things for the mystery ;)

Caite and Kris--You've got me worried now because the sleuth in my new series is named Devereaux, which I'm guessing might be considered an odd name. All I can say is she came to me and told me that was her name.

Caryn--I like the spelling of your name, but I can understand your frustration. People can't even spell Denise correctly.

Pamela--Thanks! I hope you enjoy the book you try.

Lesa--I am so sorry to be a bad guest blogger. I deliberately picked yesterday because it was the only day all month I was supposed to get to stay home.

Coco said...

Denise, an original Deadly Diva, I love your name. As a child, the only time I ever heard my given name was when I was in trouble.:-) So, Coco, has a happy ring. That's my story and I'm sticking to it! Loved the part about scaring your mom! Thanks for sharing a terrific topic!

Lesa said...

No problem, Denise. Things always come up. I'm glad people were interested in the topic of names. Thanks again!