What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Brain-NamesWhat do you think about names – generally?  Or do you think about them? Most people don’t.  I however, could really enjoy a big metaphysical discussion about names, but that’s not where I’m headed here.  When I started this blog, I promised myself I’d stick to things related to writing or my books.

Names are incredibly important in life and in fiction.  The names of my pets were something I chose very carefully, to suit them.

I’m just as meticulous in choosing the names of my characters.  The right name can pull you into the mystery of the story, or lend a dramatic tone.  When I write a classic type of fantasy, I go all out – researching name meanings and origins, and making sure they fit the traits of the character.

For stories located in the real world (fantasy or not), such as Atonement, Tennessee, I don’t always go to such lengths.  Even so, each name speaks strongly to me about the who, what, and where of the character.  Right now, I’m showing installments of my novel The Guitar Mancer at my blog. The name-meaning of the heroine is carefully interwoven into the story.atonement-video-cover-copy

There are a lot of cool sites about names and their meanings and origins.  Yeah, I know — I’m a total research geek… but check out a few of the websites sometime. You already know that you can find an Internet site for just about anything.  There are sites that list names of various myth figures, gods and goddesses, and summaries of the myths.  Also, I’m sure you’ve seen at least one of the “baby name” sites.  I even found one that list names by their popularity, by state, per year.  It’s actually a cool resource if you want to find a character name that’s typical, or common for a given area and time, to help enhance the story in a subtle way.

I’ve used so many of these sites, I won’t try to list them all here.  However, I liked this one (below), and thought it was general enough for other people to find it interesting.  It’s divided by state.  For the most recent years it lists names for each year, but if you scroll down it gives an average over a five-year range. I liked that because it gave me a wide-ranging picture of what characters might populate my story.  I used it for Atonement, Tennessee since the research for that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) novel had to be done in such a hurry. http://pregnancy.about.com/od/localbabynames/a/statebabynames.htm

Okay, now I’m putting you to work.  It’s time for a quick imagining of a story.  Pick a state for the setting.  Then choose the average age for most of the people there (even go to a “city data” page if you want to get the mean age in your chosen location), and figure out in what year they would have been born.  Then click on the closest year listed.  Now look at those names and tell me what images came to your mind.  What did you see?  Didn’t you see a group of people when you looked at the names?  What were they doing?  Where did they go when they headed out their separate ways?

Have fun,


Calico Calamity — Atonement

Calico Calamity, Excerpt — Atonement, Tennessee

This excerpt, this calico calamity, leads the heroine of “Atonement, Tennessee” into a tense situation.  Lilith the cat has a knack for finding those, and a few such are told from her point of view in the novel.  I use the calico as a device to let you know about things that Ralda (our heroine) can’t see.  However, Ralda tells about a strange encounter that happens when the capricious cat gets outside.

Scroll down and enjoy,


…I was sheltered by a big clump of tall bushes of some sort.  I thought it might be mountain laurel.  I could see the broad side of the mausoleum from there.  Shadows lurched violently against the stone crypt.  Big shadows.  Reflexively I drew back into the concealing vegetation.  Then I heard a loud avian-like screech and realized that the shadow shapes might have been wings.  My heart hammered.

The noise escalated.  It definitely sounded like more than one creature was causing that ruckus.  Then I heard the cat hiss.  I ran toward the sounds; ready to use the flashlight as a club, and wishing I had something more effective.  “Lilith!” I called.  Oh, let’s face it – I screamed.

As I ran out form the concealing mountain laurel a gust of wind buffeted me.  I tripped and fell on the uneven pavers of the path, just as the wind blew my hair, along with some dirt, into my eyes.  I couldn’t see at all for a moment, but I heard a lot of heavy rustling, scraping, shifting sounds.

Every time I thought I had half way cleared my eyes, the wind blew something into them again.  I struggled to my feet, desperately wiping my stinging eyes.  I heard soft footsteps coming toward me.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

With an electric jump I gasped.  The calm kindness of the words did nothing to ease the added fear of knowing there was a person there.  A stranger.  In the dark.  In the graveyard.  I was pretty sure it was a large man too.

However, in the way of a panicked brain, I thought of the irrelevant – I couldn’t begin to place his accent, but he certainly had one…  I could still barely see, and couldn’t gauge how much of a threat he might be.  The night had also gotten cloudy, and therefore darker.  If I thought my heart was beating hard before, it was about to explode by then.

“Here,” he said mildly, putting a silk handkerchief into my hand, and taking my elbow to help me stand.

No doubt I should have run, coming upon a scene that seemed violent, running into a stranger in the dark isolated spot.  But his voice was gentle and comforting.  Besides, he already had my arm in a firm grip, so I wouldn’t be going anywhere if he was a criminal or psycho or something.  Shaking with reaction, I used the handkerchief to wipe my eyes.

I looked up at him.  He was tall and well built.  Rudely I pointed the flashlight on him, but I tried not to shine it directly in his eyes.  I just needed to see him, that stranger there in the dark, so I wouldn’t panic.  Then I realized he held something in the hand that wasn’t holding my elbow.  I heard loud purring.

“Lilith?” I cried.  “I don’t know how she’s been getting out.  I was so worried,” I babbled and tried not to give in to tears.  “What was all that commotion?”

Thankfully, he knew what I meant, and handed my cat to me.  “A very large bird,” he said after a minute hesitation.

For some reason, I felt like he wasn’t being truthful, but Lilith was still purring.  Did that mean this man was okay; that he was not a threat?  She had let him hold her, and purred rather than try to get free.  Usually the cat didn’t even like for me to hold her.

Considering the shadows I saw, and the sounds I heard, I couldn’t disagree with his explanation of a bird – but how large would it have to have been?  Wouldn’t it have to be enormous?  It seemed impossible, but I had seen the shadows, heard the screeching, and felt the wind from its passing.

Perhaps sensing my doubt, he went on to explain, “I’ve been watching it ever since I moved into the house.  It only comes out at night, so I haven’t seen it clearly.”

“Where did you come from?  I mean, how did you get here?” I asked, realizing that I still wasn’t making a lot of sense.

“Pardon me,” he said in a gracious voice, seeming to understand my rattled state.  “I came in at the eastern gate,” he turned and pointed gracefully as he spoke.

“From there I have been observing the large bird.  This night I decided to try to get closer, for a better look.  Apparently the kitty had similar ideas.  Since she is clearly your cat, are you the owner of this place?  If so, then we are neighbors of a sort.  I live across the road from the eastern gate.”

He paused and I felt his intent gaze on me.  I shifted nervously.  That was definitely a foreign accent.  The words he chose were unusual.  The accent was more apparent on some words, especially the way he said “kitty.”  However, I couldn’t place it.  How would such a person wind up in a tiny town like Atonement, Tennessee?

“Thank you for getting Lilith.  I’m Esmeralda Lawton,” I said, and immediately wondered why I had used my given name.  It was something I rarely did.

“Thank you,” he said in a way that made it seem like I had given him something beyond my name.  It also seemed strange that he should thank me like that in this situation.

“I am called Cael Adriel.  Would it be an imposition if I continue to observe the bird?  As I said, it seems to only come out at night.  I have not seen it anywhere else,” he requested with a note of childlike excitement.

It seemed like such an odd thing to want to do… but who could say with birdwatchers from unknown countries.  Maybe wherever he came from, hanging out in cemeteries at night, watching oversized birds wasn’t unusual.  I shushed the sarcastic part of my head that said that.

He seemed like such a little kid about it, all innocence and fascination, yet all wrapped up in an exterior of big scary sexy.  It took a moment for me to find my voice.  I realized I was staring at him.  I cleared my throat and said, “I um, I don’t suppose it would.  Be an imposition, that is.”

He smiled and inclined his head.  “You have my gratitude.  I believe the,” he hesitated fractionally, “the bird has gone.  I don’t believe it will bother you tonight.  However, I will see you home if you like?” he made the statement a question.

“I don’t think you need to do that,” I said, feeling very uncomfortable and distrustful, and something else that I wasn’t ready to define.  “But I appreciate the offer.  It’s very kind of you,” I added.

Where was the strong intuition that I had come to rely on when meeting new people?  Apparently it was off somewhere being unreliable.  In any case, it wouldn’t do to be rude, not to a new neighbor.  I wished him a good night in as pleasant and unconcerned of a voice as I could manage.  Then I turned to go back to the house.

I walked a few feet away and looked back over my shoulder.  He was still standing there, as still as any of the cemetery statuary.  I gave a little nervous wave, and kept walking.  When I thought I was out of his sight, I walked faster and faster.  I didn’t exactly feel threatened by him.  It was just that the entire situation had been frightening, and I was a little rattled.

I let myself in the backdoor, and slumped against the kitchen wall, still holding the cat.  I told myself to stop shaking.


Emlyn Ran – The Dead of Winter

Emlyn Ran, Excerpt — The Dead of Winter

I’ve been a bad blogger lately, and haven’t posted much.  Maybe I’ve been too focused on the paying job – also known as work.  To make amends, here is a treat.  [I hope!].  Below is an excerpt from The Dead of Winter.  I call it “Emlyn Ran.”  It comes from a ways into the story, so try to tell your brain not to worry about context or details you might not understand.  All “realms” [think of realms as realities] border one another — and young Emlyn learns that she can traverse them.  However, at this point in the story she doesn’t fully know that.  I think it is one of my best sequences.  I hope you’ll enjoy it.



Emlyn ran.  She panted for breath, but she dared not slow her pace.  She wasn’t sure why she ran, but she knew she must.  One minute she had been holding an ancient skull where she had fallen into a cave, and the next she was in a strange building.  The half-light and washed out colors told her she was in the Realm of the Dead.

The sense of him was overwhelming.  She shuddered.  She felt a horrid taint everywhere she turned.  It even seemed to coat her lungs as she breathed.  His name filled her mind and she could not escape it — Arawn.  Emlyn had not even known the name until the night before, but now it was as if she knew him and knew him well.  She could feel the blackness of his soul.  Arawn.  Everywhere she felt his presence, and she could not find the way out.  Worse, she felt that now he knew her as well!  Arawn.

She didn’t know how long she ran down one corridor after another, or if she had been running in circles.  Her side cramped.  The building seemed to be a palace, though it was empty.  She rounded a corner in the corridor, not knowing where it might lead.  She couldn’t see very far in the half-light of the Realm of the Dead.  However, something red stood out in contrast to the washed out dimness.  It was a window with heavy red velvet draperies.  Just beyond it another hallway crossed the one down which she ran.

She stopped, her breathing ragged.  Emlyn felt panic rise as she tried to decide which way to go; right, left, or straight ahead?  She also wanted to look out that window in hope that it would show more about where she was.  But she was terrified of what might be outside it, looking back at her.  However, she knew that in past dreams, which had taken her to the Realm of the Dead, she had not been able to see anything beyond the windows; only gray darkness.

Her trembling hand reached for the red drapes.  She hesitated.  Her ears strained for any sound of pursuit as she looked all around.  All she could hear was her pounding heart.  Cautiously she moved the drape just a bit.  The chink in the curtains revealed only the accustomed grayness.  Her hand shook harder as she pulled the fabric farther aside.

The laughing countenance of Arawn filled the window.  She screamed.  Emlyn didn’t know how she knew it was Arawn — she’d never heard anyone describe how he looked, but she knew it to the depths of her soul.  He tossed his straight black shoulder-length hair.  Blood was smeared across his mouth.  He wiped it away.  His long hard fingernails had blood under them.  He smiled at Emlyn in a dreadful insinuating way.

She ran ahead where the corridors intersected.  If she turned left it would seem to take her closer to Arawn, though she suspected it was possible for him to be anywhere he chose in this realm.  She knew he was toying with her.  The way ahead ended at a staircase.  She took a few steps closer to it, but as she looked up, she realized that the stairs went nowhere.  They stopped at a blank wall.

It seemed like she heard distant thunder, but it was likely the pounding of her heart.  She turned to the right and would have gone that way, but she heard a soft yip.  Emlyn turned back and looked up the staircase to find the great white wolf standing there.  She was certain it was the same huge wolf she had seen on her way to visit Osabide on that strange morning just before her journey began.

Stumbling backward, she turned again to her right, now running away from both Arawn and the wolf.  She skidded to a stop; stumbled and fell down to one knee.  The wolf stood before her; head down and growling ominously.  She gazed into its blue, blue eyes.  It bounded past her to the staircase, and looked from the stairs and back again to Emlyn.

She heard a voice, but she wasn’t sure whether it came from within her mind or from somewhere in the corridor.  “Hurry!  Winter is coming,” the voice insisted.

Emlyn took a shaking breath and got to her feet.  Could the wolf be trying to lead her?  “All right,” she whispered and moved toward the white wolf.

He ran up the stairs and disappeared right through the wall where the stairs abruptly ended.  Emlyn braced herself.  She closed her eyes and ran toward the top of the stairs, following the wolf.

She fell forward.  She was dizzy and unable to open her eyes.  Beneath her face and hands she felt damp grass.  After a moment Emlyn opened her eyes to see dew sparkle on green blades of grass.  Sunlight was warm on her shoulders.  She was back in the Realm of the Living.


Magic Glasses

Yesterday, as I left the Post Office, a business man complimented my new glasses.  That was nice, especially since here strangers just don’t speak period, unless it’s to tell you to get out of their way.  And how often does anybody compliment eyeglasses anyway?  “New glasses must work some kind of magic,” my slightly sardonic inner voice said.

This morning I started thinking.  What if…(You know “what if” gives me endless possibilities, particularly for stories.)  What if you had magic glasses?  What would they let you see?

Would you be able to look inside someone, on a cellular level, and see the cure for a disease?

Could you see the truths people would hide from the world?

Would you see the future?  Or the ancient past?

Would you look at the ground, and within the soil see a new plant species that would one day grow?

What story would grow around the extraordinary things you saw with your magic glasses?  What else would you see that gave unexpected twists to that story?

Finally, at the end of the story, what would you do with your magic glasses?

Now go ahead, tell me the story.