Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Finding Names for Characters

 One of the many things writers fret about is names.

A primary character needs a name that fits, one that's memorable and projects the right image. This is why the main character's name is often changed during the first draft. It isn't always easy to come up with a name that rings true to what we want to project about this particular character.

Beyond that, most every character in a story needs a name. It's how we're accustomed to identifying the people with whom we come in contact in our daily lives as well as in the books we read or films we watch. For minor characters, the issue is simple. Any bland selection of Christian and/or surnames might do.

Some writers hold contests in which friends, neighbors, and even strangers compete to have their names used in a story.

An easy source of names used to be the telephone book. In this digital age, those handy references are becoming scarce. Still, if you have access to one, pop it open to any random page, run your finger down a row and stop on a surname that strikes your fancy. Turn to another page and do the same in search of a first name that goes with the surname. Why not just use the Christian name of the surname you selected?

There's nothing to stop you from doing so. But suppose this and the devious deeds of your invented character offend the actual person whose name you've borrowed (who you don't know but who might chance to read your tale). You could be facing trouble in these litigious times.

Another useful source of names is television, especially game show contestants. There's an infinite variety available. Again, be wary of combining the name and behavior of those from whom you're borrowing. These people might chance to read your book, too.

A safer resource I've used a few times is to honor/dishonor an ancestor from the family tree by using their name. They aren't likely to sue.

One of my favorite sources of names is old newspapers. There's an infinite variety to select from and you can come up with some very memorable combinations. As I read these papers I make lists of any names that strike my fancy. I may never use all of them. But you never know when you might find just the right handle for a particular character.

In my latest novel, Twelve Days in the Territory, I used a combination of ancestral names, some selected from old newspapers and others that just popped up in my imagination. A few of the names I think will stick with readers are Crawford McKinney, Jubilation Kincaid, and Lazarus Lee.

Finding names isn't the most important part of writing a story. But it can be fun.

Thursday, August 5, 2021


 (I'm hosting my friend Marilyn Meredith today as she discusses her latest mystery. The floor is yours, Marilyn:)

Though this latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery is set in modern times there are two bits of history that I incorporated into the plot.

The oldest was about the Pechanga Indians, who do play a minor part in this story. Like many of the native people of California, they had many struggles because of the Spanish missionaries during the 1700s. In the 1870s they were evicted from their homeland. Over the years, I’ve included much of the horrible things that happened to the California Indians in other Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries, most notably the Tolowa tribe of far northern

California which was nearly wiped out. But many other tribes were forced from their homeland to settle in reservations.

Like the Pechanga Indians, times have changed for many tribes because of casinos. The Pechanga casino, located in Temecula, is a popular place. Besides gambling and many restaurants, it has a venue for concerts and other events, and it even has a large campground.

Another historical thread in The Trash Harem revolves around the author, Erle Stanley Gardner. Gardner’s primary home was located on what had been the Pechanga’s land. The sprawling ranch had twenty-seven buildings including cabins for his four full-time secretaries. Even his doctor had a home there. When Gardner died, his estranged wife sold the ranch in 1970. In 2001 it was sold again, this time to the Pechanga Indians.

Because I was a huge fan of Erle Stanley Gardner’s books and an even bigger fan of the Perry Mason TV show, it was fun to revisit both as I wrote The Trash Harem.

Marilyn Meredith


Deputy Tempe Crabtree has retired from her job in Bear Creek when friends, who once lived in Bear Creek and attended Pastor Hutch’s church, ask her to visit them in Temecula. The husband, Jonathan, is a suspect in what might be a murder case. The retirement community includes many interesting characters, any of whom might have had a better motive than Jonathan. There is also a connection to Earle Stanley Gardner as well as the Pechanga Old Oak. What is a trash harem? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

To purchase The Trash Harem


Marilyn Meredith’s Bio:

She is the author of over 40 published books including the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, and writing as F. M. Meredith, the Rocky Bluff P.D. series. She’s a member of two chapters of Sisters in Crime and the Public Safety Writers Association.

Webpage: http://fictionforyou.com/

Blog: https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marilyn.meredith







Thursday, May 6, 2021

Twelve Days in the Territory


Indian Territory in 1887 is the setting for Twelve Days in the Territory, my latest novel.

Outlaws take Martha Raker hostage and flee with her into the territory after a botched robbery. Martha is the niece of Isaac Gillette, the local sheriff, who is determined to track them down and bring her home. Martha is also the sweetheart of Will Burrows, a school teacher, and he is the only person willing to join the sheriff on his mission.

"Gillette wasn't thrilled to find the school teacher as the only person willing to accompany him on this dangerous enterprise. Still, it didn't entirely surprise him. Much as it irked him to admit it, Will Burrows had as much reason to pursue the killers as he did.

"But did the lad have the sand to see the job through? Gillette didn't know. Aside from observing the boy in Martha's company, he knew little about him. He'd never seen Will with a gun, nor did he recall ever hearing of him in a fistfight or even a shouting match with another person. Cole had personified the boy as a sissy in a few remarks, but then Cole and Will had been in competition for Martha's attention. And Cole had lost that battle; naturally he would be bitter and not apt to portray his rival in a good light."

Indian Territory was the government's dumping ground for the tens of thousands of Native Americans uprooted from their homelands coveted by settlers and greedy entrepreneurs. It didn't matter to officialdom that many of these people forced into juxtaposition with one another were mortal enemies. And, though the area was supposed to be a home for the tribes, by 1887 the territory had also become a refuge for outlaws and renegades. Cattle trails and railroads were crossing in response to eastern market demands and rich mineral, timber and land resources were drawing the attention which would soon lead to land rushes opening expanses of the territory to non-Indian settlers.

Indian Territory covered some 74,000 square miles. Gillette and Will have a big area to cover. Complicating their mission, Gillette has no jurisdiction in the territory; he's an intruder despite his badge. There were Indian courts and tribal police, but they had no authority over cases involving non-Indians. Normally, deputy marshals would have been dispatched from Fort Smith in pursuit of the outlaws holding Martha.

Gillette isn't inclined to wait for someone else to do the job, and neither is Will.

Martha is certain her uncle and Will are on their trail. Meanwhile, she's also doing something about her situation. She's leaving a trail for Will and her uncle to follow, she's paying close attention to the conversations of her captors, and she's taking advantages of opportunities for escape.

You can grab a copy of the book in print or electronic format here https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0929FBTKP/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i6





Sunday, May 17, 2020

Things Could Be Worse

We live in a time of adversity. Some might call it the worst of times. Yet, some have said the same of other times.
That's, coincidentally, true of the Spanish flu of 1918. My great-uncle and namesake was at Camp Funston in Kansas where some historians believe it originated. My relative was one of the fortunate who survived that pandemic which claimed an estimated 50 million lives around the globe.
The true extent of damage, both in lives and economics, for COVID-19 remains to be seen.
We are, though, more fortunate in many ways than our ancestors who suffered through the Spanish flu.
The Internet, for instance, provides the latest information and updates it in a timely fashion. The news didn't travel as fast in 1918. On the downside, conspiracy theories and quack prescriptions spread equally as fast as facts these days, adding to confusion and heightening fears.
Again, thanks to the Internet, China was able to dispense the DNA of the virus to other nations in a remarkably short time, giving researchers a leg up on understanding the virus and, hopefully, speeding up the process of developing a vaccine.
There's also the fact many advances have been made in medicine since 1918, advances which assure better treatment of patients and ability to save lives. In 1918, we didn't even know what a virus was, let alone how to deal with one. Physicians knew the disease spread through respiratory drops but they didn't have microscopes powerful enough to view a virus. You couldn't test for something you didn't know existed.
Because they did know how it spread, they did determine the value of social distancing, which has proven equally effective in the current pandemic. Unfortunately, then as now, some people are slow learners and fail to heed the best advice.
Then, as now, some in high offices put the economy or their own self-interest above the welfare of the public and downplayed the dangers, pushing to ease restrictions and social distancing. That did not bode well then, and it won't in the present. This is a dangerous disease and it won't go away just because we want it to.

Monday, January 6, 2020


I read 63 books in 2019, as always a mix of fiction and non-fiction.
Not all were published in the past year. When they came out isn't a criterion for selection. Like wine, some books improve with age. Here's my assessment of the 10 best in no particular order.
BEAR NO MALICE by Clarissa Harwood. Sometimes genre is a matter of interpretation. Some readers might view this first novel as a romance. It can just as easily be seen as a mystery or a historical novel.  What really matters is story. The reader is treated with insight into the politics of the Anglican church, the art world of the period and the stifling conformity of the Edwardian era--an intriguing mix of historical fiction, romance and mystery. Highly recommended.
NEW IBERIA BLUES by James Lee Burke. We've had a long wait for another Dave Robicheaux novel. Burke never disappoints. The violence in the novel may put off a more squeamish reader. But, trust me, the reward for overlooking that is some of the most lyrical prose and meditations on virtue you'll find in contemporary fiction. Intimations of the mortality of Dave and Clete signal this may be the final episode in the series. I sincerely hope not.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens. This is a novel about survival and Kya, the protagonist, is adept at survival in the face of enormous odds. Abandoned by her mother, her siblings and, finally, her father, she is left alone to adapt and survive on North Carolina's Outer Banks in the period between the 1950s and 1970s. This is a debut novel by a scientist known for her nature writing. Her prose is poetic and beautiful and the insights into the workings of nature are informative and moving. The plot had me hooked from the start.
THE LOST MAN by Jane Harper. This is a page-turner with lots of surprises and a conclusion to shock even the most hardened crime reader. Jane Harper has crafted an enthralling tale of suspense, relationships, vivid characters and a landscape so real you can taste the dust and sense the lonely emptiness.
GERONIMO'S BONES by Darrell Bryant. The story may not be true, but it's truthful. Chaco, a young Apache man born in the wrong century, struggles against harsh odds to adapt to the life fate has given him. This is a novel with engaging and colorful characters, adventure, humor and tragedy. It isn't often a first novel resonates so well. I look forward to reading more of Darrel Bryant's work.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON by David Grann. This non-fiction book targets a series of murders in the 1920s in which oil-rich Osage Indians were victimized and robbed--another chapter in the genocide of the native peoples. I've long been a fan of Grann and here he excels as a storyteller and reveals a little known chapter in history.
UNSHELTERED by Barbara Kingsolver. Two families in two different time periods inhabit a house in a unique New Jersey community. Their lives are changed in dramatic ways. Kingsolver introduces a real life pioneer woman naturalist who deserves to be better known. The contemporary characters were interesting, but I was more drawn to those in the earlier historic period.
THE FURIOUS HOURS by Casey Cep. The book Harper Lee couldn't write and possible reasons why--in addition to fascination insights on a murder for profit scheme, an ambitious lawyer, the South and Southerners and sundry other topics of interest.
THE FEATHER THIEF by Kirk Wallace Johnson. This unusual but true story has all the elements of a thriller and takes the reader into a bizarre world of obsession and greed pitted against science and beauty.
LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman. This stunning standalone novel set in 1960s Baltimore, portrays Maddie, a bored housewife who decides on the spur of the moment to leave her husband and become a crime reporter. Lippman's inspiration was the story was too real life disappearances in that time period in the city. The result is a compelling story.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Little Help From a Friend

(We all need a little help from time to time. I'm hosting my friend Marilyn (aka F.M.) Meredith, and she's talking about her new mystery and how friends help in the writing process. The floor is yours Marilyn:)

To be honest, I get a lot of help from friends when I’m writing a book, from my critique group who initially hear the whole story chapter by chapter, and my editor who is also a friend.

Because I write about law enforcement and crimes, and have no past experience of my own, I rely on my police contacts to help me out with a lot of elements in a story. In this particular book, I needed to learn about old skeletons, and also about cadaver dogs.

About both topics, I had help from Dr. Rao who is in my critique group, he shared a book by an expert in identifying buried bones.

Two members of Public Safety Writers of America, Gloria Casale and Ron Corbin gave me lots of information about how dead bodies might look under the circumstances in the story.

I put out a query about cadaver dogs on Facebook and heard from a friend who is a former police officer who put me in touch with a woman named Vynn Stuart who worked for a sheriff’s office for 20 years as a Special Deputy K-9 Handler. We emailed back and forth as she answered my many questions. Once I’d finished the section that I needed her help with, I sent it to her and she made some corrections.

A fun part of all this is she gave me the name for the character, part of her name, and wanted the description to be as she looks. Of course, I did exactly what she asked. She wants her grandkids to be able to recognize her in the book. I hope when she receives a copy of Bones in the Attic she’s not disappointed.

Marilyn aka F.M.

Blurb: The discovery of a skeleton, a welfare check on a senior citizen, and a wildfire challenge the Rocky Bluff P.D.

Bio: Marilyn Meredith, who writes the RBPD mystery series as F.M. Meredith, is the author of over 40 published books. She once lived in a small beach town much like Rocky Bluff and has many relatives and friends in law enforcement.

And she’s a regular on these blogs:
4th Monday of the month: https://ladiesofmystery.com/

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Read an Excerpt From The Bartered Body

Tuesday, February 7, 1899

Chapter 1.

            “She’s gone,” Virgil Follmer said.
            “What? Who?”
            Virgil’s head shot forward, his face going red as he rose up on the toes of his boots in an effort to appear taller than he actually is. “Dammit, Tilghman,” he bellowed, “open your ears. Don’t make me repeat myself. Time’s a-wastin’.”
            Virgil’s our town undertaker and generally the most docile, quiet man you’d ever want to meet. So, seeing him get this excited, I knew something terrible must have happened. “Calm down,” I told him. “I’m not a mind-reader. You’ll have to explain if you want my help. Now—who’s missing?’
            “Why Mrs. Arbuckle, of course. Somebody’s stole her body. Zimmerman’s gonna have a fit.”
            The late Mrs. Arbuckle was Nathan Zimmerman’s mother-in-law. Zimmerman is burgess of Arahpot, which makes him my boss. This news imposed a bit more urgency on my response. “I’ll get my hat and coat and be right with you,” I told Virgil.
            I’d just returned home and was heating up a pot of soup Doc Mariner’s wife had sent over when Follmer commenced pounding on my door.
            He waited impatiently by the door while I took the pot off the stove and got my garments. “If you’d subscribe for phone service a body wouldn’t have to go runnin’ half way across town to fetch you,” Virgil snarled.
            I’m the third of my family to hold the job of sheriff here in Arahpot, Jordan County, Pennsylvania, and I take my responsibilities seriously. But I have enough people yammering at me during the day at the office and prefer not to make it so convenient for them once I’m home for the evening. Of course I didn’t explain this to Virgil. Instead, as we strode down the hill toward town, I asked, “Didn’t you stop at the office? Cyrus should be there.”
            Virgil huffed. “If I’d wanted your deputy, I’da gone there. Thought this was important enough for your attention.”
            I couldn’t dispute his remark.
            Slush from the last snow made walking precarious and we had to concentrate on where we stepped to avoid slipping. It didn’t prevent Virgil from continuing to harp on the subject of the telephone.
            “I’m sure Miss Longlow would have seized the opportunity for the telephone contract if she’d known about it in time,” he said.
            I couldn’t argue the point. Lydia is one of the most astute business women I know and she certainly would have added the telephone to her various enterprises if McLean Ruppenthal hadn’t got the jump on her with prior knowledge—one of the benefits of being on the borough council, I suppose. He got the telephone franchise and has his sister Cora operating the switchboard. That makes him privy to many of the secrets in town—another advantage I’m certain he hasn’t overlooked.
            Still, this wasn’t the subject on my mind at the moment. “Never mind all that for now,” I said. “Why don’t you fill me in on what happened before we get to your place and I have to face Zimmerman.”
            Virgil gave me a look like a startled deer. “God, I haven’t told him yet. I wanted to talk to you first.”
            “Well, you haven’t told me a thing so far—other than that the old lady’s body is missing. How’d it happen?” I drew my collar closer round my neck against the damp chill of the evening, wishing I’d have thought to bring the nice warm scarf Lydia has knit for me.
            Follmer heaved a sigh and skipped his short legs in an effort to catch up to my longer pace. “I wish to heaven I knew how it happened. We had her all laid out nice in the coffin, set to deliver her for the viewing. Before goin’ out for supper I stepped in to make sure all was in readiness. The casket was empty. Syl, I know that old lady didn’t get up and walk out of my place on her own.”
            “That don’t make a bit of sense, Virgil. Why would someone steal a body?”
            “I don’t know. But they sure as heck did.”
            ‘I take it Floyd helped with the layin’ out,” I said, referring to Virgil’s assistant.
            “Course he did.”
            “Maybe he moved the body and you looked in the wrong coffin.”
            He peered at me as though my remark was the most idiotic he’d ever heard. “Why would he do that? I know which casket I put her in.”
            I shrugged. “Just a thought.”
(Want more? The Bartered Body is available from https://www.sunburypressstore.com/The-Bartered-Body-9781620067567.htm, or https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07C96SBBT/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i9 and from many other booksellers)