Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Talking Names with Author Janet Gurtler and Giving Away an Autographed copy of I'm Not Her

Today I welcome friend and fellow Sourcebooks author, Janet Gurtler, whose YA I'm Not Her released this week. Janet is awesome and smart and I'm ever so glad we bumped into each other at an SCBWI LA conference a few years ago when her novel Waiting to Score (which she published as J.E. MacLeod) had just come out. We've ridden the crazy author journey together (her version of which she details this week on YA Outside the Lines)

Here's the Amazon blurb about I'm Not Her:

"For the first time in my life, I didn't feel envy..."

Tess is the exact opposite of her beautiful, athletic sister. And that's okay. Kristina is the sporty one, Tess is the smart one, and they each have their place. Until Kristina is diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly Tess is the center of the popular crowd, everyone eager for updates. There are senior boys flirting with her. But, the smiles of her picture perfect family are cracking and her sister could be dying. Now Tess has to fill a new role: the strong one. Because if she doesn't hold it together, who will?

Janet Gurtler tests the bonds of sisterhood in this moving debut that readers of Jodi Picoult and Sarah Dessen will savor.

Janet (with whom, btw, I share our delightful and uber talented editor, Leah Hultenschmidt!) is hanging out here today talking about character names. PLUS AT THE END OF HER POST, THERE'S A CONTEST!! to win an autographed copy of I'm Not Her!!!

As a writer, names fascinate me. First names especially. I’ve been known to make perfect strangers spell out their name for me when we’re introduced. Or the name of their kids. Or their grandkids. Sometimes I’ll even make them clarify the name of their dogs.

There are so many characters that need names in the books we write and I must admit to combing through the Facebook friends of my lovely nieces for names. Usually for secondary characters. I want names that sound authentic to the times, and lucky for me, my nieces are currently exactly the same ages as characters in the books I write. So their friends have names that 16 or 17 year old girls in my books might also have! Love Facebook, right?

I also love hearing odd names, or old classics I’d forgotten about or haven’t heard in a long time. I always tuck names away for future use because like most things in my life, it’s all about pulling the information out later for possible inclusion in my books. ;)

Naming characters is something I actually enjoy doing, it’s a fun part of the writing process. Sometimes it’s as simple as thinking of a name that just seems to fit the way I imagine a character. Tess was like that in I’M NOT HER. Tess and Kristina both. Neither are names of anyone I know or knew. Neither were names I’d heard or coveted. They just seemed to represent the way I thought my characters looked in my mind. Tess, conservative and kind of plain in her own mind, and beautiful and blonde Kristina. Nick is the name of a cool boy I knew long ago. Troubled but cool. And Clark Trent was always Superman to me. Kind of an unintentional joke on him from his parents who never put the Clark Kent/Clark Trent thing together. Of course he had to wear glasses and be tall and kind of the last person you’d expect to be a hero in disguise. And that to me is the beauty in his name.

I also just make up names for characters. One of my favourite character names of all time was a boy I named EZ. How cool is that? I really wanted his last name to be Ryder, but instead gave that last name to a secondary character. I love boy names for girls. Like Randy. Alex. Cameron.

Name associations often have to do with people I knew in the past. To me, Troy will always be a big strapping boy with dark curly hair. I kind of crush on the name Troy. Susan will always be a thin dark haired friend with a troubled mother.

I don’t like to use the names of people close to me for character names, unless it’s an intentional nod. I’ve mentioned before that I always have a character named Carly in my books. Sort of a good luck charm. And I use people close to me as characters without speaking parts. But I won’t use my son’s name in a book. At some point in his life that might freak him out. I think when he reaches his teen years; most of the things I write about will freak him out. So I try to spare him that.

Last names aren’t as important to me as first. I admit sometimes I’ll just look around the room for something to inspire a last name. Like picking a name from a map or a newspaper article.

The final secret about character’s names. Sometimes I change them. Sometimes they just don’t work. Or maybe a beta reader or editor points out something about the name and it has to go. One thing I think most writers have done is use the ‘find’ and ‘replace’ button to change a name. This can result in some pretty funny words if you forget to check the ‘replace whole word only’ box! Mindi Scott recently tweeted:
“I use find/replace to change a character's name from Dia to Ming. Which means that "diamonds" also became "Mingmonds."

A name changing truism.
Fun with writers indeed.

Want to win an autographed copy of Janet Gurtler's I'm Not Her? Here's what to do:

1. Follow this blog if you're not already a follower.
2. If you tweet, follow me and Janet on Twitter if you're not already doing so. I'm @joypreble Janet is @janetgurtler
3. Let us know your favorite (or as they say in Canada, favourite) character name and why. (ie - a name that's used for a character in a book you've read) We'll put the answers in the contest hat and the lucky winner will get the autographed copy!
Contest is open until Monday 5/9. (US and Canada)


Chloe Booklover said...

Ohh first first comment!

I am a huge name lover. I used to troll around baby name sites until I started trolling around book sites and starting my own blog!

I recently read the lying game, and a character in it is named Sutton. Although it is not my favourite (yes, I am Canadian!) name of all time, it really intrigued me and fit well in the book. I also love a lot of the names from The Hunger Games -
Katniss, Rue, Prim, and Finnick!

Thanks! This book sounds soo great!


salarsenッ said...

Seeing how I already have the book, I don't need to enter but I will tweet you!!

I've got to go with Lizzy aka Elizabeth Bennett. Yeah, I'm a pride and prejudice junkie. :)

Janet Gurtler said...

I have the book too. ;)

mandye said...

The book sounds really interesting, I'll read even if I don't win :) My favourite character's name is Cordelia from Shakespeare's King Lear, and I do love the name Lily, from Harry Potter and Fallen Skies by Philippa Gregory. And Alice but that's not really from a book, I just love names too :)

Rocket said...

Love Emory Frost from M.M. Kaye's Trade Wind. If I ever had a son, I wanted to name him that (nickname Rory) which horrified my husband, who is not a fan of sweeping historical fiction like myself. Luckily for our marriage, we stopped after two daughters. (-:

Amy @ bookgoonie said...

I liked Ren in Nightshade. I think mostly because I associate it back to Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Kind of the bad boy, but poetic and soft when you get to know them.

Thanks for the topic & giveaway.
bookgoonie at

The Story Queen said...

Thanks so much for this giveaway! I'm really excited to read this book.

Okay, so my favourite character name? Talk about difficult! This is a name that has stuck with me for years - from the time I read the series YEARS ago. My favourite (or one of them, at least) is Trisana from the Circle of Magic quartet by Tamora Pierce. The name is just so pretty and I really like the nickname Tris as well.

I already followed you both on Twitter :) Thanks again!

GFC Follower: The Story Queen
Twitter: @thestoryqueen