The Name Game

(This was first written in 2003, and published as a magazine column, then revised in 2011 for a simple tips handbook currently out-of-print…but I have been thinking of the issue a lot lately, and decided it was time for an update and repost.)

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.

Romeo and Juliet

Practically anyone over the age of thirteen, and some of the younger Leonardo DiCaprio fans, recognizes the above quote. But is it true? Would Romeo be as dashing a figure if he were called “Henry”? After all, Henry was a perfectly respectable name for a hero. It was a kingly name. But it wasn’t fitting for a character wandering the Veronese streets full of puppy love over a girl.

A name is one of the most important gifts a writer bestows upon his character. It sets the tone for all other aspects of the character’s personality and there are many things to keep in mind while choosing this gift. When a character’s name doesn’t match their personality, it is like trying to wear a suit that is too small—it just doesn’t fit correctly.

What are the major considerations one must take into account when bestowing a name upon a character? First, there are the logistics of time and place. Then, there are economic status and cultural aspects. Each of these factors must be appropriate to the character and still not clash with the traits that make that character an individual. Plus, you have to keep in mind the genre you are writing within, and any conventions that are part of it.

Looking first at the time and place of your piece, it will be fairly obvious that a heroine named Tiffany will seem a little out of place in a medieval romance—unless of course she is a time traveler, but that is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Keeping these conventions satisfied is relatively easy if you are writing realistic historical or contemporary fiction. All you have to do to find a wealth of names is bear in mind your setting and make sure that your names fit into the parameters for your chosen storyline. Study books of baby names for suggestions if you become stuck. One that many people, including this author, find particularly useful because of its unusual entries is The New Age Baby Name Book by Sue Browder. Another source of contemporary names is the telephone directory appropriate to the region of your setting. The reason for the stress on “appropriate to the region” is that cultural considerations of the area might make names from your personal directory inappropriate for the setting of the story. It really does pay to research. One quick and easy research solution for those writers with web access is to take advantage of the many outstanding name sites on the Internet. Budding author Jennifer Figueroa suggests Another site worth bookmarking is, which has large groups of names categorized by nationality, as well as lists of names in categories such as “Shakespearean baby names” and “celebrity baby names.”

In a contemporary novel, your options are not as limited as they are in a historical piece. As the world is brought closer together daily by technology, culture specific names are beginning to spread into wider use. However, it behooves the serious, and perceptive, writer to pay attention to your choices and make sure that an inadvertent mistake does not insult someone’s feelings.

Of course, there are many techniques for inventing names that remove this last hurdle. In a poll of aspiring writers currently dealing with the name game, the following suggestions were advanced: Barbara Peterson writes, “I use anagrams of names of actors and their characters whom I like.” Justin Monk suggests reversing names or words to create new ones. Several authors wrote that their characters “name themselves,” appearing full-blown in their creator’s head with name attached. For the novice writer, this might not be as easy as it sounds, but “gut instincts” about a name should definitely be researched for feasibility before being discarded.

Some final thoughts in this section before moving on to speculative genres: Paul Kopal submits the following tip—”Personally, I write down character traits, i.e. Prissy, fidgety, persnickety, pettifogging, nitpicker. From there I mix and match to get Pritty Kitpicker or Feddy Kittyfogger. Then mess the letters around and say it to myself until it sounds like a name in my head, Fetty Kitpogger, Ketty Fedicker and so on.” This tip can also be of use in the less realistic genres we will discuss shortly. Christa Holmans suggests picking words out of the dictionary that describe the character and melding them together.

Historical pieces also merit one final word of caution before we turn to more exotic problems. When working on a realistically historical piece, it is always fruitful to look for reference books containing names contemporary to your characters in both period and geography. Using these parameters, romance author Dorice Nelson comments that she tries “to find a name that will suit the character; for the hero, a name that might have a certain meaning that can be used in the story and one with some hard sounds in it—for the heroine, I try to match up a name that corresponds with her nature or experiences.” Within these excellent limits, it is also good to keep in mind that your reader may not be as familiar with the language of your novel as you are. Your names should be something that the readers can either sound out for themselves in their minds, or for which you give them some clue as to the pronunciation. Otherwise, it may distance them a bit from your characters, which is the last thing you want to happen. If it is of extreme importance that there be an unpronounceable name attached to a character for some specific reason of plot or accuracy, try to give the reader an alternative nickname to call the character by in their head.

Until this point, the majority of this advice has been geared more toward realistic fiction, although some of it will apply to any genre regardless of type. Now let us look a little more specifically at the areas where names are least likely to be found in the phone book—speculative genres like fantasy and science fiction.

One of the special problems in these areas is that you are often inventing a world or two of your own, with languages similar to, but not necessarily identical to any Earthen tongue. Such languages require names that fit their structure. One simple trick for characters in a culture similar to one of our own but with subtle differences is to take a common name and change a letter or two to take it out of the realm of the ordinary. Daniel Prust writes: “I’m not a writer yet, but for my first novel, I have picked names that have similarities by race. For example, all human names have a “y” in them: Tarym, Kamyn, etc.”

In my book, The Luckless Prince, there are two races represented – human and elven. All the human characters, with the quite purposeful exception of the main human POV character Roland, have variant spellings of common names: i.e. Stefan, Collyn, and Daerci. Roland’s name helps to set him apart among the humans because it breaks the pattern.

The elven characters have more exotic names, as is to be expected, but all follow the dictates of the elven language that I created using parameters from a language construction kit. There are fewer letters in the elven alphabet, with none of the hard consonants being included. This helps to establish a more liquid, bird-like sound to the speech. Some names are intended to create a sense of flowing water, as in Andundal, Mendana and Leithan. An abundance of vowels help create the birdcall image: Eeonathor, Eostivil and Andailia. Finally, there are names that help foster the image of a woodland people with the sound of wind through trees: Steavil, Dèodar and Raethan.

Lynn Flewelling, acclaimed fantasy author of the popular Night Runner books and the Tamir trilogy, offers the following tips to keep in mind when creating fantasy names:

1. In our world, you can usually tell what country a person is from, or where their ancestors came from, by their name alone. Welsh or Swiss. French or Spanish. Nigerian or Scots. Chances are you could sort out names fairly reliably without knowing anything else about the person. Have some sense of how names and words work in the different countries in your world.

2. Avoid long, unpronounceable names. Readers have a hard time with character names, anyway. If your character does have a fancy handle (like the Aurënfaie in Traitor’s Moon— a real nightmare to work with, BTW) have a short, familiar version that is more commonly used, or a nickname. But try to avoid having too many names for each character, so that the reader has trouble keeping track of who’s who. Check out the novel Trainspotting for an example of this.

3. All names should have a nice balance of vowels and consonants. And avoid too many accent marks and endless syllables. Ex. H’rak’makándz. Rtmrn. Aolandriamiorni. Unless the reader can come up with “Harry”, “Rot”, and “Al” on their own and make the constant transition, they’re lost. You know from reading my books that I don’t go for simplistic names all the time, but “Alec” is pretty easy to hang onto, and he’s a main POV character. Thero is unusual, but pronounceable and short. Nysander is close to Alexander and so easy to sound out. I use words like Ra’basi almost exclusively for the Aurënfaie, to make the language distinct and a bit exotic.

The same tips that apply to fantasy can be used in creating off-world names for science fiction. Have a plan in mind for what your aliens should sound like, and remember that their names will be extensions of their language, whether you use any other words from their language or not. For example, an insectoid people resembling large crickets might have a lot of hard “K’s” and “R” sounds to their names, as in Kri’rk or Reekrik, while a serpentine race would likely have a great many sibilants, like Ssith or Syris. Without having to create an entire language, you set their worlds apart by the names you choose.

Most of the examples given so far have dealt with “proper” or “given” names—the first names of your characters. What people call them in everyday life. In some cases, that is as much name as you need to give the people of your world, but if it is necessary to become more formal and give the surname or title of a character, there are also many excellent methods of generating an appropriate candidate.

In the case of historical pieces or fantasy, keep in mind that a great many surnames were originally conceived in one of two ways. First, as a “patronym,” or name that showed who your father was—such as Johnson, Peterson, or Benson. In a culture other than English speaking, such names are often created using appropriate markers or endings specific to the language involved. This can also be applied to fantasy languages. In The Luckless Prince, for example, the elven patronymics end in “ae” for a son, and “ia” for a daughter, so that King Andundal’s children are Steavil Andundalae and Mendana Andundalia respectively.

In Lynn Flewelling’s well-defined world, the patronymic signature of “í” is internationally used for males, as in Seregil í Korit. Females, such as Adzriel ä Illia have a matronymic surname, with the marker “ä,” drawn from the mother’s lineage.

The second major method of generating surnames historically was to use the occupation or an outstanding characteristic of an individual to designate them. For example, John [the] Miller, or Peter [the] Archer, Eric Redman or Fredrick Noble. Alternatively, a location or significant landmark could provide a way to tell neighbors apart. For instance, Collyn Silverbrook or Richard [of] Cornwall; Timothy Glenn or Kevin Kirk.

If your story is set in the far future, one handy method for deriving names is to think what sound shifts might occur over the intervening years. For instance, in the Doctor Who episode “State of Decay,” writer Terrance Dicks has the Doctor realize the shift of a name from O’Connor to Aukon over the centuries that the being under discussion has lived. Bearing in mind what lingual changes might come into play, try to imagine what letters might fall away in time, or slip through mispronunciation to become something else. For example, the name Robertson could become Rabersun as sound shifts take place.

Two final notes on creating your names: first, always keep the reader you are aiming for in mind. No matter how strongly your character protests that his name is Elzarienedcorin, if you are writing for children, it is not a good name for your main character. Perhaps for the kindly old wizard who uses it once and then says to your hero, “But you can call me El,” which he does for the remainder of the book, it might work. In general, whether or not Elzarienedcorin’s persuasion might convince you to make an exception, when writing for the preteen set it is best to keep the names short, and easy to pronounce—like Harry Potter.

Secondly, always remember that your readers have to be able to keep up with your characters, and they don’t have the benefit of all those long hours of working with your “children” that you put into the manuscript. Make it easy for your readers to tell your characters apart. Don’t use the same beginning initial for first names of major characters if you can avoid it. Naming your people “Nancy,” “Nick,” and “Norma” just makes things more difficult on your readers, and you want to keep them happy. Of course, it is possible that you chose to do this to purposefully create such confusion—but make sure it is a conscious choice and not a mistake. The same rule applies to last names. Try to keep surnames varied as well. Only members of the same family should have the same final initial.

Look for names everywhere. Keep lists. There was a neat graffiti tag on a train car the other day, and I jotted down the name “Joroe.” I’ve collected names from license plates, classmates, song lyrics and television shows. The mustache-twirling villain of The Nearly Notorious Nun was named Nordham Sissinghurst after two streets I pass by quite often.

Keep it simple; fit your action and setting; and have fun. Playing the Name Game should be one of the most enjoyable tasks of your writing life. Remember that an appropriately chosen name can help cement a character in the memory of your reader for years to come—just look at how many centuries Romeo has been capturing the minds and hearts of theatergoers worldwide. “Henry and Juliet” just doesn’t have the same impact at all.



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Been Awhile…

…with no real excuse, but I have been busy.

Since SoonerCon, I have attended three shows,  released two books, and signed several contracts.

Book Two of The Conn-Mann Chronicles is now available. The Nearly Notorious Nun is on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.

I also have a new poetry chapbook, Overheard in Hell, which is also available on Amazon.

October will be a busy month too. I have two major releases the week of the 23rd. Killing It Softly, available now for pre-order, and my second Steampunk anthology for Mocha Memoirs, Ghosts, Gears, and Grimoires will also debut that week. This was fun to put together. It is horror with a Steampunk twist.

Coming up, more Conn-Mann is with the beta-readers, and I will be writing Book Four for NaNoWriMo, as the first three have been. What it will be, is still in question…I thought I knew…but I have been rethinking what I was planning.

I am also working on several other projects, but who knows when they will be finished. 😉

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Taking it easy…

Today’s post is just some of my favorite costumes from SoonerCon last weekend. 🙂


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Two Belles

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Daenerys Stormborn

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Death and Dream

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Sunny Reaper

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There were real leds in that sky…

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the Teaman

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River Song

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Mary Poppins

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Lovely lady —  Jennene Stanley

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Little Red Riding Hood…the Self-Sufficient

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LOVE those leggings!

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Harley Quinn and friend

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Osgood and the Doctor

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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…

So many things spinning in my head. Books to edit, books to write, short stories to finish…I really don’t need anything more on my plate. But there are these pesky bills to pay…and I have been kicking around ideas on how to add an income stream or two.

I’ve been working on this for the last few days: The Conn-Mann Curiosity Shop — and I’ve even made a sale!

I’ve had a few nice writing sales this year as well.

But…my income goal for the year is still not being met. I need to up my game.

So, I want to test the waters on something else…

There are lots of editors out there. I know it is a crowded field, but I am throwing my hat into the ring too.

I have been editing for small presses for several years now, as well as for friends and family. I do things a little differently than some editors I know. I basically do content, polish, and proofing all in one pass. Then I send it back and continue to work with the author until we are both satisfied.

I charge a penny a word based on the word count of the final finished version, no matter how many times we have to go through it.

I try to turn things around in a reasonable time-frame.  I will always be frank about how much time I expect to need for a job. I have a lot of commitments that I can’t neglect because of a freelance commission–but I also hate housework and will put any edit in front of that…

It’s taken me a bit to come to the decision to offer my editing services. Hopefully, it will be worth it. 🙂

If you have something you would like me to work on, drop me an email at and I will be happy to discuss your project with you.

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Stunning Steampunk Cover Reveal!

Heliodor cover

Heliodor, by Shannon Wendtland

Malfric sees through the eyes of the dead – literally reliving their last moments as if they were his own. This ability is highly sought and highly priced, which is why the unscrupulous Captain Finch hires him to find the murderer of a nobleman and the whereabouts of a valuable artifact.

Quantex, the able-bodied first mate of Captain Finch, quickly becomes Malfric’s foil as he demonstrates uncommon intelligence during the investigation. Together the two uncover several clues that lead them to the killer, the artifact, and the frayed end of a mysterious plot that begins to unravel the moment Malfric takes it in hand and gives it a good yank.

Available from Mocha Memoirs March 22, 2016.

I had the privilege to accept and edit this piece, and I am so excited that it will be out soon. It’s a fascinating story, and I highly recommend it!

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Author Interview: Eliza Maxwell

Grave Tender cover


I had the pleasure several months ago of reading The Grave Tender by Eliza Maxwell, an extremely powerful debut novel. Ms. Maxwell will be joining our Mystery Readers meeting next Saturday in Georgetown, so I asked her if she would mind answering a few questions for me:


Eliza Maxwell photo


How long have you been writing?

For as long as I can remember, in some form or other.  But if I’m honest, my first true love was reading, not writing.  Reading anything and everything I could get my hands on.  From my Dad’s Louis L’amour and Stephen King paperbacks to my Mom’s dog-eared romance novels, I was hooked from the very beginning.

Writing came about as an experiment, almost.  A little like an alcoholic that decides to try out home brewing.  Because, why not, right?  I was, and still am, looking for just the right concoction.  The one I can’t put down.  Then I share, and hope there may be a few fellow readers out there that like it too.

What was your reaction when you made your first sale?

As a decades long smoker, I finally managed quitting for what I hope was the last time this past summer.  The first two weeks was rough.  I was antsy, irritable, agitated, and I couldn’t keep my hands occupied enough.  I wasn’t fun to be around, to say the least.  At one point I overheard my husband mumbling about a rabies shot for women, but when I called him out, his only response was, “I said your hair looks nice, babe.”  Smart guy.

Making the first sale?  Awesome.  No doubt.  The time between making the first sale and the point when the reviews start to trickle in?  That part felt pretty much the same as nicotine withdrawal.  It’s a wonder my husband still speaks to me.

Where you do get your inspiration?

Inspiration… Hmm.  That’s a tricky one.  To me, drama and story come from secrets.  From mood.  From the dark, deep parts of the heart that we all know are there, but most don’t care to look at too closely.  And somewhere in my head, all of that is intertwined with east Texas and pine trees and riverbanks meant for bare feet.  Trying to separate those, for me, is like trying to unwhisk the eggs from the milk.  It can’t be done.

Whatever takes me to those places is inspiration.  Certain music.  Bluegrass, zydeco.  A spring afternoon in the sun, listening to the birds.  But especially the stories.  You know the ones.  The weird ones that you hear over iced tea on a wraparound porch.  Like the one about the abandoned cabin down the road with iron bars on the windows.  How the old man just couldn’t face the place after that tragedy with his son… Bless his heart.

Those stories, the ones that seem to pepper small towns and quiet places like the seasoning in a good stew, those are the purest form of inspiration for me.  I can’t seem to help dwelling on things that are probably best left alone.

Have you found it difficult to market your work? Any tips for things that worked?

Marketing.  The dreaded, despised mystery of marketing.  All I can speak to is what I’ve tried myself.  Upon launch, I did a blog tour, and connected with some amazing book bloggers.  The tour did little for sales, but I did get a nice boost in reviews.  Some good, some bad, and that was just fine with me.  Expecting everyone to like your book is a bit like expecting the holidays at the in-laws to be drama free.  It ain’t gonna happen.

But the boost in reviews helped to land a Bookbub ad.  And Bookbub knows how to sell some books.

Do you enjoy interacting with fans, or are you an introvert? Do you get much fan mail?

I absolutely love interacting with fans on a personal basis like email, or a book club meeting.  I am, however, a down-to-the-bone introvert.  Social media is an amazing tool that I’ve seen many use masterfully, and though I’ve tried it out, it’ll  never be something I do well.  And that’s a shame.

In spite of that, I really do adore hearing from readers.  There’s nothing that quite compares to it.

What has been your most challenging project to date?

My biggest challenge was, and still is, book number 2.  The first time around, I had no expectations.  Not of myself, and not of the characters.  Number 2 is proving to be my problem child.

What are your other hobbies and interests?

I love anything that involves creating something with my hands.  Within that framework, it’s all fair game.  I paint, I cook, I occasionally build things, and I put more enthusiasm than skill into all sorts of home improvement projects.  I try, sometimes more successfully than others, to keep my family clean and fed.  And in between it all, I read as much as I possibly can.

What does the future hold for you?

My hope is that the future holds all the hours one could need to turn two small children into functioning human-ish creatures, rather than sociopathic cat burglars.  When I’m not setting aside funds for future bail money, my hope is to be able to sink into another character’s secrets and fears as they unfold on the page in front of me.

Not asking too much… I hope.

What advice do you have for new writers…or just those of us not as accomplished as you are? 😉

It feels presumptuous to give advice when I still have so much to learn.  But I don’t mind passing along some words of wisdom from those more successful and talented than myself that I’ve found helpful.

To paraphrase the imitable Chuck Wendig, writers write.  So do it.  I take that to mean, for better or worse, show up and write something.  Anything.  You can always fix it later.

And my favorite piece of advice, from Elmore Leonard: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Where can readers find you?

I’m on Facebook, and you can follow me on Bookbub for updates on when the next book will be ready to go, but if you really want to reach out, email me at  I’d sincerely love to hear from you.


Here is the book blurb if you are interested in seeing more:


Hadley Dixon was ten years old when her life changed forever.  Since those few tragic weeks, she’s tried to keep the past buried, but old bones have a way of rising up. Grown now, Hadley can’t hide any longer.


And if anyone is going to be in or near Georgetown, Texas Saturday March 12th at 2:00 pm, the Mystery Readers will be meeting upstairs at the Library. You are welcome to join us to hear Eliza speak about her book and her career in general. 🙂

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Getting the Most from Your Promotional Dollar: Part 1– Writing Implements

As writers, we soon learn that as hard as the actual writing seems to be at times, it is the easy part. Once you finish the manuscript, find a publisher–or decide to go it alone–and have the final product in your hands, THEN the hard part really begins.

You have to promote the book.

Promotion is by far the hardest, and potentially most expensive part of the writing process. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new book and go hog-wild trying to get the word out.

That enthusiasm can lead to this:


That’s not all the promo stuff I have…and haven’t used.

I get great ideas. I get caught up in the moment. I am SURE I have found the next best thing that will make my books fly off the shelves. But let’s examine some of these things in more detail:


See that bottom box? It is 2/3’s full of pens like this:


The pen says in total:

Visit Rie Sheridan’s website
Come share the fantasy!


Nice sentiment…though you can’t read it all at once. And…I bought those pens in…2002 maybe? What are the chances that they still all write?

Most of my recent work is Steampunk or horror. It isn’t that I don’t HAVE fantasy, but most of my canon can’t be effectively promoted that way.

A more useful promotional device would just have the first two lines.

Are these pens still useful? Maybe, but if I put them out, it should be after checking EACH one to make sure it still writes. What a time sink!

Three lessons learned here:

    1. Buy the smallest quantity you think you might use. Sure, you might get a price break if you buy 1000 pens. But if you still have them almost 15 years later, you bought too many.
    2. USE the promo items you buy. You don’t have to be sold on your work. OTHER people do. So don’t keep them hanging around.
    3. Be generic in your message if you are a multi-tasking author. Don’t pigeon-hole your work.


It gets worse when you get fancier with the pens. The Highlighter pens aren’t quite that old, but I doubt that all the highlighters still work, and the batteries for the flashlights go dead VERY quickly. If you aren’t going to use something like that almost immediately, there isn’t any point in them.

Of all the types of pens to buy, I recommend the plain stick pens. People will almost always pick up a pen–you can never have too many pens. A simple stick pen, or one of the plain click pens like my friend Kathryn Sullivan uses will keep your message in front of people on a daily basis.


I use Kathy’s pens all the time. They write well and have a good ink.

For my Steampunk series, The Conn-Mann Chronicles, I decided to go even more old school, because it fits the period (1874). My promo for Jo and her friends is classic and practically indestructible. They will have an unlimited shelf-life…as long as the series does well.


But, can anyone spot the flaw I just saw?

These are a great, long-lasting promotional item…that promotes the main website and not the series specific one that now exists, but didn’t when they were ordered… Ah, well.

When you are looking for writing utensils as promo items–and these are always a practical choice, as long as you keep the number down, because you can always use them around the house if nothing else…here are some websites to consider:

National Pen — this is where I got the stick pens.

Oriental Trading Company — great for pencils.

4imprint — where I got the Conn-Mann pencils.

All of these sites have other items available besides writing implements. We will get into the paper products next week. 🙂




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