A Hero by Any Other Name

(Also posted at PenWarriors.com)

If fictional characters had to pay real dollars for therapy, a few of mine would be bankrupt and suffering from multiple identity disorder.

Even I’m confused about the identity of the hero of my seventh published book. Andrew, Takeover Man‘s hero, stormed into town to reorganize his aging father’s life and ran into Maggie, a female harbormaster with an attitude. Maggie knew who she was from the instant she flashed onto my computer screen, but Andrew wasn’t so lucky. If I’d been writing this book in the days when authors slaved over typewriters and had to retype the manuscript with each draft, Andrew would have managed to hang onto his name—too much work to change it. But when I read through my final draft, I decided that the name Andrew just didn’t evoke the image of a takeover man. So my last act as his creator was a search-and-replace, wiping Andrew out of existence and substituting Michael.

Looking back now, I’m not sure Michael sounds any more take-charge than Andrew. It seemed important to me at the time and, who knows, maybe I was right … or wrong.

One way or another I’ve spent a lot of time naming my characters.

Like many writers I’ve collected a host of baby name books over the years. After years of trying to find the perfect name book, in the late 1990s my husband and I developed a computer names database, and a few years later, my son Cameron enhanced and expanded it into MuseNames. I keep adding new names as I find them and the MuseNames database has now grown to 60,000 names. I know it’s crazy to think I need 60,000 names, but I love exploring the names and their meanings as I create my characters. With all those names at my disposal, I could write forever and never repeat a hero or heroine’s name.

Well, not exactly.

When my twenty-third book was accepted for publication, the editor suggested I change the name of Strangers by Day’s hero from Allan to something more masculine. Perhaps Max, he suggested.

I’ve always been fond of short, simple masculine names. If I couldn’t have Allan, there was no reason Faith couldn’t fall in love with a man named Max—it was exactly the sort of name I might give one of my heroes. I did another search-and-replace and Allan became Max.

Oops! Max was the hero of my very first book, Pacific Disturbance.

Oh, well. The two men will probably never meet. Max #1 (Pacific Disturbance) is a West Coast software developer; Max #2 (Strangers by Day) is a cattle rancher in the interior of British Columbia. I should be safe, unless they both turn up in Vegas on the same weekend and their wives get to comparing heroes.

As for that MuseNames database, check it out! Over the weekend, my son Cameron and I finished putting the database and its search tool up on my website. Feel free to browse those 60,000 names with their origins and meanings here at http://vanessagrant.com/character-names-for-writers/.

Happy writing

Vanessa

Check out my eBoook On Johnny’s Terms – the author’s cut – another name change story.

The Broken Gate – a short story

I’ve just released The Broken Gate, a new short story.

The Broken Gate

Jennifer Sandborn fled personal tragedy to serve as a humanitarian aid worker, promising her husband she would return in a few months. Two years later she returns in the middle of the night. Everything feels familiar, but nothing is the same.

“Tomorrow morning she would wake up under the duvet in the chilly house, safe from wars and death and tragedy. She would stretch out her hand with her eyes closed and when her fingers touched John’s warm flesh, she would nestle into him with her lips against his throat.

Although she couldn’t see the house where her husband waited, memory guided her steps, filling her blackness with light.

Her hand reached for the gate but found only the edge of the fence. She fumbled and found the uneven slant of the gate, propped open, still broken …” More about The Broken Gate

Kindle Editions –  Amazon USA and Amazon UK
Smashwords – all formats

Also available from iBooks, B&N, Kobo and other distributors

On Johnny’s Terms – the author’s cut

Cynthia knew it was outrageous to ask Jonathan’s help when they hadn’t spoken a civil word in the fourteen years since she was sixteen. But she’d flown across the country to find him, trying to find the right words all through the four-hour flight.

She hadn’t called to say she was coming, so he wouldn’t be expecting her. He certainly wouldn’t smile when he saw her.

“I came to ask you for money.”

Author’s Note:
Sometimes the universe gives me a gift when a title that evokes my novel’s theme and atmosphere pops into my mind early in the creation process. The title for “On Johnny’s Terms” appeared while I wrote the second scene of Cynthia and Jonathan’s love story. Perfect, I decided, and I played with nuances of Johnny’s terms as I refused to give Cynthia exactly what she asked for, but … well, in the end, both Johnny and I wanted much more for her than she dreamed was possible.

Unfortunately the title and the nickname “Johnny” were not a hit with my publisher – not romantic enough. So I replaced “Johnny” with “Jonathan” and came up with a title the publisher and I could agree on. So “The Moon Lady’s Lover” was released.

Fast forward to the year 2011, a world where authors can make their own decisions on titles and cover art. A few weeks ago my cover artist and I discussed cover ideas for the new eBook release of “The Moon Lady’s Lover”. I sent Angela the artwork summary I had prepared for the original print publisher. I didn’t mention the title issue because I’d forgotten about the original title until I opened the artwork summary to send it.

When I saw the cover Angela created, I was surprised and excited to see the title “On Johnny’s Terms”. Thank you, Angela, the cover scene is exactly what I wanted and the title is perfect.

… to my readers, I hope you enjoy reading the story of Johnny and Cynthia as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Vanessa Grant
May, 2011

Originally published in hardcover by Mills and Boon Limited under the title The Moon Lady’s Lover.

Now available as an eBook through the following retailers:

On Johnny’s Terms – Kindle Ebook from Amazon

On Johnny’s Terms – from Smashwords (Multi Formats including Kindle, Sony, ePub, PDF, Palm PDB)

Apple’s iBookstore (type the author or title name in the search box)

The Broken Gate and the Muse Calliope

Last week I spent eight days at a wilderness star party in a comfortable motorhome on top of Mt. Kobau. Star parties are designed for people like my husband who love to stay up late viewing and photographing stars, and then sleep all morning, followed by an afternoon talking with other enthusiasts about stars, nebulae, telescopes, and astral photography.

For me, Mt. Kobau is a magical Writer’s retreat (no phone, no Internet, beautiful wilderness environment). I was counting on the mountain to help me finish the first draft of my short story I’d promised to write for the upcoming Pen Warriors anthology.

The last time I wrote a short story was during the dark ages of the twentieth century. So I trekked up the mountain with a thousand words of beginning, a fuzzy idea of what the ending might look like, and no clue what to put in the middle. Back at the last Red Door, I’d impulsively named this story The Broken Gate, so at least I had a title.

I also had a hefty case of writer’s anxiety. I hadn’t touched my beginning in months and felt hyper-aware of my inexperience with the short story form. I felt like a bicycle marathon rider handed a unicycle at the starting gate.

I needed the mountain to answer some basic questions, like: What belonged in the middle of my beginning-ending sandwich? What was the significance of a broken gate in the story? All I had was those 1000 words, my laptop computer, and a determination that eight days on a mountain would produce something.

My mountaintop retreat turned out to be filled with internal psychological drama—the sort that’s boring to anyone but the poor writer experiencing the drama.

My 8 days on Mt. Kobau

Day 1

Unwound from hectic trip preparation, walked dogs. Subconscious presumably wrestled with The Broken Gate.

Day 2

Reread and edited beginning of The Broken Gate to get back into the story.
Day 3

Walked dogs, slept late, read other author’s novel. Hoped subconscious was more productive.

Day 4

Woke up determined to write. Opened computer, wrote a few words, and then deleted them. Behaved like one of those stereotypical movie authors who type a sentence, then tear it out of the typewriter and throw it away.

Realized that what I’d already written was hopeless garbage and I faced the depressing fact that I had no story and no hope of coming up with one. My creativity was gonzo.

Decided I needed to go back to bed—an easy decision since everyone else was sleeping off a night viewing the stars. I shut down my computer, took off my slacks, and climbed under the covers.

Two minutes later a new idea flashed onto my mental whiteboard. My Muse, bless her heart, had rescued The Broken Gate and made the gate (a story element I grabbed out of nowhere) absolutely meaningful.

I threw back the covers, got out of bed, and started making notes.

Decided it was time I gave my muse a name (Calliope). She’s earned it!

Days 5-8

Wrote the scenes I’d sketched out after Calliope visited me. Found the writing challenging and emotional. Realized that just because short stories are short, it doesn’t mean they are easy or quick to write.

Halfway through the final day I wrote The End on the first draft of The Broken Gate.

Lessons (re)learned:

When I’m writing a story or a novel, I’m never sure I can finish it until I write The End on the first draft. I should stop expecting anything different and just write the darned story.

Essential parts of my storytelling process take place outside my conscious mind. I’m dead in the water weeds. My resolution for next time—don’t forget that this is a partnership between my writer’s conscious mind, and that unconscious storyteller portion of me that I’ve decided to call Calliope. (as nominal creator, I reserve the right to change Calliope’s name if it’s not working for me.)

Don’t miss the upcoming Pen Warriors anthology of short stories:

5 Long Shadows – an Anthology of Short Stories

  • The Stone Heart by Bonnie Edwards
  • The Broken Gate by Vanessa Grant (and Calliope)
  • The Wrong Move by E.C. Sheedy
  • The Trouble with Apples by Laura Tobias
  • The Last Fortune by Gail Whitiker

Also posted on PenWarriors.com

So Much for Dreams

So Much for Dreams

The Senorita and the Drifter …

What happens when a drifter running from his past rescues a woman who can’t speak Spanish from a cluster of admiring Mexican men? The last thing Joe wants is to fall for a woman who craves commitments and can’t refuse a cry for help, but he can’t leave Dinah and her ancient car on a remote mountain road …

Dinah dashed off to Mexico without knowing if her car could survive the journey, or thinking about her lack of Spanish. Maybe it wasn’t surprising that she herself needing rescuing, but finding a young girl desperate for help in a strange country was difficult enough without Joe. Having hit bottom herself and pulled back up, she had no patience for drifters and Joe was the last thing she wanted … and everything she needed.

Kindle Editions – Amazon USA and Amazon UK
Smashwords Edition – all formats

Also available from iBooks, B&N, Kobo, and other distributors

Other books by Vanessa Grant

About writing On Johnny’s Terms

Sometimes the universe gives me a gift when a title that evokes my novel’s theme and atmosphere pops into my mind early in the creation process. The title for “On Johnny’s Terms” appeared while I wrote the second scene of Cynthia and Jonathan’s love story. Perfect, I decided, and I played with nuances of Johnny’s terms as I refused to give Cynthia exactly what she asked for, but … well, in the end, both Johnny and I wanted much more for her than she dreamed was possible.

Unfortunately the title and the nickname “Johnny” were not a hit with my publisher – not romantic enough. So I replaced “Johnny” with “Jonathan” and came up with a title the publisher and I could agree on. So “The Moon Lady’s Lover” was released.

Fast forward to the year 2011, a world where authors can make their own decisions on titles and cover art. A few weeks ago my cover artist and I discussed cover ideas for the new eBook release of “The Moon Lady’s Lover”. I sent Angela the artwork summary I had prepared for the original print publisher. I didn’t mention the title issue because I’d forgotten about the original title until I opened the artwork summary to send it.

When I saw the cover Angela created, I was surprised and excited to see the title “On Johnny’s Terms”. Thank you, Angela, the cover scene is exactly what I wanted and the title is perfect.

… to my readers, I hope you enjoy reading the story of Johnny and Cynthia as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Vanessa Grant
May, 2011

Synopsis of On Johnny’s Terms

Cynthia knew it was outrageous to ask Jonathan’s help when they hadn’t spoken a civil word in the fourteen years since she was sixteen. But she’d flown across the country to find him, trying to find the right words all through the four-hour flight.

She hadn’t called to say she was coming, so he wouldn’t be expecting her. He certainly wouldn’t smile when he saw her.

“I came to ask you for money.”

Now available as an eBook in multiple formats.

Writing and publishing in 2011, Penwarriors, and the power of pull


EC Sheedy’s blog postings always make me think, and her latest Penwarriors.com posting is no exception

EC’s “THE SIDE EFFECTS OF WRITING” got me thinking once again about the universe of publishing, writing, and the tangle of “empowerment + uncertainty” that the explosion of indie publishing has brought to modern writers. I replied to EC’s post earlier today with a bit of a ramble about my own discomfort with marketing, and a few thoughts about traditional print publishing as an unsustainable business model in 2011 – not  to mention being environmentally unfriendly.

As J A Konrath and a host of others have demonstrated, when a writer takes control of her own destiny by using channels like Amazon.com and Smashwords to epublish her own work, the results can be tremendously exciting. Over the last year conversations about indie publishing (print on demand and epublishing) have grown more common among writers everywhere. But as EC reflects,  many of us are uncertain of how to tackle the new realities of promotion intelligently, gracefully and – most importantly, without drowning in a flood of social media options that suck away our writing time.

This evening the dogs and I went for an oceanside walk with a good friend who is not a writer, and she told me she’s just read The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. She told me that one of the books’ premises is that  the old business model of “Pushing” products and controlling customers no longer works. I certainly believe this and from my friend’s description, “The Power of Pull” is based on the law of attraction rather than manipulation of others.

I got quite excited listening, because there’s too much “pushing” going on these days – in politics, in business, in the administration of education. And yet it seems to me the history of the Internet has shown that offering control to the “market” (i.e. Internet users) is what works and draws people to a Web site, to a product, to an idea. Certainly it has been a factor in the success of communications in our modern world of Twitter, Facebook, Google, and our multitude of many-to-many communications.

I’m off to do a little exploration of “The Power of Pull” – and as with most books I buy these days, I’ll avoid slaughtering a tree by purchasing it online. I’ve searched out the book online and have read one rather critical review that claims the book is “old stuff” and not news in the business management world, but I happen to know that a lot of wisdom is “old hat” that “everybody knows.” But knowing and putting into practice are two different things. I notice that very few businesses actually apply this modern wisdom. In short, I’m sceptical of the scepticism of the review LOL.

I’ll give the book the benefit of the doubt because it’s worth it to me to spend a few hours in the hopes I’ll gain some clarity as to how I might navigate the world of promotion a bit more intelligently, and find a way to avoid promotion taking up the mental energy that I need for creating.

I’ll let you know if I learn anything – or if I don’t!

A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness’ fascinating world


Last week, sitting in Oxford University’s atmospheric Bodleian Library, Dr. Diana Bishop and I brushed fingers over an ancient manuscript … and slipped into the compelling enchantment of Deborah Harkness’s “A Discovery of Witches.”  Harkness drew me more deeply under her spell as she threw each new challenge at her compelling heroine, Diana, a witch in denial who has turned her back on her family heritage. In “A Discovery of Witches” the author weaves an ancient complex mythology of witches, vampires, and demons linked both by DNA and centuries of a covenant that allows them to cohabit uneasily without attracting human notice.

The true beauty of “A Discovery of Witches” lies in the complex relationships of it’s characters — the growing complexities of love between Diana and the fifteen hundred year old scientist Matthew; the tangled love and pain of Matthew’s relationships with his fierce vampire mother, his dangerous brother, and his beloved sons both living and lost; between Diana and the ghosts of her parents who sacrificed their lives for her and left a mysterious chain of clues to her true destiny; between all these people and an ancient order of knights.

As I neared the end of Witches I wanted to hurry, to find out what happens to these wonderful people – and at the same time an unwillingness to reach the end. I’m not about to give any spoilers for those of you who haven’t yet read Deborah Harkness’s beautiful, exciting, and very satisfying story. I’ll just say that I love the way this book ended and was thrilled to realize that the ending was not an ending, but a door to a new beginning. A visit to the author’s website confirmed that A Discovery of Witches is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy.

Hats off to a new mistress of storytelling, world building, and fantastic fiction. When book two comes along, I’m first in line – wand thank the Goddess for eBooks because wherever I am, I know I’ll be able to purchase it in the e-niverse

A Discovery of Witches: A Novel is available in Hardcover and as a Kindle Ebook from Amazon

AngieOCreations – Cover Artist

I’m excited to have my daughter, artist Angela Oltmann, working on my new cover art.

When I first began releasing my previously published novels as eBooks I designed my own covers, but I’m certainly not an artist. Then  Angela agreed to create the covers for my upcoming re-releases of Storm and Pacific Disturbance, and I fell in love with her vision of my stories. See Creative Collaboration with Angela

All of the covers below are designed by Angela, who can be reached at [email protected] or through her website angieocreations.com

 
Available from Amazon Kindle
Coming soon!
Coming soon!

 

When Love Returns

When Love Returns (Gabriola Island)

She vowed never to return … but fate had other ideas!

When Julie Charters decided to return to Gabriola Island, she had no idea the man on whom she’d had a childhood crush would be so devastatingly attractive, and she wasn’t prepared to find him free. But she was a woman now and she knew better than to fall for a man who had always thought of her as second best.

Book 2 of the Gabriola Island series

Kindle Editions – Amazon USA and Amazon UK
Smashwords Edition – all formats

Also available from iBooks, B&N, Kobo, and other distributors