Author Archives: Jennifer B. Duffey

My Own Stupidity

I’m a pretty confident person. And usually, I’m a fairly smart individual. Not one prone to random bouts of folly nor known as a bumbling idiot.

I’ve been told that I’m a bit overconfident.

I don’t honestly think that’s the case. I simply think that I understand myself rather well and know that while I don’t tend to make a lot of little, trivial mistakes, when I do make errors, they are of an epic scale.

Some days you’re better off in bed.

I’m reminded of an incident several years ago when I was diligently editing my first completed novel. (This was well before I realized it was 200+ pages of worthless drivel, but I digress.) I remember that day very well, because I’d been working for about two hours on the project and felt like I’d made some real progress. And then, my stupidity got in the way.

I remember I was trying to finish up one last little thing before I had to leave for an appointment. You see, one of the characters frequently said “okay.” I noticed that for some of the entrees, I had typed ‘OK’ and others ‘okay.’ Trying to make all the entrees uniformed, I used the Microsoft Word feature Find and Replace to change all the ‘OKs’ to ‘okays.’

But I forgot one tiny, insignificant detail.

When using the Find/Replace option in Microsoft Word, there’s a small box that says ‘Whole Words Only’ or something to that effect. Guess which box I forgot to check.

In my haste that day, I completed the task (proud as punch), saved the updated copy, and went on my merry way. Imagine my surprise when I opened the file a few days later and found words like ‘lookay,’ ‘bookay,’ and ‘tookay.’

Do you know how many words have the letters ‘ok’ in them? A LOT! It seemed like hundreds.

I know, because I had used every single one of those words in that manuscript! I was still finding mistakes because of that bout of idiocy months later. Every time I thought I’d found them all, another would pop up. I honestly wanted to straggle my computer every time I opened the file.

Needless to say, I haven’t made that error since.

No, I don’t usually make the same mistakes twice. I merely venture off into entirely new areas of epic stupidity.

Case in point, I recently got an email from Go Daddy that one of my domain names was expiring and I needed to renew it. It’s one that I no longer use and have no reason to keep, so I let it go. No use in spending money on something that’s not needed, right?

Anyway, there was an email address associated with that account. Again, it’s not one I plan on keeping so there’s no problem with letting it go. This was as good a time as any to declutter things a bit.

A few days ago, I went to log into my Twitter account. My professional Twitter account that I use for promoting my writing and my blog. There was a problem. The emails they’d tried to send weren’t going through. I needed to change my password.

Still, no problem.

Until I hit the link to update my password and was informed that they needed to send a reset key to my email. You guessed it, the email they had on file was the one that I let expire. I’d forgotten to update my Twitter account before I lost the old email address.

Well, drats!

I tried emailing Twitter support explaining that I no longer had access to the old email account but was told they were unable to verify that I am who I say I am so they couldn’t help me. Now I’m completely locked out of my old Twitter account. I can see it. I can see my 3,000+ followers. I can see my 11,000+ tweets. I just can’t get to them. They’re stuck in some sort of internet limbo forever to taunt my momentary bout of stupidity.

I know what you may be thinking, 3,000 followers isn’t that impressive. There are people out there with millions of followers and far more tweets than that.

That’s very true, but for an independent author with a small fan base, 3,000 followers on any social media platform is huge. And like I said, it’s one of the major ways I promote my writing, so this mistake really hurts.

It’s not a completely hopeless situation. I’ve opened a new Twitter account (@authorjbduffey) and have begun posting new things there. Currently, I’m up to (drum roll please) 5 followers. Granted I only opened it yesterday, but it’s going to take awhile to get back up to the levels I was at previously. After all, I’d had the old account for about 7 and 1/2 years and had been very active for about 4 of those years.

Trust me, this is a mistake I won’t make again.

No, I’ll venture off into new, uncharted areas of stupid mistakes. That’s my modus operandi. It’s what I do.

And looking back, maybe it’s why I don’t worry, and sometimes don’t even notice, the minute challenges of any given day. Those are easily fixed and corrected. If you’ve spent all your energy on the major problems, the minor ones don’t seem as important anymore.

At any rate, I need to get to work rebuilding a major portion of my social media platform. Here’s hoping that I can avoid any major bouts of stupidity for awhile.

Happy Reading!

My Favorite Books Blog Hop: George Orwell’s 1984

Welcome to the My Favorite Books Blog Hop! I’m glad you stopped by. Throughout the month of April, we’ll be hearing from bloggers and fellow bibliophiles about a topic we can’t say enough about — books! Old books, new books, fiction, non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is encouraged to participate.

Each Tuesday, I’ll be adding a post about a book that I resonated with me in some way. And I can’t wait to hear from all of you.

A few simple rules:

  1. To participate, scroll down to the bottom, add your name to the list, and grab the link provided. Insert that into the blog post you wish to add.
  2. Make sure the list of attendees is added to your blog post.
  3. Be a good hopper and visit other blogs throughout this event. Be a great hopper and add some comments along the way!

I hope everyone enjoys! Happy Hopping!!

George Orwell’s 1984

His eyes re-focused on the page. He discovered that while he sat helplessly musing he had also been writing, as though by automatic action. And it was no longer the same cramped, awkward handwriting as before. His pen had slid voluptuously over the smooth paper, printing in large neat capitals – DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER over and over again, filling half a page.George Orwell

Those of you familiar with George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece may recognize that today, April 4th, is the anniversary of the date Winston Smith wrote those fateful words, DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER. Published in 1949, Orwell takes readers on a journey through the terrors of Oceania, It’s a totalitarian regime so immersed in tyranny that all forms of individualism and independent thought are punishable acts of treason against the state.

Big Brother is everywhere, on every street corner, lurking around every bend in the road, watching you in your home, monitoring your every movement. Children are taught to watch and report wayward parents. Workers turn on one another. Beauty only exists where Big Brother will allow it.

I’ve read this book several times and even though I know the ending, this book terrifies me like no other. For weeks afterward, I’m a paranoid wreck, watching for the ever present eye of Big Brother.

It’s not hard to see the similarities in today’s society. There are cameras on every street corner, in the parking lots, at the grocery store, and even in the fast food restaurant you visit. Just like in Oceania. (Except they didn’t have a Big Mac to look forward to.) We carry with us in our pockets a GPS tracker in the form of a cell phone that can pinpoint our exact location within a few feet. In Oceania, Big Brother always knew where you were at every moment of the day. In Winston’s home there was a giant screen on the wall that not only would play state sponsored programming but would watch and listen in on private conversations. Today, smart TVs have cameras that can be hacked by anyone in the world for an instant feed into your living room while you watch television.

It’s not just the technology that has changed, it’s also the language we speak. In Oceania, they only used Newspeak as a form of communication in order to eradicate the traditions of the English language. Everything was stripped to the lowest common literary denominator with no room for subtle nuances that can greatly alter the meaning of a written work. If you’ve ever received a text message from a teenager, you’ve witnessed the modern day equivalent.

In reality, do I think we’ve fully entered into the realm of Oceania where Big Brother is everywhere? No. But it’s hard not to admit that we’ve sashayed right up to the edge and established residence there.

When it was first published, it was met with mixed reviews. Some declared it original and suspenseful while others called it “gloomy vaticination.” Yet the overall cultural impact is impossible to deny. Even today we talk about Big Brother to denote uncomfortable government overreach. Words such as Thought Police and doublespeak can be directly linked to Orwell’s work. References to the book have found their way into Super Bowl ads (Apple’s 1984 ad was less than well received), pop music (David Bowe’s 1974 album Diamond Dogs and The Jam’s 1977 album This Is the Modern World), and in political debates to this day. Furthermore, it frequently ranks highly on the top 100 lists of most influential modern books.

1984 is not what I’d consider a light read. It’s not one I’d take along for a relaxing day at the beach. But then again, not all books should fit into that category. Some novels are meant to challenge the way we see the world around us. Orwell’s book does that like none other. And once read, it will stay with the reader forever.

Happy Reading!


Meet Janetta Fudge-Messmer

Good morning!

I’d like to take a moment and introduce you to my friend, Janetta Fudge-Messmer. I met Janetta during the Amelia Island Book Festival and quickly found out that she is a lady who loves to make people laugh. Over the course of the day, we shared countless stories about childhood and unusual names (believe it or not, she was almost named Pickle instead of Fudge!) and everything in between. I’m delighted to take this opportunity to introduce her to my readers and I hope you’ll take a few moments to get to know her and her characters.

Happy Reading!

HI EVERYONE! Let me introduce myself. I’m Janetta Fudge Messmer and I’m an author of two Christian comedies (Early Birds and Southbound Birds). I also have a historical romance, Chords of Love, which is the book I’d love to share with you today.

Abigail Jane Thompson is sassy and certain she’s not singing. Anywhere. Imagine her delight when she spies the Central City Opera House in total ruin. Noah Presley, owner of Presley Mercantile, has a plan to restore the once-celebrated building. Fate throws Abigail and Noah together. Will they see beyond their differences, or will their love end on a sour note?

Everyone in the writing world tell writers we MUST make our characters memorable. From the first page of Chords of Love, Abigail tends toward sassiness. No one, including Abby, knows what will come out of her mouth as you will see in the excerpt below:

“Daughter, is there something you want to tell me?” Papa slowed his horse to a stop next to her.

Abigail had to tell him the latest or she’d burst at the seams. Without a moment’s hesitation she said, “Papa, we’ve only lived here a little more than a month, but what I heard Mama say to the owner of Presley Mercantile yesterday is sure to twist the ends of your moustache.”

Papa turned in his saddle. “What did she say this time?”

Abigail cleared her throat and sat higher in her side-saddle. “Now, remember, Papa, I’m quoting Mama. She said, ‘Mr. Noah Presley, I despise this dirty, desolate town of yours.’”

Her father’s eyes twinkled as he glanced sideways at her. Abby knew she’d gotten away with a little sassiness on their riding excursion, but when they returned to Central City, one of his stern looks would shush her right up.

“Oh, how I love that woman.” Papa chuckled, then his expression grew more stern. “But tell me she really didn’t say those things.” He stroked Dancer’s neck. His horse stayed steady on the rocky path leading out of the little mining town.

“Yes, and there’s more, Papa. You’d better hold tight to the reins for this one.” Abigail did the same, as if she needed to get ready, too. “Mama also told Mr. Presley, ‘You people can’t even keep your opera house running. It’s simply disgraceful.’”

As you can see, Abigail’s a tad feisty. What would you say your personality type is? Funny? Bossy? Introvert? Extrovert? For those of you who have never taken a personality test – I highly recommend it. It’s lots of fun.

Now it’s time to learn a bit about me. My dream from an early age was to write. With pen in hand, and now a computer on my lap, words come forth on the page. Truly, writing has been a love of mine from an early age.

Abigail Thompson, on the other hand, had to deal with her mother’s dream. She wanted her daughter to sing on the stage of the Central City Opera House. Abigail felt more suited for praising the Lord in song on her outings in the mountains of Colorado. Her new home.

Here’s another reminder that Abby’s a little high spirited:

Go ahead and laugh, Papa, you aren’t the one she expects to sing in front of everyone—if and when the opera house is refurbished.

A shiver ran down Abigail’s spine and continued clear down to her toes when the subject of her singing came into the conversation. She agreed to practice, but getting on the stage? Never. Falling flat on her face years ago had cured Abby from ever attempting a performance again.

Her parent’s encouragement didn’t alleviate her fears either. She’d told them, “I love you both with all my heart, and don’t mean any disrespect, but God Himself will have to carry me on the stage if He wants me to sing on it.”

DREAMS! We all have them. What are some of yours and have you accomplished any? Or hope to in the future?

Another snippet I’d like to share is an encounter between my main characters: Abigail Thompson and Noah Presley. When they bump into each other at the mercantile, more than sparks fly.

“Mr. Presley, excuse me.”

Noah’s jabbering came to a halt when he heard the female voice. Seconds later, something tapped him on the bottom of his boot. When he lay on his stomach to fill the lower shelves, he didn’t realize his size 12 feet stuck out from under the curtain between the back room and the front of the mercantile. He scrambled to stand up and flung open the divider and said, “May I help y—”

Miss Abigail Thompson stood smack dab in front of him, her nose a mere two inches from his chest. The only thing Noah could see of the new arrival was the top of her flowered bonnet and some blond curls peeking out from underneath the wide brim.  

He stepped back after he recovered from almost knocking the attractive girl flat on her behind. Abigail did the same, then tilted her head to look up at him.

“Yes, Mr. Presley, you can help me.” She scooted away from him and headed in the opposite direction. “I need you to reach something for me, if you please?”

Noah let her lead the way and could only imagine he resembled a dutiful pup following after his master. But in this instance, he made sure he walked far enough behind her that he didn’t step on the hem of her ruffled skirt.

He also couldn’t help but notice anytime Abigail entered the mercantile, her presence turned his mind to mush. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and what came out didn’t resemble words in the King’s English.

“Mr. Presley, ah, Mama’s in need of some, ah, let me see. There it is.” Abigail pointed up at the next to the top shelf at a row of kerosene bottles. “The hurricane lamps she unwrapped today need oil.”

Noah nodded and stepped up on the ladder to retrieve the merchandise. He wondered why it had taken her mother so long to unpack her lamps. Night had fallen more than once since their arrival. If he’d known, he’d have taken some to them the day he went to call.

He reached his long arms up as high as they would go, but he still couldn’t reach the bottles. Noah needed to talk to Adam about his placement of certain items. Top shelves. A location which required a ladder.

Help me, Jesus!

Taking another step up meant he would venture into uncharted territory…

Noah was about to take a step out of where he felt comfortable. Think of time you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone. Did you survive? I’d say you did, if you’re reading this, and you’re happy you did.

And as a writer, stepping out takes courage, gumption…and it takes an IDEA. In my case, Chords of Love came to me when a dear friend and I brainstormed about a story set in the 1800s. Of course, my love of Colorado inspired the setting. Visualize someone twisting my arm (wink, wink) when research called me to Central City, Colorado.

Those who know me, know I’m lying. I moved to Colorado in my early 20s and spent over twenty-five years in Boulder and surrounding areas. And loved every minute. If you’ve never visited, make it a point to go. GOD OF ALL CREATION LIVES THERE.

Hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Abigail and Noah. Now I’m off to finish my next installment in the Early Birds series. You’ll never guess – it’s set in Estes Park, Colorado, and the female part of the Early Birds are visiting and they’re having quite a time. This novella holds more laughs than a monkey at a banana farm (you’ll have to read it to understand – )

All my books are available on Amazon:







Writer’s Block? Maybe It’s Time to Declutter

This morning I should be writing. I want to write. There’s a novel that’s dying to leap onto the page. I’m sitting here in the kitchen at table. A sky is beautiful outside. The birds are singing. My pen is poised over the paper ready to strike at any moment. And. . .


Not one single, solitary thing.

The pen and paper repel each other like oil and water, together in proximity but not in spirit. I can see the characters. I know the beginning and the ending. I even know most of the middle which for me is often the trickiest part. But the words won’t come. I’m stuck in quicksand and don’t know exactly where to begin. So how can I work my way out of this momentary lapse into writer’s block? It’s obvious the current path I’m on isn’t working. Time to change course a bit, I think.

I read about a trick some years ago in which a well published author suggested mentally opening up your character’s medicine cabinet. What do they have hidden in there and why? Not having a medicine cabinet in my home, I’ve modified that trick somewhat. I often dig through their junk drawer. You know the one I mean. That one drawer in the kitchen that’s crammed full of trinkets and what-nots that no one can exactly remember acquiring. There’s a box of matches in there from a long ago vacation to the mountains and a light bulb for over the stove. You find a bottle opener which used to play your college team’s fight song but now it only putters out a few miserable notes. And my personal favorite, mismatched birthday candles from parties past, leftovers from an eight piece packet bought for a six year old’s cake. The items are endless and there’s a story for each one. A uniquely individual story that helps paint a picture of who your character truly is.

Today, I have decided to let my mind wander a bit further. Thinking back to this past weekend when I was cleaning out some boxes in my garage, I decide to repeat the exercise with my character. The old box of photos she finds. A box full of books, very technical manuals from the age long before internet surfing. And last, but certainly not least, a Hawaiian floral shirt in vibrant orange and yellow.

It may be that I never use any of this. But it provides an important back story for my character and more importantly it gives me an opening with which to begin writing again. For me, this little trick works wonders. So please pardon me while I go and explore why this uptight teacher has a grass skirt hidden away in the back of her garage. I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere.

Happy writing!!

Gift of the Blarney – Famous Irish Authors

Kiss me, I’m Irish!

Well, sort of. I married into a family of Irish descent. That counts, right? (We won’t worry about that divorce today. I mean, everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!)

Admittedly, the vast majority of my family tree comes straight from jolly ol’ England. We’ve found records of our forefathers who were ship builders in Southern England before immigrating to the colonies. There’s even a mention of a great uncle who chose poorly in the War of the Roses. The jury’s still out on his actual ties to the family. For 364 days of the year, I consider myself somewhat of an Anglophile, albeit not as deeply immersed as some.

But, today, like so many other American’s, I’m a bit Irish and I find myself trying to greet everyone with a pathetic imitation of an Irish accent and wearing a bit of green to celebrate the Emerald Isle.

I can honestly say that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve fallen more in love with Ireland than I was in my youth. Not because I’ve been there, although that is on the bucket list, but because of the wonderful Irish writers that I’ve had the pleasure to read over the years. Through each work, I’ve been able to travel to Ireland without leaving the comfort of my home and venture down the streets of Dublin, going to university, and visiting the small country villages along the way.

And so, instead of dwelling on the insane amount of Genius that will be consumed today or commenting on the pounds of dye used to change the river in Chicago green, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the famous Irish authors and some of the works they’ve contributed to our literary fabric.

  1. Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) Considered by many to be one of the most influential novelists and playwrights of the last century. Was elected Saoi of Aosdana in the Irish Association of Writers. Notable works include Molloy, First Love, and Waiting for Godot.
  2. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Perhaps one of the most flamboyant of all Irish writers, Wilde is best known for his philosophy of aestheticism, or art for art’s sake. For much of his career, he believed and practiced a writing style that exemplified beauty of the word without searching for deeper meaning. Notable works include The Portrait of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, and An Ideal Husband.
  3. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) A playwright whose influence can still be felt today, Shaw wrote over 60 plays, received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. He specialized in combining contemporary satire with historical allegory. Notable works include Pygmalion, Saint Joan, and On the Rocks.
  4. Maeve Binchy (1939-2012) One of the most widely recognized Irish writers of modern times, Binchy wrote about human nature and small town Ireland like few others could do. With vivid and detailed character descriptions, Binchy captivated her audience. At the time of her death, her books had sold over 40 million copies and had been translated into 37 different languages. Notable works include Tara Road, The Glass Lake, and Circle of Friends.
  5. Frank Delaney (1942-2017) Noted novelist and journalist, Delaney was known for his epic works. His works Ireland and his non-fiction work Simple Courage: The Story of Peril on the Sea both earned him the distinction of New York Times Best Seller. Other notable works include James Joyce’s Odyssey and Tipperary.
  6. Bram Stoker (1847-1912) Best known for his dark romantic work Dracula, Stoker spent much of his adult career as the business manager for the Lyceum Theatre in London. Although he authored other works, none would ever compete with the success of his most famous novel. Other works include The Snake’s Pass, The Mystery of the Sea, and Miss Betty.
  7. James Joyce (1882-1941) His masterpiece Ulysses is considered by many to be one of the finest pieces of literature of the 20th Century. As a novelist, poet, and short story writer, he was best known for his contributions to the modernist avant-garde movement. Other notable works include Finnegan’s Wake, Dubliners, and A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.
  8. Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) Known as the foremost prose satirist of the English Language, Swift’s writing is often delivered in a deadpan, ironic manner and is still popular today. Notable works include Gulliver’s Travels, A Modern Proposal, and Drapier’s Letters.
  9. Liam O’Flaherty (1896-1984) Credited as a major figure in the Irish literary renaissance, O’Flaherty was a known socialist and dabbled briefly in politics with his family. He became a founding member of the Communist party in Ireland and is to reported to have laid siege to the Ambassador Cinema in Dublin for four days. Notable works include The Informer, Return of the Brute, and Thy Neighbour’s Wife.
  10. W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) A symbolist poet, Yeats is often considered one of the pillars of modern poetry. He mastered traditional form rather than working with free verse. In addition to his literary career, Yeats was a noted Irish nationalist and served as an Irish senator for two terms. Notable works include The Heart of Spring, A Prayer for My Daughter, and When You Are Old.

Of course, this is in no way a complete list of noted Irish writers. There are far too many to include here. Yet, I hope that you will join me in visiting the Emerald Isle through the written word. As always,

Happy Reading!



Best Little Coffee Shop in Georgia!

Victoria Hawkins and Jaimie Miller, Owners of the Best Little Coffee Shop in Georgia!

I’d like to take a moment and introduce you to two very dear friends of mine, Jaimie Miller and Victoria Hawkins, owners of Between Friends Coffee Shop located in Warner Robins, Georgia. A place that I like to call ‘The Best Little Coffee Shop in Georgia.’

That’s an unofficial title, of course, but one that is entirely fitting.

When you first walk in, Between Friends looks just like any other coffee shop. There are plenty of tables and chairs to sit at. There’s a couch in the far corner. You can easily see the large display of pastries available. There’s a table for kids to sit and color while mothers chat about the latest piece of juicy gossip. All the things you’d typically find in a locally owned coffee shop.

But that’s not what sets this little place apart.

No. These two ladies have created an establishment that is far greater than the sum of their parts. If you go there more than twice, you’re one of the family. They know you. In that way, it’s more like Cheers than Starbucks. If you want to go somewhere where everyone knows who you are and are happy to see you, go to Between Friends. If you need to take a break from the stressors in the world, go to Between Friends. If you want to relax and enjoy a good book or maybe laugh until your sides ache, go to Between Friends. Don’t have a book, you can borrow one of their’s from their lending library. They’ve got as many great recommendations for books as they have for coffee.

She said yes!

On any given day, you’re as likely to run into Jaimie’s husband Wes and her two adorable kids as you are a group of people laughing at the booth in the corner. You may get to witness a marriage proposal. It’s hard not to instantly feel better about the world with so much love in the air and you’re staring at a plate sized, homemade cinnamon roll. One of the two is bound to lift your spirits.

I first met Victoria years ago when we were both active in the local fencing club. She was a fierce sparring partner who easily outmatched my limited athletic abilities. (Although I did manage to get in the odd touch from time to time.) We quickly developed a friendship that has continued to this day.

It wasn’t until after the grand opening of Between Friends last August that I met Jaimie. I’m not one to normally make fast friends, but she has a way of disarming even the most cautious of souls to create deep-rooted, meaningful relationships. Our friendship quickly developed and continues to grow.

I’m proud to call both of these ladies my friends and I’m proud of the work they’ve done with their shop.

Cinnamon Rolls fresh from the oven.

Yet I’m not writing this post to merely speak about my friendship with two strong and intelligent women and the wonderful business they’ve created. No, I have ulterior motives for this piece. You see, they are currently in the running for a small business grant from FedEx. The grand prize is $25,000. For a small, independently run coffee shop, that could be life changing.

Too often, we find ourselves visiting the large, chain establishments and overlooking the little guy. But let’s not lose sight of the impact small businesses have on our communities. These establishments are the backbone of our economy. It’s estimated that 60-80% of jobs here in the U.S. are due to small business enterprises. Imagine what would happen if these businesses didn’t exist. The entire U.S. economy would plummet, followed quickly by the global economy. Small businesses provide huge economic growth for the communities they serve. Small businesses just like Between Friends Coffee Shop.

Jaimie Miller (left) and Victoria Hawkins (right)

And so my friends and readers, I’m asking that you take a moment out of your time and offer support to this growing small business endeavor. Please vote for Between Friends Coffee Shop in the FedEx Small Business Grant. Polls are open until April 5, and you can vote daily. Small businesses provide the heart and soul of our communities. Now we have a chance to support them in a big way.

And, if you’re in the Central Georgia area, stop in for your favorite cup of Joe and a fresh hot cinnamon roll. After all, coffee is better Between Friends.

Happy Reading!

What’s In a Name? The Art of Naming Your Characters

A friend of mine asked me yesterday how I come up with the names for my characters. That’s a great question but not necessarily the easiest to answer.

For me, naming my characters is one of the most difficult parts of writing. And my process, such as it is, varies from project to project.

In my early days of writing, long before I ever wrote anything worth publishing, naming the characters was a rather straightforward process. I’d write down a list of potential names then randomly cross off the ones which brought back bad memories.

That girl used to pick on me during recess. He may have been one of the stupidest people I’ve ever met. She flirted with my boyfriend in college. 

Once I eliminated those bad apples from the list, then I’d pick my favorites and begin writing, assigning names to each of the characters in turn. The process was more akin to dealing a deck of cards than anything else. I didn’t say it was a good method, but it was at least a beginning.

Thankfully, I’ve evolved far beyond that.

Now when I write, I’ll try to get a deeper connection to the character I’m working with. Where are they from? When were they born? What is their personality like? Are they shy, outgoing, intelligent, scatterbrained, funny, or a bit nerdy? Do I want to convey a hidden meaning in their name that addresses a specific personality trait and if so, will that trait be overtly addressed during the unfolding of the story or will it be something that only I know?

Take Maggie Arnet and Carmen Peterson, the two main characters in The Face in the Mirror. For Maggie, I worked up a full Myers Briggs personality profile and printed off a complete list of the traits she would normally display. Additionally, I played with several different names to find the one that could easily work with the various nicknames she was given during the book. In the end, Maggie worked best for that character and seemed to set the mood that I was going for.

Carmen, on the other hand, presented a unique challenge. I had already finished about 2 1/2 chapters with the character using a completely different name. During that initial draft, she was named Allison which wasn’t working for her personality. I actually conducted an unofficial survey on Facebook and offered to name a character after the person who gave the best answer to the question. At the time, I was looking for the name of a minor character. A friend from high school, Carmen, won the Q&A and I immediately changed the name of the main character without a moments hesitation. The name fit like a glove.

For me, it’s important to find a name that will enhance the reader’s experience rather than draw away from it. What I mean by that is I don’t want the reader to be so focused on how odd the name is or how to pronounce the name and to lose sight of the story that’s developing. I want to build a complete person in the reader’s mind. I want there to be a continuity there.

Finding names now is so much easier than it was in years past. We have at our fingertips a wealth of resources. Facebook is a phenomenal source. What age group are you looking for? Young 20s? Great! Find anyone on your friends list in that age group and sift through their friends of the same age. You may not find the perfect name for a main character but you will find a host of names for supporting characters to use throughout your book. Looking for the most popular girl’s names from 1955? A quick Google search will yield a plethora of sources for you to delve into. That same search will also provide the meanings and origins of the names in question. I even used IMDB when choosing the names in Beneath the Mulberry Tree.

One word of caution, I’m very careful to avoid naming characters directly after people I know. Carmen was an exception and I told my friend well in advance that I would be doing that. I was also pretty far into the character development before that name switch took place. For me, I don’t want to name a character after someone I know very well and then begin to see that character as the person I know. I want each character to be his/her own unique self with their own individual idiosyncrasies.

And lastly, we all have a few names that are just our favorites to say for whatever reason. I personally love the name Rupert. I sounds so delightfully British and upper crust. I’m going to use that one somewhere but haven’t found the right place for it. I have a vague idea but alas nothing concrete as of yet.

Thanks for a great question. Hope this helps to shed a bit a light on my process.

Happy Reading!!

Boiled Peanuts

Peanuts boiling on the stove. Mmmmmm!

Peanuts boiling on the stove. Mmmmmm!

It’s been a busy week here. Family came in from out of town. Working. Writing. Typical day-to-day activities that keep us running from one end of sanity to the next.

I’m sure it’s the same way for everyone these days.

Fortunately, for me, I’ve had some time this afternoon to start a pot of peanuts to boil. Few things say fall quite like fresh, hot boiled peanuts.

Now, I know a lot of you think fall begins and ends with pumpkin spiced everything. Maybe that’s what you grew up with in your part of the country. But for me, football and boiled peanuts will always be the perfect symbol of autumn. It means cooler weather, the end of hot summer days, and the beginning of nights in front of a roaring fireplace.

It means home.

My dad planted peanuts in his garden every year. They were one of the last things to come in before the ground was tilled under in preparation for next year’s planting. I can remember vividly the fall Saturday’s I’d go down to the garden. He’ll dig up the plants with a pitchfork so as not to damage the kernels below. Then we’d wash them off. There were always several bucketfuls of peanuts to wash and prep.

Afterwards, we’d carry the buckets to a large black cauldron. Dad would build a fire. We’d add the peanuts (about one bucket per cooking, if memory serves correctly) to the cauldron, fill it up with water, add plenty of salt, and sit back while the concoction cooked.

I was in charge of making sure the water never boiled completely out so I always had the water hose handy. (Yep! I survived cooking over a fire and drinking from a water hose!) Dad had an old radio. We’d sit an listen to Larry Munson calling the Georgia game.

At the time, I’m sure I was much more excited about eating the boiled peanuts than anything else. After all, sitting around watching a pot to boil is not the most entertaining thing to do as a kid. Looking back though, I wish more than anything I could sit just one more time with my dad and listen to Larry call a Dawgs game.

The cauldron is long since gone. Dad passed away 14 years ago. The anniversary of his passing was this past Monday. Now, instead of an open fire, I simply put the pot on the stove and tend to other things. There’s no time anymore to sit around waiting for the water temperature to rise.

And yet, somehow, it’s fitting that this week finds me once again waiting on the simple pleasure of boiled peanuts. They’ll always remind me of my youth and the bygone years I miss so much.

Disney & Me!

My Dad with the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House in the background.

My Dad with the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House in the background.

In looking through the historical events that happened on this day, I came across a particularly interesting tidbit. Today in 1971, Disney World officially opened in Orlando, Florida.

Millions of people have enjoyed the rides and adventures of this famed theme park, but I have a much different connection to the attraction.

You see, my dad helped build it.

If you’ve ever gone to the Swiss Family Tree House or if you visited the previous attraction 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, you’ve seen his work. He supervised a team of lathers who were responsible for much of that construction. He created many of the rocky features still in existence today.  He helped bring the magic to life.

The ocean before water was added for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The ocean before water was added for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one. There were thousands of construction workers who helped to complete that project in an amazingly short deadline.

But I’m particularly proud of my dad’s contribution. I can remember hearing him talk about the timelines for some of the projects there. On one occasion, he was running a team that worked about 16 hours a day for weeks straight. There was another team that decided to try to finish their project faster by working around the clock. Dad’s team finished ahead of schedule and quicker than the competing team. He looked at me and said, “Everybody has to rest sometime. You can’t work nonstop without burning yourself out.”

It was one of the many little gems of advice my dad taught me.

The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion

And Dad did take some time off. One January day in particular when my mom called his supervisor and said it was time to go to the hospital. I was about to be born.

I don’t remember the opening of Disney World. I was only 8 months old at the time. But I visited the park several times before we finally moved back to Georgia two years later.

My brother and sister, who are both older, have a much stronger recollection of our time in Florida. My memories are stories told by them and my mom.

By all accounts, I was an adventurous kid. There was the time I locked my mom out of the house and she had to crawl back in through the second story window. The time I hit my brother on the head with a hammer. The time I scared my sister and all her friends who were convinced there was a ghost in the house.

Good times!

I hope I’ve lived up to that adventurous reputation ever since.

Cinderella's Castle

Cinderella’s Castle

And while today may not mean anything to anyone else, to me it will always remind me of my dad, my family, and our special connection to Disney magic.

Now, I think it’s time for me to find a new adventure!

Happy Reading!

Banned Book Week

1289926514-Mark TwainMany people may not be aware that this is Banned Book Week. And yes, there needs to be an entire week devoted to this. In fact, there could actually be an entire month devoted to this topic.

Book banning isn’t a new concept. The Qin Dynasty in China banned Confucian writings as early as 221 BC. Writings by Descartes, Copernicus, Pascal, and Galileo were all banned during their lifetime because they thwarted modern ideology of the day. King Charles IX of France would only allow books to be printed that had won the approval of crown. By the 1700s, the practice began to fall out of favor although most governments still kept a close eye on the books circulated within their realm. By the early 1800s, many European countries had begun enacting laws that allowed for freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

You would think with such a long history of fighting for the freedom of information that book banning would be a thing of the past.

Unfortunately, it is not!

Even today, thousands of books are banned by governments at the local, state, and federal levels throughout the world. Many of these are in dictatorships where one would expect regimes to limit information. China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan dot that list en masse.

But, no one is immune to book banning. Even here in the United States, the home of the free, book banning is still in place. Usually this is done at the local level by well meaning officials who are desperately trying to prevent children and citizens from overwhelmingly harmful influences. Some would argue it’s our duty to keep things such as pornography, overt sexual conduct, and violence away from small children.

I totally get that argument and I am in favor of the age appropriate discussion about books. I personally don’t want to see 50 Shades of Grey in an elementary school library. Heck, I don’t think it belongs in a high school library, but that’s because I personally feel it has no literary value whatsoever. (That’s another discussion for another day!) The same argument could be made for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It also has extremely graphic sexual content and explicit violence but I have no problem with that book being in a high school library. It’s an amazing book series that delves deeply into government corruption, abuse, and psychological illness. I would not let my 15 year old daughter read it, but I would have let her read it at the age of 17 if she had wanted to. I felt she was old enough and mature enough at the time to handle the subject matter. (For those of you who are against violence, explicit sexual content, and foul language, DO NOT read either series!!)

My personal feelings about those two books aside, if a local school board deemed them as too mature for students under the age of 18, I would have no problem with their decision.

However, book banning is something far more insidious. Book banning seeks to actively limit the information available to the populous in the hopes of controlling the morality and ideas of a group of people. It is an endeavor to inject a culture with one’s own personal beliefs regardless of will of the people. It is not about protection. It is about control. And control is maintained through limitation.

I could spend days discussing this topic and listing all the books that have been banned for one reason or another. The list is that long. Instead, I’ve chosen to discuss my top five. Here are 5 of my personal favorite banned books.:

  1. The Harry Potter Series —  In addition to earning the title as the highest grossing literary phenomenon EVER, JK Rowling’s series about a group of young wizards attending the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have also earned the dubious title of most banned books in the United States. This is primarily because those who have never read the books are concerned that young minds will be drawn into the occult world of witchcraft. As a fan of the series, I know nothing could be further from the truth. Christian themes run rampant throughout these books. And while magic does play a key role in almost every scene, JK Rowling’s books are adamant that it is the choices we make that determine our outcome, not the talents we are given. (By the way, I’ve tried to apparate. It doesn’t work!)
  2. Huckleberry Finn & Tom Sawyer — Two of Mark Twain’s most famous works were routinely banned during his lifetime and continue to be banned in various regions today. Librarians of Twain’s day felt both books offered low grade morality, vulgarity, and poor examples for young people. Although Twain himself saw the commercial value in such a recommendation at the time, I’m sure he would have never imagined the modern day sensitivities becoming so tender as to require a softer, gentler telling of his fabled tales. Such was the case several years when some of the more offensive words were eliminated from both works. Do yourself a favor and find an unedited, unabridged version. You won’t regret taking a ride down the ol’ muddy river.
  3. Call of the Wild by Jack London — I was truly surprised to find this classic on any banned book list. This is an amazing work about a man and his dog fighting against the rugged Alaskan wilderness. Unfortunately, it’s not the tender, lovable dog story everyone wants to read. It was seen as too dark and violent for younger eyes. As I said earlier, I can understand helping younger readers find age appropriate books to help stir their imagination and I’ll support a parent’s right to do that. But this book invites the reader into adventures and perils unknown in today’s world. It’s timeless in its utter grasp of human fortitude. It’s easily London’s best novel. Quite simply, it’s a must read.
  4. 1984 & Animal Farm — Yep! George Orwell’s classics were banned in the Soviet Union and North Korea. Personally, I love both of these books. 1984 still scares the stuffing out of me every time I read it. Not because it was designed to be a horror story, but rather because so many instances within that work have now come to pass. Big Brother watches us from every street corner. Texting and political correctness are indeed forms of Newspeak. The parallels are uncanny and frightening. Personally, I believe everyone should read these works.
  5. Where the Wild Things Are — Honestly, I can’t even believe this work was ever seen as anything other that an amazing children’s book, but it too has been banned. Apparently, the violent overtones of monsters were too much for some parents and librarians. This completely baffles me.

Other famously banned books throughout the world:

  1. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  3. Beloved – Toni Morrison
  4. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
  5. The Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
  6. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  7. For Whom the Bell Tolls — Earnest Hemingway
  8.  Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  9. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  10. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  11. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  12. The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane
  13. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  14. A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams
  15. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  16. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  17. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  18. Junie B. Jones (series) – Barbara Park
  19. Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
  20. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

And the list could go on for pages.

So during this week long event, I encourage you, dear reader, to exercise your right to read books thought to be too dangerous for others. Broaden your mind with a banned book or simply relive the adventures you’ve already enjoyed. For each time you exercise your right to read, you are thwarting the Thought Police. You are saying, “I will not conform to the ideals of others. I will think for myself.”

Be bold. Be brave. Rebel against those who would seek to limit your ideas. Read a banned book!

Happy Reading and Down with Big Brother!