This week, I thought I’d share a “Coffee Chat” post that first appeared on AllyShields.com. For those of you unfamiliar with Ally, she’s the author of 13 Urban Fantasy novels, which you can read about on this link.
Here’s the beginning of my interview with Ally:
Ally: What will readers discovered when they open the cover of your book?
JPS: An amateur sleuth with an edge: there’s the requisite small town, no overt sex, violence or bad language, but there are also no cats, crafts or cookie recipes.
Ally: Talk about your writing process. Schedule, goals, etc.
JPS: After I finish a book, it takes me a couple of months to get back to another one. I want to get right back at it, but I feel emotionally drained. I’ll dabble, play around with short stories, but a book just seems too daunting. And then, gradually, the voices come back to me, and I know it’s time to start again. Once I get going in earnest, I try to write every day, including Sundays and holidays, even if it’s only for a few stolen minutes, though my goal is always to write a chapter a day. I try to leave each chapter with a bit of a hook, so I’m keen to come back the next day (and hopefully, I’m creating something that makes readers want to keep turning the pages). My first draft takes three to four months. I do edit as I go along, so my first drafts are pretty clean, but they are by no means polished enough to submit to a publisher. The magic is in the revision… you can’t edit a blank page.
Ally: How do you choose and name your characters?
JPS: It depends. With Emily Garland (the protagonist in The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery), my favorite childhood book was Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame). Emily Starr of New Moon wanted to grow up to be a writer, and I wanted that, too. It seemed only fitting to name the protagonist in my first book Emily. And I was named after Judy Garland.
In Skeletons in the Attic: A Marketville Mystery, the protagonist is Calamity (Callie) Barnstable. In my day job, I’m the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal and I’d just read about some old photographs of Calamity Jane, a Wild West frontierswoman, that had come to auction. And I thought… Calamity, that’s a great name, Callie for short. Initially, I thought Callie Barnes, but somewhere along the line I added the ‘table.’
Another character in Skeletons is Leith Hampton, the lawyer who tells Callie about her inheritance. He started life as Craig Leith (there is a town in Ontario, Canada, called Craigleith), but I couldn’t warm to it. Then I thought, Leith as a first name would work, and Hampton, like the Hamptons in New York, sounded like a good surname for a well-heeled lawyer.
I keep a notebook of possible name ideas – I watch end credits on TV shows and movies and might get a first or last name from those. Then I couple it with something that fits the character I’m writing about.