Name That Character

No, it’s not a game show, but it is a game all writers play. And, it does remind me of a game show—What’s My Line from the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, that’s another game writers play—giving their characters a job. But, back to the names. How does that work?

Bit player—needs an ordinary name. John Smith. Nope, too ordinary. Mary Martin. Nope, a big star already owns that name.

Player that must be overlooked until the dénouement—needs a distinctive name, I’d say, with his information seeming to be slight. Fane Olivetti. Nope. A bit too distinctive, and probably comes from two different parts of the world.

You get the idea. And that goes double for main characters. I once wrote a young adult story with a hero named Jasper. Never heard of it, except for the name of a city. Forgot the story for years. Took it out to rewrite, and discovered that Jasper was a main character of a new, wildly popular YA book. Okay, he needed a new name. Would you believe Fred? In fact, Fred’s name was really Friedrich due to his German heritage. However, shortly after WW II, the war with Germany the enemy, that name contributed to someone’s paranoia, and added a whole missing element to the plot. (Yes, serendipity exists.)

So, how do writers come up with names? Some keep lists. I do. I have three alphabetical lists that I add to constantly: male, female, and surnames. I may add notations: top ten in 2002, Hispanic, Japanese. But often, I choose names not on that list. Or, don’t choose them.

There’s a name I haven’t used, but I remember it. When I was a child a neighboring family had immigrated from somewhere. The pregnant wife decided to name her child after the ship’s captain. But since the child was a girl, she was named after the ship. Yes, her name was Uladia. Haven’t used that name yet.

I always search the name I use on the internet. (That alerts me to names of real people I don’t want to use, but there are always real people by the name. I just pick one without someone famous or notorious.)

Other people search names as well—their own names. One surprise was when one woman with the same name as one of my main characters found my book—and bought it! Wow! And, it wasn’t a common name at all. In fact, she e-mailed me to say she knew of no one with that surname but her immediate family. Hmm. Maybe I should use those more common names. (Just kidding.)

Question for readers: How do the names affect your immage of a book’s characters? (Writers want to know.)

Question for writers: Do you have a special way you choose writer names? (This writer wants to know.) Okay, I should put a happy face here, or one of those, um, whatever they are called.

Five Stars for Digital Dick

I like mystery: cozy, noir, historic, romantic, suspense, and especially off-beat mystery. Digital Dick definitely qualifies on that last one.

9-21 Digital Dick coverI absolutely love this book about a sentient computer. That’s a computer who learns to solve crimes while wishing he had hands so he could plug into the electricity himself. He learns as he goes along, but he’s quite knowledgeable for a seven-year old. Still, his goofs on proper behavior are funny (or exasperating to his human sister), while, of course, he mentally runs rings around the bad guys. Even the guys who aren’t bad, just don’t believe in Digital Dick.

The publishers says, “As a computer with a human personality, Dick Young struggles to understand people. Some would deny personhood to Dick, others who fear him would take him apart chip by chip.

“After he witnesses a bloody murder, Dick offers to assist the San Diego Police Department catch the killer. But when the search for the murderer turns up a second body, Dick’s Satisfaction Index plummets. He breaks company with the police and begins investigating the case on his own. As he follows the clues, Dick learns more and more about humans: how they live, how they love and how they murder. He will need that knowledge to overcome the killer who threatens to destroy Dick and everyone that Dick holds dear.”

The July 2015 Midwest Book Review, puts it this way: “In addition to taking the prize for originality, this book is a great piece of story-telling and a good read. I highly recommend it.”

And I add, if you like your mystery with a great sense of humor while keeping up the suspense, this is the read for you.


All of my covers have been designed by one of my daughters while she was grossly underemployed. Fortunately for her, that is no longer the case. Unfortunately for me, I have to rethink covers. I want to go GREAT. I want to go PROFESSIONAL. I want to go with a cover that says, “BUY ME!” So, of course, I’ve asked a pro whose covers are striking and versetile to design the cover of my upcoming mystery.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing  a couple of short stories that I intend to offer for free—to further encourage readers to buy my new mystery. So I’ve been diddling with I have used it to make a small design to put on Twitter, promoting one of my books. (Don’t know if it actually works, but…it looks good.) I’ve tried a lot of different designs using a variety of free and personal photos. This is what I’ve come up with so far.


Deserter cover 2Tell me, what do you think? Good enough? Or not.

Five Stars for Buried In A Bog

9-14 Buried in a Bog coverI’m going back in my Goodreads file of five star reads. If I look at one I read two years ago and I can remember the story with renewed pleasure, I know it deserved every one of those five stars. That’s this one, Buried In A Bog, by Sheila Connolly.

My review:  This is the first of Sheila Connolly’s third mystery series, and my favorite. Buried in a Bog is far more than a mystery–it’s the story of a young woman from Boston dealing with loss and finding her way forward, as well as a story of a small village in Ireland. It was grandmother’s last wish that she visit. It’s a story of relationships, generations, and above all, real—actually fictional, but for sure real people. It’s a mystery too, dealing with murder. This book satisfies on every level.

Another reviewer said, “Awesome book! The setting was cozy and real and made me want to head off to Ireland for a spell. Can’t wait for the next one!”

Since then, Sheila Connolly has written the next one, and others as well. I especially like the first of her fourth series as well. (It’s a bit woo woo.) But why don’t you check out all of her series on her Amazon author page? You’ll be glad you did.

Testing The New Software

I got a new computer more than a year ago. I’d added software to the old computer to download pictures from my camera. No problem, I’d just shove that disc in the new omputer to transfer the software. Except—it didn’t work with Windows 7. Who knew that would have been a problem? But, some day, I’d figure it out. Sure I would.

But I didn’t.

I resisted taking pictures. Hey, I could download any that friends or family e-mailed me. The big snow we had last winter? Well, I did take some picture of that, but they sat on my camera.

Finally, I bought a new program, highly rated, in fact, number one for 2015. Geez, why did I do that? I have no idea how to use it. That takes study, time spent away from writing. But…

Hey, I’ll try downloading my camera. Shoot a few more images. I walked out my back door (since our house is on a hill, the porch is more of a balcony) and stand with my head practically in the trees. It’s one of my favorite places, with one of my favorite views. (I wonder, was I a bird in some past life?)

2014-1 021Now, to prove I’ve mastered the first basic lesson of my new software, I’ll display one of the pictures right here.

And now, to illustrate how long those 2014-1 010pictures have been in the camera, I’ll show an earlier photo taken from nearly the same spot. See those bare branches on the right? That’s the same tulip poplar tree shown above.

So that’s my latest new software. I’m hoping to do wonderful things, eventually, with my pictures. I’m a camera buff from way back. Just don’t ask me anything about cell phones that only incidentally make telephone calls.

War of 1812-Recruitment, A Matter of Money

What was a young man to do when his country went to war? Soldier, mariner (sailor), what? Go where the money was best, of course. At least, that’s what happened.

Possibly some wanted to be on the sea, sailing and fighting against the British ships. Since most of those ships wintered in Bermuda, a few months off probably didn’t hurt recruitment. However, several army units were enlisting men and giving them bounties of $30 plus $8 monthly with only one year enlistment. The marines (navy) gave them less. One could always sign onto a privateer—they paid better as well. There was another option. Hire on as a sea fencible. That brought in $12 a month for one year. An advantage was that a man could not be called up in any other service, he would be close to home, and in the winter unless something else came up, he could take his food home to the family. Possibly as a result of the different pay schedules, many blacks were marines. From the history I’ve read, they were clothed and worked as equals.

This is another of my War of 1812 series. I am still discovering history I didn’t know, still finding in quite interesting. My next mystery involves a reenactment of that war, which is why I’ve been reading up.

It’s two hundred years since The War of 1812, forgotten by most of our history books. It is, still, a part of our history. Do you find it as interesting as I do?


Five Stars for Murder on Lexington Avenue

8-31 Victoria Thompson coverMurder on Lexington Avenue is the 12th in Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery series. I’ve read several, but this one is a favorite of mine. My review: Sarah Brandt, New York midwife in the early 1900s, keeps getting involved in murder while delivering babies. It isn’t anything about souls passing in and out, it’s just that the same people are involved. While one woman is having a baby, someone she knows, be it her family or her neighbors, is mixed up in murder, often as the victim. Sarah is handy and willing to help out an Irish cop, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy. In this case, the teenage daughter of the victim is involved with conflicting schools of training the deaf. Her father is a generally disliked business owner. But, who killed him? Seemingly he was alone at his place of business. His business partner, and several others may have visited. Or, none of them saw him, if one is to believe the testimony. And, even if Frank Malloy finds the killer, 1903 in New York often meant Frank, although he was the police, would find it difficult to accuse anyone who had the money to make sure he didn’t keep his job. Then another murder complicates the possibilities.

The ambiance is authentic, the plot is devious, the characters are a mix from delightful to devilish. Best of all, the outcome is completely unexpected, but, oh so absolutely right! Highly recommended to mystery and history readers.

Victoria Thompson has been nominated for an Agatha for historic mystery. There are now 17 books in the series. Her Amazon author page is here. (I believe the midwife and the police detective sergeant are planning to wed in the latest. Must read that too!)

Art In The Attic

A son visits his father.

A son visits his father.

The drawings on the wall of a third floor storage room have been there for over one hundred years. As the house passed through different owners, one promise was made—leave the pictures alone. They are pencil drawings, made by two boys who lived with their mother in the rented house. Some of them depict their older brother, Leo Hauck, who was a champion boxer.

How did this all get on the front page of my local newspaper? The current homeowner was curious. She asked questions and discovered a few amazing connections. Three of Leo’s children survive and live locally. Peggy, age 100, and Eddie, age 94, didn’t walk up the stairs to see their father as a young boxer. Joe, age 80, lives less than a mile away. He and his daughter visited the third-floor drawings and were amazed.

As a writer, I always think, what if? What if any one of the owners of the house had painted over those pictures? What if, the house was remodeled and windows replaced a wall? What if the area had been zoned for renewal and the place torn down and became a parking lot? What if none of those happened, but the connection was never made?

Joe Hauck was thirteen when his father died. He knew he’d been a fighter. He’d known those uncles who drew the pictures as children. He knew his father started boxing as a flyweight at age fourteen. He knew he was known as the “Lancaster Thunderbolt,” and often as Leo Houck due to a misspelled promotional piece. Joe’s father, who successfully boxed in every weight up to heavyweight (as he grew) is named in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Now Joe knows a bit more.

To see more pictures and the complete article, check out this link in LNP Newspapers.

Five Stars for Land Of Mountains

This is the first time my five-star review has revisited any author. You see, I like to toot the horn for as many authors as possible, often talking about the first in a series. But this book is a stand-alone, and in an entirely different category. For a different age, as well. Middle-grade to young adult versus adult mystery.

First Cover

First Cover

Okay, enough with  the blather. Land of Mountains by Jinx Schwartz is the viewpoint story of ten-year-old Lizbuthann, Texan, who moves to Haiti with her family during the 1950s. If Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a must for every boy (and girl) to read, equally, Land of Mountains is a must for every girl (and boy) to read! (Hey, I know exclamation marks should only be used once in every full-length novel, if ever. You’ll understand if you read this book.)

New Cover

New Cover

Here’s the Amazon blurb: “A ten-year-old’s new home on an exotic Caribbean island proves so fascinating she quickly forgets she didn’t want to leave Texas. After all, where better than a jungle world teeming with voodoo, mystery, and a really pesky zombie, to indulge her favorite pastime: snooping.

“In this humorous mystery, award-winning author Jinx Schwartz transports the reader to another time and place where rivers, and little girls, ran wild and free.”

One reviewer says: LAND OF MOUNTAINS by Jinx Schwartz is a Young Adult book for readers from 8 to 108. The book is a finalist for a 2012 Eppie award.

“LAND OF MOUNTAINS is a fun read, with serious overtones and underpinnings. WECLOM to Haiti, a country verging on revolution when Elizabeth Ann or Ann, as her father calls her, and her family of Texas Southern Baptists arrive in 1954. Haiti, they soon learn, is a child’s paradise and an adult’s nightmare.”

I first discovered this book in time to give it to my third granddaughter when she was twelve. She thanked me profusely. (Note – kids haven’t written any reviews.) That one had the first cover. Last December I gave the same book (new cover) to my fourth granddaughter, age eleven. Her fifteen-year-old brother took one look at that new cover and said, “I am so going to read that. (Have I made up for the lack of youth reviews?)

Land of Mountains is sold as an ebook and paperback (with either cover) at Amazon link.