What’s in a Name?

Or how I got to name people who couldn’t complain!

While I’ve been asked many times where I got the idea for Ashmore’s Folly, no one has ever asked me how I came up with the names for my characters. I have agonized over each and every name — and only two characters have had the same name all the way through.

Naming a character is as fraught with anxiety as naming a child. With a child, however, you don’t know ahead of time whether or not the name will suit him/her. In fiction, the name must fit the character; it is actually part of the personality of the character.

No insult to the Freds of the world, but Richard was never going to be Fred (maybe Frederick, if I liked the name). Laura was never going to be Mary Sue. Diana was never going to be Jane. There’s nothing wrong with those names, but they don’t convey what I wanted in the respective characters.

Laura Rose Abbott St. Bride

Laura had so many names over the years: Christabel (from Coleridge’s poem), Pamela (no! that never would have done! even though a Pamela is a very dear friend of mine), Catherine/Cat, Marianna (after another dear friend), and Diana. None of those worked, although Cat survived as her stage name. I wanted a soft, feminine name, and I came up short until one night I watched the old film noir Laura. The name signified a woman who was an enigma even to those who knew her best. My heroine has been Laura ever since. It also helped that Laura was Plutarch’s muse, so the name had a classical appeal and fit in with the other names for the Abbott sisters.

The Rose of her middle name came from a Louisa May Alcott book I loved when I was a girl called Rose in Bloom.

Originally, St. Bride was St. John. However, there is a musician named Lara St. John, so I decided to change it to a name that I read somewhere in a book a long time ago. St. Bride is not a common name at all, so I settled on that.

Richard Patrick Ashmore

Richard has been Richard for most of his existence. I’ve always loved the name, and it was the name of my favorite Mary Stewart hero (Richard Byron). When my sister Lauri said last year that she was sort of squicked out by him having that name (because we have a brother named Richard), I thought of changing it to Brandon, since I was no longer using that as a last name. Then, Twihard that I am, I thought of the very attractive vampire Garrett played by Lee Pace in Breaking Dawn, Part II, so I tried Garrett Ashmore on for size. That name even went out to my beta readers. However, no matter what, my hero was still Richard to me. It just suited him — aristocratic, dignified, not trendy. A lot of Virginia scions have had the name Richard.

The middle name Patrick came about because (1) I love the name, and (2) I had long since decided that Richard’s mother came from Ireland.

Originally, Richard’s family name was Brandon. This is an old Virginia name, and I thought that Richard Brandon was exactly right for the scion of a Virginia aristocratic family. There is even a plantation called Upper Brandon. Then my friend Patti Burroughs pointed out that it was one letter off from Richard Branson, who couldn’t be more different from my hero. I needed a name that sounded like a family that might have come over from England and settled in Virginia in the early 1600s, and I went through a number of ideas before I thought of James Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn, which is adjacent to Monticello, and the name Ashmore popped into my head. I ran it by a few people, who approved it enthusiastically.

So Richard became Richard Ashmore.

Julia (Julie) Ashmore

Originally named Judy. Wouldn’t have worked at all. (Oh, and originally Richard and Diana had had three children, with the other two being named Search and Ross. Not only were those two completely unnecessary, but Diana was never, ever going to have three kids. The Ashmores could barely stand being married to each other long enough to have Julie. So Search and Ross vanished into the ether.)

Cameron St. Bride

Originally Gavin St. John, the Gavin being a homage to Barbara Michaels’ first book and one of my favorite Gothics, The Master of Blacktower. But Gavin is just too much of a romance hero name. I don’t know where Cameron came from, but one day it was just there, and it was perfect. Plus, I liked the nickname Cam.

Diana Renée Abbott Ashmore

Diana was one of the names I thought of for Laura, but it never fit. Diana herself was originally Leslie, and I still think that might have worked. Then I must confess, I read a biography/tell-all about Diana, Princess of Wales, that was not at all complimentary about her mental state and, indeed, implied that she was a borderline personality. My Diana is not borderline, but she is definitely unstable. So the oldest Abbott daughter became Diana, for the Princess.

Lucia (Lucy) Gianna Abbott Maitland

I always knew that the second sister would have an L name, and I went through so many: Lacey, Libby, Lizzie, Lydia. Then I thought of what I had established as Dominic Abbott’s penchant for Italian names, and Lucia came to mind. Lucia, of course, led to Lucy in the space of a second. Perfect! I thought the name illuminated Lucy’s girl-next-door persona and emphasized her friendly, outgoing nature.

Francesca (Francie) Mariah Abbott

Oh, if I had trouble with a name, this was it! She had so many iterations: Felicia, Fernanda (not sure where that came from), Catherine, Christina, Patricia, Annabel, Francine. Again, the Italian came to the rescue, and Francine became Francesca. Francesca implied mystery, a touch of the exotic — perfect for Francie’s wild-child, bad-girl persona.

As for the Mariah — I can’t say too much yet.

Dominic Abbott

That was not his original first name, although Abbott was ALWAYS the last name. I decided he was an ex-monk, and I thought first of St. Francis of Assisi. No, this man was no St. Francis. Then I thought of St. Dominic, which suggested the idea of domination. Dominic certainly attempts to dominate his daughters.

Renée Dane Marlowe

In the interest of not committing libel, I will not divulge where I came up with the name Renée. Marlowe is from Christopher Marlowe. In early drafts, the girls’ mother was so unimportant that I didn’t bother to name her.

Margaret (Meg) St. Bride

Originally Gayla, after a college roommate. It didn’t work. I had already decided that Richard’s mother was named Peggy, so it wasn’t a stretch that Laura would have named her daughter for the only woman who had ever mothered her. Why Meg? See Little Women.

Mark St. Bride

An old, unlamented boyfriend who was rather rigid in his approach to life. ‘Nuff said.

Tom Maitland

Started off life as John Paul, because I so admired John Paul II. Then I changed him to Tom for Thomas Jefferson.

Philip and Peggy Ashmore

They were always Philip and Peggy. Peggy’s maiden name, O’Brien, was my grandmother’s maiden name.

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Flowers for a Milestone Day

Two of my co-workers surprised me with these this morning when I got to work. Aren’t they beautiful?


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Publication Date

I woke up this morning a published author. Shouldn’t I feel different? Younger, thinner, richer?

Today I have achieved a lifelong dream. A book I wrote is in print. It’s available in e-book. People can put it on their shelves, or they can download it to their Kindles. Laura and Richard have now taken their first steps into the world, and now they have to stand on their own.

No matter what happens — whether people love or hate the book, or read it and forget it five minutes later…

Nothing changes the fact that, today, I woke up a PUBLISHED AUTHOR!

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What’s in a Title?

One of the hardest decisions I had to make in writing the Ashmore’s Folly Trilogy was one of the most important:

What in the heck was I going to call this thing? Or things, once I broke it into three?

Ashmore’s Folly

The Ashmore’s Folly part was easy. It had been Brandon’s Folly to me for a long time, and indeed, that was a title on the shortlist when it was still all one long story. (Why Brandon? Because Richard was Richard Brandon for years and years, until someone pointed out that it was one letter off Richard Branson, who couldn’t be more different from my Richard). Not only is Richard’s folly with Francie a prime mover in this story, but I had in mind a grand architectural folly as well. So Ashmore’s Folly came naturally.

Here are some of the titles I assigned to the one long story over the years, in no particular order:

  • To Lay a Ghost (from a comment Richard makes to Laura after their first night together). I liked the double meaning, as she thought of herself as a “ghost of a girl” and you get rid of a ghost by laying it…Need I explain?
  • Cat Seen by Candlelight (long ago title, from a scene that no longer exists). Now that I think about it, Richard gazing at Laura through a window as she brushes her hair was too reminiscent of the Highlander that Frank sees watching Claire in the beginning of Outlander, which I hadn’t even read at the time. Also, it seems stalkerish, even though Laura was in Richard’s bedroom as he watched her through the window. Stupid title anyway!
  • Bring My Sister Home (also long ago). As someone said, it sounded like a child abuse survivor novel.
  • My Sister’s Husband. Descriptive and to the point, but no. Just no.
  • Blood Between Us, Love. I really liked this one, a phrase from Christina Rossetti. It survives as a chapter title. However, I didn’t think it quite captured the emotions in the story, and it could just as easily fit a vampire novel.
  • Across the Years. This is actually an old title. It did not, however, really convey everything I needed it to convey. It does survive as part of a recurrent phrase about time and tide and years, which could not destroy the bond between these two people who met as children.
  • Woe to You, Sister. This one, a phrase from a folk song, survives as a chapter title in the third book. It fits the chapter perfectly. Book title? It would have been a disaster.
  • Remnants of a Late Afternoon. Another title I really liked, but too long, and it mires them in the past. It does survive as the title for Part III in the first book.
  • Dominic’s Daughters. I came close to using this one, as the dynamic among the sisters is core to the story. But I felt that it sidelined Richard, who is half of the story.
  • Brandon’s Folly. I changed Richard’s last name anyway, for the reason detailed above. Why not call the story that? Because this is a story about both Laura and Richard, and not just the mistake Richard made as a much younger man.
  • Laughed Among the Ashes. This survives as a phrase in a pivotal scene in the first book.

Once I decided to split the story into its three natural sections (I will discuss how I made the split in another post), I then had to come up with not one but three titles. The trend for trilogies is to tie the titles together with a word or phrase (think of Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed). So I started playing with ideas. Since this trilogy is really one long story in which the hero comes out of stasis and the heroine journeys to become the woman she was always meant to be, I explored words that suggested the hero’s journey. “The Journey Home” was already a chapter title in the first book, and it fit that chapter so well that I did not think it belonged on the entire book. And then, for some reason, the word “all” came into mind.

One of my favorite songs from a musical is from Kismet: “And This is My Beloved.” The lyrics, “All that can stir, all that can stun, all that’s for the heart’s lifting” kept running through my mind, as if the universe were saying, “Listen up here!” I could imagine Laura singing that song with all the love she had felt across the years for Richard. So I listened. And I decided that “All” should be the unifying word in the trilogy titles.

All Who Are Lost

I wanted the theme of loss. Some of the characters are living half-lives, unable to move beyond self-inflicted losses. Ironically, as well, the character who is the most successful in worldly terms thinks of herself as a “loser” and has come to accept that as her fate.

I also wanted to convey the idea of wandering, as I felt that more than one character was wandering aimlessly through life. And then — even though I really don’t care for Tolkien — it put me in mind of his phrase: Not all who wander are lost.

But, in the first part of my story, those who wander through their lives are lost. Richard loses his parents in Chapter 1 and now stands alone, the last of his blood. Laura loses her father in Chapter 2, she lost her mother soon after birth, and she has long since lost the sister closest to her. Chapter 3 brings a shocking loss. Then there are the lost souls: Julie, certainly, and Diana as well. Francie is long since lost. Meg loses her identity, her sense of her place in her family.

Richard and Laura are lost as well, both trapped in static existences, successful in their public lives but unable to move beyond the terrible mistakes each made when they were young.

In fact, of the major characters, the only one who is not lost is Lucy Maitland.

All That Lies Broken

This was the easiest. In an important scene, Lucy says that “something always gets broken.” A lot breaks in this book — loyalties, family, property. By the end of Book 2, an entire artificial existence, carefully constructed by a master strategist who could not escape his own destiny, breaks wide open.

All That Burns the Dark

As this title is still tentative, I will add to this discussion later. Suffice it to say that “fire” and “burning” are thematic, as Laura goes through a trial by fire (a crucible, so to speak). The Catholic idea of purgatory lies very much beneath the surface.


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The Great Mary Stewart

I’ve decided to start off with a tribute to Mary Stewart (Lady Frederick Stewart), who died on May 9, 2014, at the age of 97.  Click here to read her obituary, which goes into some detail about her life.

When the news broke a couple of weeks ago about her death, many of my writer friends on Facebook all expressed how much they owed to her. She was the first great women’s fiction writer that many of us read growing up, and she stood as an advocate of strong, independent heroines in a time where most women’s books featured brainless Gothic heroines running around cliffs in their nightgowns. Take, for example, the narrator of her first book, ** Madam, Will You Talk? Charity Selborne is a young war widow still mourning the death of her husband over Pas de Calais, who organizes a trip through Provence, drives a sports car like a bat out of hell, faces down a man she believes to be a murderer to keep him from getting his hands on his son, and ultimately breaks the will of the real murderer in a great car chase along the cliffs of the Mediterranean.

** Ridiculously, this wonderful book is out of print! Get a clue, publishers!

As women, we learned much from Lady Stewart’s narrators. As writers, we learned about the power of setting from her lyrical descriptions of the landscapes of her novels. She wrote once that she always started with the land, and she never wrote about a location that she hadn’t personally investigated. She was astonishingly accurate; I used Google Earth to look up the locations mentioned in the ever-shifting background of Madam (written in the early 1950s), and you can pick them out to this day!

She made mistakes, of course. In Madam, she spent a paragraph describing a walk-0n character that we never heard of again, yet we had no idea what Charity looked like. All her heroes seemed to have grey eyes — perhaps her husband’s eyes were grey? She left out Charity’s background, but if you read Rose Cottage and Thornyhold, you get a good idea of what she intended for the backstories she left out of Madam. By her second book, Wildfire at Midnight, we knew a great deal more about her characters. I skip over Thunder on the Right, the novel she herself said she wanted to drown, because it seemed like a third-person experiment without much energy. By the time she wrote Nine Coaches Waiting, one of the great romantic suspense novels of all time, and The Ivy Tree, a story of two forbidden lovers who spend years paying for their folly, she was fully in command of her art.

Years ago, I wrote up notes for a Mary Stewart group on Yahoo Groups. If I can find those, I will post them. I did an in-depth analysis of Madam, and I can’t express how much I learned about structure just from that analysis.

Rest in peace, Lady Stewart, and thank you for the years of entertainment you gave us all.

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First Post…

So — I’ve never really done a blog before. I started one a long time ago, but it petered out quickly, and I can’t even find it now. So I’ve had to think long and hard what I want to write about, and — surprise! — I decided that I want to talk about myself, as an author and a reader.

Reading is my great passion in life. I am constantly reading, and now that I have my Kindle, I am never without a library at my fingertips. I spend a lot of my money on books (more than I should — let’s just say that my rebate in the great e-book settlement was well over $500), and I have so many books in the queue that I will never, never run out of things to read.

I was a reader before I was a writer — and I began to write early on. I always knew that I was going to be a writer, so I always approached books in a dual role: reader and learner. I knew I wanted to write stories that had people who fell and made mistakes and learned how to pick themselves up. As an INFP, I knew that emotion was more important to me than plot or structure, but I knew that I had to learn to put the story skeleton together before I could add the feelings. So I read and read, and I learned from some of the very best.

I have decided that I will write in this blog about how I write — the decisions I make with characters, the struggles I’ve had with structure, the ups and downs of this story that has taken so many years to write. But I also want to talk about the writers who have influenced me, so my next post is going to be about a great writer who died just a month ago. I will include some analyses that I did a long time ago on my favorite novel in her body of works. I don’t know if anyone is interested, but it will be fun for me to revisit the books that made such a difference to me as a writer.

Till later…

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