Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Pressure of a Name

I have so many fun memories of being pregnant. Reading all those books to check out the size of that little thing inside me. Watching my stomach move like there was an alien in there. Even seeing the numbers on the scale continuously climb, knowing at some point they would have to come down, didn’t bother me.

What I found more stressful than anything was actually having to pick a name for that person who would inevitably come out and need to be called something. Forever.
As someone who changes my mind pretty often, deciding on something that permanent was kind of daunting, not only once, but twice. So much so that on the way to the hospital with my second child, in between contractions came my husband’s pleading request… “Please. Just pick a girl’s name.” (We were between two.) Luckily, it was a boy and I never had to decide.
It wasn’t until years later, while I was writing, that I realized something. Picking a living person’s name didn’t have to be permanent or the worst kind of pressure. If my daughter comes home when she’s 20 and tells me that she hates her name and is changing it to Ice Cream Sundae, then Ice Cream Sundae she will be.
But a character’s name? Once it’s in print? Yep, that’s forever. There’s no changing it and no going back.
And so enters a whole other kind of stress.
So I kind of cheated when I began picking characters’ names for At This Stage. I dug through my memory bank to find names that we wanted to choose for our kids but which never made it to the finish line. Jackson was the easiest. My husband and I both loved that one, but I vetoed it because there were already too many derivatives of it in our families. For Kaitlyn, I knew I wanted a name I thought was strong, both in the full version of her name and her nickname. Many of the others were names we’d considered, too, with some alterations along the way.
Now that I’m embarking on having to choose more names for my next book, I’m finding the process doesn’t really get any easier. It’s kind of the opposite of naming your child, where you pick a name but have no idea what kind of human you’re getting. Here, I have an idea of who the person is going to be and I need to find a name to fit.
Maybe I’ll have to have another child so I can increase my name pool for future novels.
Um, nope…I think I’ll just buy one of those baby naming books instead.

Monday, June 2, 2014

What's For Dinner?

I absolutely love food. And I don’t discriminate. I’m as likely to gorge myself on some delicious sloppy street food as I am to enjoy a beautiful meal over a bottle of wine.
The fact is, I don’t think I’ve ever met a cuisine that didn’t offer at least one dish I felt I could sink my teeth into. For me, one of the best parts of visiting a place I’ve never traveled to before is eating where the locals do. I used to be too shy to ask random people on the street for recommendations. But after doing it a few times, I came to realize something – most people don’t mind being accosted by a stranger if the stranger is asking for a restaurant endorsement in the town they love.

My husband, Neil, and I have what we call our “benchmark” foods. When trying a new restaurant, we order some go-to dishes to do a quick assessment. If I’m having Mexican, for instance, I have to start with black bean soup. And if I’m eating anything Cajun (a personal favorite), there’s got to be crawfish at some point during my meal. Neil and I debate this one. He’ll fight for his jambalaya with his dying breath.
We would love for our kids to be miniature foodies, too. We recently started doing something new with them. Whenever we travel to a new state, we pick a food the state is known for, ask a bunch of locals where we can find the best (fill in the blank), and set off in search of the place that got the most votes. We’ve only done it a few times so far, but if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that the locals are ALWAYS right.

And the kids get a kick out of asking strangers for their suggestions, since under any other situation, that’s a total no-no, of course.

It shouldn’t have been a huge surprise for me to see that a love of food came through in my writing. But when I finished my first draft of At This Stage and read through it, I was hit with my characters’ eclectic eating habits. I realized that, though unintentional, there was actually a part of me (and Neil) in them.

So we’ll keep exploring different dishes and bothering unsuspecting people with our questions. If there’s a great dish in your town, let me know where to go and save a stranger near you.