Reader Question: How Do You Name Your Characters?

This reader question and answer originally ran in my April newsletter. If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter, and get all the posts mailed directly to you, sign up here. We do monthly giveaways and have “sneak peeks” at chapters from upcoming books.

This question is from my book club friend (and also new beta reader) MaryAnn Perdue:

Q: Is there a special process you use to name your characters?

A: I get all my names from a baby name book by Laura Wattenberg called “The Baby Name Wizard.” It not only gives a list of hundreds of names, but adds nicknames, variations in spelling, possible brother and sister names (which I use!), what eras the name was popular (you can’t give a born-in-the-80s, 30-year-old hero a popular 2014 name!), etc. It’s such a fun book.

My heroines’ names were all predetermined years ago (because they are sisters and mentioned in each other’s books — I said somewhere that their mother loved France, and that she gave her daughters all French-sounding names — Giselle, Lia and Noelle).

But my heroes’ names I come up with for each book, based on the personality I want them to convey. “Fin” was a strange choice, I must admit, but it suited the quiet hero I had in mind for The Red Bikini. “Evan” is a name I always liked, and had the sharp “v” in there that sounds tough to me, so it worked for my tough, cranky sea captain in Ten Good Reasons. I’m currently writing my first “nerd hero” for Book 3 and named him “Elliott.”

Secondary characters are actually a little harder. You don’t necessarily need a name you “like.” You simply need a name that can convey quite a bit about the character simply by the name. Since you have so few words to develop secondary characters, names go a long way. The name might signify the era the character was born, the probable social status of the character, the region of the world the character was born, etc. For secondary characters, sometimes names just jump out at me. “Fox” and “Tamara” in The Red Bikini did; “Kyle” and “Dennis” in Ten Good Reasons did. But other names — like “Rabbit” and his real name “Henry” in The Red Bikini and like “Cora” in Ten Good Reasons — take me some time. For those, I usually pour a tall glass of wine and flip through my Baby Name Wizard book (sometimes several nights in a row) until I land on a name that sounds right for the person I’m picturing.

So far I haven’t worked my way through all my favorite names, but I’ll probably come to readers for advice in a few more books!

I also wrote this post in 2011 called How To Find Good Names for a Character that gives actual tips, if you’re writing your own book!

Have a question? Send to It’ll probably be featured in the next newsletter!

‘Door Prize’ Winner!

And the winner is...

The winner of “The Red Bikini Book Club” door prize is …

Phyllis Wenzel!

Congrats, Phyllis! Email me at with your snail-mail address, and I’ll get that out to you!

I had a great time at my first-ever online book club! I’m not sure how long the event page will stay live, but for now, if you want to scroll through some of the fun answers, it should be here.

Stepping Off the Roller Coaster…


I feel like the roller coaster known as “Summer of 2014” just screeched to a halt, and I’m getting off now, holding my stomach, calming my jittery nerves, squinting into the sunlight, and thinking, Damn! What a ride!

It was fun and exhilarating; wild and exhausting; but nervewracking, busy, frantic.

And it all flew by in a blur.

The wildness of the summer started in May, was punctuated by a multitude of milestone birthdays and events, and ran all the way to Labor Day. Here are the highlights:

  • May 3 – Oldest son turns 21: party? gift? We didn’t know what to do. (It’s not like we saw this coming for 21 years, right?…)
  • May 16 – Oldest son finishes second-semester of college: airport, re-configuring space at home, buying more groceries, planning family get-togethers, figuring out transportation for a new job 26 miles away, what to do for his birthday, etc.
  • May 24 – Sis-in-law turns 50: milestone birthday, fun 2-day party, photos galore, etc. Her birthday party turns into the see-oldest-son-home-and-wish-him-a-happy-21st-birthday moment for the whole family.
  • June – Middle daughter child graduates from high school: party? gift? It’s not like we saw this coming for 12 years of school, right? … We ended up knee-deep in announcements, math tutoring, photos, banquets, party planning, friends, prom, grad gown rental, shop for her shoes/dresses, grad night, etc., etc. And yeah, we planned a party.
  • July 1 – My first book launch! Egads! Craziness! Facebook contests, blog posts, interviews, social media, writing to friends, contacting relatives, watching stats, signing books, doing newsletters, etc., etc. This went on for a month, overlapping all these other things.
  • July 14 – My job moves from Mission Viejo to Newport Beach: packing, unpacking, learning a new drive route, figuring out lunches, changing youngest son’s schedule, getting up earlier, more time on the road, etc., etc.
  • July 28 – Father-in-law turns 70: another milestone birthday, another fun 3-day birthday party, photos galore.
  • August – Middle daughter getting ready to go away to college, along with oldest son: packing, following lists, boxes all over the dining room, going through daughters room/ closet/ clothes/ drawers for what she needs to bring, shopping for bedding, cords, lamps, rugs, wastebaskets, shower caddies, desk supplies, etc.
  • August 9 – Middle daughter child turns 18: party? gift? (It’s not like we saw this coming for 18 years, right? But somehow I didn’t see all these milestones in the same year!) She’s already swept up in college-getting-ready, though, and hasn’t looked back — doesn’t want a big celebration, just wants to get stuff for college.
  • August 14-16 – Last-minute appointments for college kids: vaccines, eye exams, contact lenses, glasses updates, etc.
  • August 16-17 – My two older kids saying goodbye to extended family: pizza, playing games, photos, fun
  • August 20 – Road trip to college with the whole family: packing, planning, buying travel items, booking hotels, finalizing registration, finalizing orientation, paperwork, maps, organizing week off from work, etc.
  • August 23 – We return home, just the three of us. We reorganize the chaos we left in daughter’s bedroom and dining room from the crazy last-minute packing, then get ready to return to work.
  • August 26 – Second book’s cover reveal: more promo, blog post, Facebook posts, etc.
  • Sept 4 – Youngest starts sophomore year in high school
  • Now – Take some deep breaths! Step off the roller coaster. Summer 2014 is over!

Maybe that’s why I’m so happy about September.


Come to My Book Club!

Book club graphic

I’d love for you all to join me for a fun online event Friday, Sept. 19 — a book-club discussion of “The Red Bikini”! I’ll ask you questions about the book (from “What do you think all the strawberries meant?” to fun things like “What was your favorite line of Fin’s?” or “Who could play him in a movie?”), and you can ask me anything you want about writing it.

Come see what others answer and ask!

This event is two weeks away, so you have plenty of time to read the book, re-read the book, or get a friend to read the book and join us. I can’t wait to chat with you all!

P.S. The event goes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., but you don’t have to be available the whole time — just come jump in any time you like, even if only for 15 minutes!

P.P.S. If you can’t attend the event at all on Friday, but you’re interested in what everyone says, click “join” anyway, and you’ll still get all the questions with links to the answers, which you can then peruse later in your own time.

To join and get more info, click here.

(And thank you to Carli Krueger for the adorable event graphic! — Isn’t it cute?)

Behind the Scenes – Meet Carli!


This piece originally ran in my March newsletter. If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter, and get all the posts mailed directly to you, sign up here. We also do monthly giveaways and have “sneak peeks” at chapters from upcoming books.

There are a lot of people helping me “behind the scenes” — either proofreading for me, beta reading, marketing or otherwise lending their support. And I want to introduce them to you and show off their talents! This month, meet Carli, my lovely website and newsletter designer.

I met Carli through my son. She’s originally from Phoenix, AZ, but she went to school at the University of Montana, where my son goes. She studied Journalism and worked as a design editor on the award-winning Kaimin newspaper. After she graduated two years ago, she landed a job in Orange County, CA, designing the newspaper at The Orange County Register (where I used to work!). My son introduced us when he was home from Montana one day, and Carli’s been helping me out with a variety of cool design projects ever since. I love supporting talented young people — especially talented young women — and I put myself on Carli’s brand-new client list immediately!

Carli designed my website and redesigned my blog, does my newsletter every month, created all my logos, creates my postcards/ notecards/ business cards, and she’s been designing the darling cartoons for my Facebook events. So many of you have complimented me on these things, so I wanted to show off the real talent behind them!

It’s so fun and exciting to meet such obvious up-and-coming talent. I’m lucky to have met her.

She just moved on to yet another exciting opportunity at a newspaper in the Pacific Northwest, though, so she and I won’t get to do our over-dinner meets anymore. I’m sad about that, but so excited for her to embark on this new opportunity. And I still plan to pepper her with my constant emails and Facebook messages so she can still do her magic for me!

Carli specializes in fonts, logos, and also writes and illustrates. Here’s her website: 

Next time: Meet the beta readers!

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