If you’ve read my blog much at all in the past, you’ve probably encountered this author’s name. A.J. Brown writes some truly amazingly horrible stuff. But he writes it so well nobody really minds. I asked A.J. to participate in my blog project because I wanted some insight into how a horror writer chooses names, and if there’s an area of horror whose depths A.J. has not fully explored, I’m not familiar with it.
BREATHE: You write short stories of varying lengths. Some are very nearly novel length. Obviously, the more story a character has, the easier it is to get to know him or her. Does this affect how you name your characters at all?
AJB: Yes and no. I usually have no clue how long one of my stories is going to be. Sometimes I start out intending to write something really short only to have it end up being twelve thousand words and then sometimes I have a long story in mind only to have it played out in five thousand words or even less. So, yes, if I have a feeling the story is going to be long, then I do pick a name for the character(s), but if I’m not sure I may toy with naming them and in other cases I don’t name them at all until I realize the story is going to be much longer than I intended. Then I have to go back and rewrite most of the story to liven it up with the character’s personality.
BREATHE: Does the fact that you write horror affect how you name your characters? (I know writing romance has had a definite effect on the names of my characters!)
AJB: Only when I’m trying to create a particularly nasty character does the genre come into play, and then that is based on the characters themselves. For the most part, I try to write realistic characters with realistic fears and desires with realistic lifestyles. With that in mind, I try to pick normal names for my characters. However, when I want to create a really bad person, I try to get a name that reflects that—or counteracts it, as well. I just created a character named Pax for what I hope becomes a series of short stories. He’s a very bitter man who lost everything and everyone that meant anything to him. He’s not a big talker, but big about action and taking care of business, so when he does talk, it’s usually to speak his mind about something. I toyed with a couple of names, but none of them fit. Then I pictured him with his teeth clenched, gun in hand and staring down his enemy and Pax just fit him.
BREATHE: What’s the most difficulty you’ve ever had coming up with a name for a character?
AJB: That’s a tough one for me—I’m a parent and my wife and I discussed both of our children’s names until we finally settled on their names and both of their names have meaning to us and so sometimes I agonize over a character’s name. Not because that character should be a certain way, but because when I write a story that is of any length, I often see my characters as children and with children their names can either help them or hurt them in their school years. Some would argue that point, but it is as I’ve seen it in my life.
BREATHE: Do you feel a character’s name affects the way you write him or her?
AJB: Yes. Back to the previous question, it all depends on how I view the character. If I see them as a child and if I’m going to use anything from that character’s childhood, then the name becomes significant to me. I know I’m weird to picture my characters as children, but that’s the way I picture folks I don’t know when trying to figure out why they would or would not do something. The past tells so many stories about a person’s, well, personality.
BREATHE: Are there any names you will never use for a character? Why or why not?
AJB: Yes. My children’s names. Since I write a lot about death and misery, I can’t use their names in my stories, simply because of how I view those names.
I asked A.J. to share an excerpt from one of his works in which the names of the characters are particularly significant. He sent me an excerpt from a story called “Always Marilyn”, and it’s perfect in more ways than one. Not only is the name of the character one we can all relate to, its attributes and associations are thoroughly explored. Check it out below.
Excerpt from “ALWAYS MARILYN”:
They call it writer’s block. I call it a fucking wall. One I can’t see over or go around or even scale with some rope so I can at least get back on the other side where creativity awaits me in the form of beautiful words that I liken to Marilyn Monroe—buxom and sexy and wanting to be explored.
Thoughts of Marilyn—my Marilyn, not Monroe—surface and my jaws clench tight. She’s a beauty alright. Blond, like Monroe, big chested, like Monroe, pouty lips begging to kiss or suck, like Monroe. A great lay—probably like Monroe. Not dead, unlike Monroe. No, my Marilyn had the cheating heart and the spreading legs to go with those pouty lips and big breasts. And she was married to me for several years as I cranked out novel after novel and she reaped the benefits of having a writer for a husband, while many other men reaped the benefits of her body.
How long has she been gone, out of my life because of a bigger dick and a bigger paycheck? Three years? Four? I check the calendar and note my last sell—nearly four years ago. It was right after that when the well went dry. She took everything. The money, the house, my car… my reputation. All it took was a few well placed lies and she had written her own book of abuse and cheating and drugs. Most of which were untrue. The drugs… well, that part wasn’t fiction. We both did what we could to stay high, to stay on the track of marriage and popularity, though I think I tried to stay on the marriage train longer than she did.
The divorce I can live with. Other than great sex, we never really had anything in common. She was my trophy wife and I was her sugar daddy, being twelve years older than she was and with money, I guess the allure of fancy cars and a big house and a life in the limelight was enough to get her to stick around for a couple of decades. Thank God there were no kids in the mix or things would have probably ended a lot sooner and I probably wouldn’t have my old PC, even if it was a gift from a relative given to me after the divorce.