I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when Ellen Meister agreed to be my guest for this interview. I’ve admired her writing for several years and I was lucky enough to have her editorial expertise available to me while getting my own novel ready to send out to publishers and agents. Ellen is the author of SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA, THE SMART ONE, and her highly anticipated (by more than me!) upcoming novel THE OTHER LIFE, due out next month.
BREATHE: Are the meanings of your characters’ names important to you or do you just search for a name that fits?
EM: I search for a name that feels right. And of course it’s hard to explain why one name seems to work for a character and another doesn’t. It’s usually a gut reaction.
Sometimes I’ll research the meaning of a character’s name AFTER I’ve selected it, just out of curiosity. Usually they fit. But I’ve never renamed a character because the meaning on some baby name site doesn’t jibe.
BREATHE: Looking back through your first two novels, I find some interesting choices, for women’s names in particular. In your second novel, the names Bev, Clare and Joey perfectly illustrate the differences between the characters, which is essential to the story. Which of your character names (in any of your work) is your favorite?
EM: My favorites are the ones that seem to reflect the personality so perfectly they make my work easier. In my first novel, SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA, I had carefully conceived three main characters and named them Maddie, Ruth and Lisa. Then, as I was writing the first chapter, a best friend showed up at Maddie’s side. Her name was Beryl, which was perfect for this wisecracking woman.
I also like Joey, the nickname for one of the sisters in THE SMART ONE. Before I named her I knew I wanted something more boyish than androgynous, and “Joey” felt so right it instantly defined her.
BREATHE: The name of your main character in THE OTHER LIFE, Quinn Braverman, is very unique. How did you go about selecting it?
EM: Quinn was a tough character to name. When I first conceived the book, I was calling her Marla. But as I struggled with my opening chapters, it hit me that I was using the wrong name. Her mother was an artist and would have chosen something more unusual. Quinn was the first thing that popped into my head, but it was hard to make the mental switch after I’d been calling her Marla for such a long time, so I kept researching names. At last I realized that nothing beat Quinn, and so I rolled up my sleeves, started writing and presto, it all came together. Quinn was the right choice.
The last name, Braverman, was inspired by a next door neighbor.
BREATHE: Do you feel a character’s name affects the way you write him or her?
EM: Sometimes. Clearly, my experience with Quinn in THE OTHER LIFE proved that it can be hard to move forward when you have the wrong name.
BREATHE: Are there any names you will never use for a character? Why or why not?
EM: I don’t think any names are off limits, but I’m careful not to give similar names to any characters within the same work. It can be hard enough for a reader to keep track of characters, and I don’t want to make it any more difficult than it has to be. I even try to stay away from using the same first letter for any two characters, unless there’s a point to it. (Anyone remember Goofus and Gallant?)
More about THE OTHER LIFE:
What if you could return to the road not taken?
Quinn Braverman is keeping two secrets from her loving husband, Lewis. One is that the real reason she chose him over Eugene, her neurotic, semi-famous ex-boyfriend, was to prove to her mother that she could have a happy, stable relationship with the guy next door.
The other is that Quinn knows another life exists in which she made the other choice and stayed with Eugene. The two lives run in parallel lines, like highways on opposite sides of a mountain. There, on the other side, the Quinn who stayed with Eugene is speeding through her high-drama, childless life in Manhattan. Here, the Quinn who married Lewis lives in the suburbs, drives a Volvo, and has an adorable young son with another baby on the way.
But the important part of the secret—the part that terrifies and thrills her—is that she knows it’s possible to cross from one life to the other. So far she’s played it safe, never venturing over to see what’s on the other side. Then a shocking turn of events rattles Quinn to her very core, and she makes the reckless choice to finally see what she’s been missing.
There, she not only rediscovers her exciting single life, but meets the one person she thought she’d lost forever. Her mother.
But Quinn can’t have both lives. Soon, she must decide which she really wants—the one she has…or the other life?
Very good interview, Michelle and Ellen. Since participating in this, I have come to view characters’ names a little differently. I’m not sure if that was the intent, but now I’ve been paying attention to the names I give my characters.
Thanks, AJ. I hope it isn’t a bad thing that you’re paying closer attention to character names? I didn’t intend to change the way you write at all!
Thanks for sharing Ellen with us, Michelle! Great insights!
The thanks all goes to Ellen for sharing with me and the rest of us!
This was a fun interview, Michelle! I spend so much energy thinking about character names and people almost never ask about that. 🙂
Thanks for the opportunity!
Thanks for agreeing to do it, Ellen! You’re always fun to talk to, and I can’t wait to read your new book.
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