Excerpt and Guest Blog Post by Terri Bruce
Where I Get My Character Names
Welcome to my virtual birthday party! This month, I’m celebrating three important dates: my birthday, the six-month anniversary of my “book baby,” Hereafter, and the feast of Parentalia (February 13th-21st), an ancient Roman celebration to commemorate one’s ancestors and placate the spirits of the dead.
Today I wanted to share with you some insider tips on where I get my character names. My mother-in-law recently remarked that she’d noticed that there was a character in Hereafter that had the same last name as my best friend. “Is that her brother?” she asked.
Actually, no; it turns out that Tommy Barrett is an entirely made up name. Well, sort of, because yes, I did use my best friend’s last name for the character. There are actually a lot of “real” people buried in the pages of my books. The reason for that is two-fold: one, it’s a quiet nod to friends and family, and two, I’m really horrible at making up names. Unchecked, my books would consist of two dozen Smiths and one or two Joneses or Murrays, despite the fact that I’m Italian, I spent four years working with immigrants from all over the globe, and I currently work in a city that is 74% Latino—so it’s not like the only kinds of names I hear all day are Smith and Jones. I can only credit my lame name-making-up skills to the fact that I’m terrible at remembering names in real life. My husband and I once met our new neighbors and spent almost an hour talking to them. Once they left, we turned to each other and said, “What were their names?” We couldn’t remember, and since we’d just spent a really long time talking to them, we were too embarrassed to admit we couldn’t remember their names the next time we met. For the next two years, there was a lot of, “Hey…you!” every time I met either of them. One day, a moving truck pulled up in front of our building. “Who is that for?” I asked the neighbor who lived on the other side of me. “Jane and Adam (*not their real names) are moving out,” she replied. “Who are Jane and Adam?” I asked blankly. Turns out, they were the people whose names I hadn’t been able to remember for the last two years. Finally, on the day they moved out (after which I never saw them again), I learned their names. And, of course, now I’ll never forget.
Anyway, that’s the dirty little secret of me and names. So, today, I thought it would be fun to share some of the hidden names in Hereafter and its forthcoming sequel, Thereafter.
So first of all—Irene and Jonah: are they named for anyone I know? As the main characters, you would think they would be; however, they are not. Both names kind of popped in my head while I was writing and stuck. I find that characters tend to name themselves—I often will go through several names while I’m writing until I find one that “sticks.” Funnily enough, some people have said they disliked the name Irene because it felt like an “old lady name.” In a way, it is—kids don’t get to pick their names; their parents do, and Irene’s mother is actually quite a bit older than Irene. In Hereafter, it’s stated that Irene was a “late life surprise” for Deborah (Irene’s mother), so it’s not surprising that Irene would have a name from the 1940s/1950s—that’s when her mother grew up.
Jonah, also named himself, and quite frankly, I did not like the name at first. Jonah, I felt, was old-fashioned, and, unlike Irene, there was no reason for him to purposely have an old-fashioned name. However, it suited him and it grew on me. Now I can’t picture him having any other name.
Irene’s mother, Deborah, is named for one of my friends, and they share some personality traits in common. The various families mentioned in Irene’s neighborhood are all named for friends or family—Barrett, Woodbury, McKenzie.
Howard Schlim is the combination of the first name of a former co-worker the character was modeled on and the last name of the family that we bought our house from. Itza is named for a client I had once—a wonderful, kind woman—I fell in love with the name and it’s stuck in my head ever since. Ernest is the last name of my grandmother’s first husband.
In Thereafter, the character Andras is named for my sister. Andras is an anagram of my sister’s name (Sandra). I was messing around with the letters in her name and then realized Andras is actually a real name, and more importantly, an historical/period-appropriate name of the character. Kismet!
Ian’s last name, McFarland, is a slight modification of the last name of a former of a very nice former coworker. Gao, the Chinese philosopher, is actually a historical person—there really was a Chinese philosopher named Gao who lived around 420-350 BCE. The story behind the character Gao is interesting—I knew I wanted Irene to talk to a philosopher at some point, and I wanted him to be a real person. I considered several European philosophers from the 1600s to the 1800s, but given that I had all of time and every culture on the globe to choose from, this felt unnecessarily weighted toward white western, modern culture. I considered Socrates, but this seemed too easy and somewhat clichéd. Entirely by accident, while Googling something else, I came across a brief mention of Gao. My interest was instantly aroused and I dug further. It turns out, not a lot is known about Gao as his writings have been lost, which in a way was perfect—there was just enough information to ground him in reality, but then the rest was a blank canvas upon which I could construct my fictional character. Perfect!
And there you have it—super-secret insider information on the real meaning behind some of the names in the Hereafter series.
She wasn’t sure what to do next. The house seemed quiet and still—in fact, almost dead. She listened hard. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but somehow the house, her house, seemed foreign and strange. The house seemed to be holding its breath, almost as if it was waiting for something. She felt the thick, gathered pause pushing around her. Irene shivered. She crossed her upper arms, trying to smooth away the sudden goose bumps. How could she get goose bumps if she was dead?
The phone rang, causing her to jump. Her drink crashed to the floor. She stared at the phone stupidly for a moment, and then, recognizing LaRayne’s phone number on the caller I.D., she grabbed the receiver.
“Yes! It’s me!” Relief flooded through her. LaRayne could hear her!
There was a pause and then LaRayne said, “Hello?”
“LaRayne? Can you hear me?”
Relief fizzled away. Disappointment washed over her, so strong her knees buckled and she grabbed the counter for support.
The line went dead. LaRayne had hung up.
Slowly, Irene replaced the receiver, numb with shock.
The phone rang again. Irene let the answering machine pick up this time.
“Hey, Irene. It’s LaRayne…I’ve left you some messages...well…you know…call or whatever.”
Irene cleaned up the spilled drink, sweeping the broken glass into a dustpan and dumping it in to the trash, and then mixed herself another one. She wandered back to the hall and then back to the kitchen and finally to the living room where she dropped heavily onto the couch. She sipped her drink, not really tasting it. Then she spied her laptop across the room on a chair. She fetched it, firing it up.
Email. Yes, that’s it—email. I’ll email everyone and tell them what happened, she thought through a fog of mounting hysteria.
Even as she thought it, dully watching the computer scroll through start-up screens, the “drunk emailing” incident of a few years ago—which had led to then-boyfriend Chase becoming ex-boyfriend Chase—came to mind. The part of her that was still thinking rationally pointed out that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to email anyone until she knew for certain what exactly was going on.
You still don’t know what you want anyone to do, she thought. Call a doctor? Perform an exorcism? What, exactly, was the remedy here?
Thirty-six-year-old Irene Dunphy didn't plan on dying any time soon, but that's exactly what happens when she makes the mistake of getting behind the wheel after a night bar-hopping with friends. She finds herself stranded on Earth as a ghost, where the food has no taste, the alcohol doesn't get you drunk, and the sex...well, let's just say "don't bother." To make matters worse, the only person who can see her-courtesy of a book he found in his school library-is a fourteen-year-old boy genius obsessed with the afterlife. This sounds suspiciously like hell to Irene, so she prepares to strike out for the Great Beyond. The only problem is that, while this side has exorcism, ghost repellents, and soul devouring demons, the other side has three-headed hell hounds, final judgment, and eternal torment. If only there was a third option...
Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats.
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