How do I pick character names?

I’ve been asked many times where I get my characters’ names. Often, they just come to me. Sometimes I need to do a bit of research. For first names I often use a resource: A Treasury of Baby Names by Alan Benjamin, copywriter of 1983. (I originally purchased the book to help with a name project I used to do with my students; we would look up what their names meant.) I have used websites for popular names of decades or if I want need an ethnic name.

For surnames, I not only use common names in these parts (i.e.. Johnson, Nelson, Anderson), but names that strike me from television shows or movie credits, or even paper programs handed out at sporting events or performances.  I have been known to check out obituaries for surnames, as well. 

My main objective is to select a name which will fit the physical image I have of the character. I try to use names that have different beginning letters, so the characters names don’t all begin with K’s for example, so you’re being annoyed by Ken, Kerry, Kevin, Kirk, Kylie, Kathleen, Katie all appearing in the same novel. There have been occasions where I used same letter names purposefully, for example, Adam and Adriana in Silver’s Bones, so Cal can lament that his ex-girlfriend’s name begins with the same letter as her new husband’s.

The main character of my mystery series is Cal Sheehan. I wanted a first name which wasn’t common and one I liked because Cal is a likable character. When I grew up there was a family of Sheehans living in the next town, and I always like the sound of their last name. His name just came to me.

In my first novel, I purposefully neglected to use names of family and friends, mostly to protect their privacy. Except for Lake Emmaline. Emma is my granddaughter’s name. Then friends and family members alike started requesting I use their names. I warned them that my characters are often shady people who do evil things. Most said they didn’t care. Huh. So, although I can’t possibly fill all their requests, I’ve begun to allow myself to use names of people I know if their name fits a character I am imagining. I NEVER…I repeat…NEVER, EVER use real people I know in my books. If I have used a first name of someone I know, I never picture them as the character.  If I see a stranger in a public place that is interesting to me, I will use their look and make up a name to suit them. Malls are great places to discover such people. You see all kinds.

We humans are great fodder for the writer. We are full of flaws and shortcomings doing stupid mean things to each other, and yet at other times we are kind and generous. Our behavior is both predictable and unpredictable; our desires and goals can be honorable or dishonorable. If we were’t such an interesting species, we writers would have no material.


Author Spotlight

The Red Pill

Insightful article written by my son, Shawn.  (

Yesterday I finished two days of REI training. You might be thinking this involved the outdoor retailer, but the training was with the Racial Equity Institute (REI). They were invited to the college I work at and I had the opportunity to sign up. The two days involved intense presentations of research data, fact-based history, documentary, discussing questions like “Why are poor people poor?” and “What do you like about being white?”. The purpose of REI training was to increase understanding of how racism developed and continues to operate at systemic levels in our society. There were about thirty other people in the training. Most of whom worked at the college and most of whom were white. Going into the training, I’d already had quite a bit of in-depth diversity training through graduate school and work. I’ve done some reading out of Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States. So I’m no stranger to ideas…

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When Detective Cal Sheehan learns no one’s heard from his childhood friend Mike Hawkinson in days, he begins an unofficial investigation. Cal follows a lead from Minnesota to Las Vegas, and back again. When “Hawk’s” car is later found abandoned north of Prairie Falls, Birch County officially opens a missing person’s case, which allows Cal to hunt for his buddy and investigate the strange circumstances surrounding his disappearance. But Cal doesn’t know whether he’s conducting a search and rescue—or a kidnapping and murder investigation—all this as he’s dealing with the blowback from a family tragedy.

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Book Review: Silver’s Bones by Midge Bubany

Source: Book Review: Silver’s Bones by Midge Bubany

Merry Murder and Mayhem

Saturday will be the first time I will sell/sign books at a holiday sale. I will be at the Holiday Fare in St. Peter at the Center for the Arts,  from 10:00 to 3:00. My talented cousin Roxy always sells her wonderful pottery there and recommended I try it. I’m looking forward to seeing her; our tables are supposed to be right next to each other. Pottery items make great gifts, but I don’t know how my murder mystery books will go over with a crowd that is Christmas shopping. What do you think? Merry murder and mayhem? See, I think books make wonderful gifts . . . and signed copies from the author?  Even better! Plus, many people like to read local authors set in their own area. My Cal Sheehan novels are set in small town Minnesota.  Cal’s a big likable guy; a young detective who has good instincts and a sense of humor. Because he’s handsome as all get out and a good man, he has no trouble whatsoever attracting  women. However, his choice of ladies often proves to be challenging for him. Perhaps it’s because he’s too trusting, or that his family is messed up. But his heart is in the right place, and he’s learning to be more discerning. Follow Cal’s journey as he continues to grow and change as an investigator and man seeking happiness.


I’m excited for my upcoming fall events! On Saturday, October 17, I will participate in the Twin Cities Book Festival at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. I will be one of many authors, publishers, etc. selling/signing books in the Progress Center from 10:00 to 12:00 with North Star Press, and from 1:00 to 3:00 with The Twin Cities Sisters in Crime. If you love books, and would like to meet authors, this is the place for you. There are also several workshops, speakers, etc. in the Fine Arts Center, just across the street.


On Wednesday, October, 21, from 10:30 to 11:30, I will be at the Delano Senior Center speaking to folks about my writing experience and books. Join us!

Then on November 7, from 10:00 to 3:00, I will be in St. Peter at the Arts Center for the Holiday Fare selling/signing books with John Abraham Watne.

The Summer of the Hummingbirds

IMG_1884IMG_1886IMG_1882IMG_1875 There are a few animals that especially interest  me: sea turtles, elephants, dolphins, whales, tigers, and hummingbirds. Out of this group, the only critters I can observe in my own backyard are hummingbirds. I’ve been so enthralled with my friend Jane’s  feeder at her lake home, upon which multiple hummingbirds feed at a time. Impressive, huh? This summer I decided to try my luck again. I purchased a new feeder at my local nursery. I bypassed all the shelves of the gaudy red and yellow feeders and headed for the cooler looking ones. I selected  one I liked  made out of an antique blue mason jar. I hung it outside of my office window where I could see it when I wrote. I waited quite patiently for the hummingbirds to find it. But none came. Zero. Zilch. I tried two different locations, but the subtle white and yellow flowers  feeding stations  didn’t attract any callers. I guess they’re not into cool old mason jars. Then I saw a real live ruby-throated hummingbird at my hanging basket  in the front of the house and also around  my flowers on my back deck. Ha! They were around. So, I went back to the store  and bought a different one. This one has a yellow top and the feeding station has red flowers with yellow centers. Alakazam! Hummingbirds!  Hello . . . gaudy works.  I guess that’s why the shelves were full of them. Read the rest of this entry »

September Events

I’m looking forward to working at the Minnesota State Fair on the afternoon of September 2, at the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime Booth in Carousel Park, through Subtext Book Store. It’s part of the library sponsored Read and Ride Day.

Then I’ll be with other North Star authors in Little Falls at the Arts and Crafts Fair on September 12 and 13, and Nickel Dickle Days in Waconia on Sept. 19, and Barnes and Noble with John Abraham Watne on September 26.



June has been a busy month with events at Detroit Lakes Book World, Park Rapids Author Fest at Beagle Books, Baxter Book World, and Grand Rapids Village Books! It was so wonderful to see old friends and meet new ones. In the last photo is a gathering of my elementary and high school friends.