/*from pinterest*/


It’s National Novel Writing Month and for the first time, I am trying NaNoWriMo. This is pronounced na-noh-RY-moh.

 According to Wiki, NaNoWriMo is the brainchild of freelance writer Chris Baty who started the project in July 1999 with 21 participants. In 2000, NaNoWriMo was moved to November “to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather.”

I don’t know about “miserable” because I like writing when the snow is falling.
Here’s how it works:

Participants take on the challenge of writing 50,000 words of a new novel from November 1 to the deadline of 11:59 pm on November 30. To “win” you submit your work to some kind of “scrambler” which automatically counts your words. Even if you don’t hit the 50,000 words mark, you’re still successful because you have at least created a few scenes of a new book. And, as the old adage says, you can’t edit a blank page. So, if nothing else, this exercise will provide a starting point.

The focus is on completion, rather than perfection. This is hard for me, since my modus operandi is to edit as I go. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I’m giving it a shot.

I am still discovering new stuff on the NaNo website and, while I am off to a slow start, I remain motivated. My goal is to write 50,000 words of the next book in my “wedding” series. So far, my characters have names and they’re on an airplane, arguing about something. Not sure what.

I’ll report back next Tuesday. Wish me luck!

snowflake from photos.com #452594187

Fall Industry Workshop

Fall Industry Workshop

Last Saturday, the Calgary Association of the RWA held its annual Fall Industry Workshop at beautiful Redwood Meadows, Alberta. CARWA President Moira Stelmack introduced our speakers: Victoria Curran from Harlequin Heartwarming and Jane Porter from Tule Publishing.

Brenda Sinclair, Ellen Jorgensen, Marlene Renee

Brenda Sinclair, Ellen Jorgensen, Marlene Renee

Sherile Reilly and Jessica L. Jackson

Sherile Reilly and Jessica L. Jackson

Win Day and Alyssa Linn Palmer

Win Day and Alyssa Linn Palmer

With the fireplace blazing, President Moira Stelmack interviewed Jane and Victoria, and fielded questions from attendees. We learned about what’s new in the publishing world and talked about publishing challenges and opportunities.

A.M. Westerling and Jade Buchanan

A.M. Westerling and Jade Buchanan

Kymber Morgan and Lawna Mackie

Kymber Morgan and Lawna Mackie

Roxy Boroughs and CJ Carmichael

Roxy Boroughs and CJ Carmichael

After a potluck lunch, Jane Porter presented her “Writing Well, Selling Well” workshop with additional insights from Victoria Curran and CJ Carmichael.

Shelley Kassian and Jane Porter

Shelley Kassian and Jane Porter

B.C. Deeks, Moira Stelmack, Victoria Curran

B.C. Deeks, Moira Stelmack, Victoria Curran

Next on the schedule, we had Manuscript Critiques. Members Jade Buchanan and Victoria Chatham read two-page manuscript samples to the audience, and then Victoria Curran and Jane Porter did their impromptu critiques. Victoria Curran assured us that this type of critique was more for entertainment value, and is not the usual process for critiquing a submission. Still, I think we all learned a lot, and we enjoyed each piece. Thank you to everyone who contributed a sample for discussion.

Alyssa Linn Palmer and Jennifer Howard

Alyssa Linn Palmer and Jennifer Howard

Suzanne Stengl and Victoria Chatham

Suzanne Stengl and Victoria Chatham

With CARWA’s usual efficiency, the tables and chairs were soon put away and leftovers were packed up. Afterwards, a group of Carwackians (and one brave editor) headed over to the PowderHorn Saloon in Bragg Creek for debriefing and drinks.

B. C. Deeks, Victoria Curran, Alyssa Linn Palmer, Shelley Kassian, Kymber Morgan, Dara-Lee Snow, Jill Flanagan, Sherile Reilly, Roxy Boroughs

B. C. Deeks, Victoria Curran, Alyssa Linn Palmer, Shelley Kassian, Kymber Morgan, Dara-Lee Snow, Jill Flanagan, Sherile Reilly, Roxy Boroughs

Victoria Curran and Cowboy at the Powderhorn Saloon

Victoria Curran and Cowboy at the PowderHorn Saloon

And a good time was had by all!

A rose by any other name: Naming Characters

A rose by any other name: Naming Characters

The Name Grid

I have an author friend who wrote a book, and then discovered that every character’s name started with a “J”. When she told me about that, I came up with this simple grid.

This is a table with 8 rows and 3 columns. The first cell contains the name of the book. Then there is a cell for each letter of the alphabet up to the letter “W” and then one cell for “XYZ”.
As I come up with a character’s names (first and last) I put them in the appropriate cell. “Toria Whitney” goes in “T” and “Whitney, Toria” goes in “W”.

In this example, I have also colour-coded relationships.  Toria’s family is Pink. Ryder’s family is Blue. I use Orange and Green for some other relationships. It helps me to keep everyone organized. With a quick glance at the Name Grid, I make sure that I am varying names, and I’m not putting Peter, Paul, Patty, Priscilla, Perkins  and Penelope all in the same book.

Consider Endings

Besides starting names with the same letter, be careful of ending them with the same letter.
Suzy, Mandy, Daisy and Kelly will be cumbersome.

Other Names

At the bottom of the Name Grid, you might like to list the names of places or things or minor characters in your story. For example, in ON THE WAY TO A WEDDING I listed the name of my fictional hospital, Nose Hill Hospital.

In Real Life Calgary, there isn’t a Nose Hill Hospital, but there is a Foothills Hospital. And there really is a Nose Hill Park. Because I have trouble remembering if I decided on Nosehills or Nosehill or Nose Hill, I recorded the spelling here.

If I give the coffeemaker a name, like the BrewWell Unit in Catherine’s office, I put it here.

ON THE WAY TO A WEDDING  has several fictional street names so I listed them for quick reference:  Collins Street, Dottridge Ave, Stelmack Boulevard and Wickens Street. By the way, these are the surnames of some of my author friends. 


This goes without saying. Your character names may have different spellings but naturally you will decide on one. In ON THE WAY TO A WEDDING, several scenes take place at a Real Life coffee shop called Tim Hortons. Occasionally I have seen this written as Tim Horton’s (with an apostrophe). It’s important to pick one spelling and stick with it.

Character Name File

Whenever you happen on a name that might be a good character name, put it in this file. Then when you start a new book you won’t need to spend so long searching for the perfect names.

Names Used File

Keep another file of names you have already used. You don’t want to be always calling your hero, Ryder and your heroine, Toria.


A different number of syllables for the first and last names sounds best. You want Chris to pher Green, not Joe Blow. Joseph Blow might work. But then again, Joe Blow might work if you want a drab name for a drab character.

Hero and Heroine

How do their names sound together? Are they lyrical? And if they marry and she changes her name, will it work? This is a romance, after all.


One way to differentiate between characters is to have one character say “Victoria” and another say “Toria” and still another say “Miss Whitney”.

Female/Male Names

Do not make your reader have to think. When he sees Jordan, does he think of a man or a woman? This is not so important if your lead romance characters are Jordan and Mirabelle.  Or if they are Mike and Jordan. But do not make the two lead characters be Taylor and Jordan.


You may think Wynsleighe is a lovely name, but how do you say it? Is your reader going to trip over the pronunciation every time she sees it?

You want your reader to be in the story and you do not want your reader to pop out even for a second to wonder about gender or pronunciation.

Time period

Ethel can appear in the 1911s but not today, unless she is very old. A quick search of popular names by year will solve that.


I have used Mrs. Jones. Fortunately I didn’t need to talk about Mrs. Jones’ purse, or even Mrs. Jones’s purse. But it’s best to avoid the whole problem and have “non-S” endings.


Think about your plurals. Think about John Crowfoot and his wife, Jill, and all their little children. What happens when the Crowfoots all come for a visit? Are they Crowfeet now?

As a reader, have you ever come across character names that tossed you out of a story?
As a writer, do you have a system for choosing names?


Ghostly Treasure: What’s in a name?

Ghostly Treasure: What’s in a name?

By now many of you have noticed that I changed the title of THE GHOST AND CHRISTIE MCFEE to GHOSTLY TREASURE.

I decided the story was more of a “sweet romantic mystery” than a “sweet romance” and I wanted the cover to show that it was about diving. So the name of the book is different, but the story is the same.

[Editor’s Note: The title has reverted to the original THE GHOST AND CHRISTIE MCFEE but this is a good example of the process for deciding on names.]

Have you ever wondered how an author goes about naming characters?

In GHOSTLY TREASURE, the hero and heroine were not always Gaven St. Michel and Christie McFee.

GHOSTLY TREASURE is part of the Bandit Creek collective. Now it’s part of the smaller collection of BANDIT CREEK SWEET found here.

Way back when this book was still mostly an idea, I needed to fill out the publication slot with a title. “The Ghost and Sarah McFeigh” popped into my head. Then I didn’t like Sarah, and Sarah became the nasty aunt. I landed on Kristy for my heroine, at least for a time.

For the hero, I pictured someone of French Canadian origin.

I liked “Remy” right away. Then for a last name . . .

Remy Edison
Remy Emerson
Remy O’Connor
Remy Delainy
Remy Michel
Remy St. Michel

Ahhh, Michael. The archangel, first seen as a healing angel, and then as a protector. I liked the Protector angle. But then, after I started writing, Remy didn’t work. I had too many E endings: Remy, Kristy, Ripley, Charlie.

I thought about using Gabriel, but that wouldn’t work because I had a Gabriel showing up in my next novella. At the time, I had just finished reading a story where the hero was called GAVIN. I chose a variation, GAVEN. It worked with St. Michel so my hero was named.

Now back to the heroine’s name.

At this point, she was Kristy McFeigh. The Feigh could be pronounced two ways, so I shortened it to Fey. (A hard “A”.) Then I remembered there was another character in the Bandit Creek series with a similar name. I wondered if Kristy McFey was different enough. It was time to consult with some other writers: Roxy Boroughs, Amy Jo Fleming and Brenda M Collins.

Me: Does anybody see a problem with my heroine’s name as Kristy McFey?

Amy Jo: I love Kristy. Could not find a listing for McFey but McFey would be the son of Fey. Fey is not a common name, only found it once in a Scottish census in the 1800s.

Roxy: Why do you ask?

Me: I just wanted to see if it twigged. If there was an echo from an existing character in the series. Does it remind you of anyone?

Roxy: Not really. Sounds like she’d be cute. Fey makes me think fairy or effeminate. McFey vaguely reminds me of McVey (as in Timothy). Boom!

Me: Yeah . . . I didn’t like that McVey association either. And he was McVeigh. I had thought of calling the heroine McFeigh, but that would be worse.

Amy Jo: I think that McFey would be a cool name if the character has some kind of psychic ability or is unconventional in some way. Then you could play with the name a bit. The idea that it means “doomed” might be good if the heroine was to die or had to be saved from something deathly. She could always be struggling against her fate and there could be many losses in her family making her somewhat tragic. All in all, I think it could provide an interesting scope for the character.

Me: I don’t want her to die! And she has no magical powers. I think I will have to save “Fey” for another character in another book.

Brenda: In Irish/Newfie culture ‘fey’ means a fairy or soothsayer so McFey would mean Son of a fairy or soothsayer. I’m surprised it doesn’t show up as Fairy in a search. I’m sure I’ve seen it in my research on witches. I agree you might want to save it for someone with a magical power.

Me: There’s another problem. Tawny’s character is Kirsten Morgan. Are Kirsten Morgan and Kristy McFey too much alike?

Roxy: Well, ya know, I didn’t make the Kirsten Morgan connection . . . and I even mentioned her in MY book. But, yeah, you could certainly start it with a C.

Me: Which? Kristy McFey, Christy McFey, Kristy McFeege, Christy McFeege?

Roxy: Christy McFeege.

Me: Thanks. I think I will christen her today. You can be her godmother.

Roxy: Can I be a fairy, too? I’d like to have a wand.

Me: Fairies will have to be for another story. This one is about ghosts.

Amy Jo: You want Christy McFeege?

Me: Yes, I googled Christy McFeege and no one has it. I suppose her birthday is today, Dec 18. Now I will find a picture of her, and then I expect to be writing this on Dec 26. Thanks for the feedback. It’s like naming a child.

Brenda: Hey, I’ve been trying to rename myself for years now and I still haven’t settled on anything.

Me: Wait a minute. I just figured out that with an “e” ending, McFeege has a “j” sound and I want a “g” sound so there is the alliteration with “ghost” in the title. The Ghost and Christy McFeege.

Amy Jo: Leave off the E, then it’s a “g” sound.

Brenda: But you trip over the “g” sound at the end. Go to McFee.

Me: But someone in the world actually has the name Christy McFee.

Roxy: Someone other than you has the name Suzanne Stengl.

Amy Jo: That’s what the copyright disclaimer is for. This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Me: Okay. She is Christy McFee.

At least she was for a while. Then Rolf did a mock up for the cover artist and he inadvertently misspelled the name as

Christie McPhee

So I kept the original McFee but went with the Christie instead of Christy. And the main characters became:

main characters in GHOSTLY TREASUREDo you like Christie McFee for a name? Would you have chosen one of the other variations? Can you hardly wait until I write a story with Remy as the hero?

The Ghost and Christie McFee is available here.

James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell

Last Saturday, the Calgary Association of the RWA (CARWA) held its annual Spring Craft Workshop. Our featured speaker was James Scott Bell. More than fifty writers attended from Calgary and beyond.

Jim is the author of thrillers such as: Final Witness, Don’t Leave Me, and One More Lie. Writing as K. Bennett, he is the author of the Zombie Legal Thrillers: Pay Me in Flesh, Eating Dangerously, and I Ate the Sheriff.

He has also written several books on the craft of writing including Plot & Structure, Conflict & Suspense, The Art of War for Writers, and his latest, Write Your Novel From the Middle.

On the Friday evening before the workshop, the Board took Mr. Bell up the Calgary Tower to the “Sky 360” revolving restaurant. Since I am CARWA’s Membership Chair, the Board invited me to dinner as well. (Yay!)

The sun does not set until about 9:30 and the evening was clear, so we had an excellent view of the city and the Rocky Mountains. Here are some of the board members on the observation deck of the Calgary Tower.
James Scott Bell in Calgary Alberta at the Calgary Tower

And here is the whole board with JSB in the “Sky 360” restaurant.

James Scott Bell with the board of the Calgary Association of the RWABack: James Scott Bell, Alyssa Linn Palmer, Roxy Boroughs, Shelley Kassian
Front: Moira Stelmack, A.M. Westerling, Brenda Sinclair

Jim is from Los Angeles and has lived there all his life. He was interested in trying something Canadian, so he ordered the elk. I mean, how often do you get to eat elk? He also asked the waitress to suggest a wine that was “conversational without being verbose” and she brought this. Sandhill Gamay NoirA Canadian wine from the South Okanagan, near Oliver, British Columbia. Apparently, it pairs well with the elk!

On Saturday, Jim presented his workshop called WRITING THE KNOCKOUT NOVEL. Some of the topics he covered were:

  • What Plot is really all about
  • Creating characters that “jump off the page”
  • The fastest way to improve your manuscript
  • The essentials of great dialogue

And he gave us the best interpretation of Casablanca I have ever heard. He also talked about his new craft book, Write Your Novel From the Middle. Click on the image at the beginning of this post and it will take you to Amazon where you can make the best “under $3 craft book” purchase of your life. Seriously.

After the workshop, we debriefed at the Toad ‘n’ Turtle. Jim chose the Big Rock Grasshopper Ale.

Big Rock Grasshopper Ale

And, ever adventurous, he also tried that Canadian delicacy, poutine. PoutinePoutine is originally from Quebec, made with french fries, topped with a light brown gravy and cheese curds. James Scott Bell and Poutine, in Calgary AlbertaHe asked if it came with a cardiologist.

James Scott Bell with Suzanne Stengl, in Calgary Alberta

James Scott Bell with Suzanne Stengl

You can find Jim on his website and, on Sundays, at The Kill Zone—where he blogs about writing and writing related topics.

Have you been to a James Scott Bell workshop? Have you read one of his craft books? What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from JSB?

Writing Process Blog Hop

Writing Process Blog Hop

A big thank you to Mahrie G. Reid for inviting me on this “Writing Process” blog hop. Mahrie is a mystery/romance author who currently lives in Alberta, Canada. Originally, she’s from Nova Scotia and this is where she draws much of her inspiration. She has set a series in the fictional town of Caleb Cove and the first in the series was released last month.

Sheldon Harris Came Home Dead

available on Amazon

You can read about Mahrie’s writing process here.

The idea of this blog hop is

  1. to answer four questions, and then
  2. choose 2 or 3 authors to do the same.

 Without further ado, here are the questions and my answers:

1) What am I working on right now?

I’m working on the second book in a series set in a fictional town in the Northwest USA. It’s a sweet romantic mystery and it started off as a standalone. Somewhere along the line, I realized I was writing a series and I realized I was in book 2 of the series. So . . . I need to write book 1. But I won’t start writing the first book until I finish this one. Usually, I write linearly, so I don’t quite know how this happened.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It’s a combination of Sweet Romance and Coming Of Age. I don’t write “sex scenes” but I’ve been told the writing is “sensual”. My current work has an element of mystery thrown in the mix. Here’s what some reviewers have said about my stories:

  • light, whimsical, enjoyable and heartwarming
  • a story of finding oneself
  • clean and romantic
  • a “feel good” story that leaves you smiling 🙂

3) Why do I write what I do?

I have always liked Coming of Age stories. Besides that, I like getting inside my characters’ heads and seeing how their feelings for each other develop.

4) How does my writing process work?

My process varies. For the last few months, it goes something like this:

  • Make tea.
  • Turn on Freedom, to turn off the internet.
  • Read over what I wrote yesterday.
  • Try to visualize what might happen next.
  • Type – scribble – pace.
  • Make more tea.

I don’t know my characters or my setting before I begin a story so I have to meet them along the way. I might start with a picture of a character and wonder about him. Then I’ll listen to what he says, write it down, and gradually get to know him.

And that sums up My Process.

Now I’d like to introduce two other writers who will tell you about their writing process.

Amy Jo Fleming

available on Amazon

In another life, Amy Jo was a lawyer. Now she spends her days travelling and writing. She is the author of DEATH AT BANDIT CREEK, A Bandit Creek Mystery.

Amy Jo will talk about her writing process on her blog on Friday April 4.

Find her at: www.amyjofleming.com

Win Day

Win is a writer, a speaker, a strategist, and a geek. Her company, Creative Implementations, offers lifestyle business strategies and WordPress development and technical maintenance services to creatives and heart-centered entrepreneurs. She’s writing her very first novel, a contemporary romance.

2014-03-25 Win Day cover

available here


Win will talk about her writing process on Friday April 4.

Find her at: www.WinDayWrites.com

So how about you? Have you ever wondered how a writer writes? Does my process make any sense at all? When you think of a writer working away, what comes to mind? What is your favourite kind of tea?

hopping kangaroo from Depositphotos #73542441_l-2015