Today I am interviewing Betty Jane Housey, who writes the Kelsey Garrison series of mystery books. Ms. Housey, you tend to have many characters in your books. How do you name them all?
I have various methods of finding names for my characters. For the heroine of my book, I heard the name Kelsey and liked it. As far as I know it is not a common name, so I used it. I picked a last name that sounded generic. Garrison. I did the same for her lover. Jeff Richards. Jeff is more common, but I wasn’t concerned with that for some unknown reason. Her brother’s name is Steve. Her best girlfriend is named Martha Sonia Hathaway. She is called Marty.
Sometimes I pick names that I think reflect the character’s background. For instance in my first book, I had a character named Millie who was murdered. Her mother came from West Virginia so I named her Hattie. Sometimes I make up names. I have a character called Unker, one called Sus and another named Alverna. I also research names. I needed Apache names for a young woman I called Nitika, which means Angel of Stone, and Govind, her brother. Govind means Lion among Men. I picked the names for their meaning, which I’ve incorporated into the book.
Sometimes I pick names for, I think, their comedic value. I had a brother and sister who I called Terrance and Tilly Tuttle, until someone in my group recalled a woman who got a lot of news coverage named Tilly Tuttle. I renamed her Tessa, which I didn’t like as much. But what is one to do? I have a woman named Chasity, because she isn’t chaste. A detective named Nasey, who is often called Nosey. I have one chief of police named Evenfield because I wanted to portray his even temperament. A woman called Waistland because I wanted to get across the point that her garden (and her life) was a wasteland.
Sometimes luck is my benefactor. I had two characters from a magic land who needed names, a man and a woman. I went to Walmart and saw a girl whose nametag read Rochely, spelled with one L. I added another, so the spelling would be different. Rochelly. The next time I was in the store, the woman who waited on me had a tag with the name Fedeline. I dropped the E and named my male character Fedelin. Sometimes to get even I name a character after someone who has injured someone I love, and so Lavoris was added as a not-so-nice character from West Virginia. It leaves me with a feeling of victory. At least I’ve gotten justice for my loved one in some way.
These are just some of the ways I name my characters. Each of my books is fun and, as I have many characters in each one, I enjoy finding names for them.
Your books are definitely fun. How about your settings? Do you choose something familiar and easy or do you research specific places?
Hmm. I used to live in Wisconsin. I now live in Coral Springs, Florida. But Coral Springs is a small town. So, I make my people come from nearby Fort Lauderdale which is much larger. I don’t know the streets in Fort Lauderdale enough to mention them (I try to fudge a little on the exact time it takes me to get from one place to another) but I try to use actual locations and incidents wherever possible. I used to go to a restaurant named Gibby’s. It is no longer there, but it bordered the New River. In my latest book, I had my people buy a home on the New River. In one book I used the Fashion Mall, a three story mall where my heroine runs into one of my antagonists. She looks down from the food court and sees her. Personally, I loved that mall. It was bright and sunny. But alas it no longer exists. I think it was too close to the Broward Mall.
I researched working horse ranches. A lot of the action in one book takes place on the ranches. I make up locations. Two of the characters in one book live on the Intracoastal. I’m familiar enough with that area to make it work. In one series of books my heroine had Chihuahuas. I’ve had two. So it’s fun to incorporate some of their antics into the books.
The other day my husband and I were in Tradewinds Park walking on the boardwalk. It used to go all the way around the park until Hurricane Wilma took it down. It’s been rebuilt, but now it stops mid walk. I thought what a great place for a scene. So in my latest book, ABSURD APRIL, I’ve used that as a scene where Kelsey gets trapped with her young daughter. If you want to find out how they escape buy the book, ABSURD APRIL.
I’ve used the Wisconsin winters in my books. Winter seems easier to write about. When I lived there, we’d walk to this pizza place that was perhaps a mile away. I remember my daughter screaming when snow would get in her boots. Her father would have to carry her then. I remember wearing frozen mittens. All the winters happened when I was young and impressionable.
I know the climate of Florida so I often use that. But I need to write more scenes in my books about the heat of Florida. About the mosquitoes. About sweating so much your shirt is soaked, and wiping sweat from your forehead. About Florida storms and rain. About the delight of swimming in cool water. About how refreshing a cool drink is. Yes, I need to include those things. The senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste.
You always have interesting titles for your books. Do you go for shock value? Memorability?
Let me see. I work hard on titles. In my latest series I decided to use months. Decadent December, Jaunty January, Frivolous February, Maddening March, Absurd April. For my next book in the series, I’m wondering if I can use a previous book I’ve written and call it Memories of May. I’ll have to reread the book and do some serious thinking. I think that book was written in third person and the series is in first. But I liked that book, really liked it.
Sometimes I’ve used titles that have double meanings, like WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SPRING, and DYING FOR SUMMER. I also titled one book, BLACK BAY. Whenever you use black in a title I think it imparts a dark connotation. For one of my books, a fellow workshop writer suggested the title, THE HOWLING NUN. Titles are important.
They certainly are. Last question: How do you ward off Writer’s Block?
Writers Block? What is that? I don’t think I’ve ever had a serious case of writer’s block.
Of course, many of the words I write are utter nonsense. But at least I’m getting something down on paper. I work at my own pace. I’ve never had a publisher after me to write another book in the series in say six months. I might have writer’s block if I was under that kind of pressure.
I used to write in third person with multiple characters and if I discovered I had no more for this character to say I switched to another for a while. In third person, you have to make sure you bring the plot together and tie up all the loose ends. My current series is in first person which is much easier to plot. You stay in one person’s head in first person and only follow what that person sees and hears. I’ve worked on this latest series for a while and have turned the books out with what I would say is considerable speed.
I do some of my best thinking in the swimming pool. As I swim every day, that helps a lot. I’ve written whole chapters in my mind. Including dialogue. My characters are constantly on my mind. I try to shut my mind down at bedtime so I can get some sleep.
My husband gets angry at me. He says when I’m on my computer he talks to me and has to say the same thing at least three times before it gets through. I don’t think that is so, but it could be. It seems to me the only time people want to talk to me is when I’m on the computer and deep into a chapter. I might write a whole chapter in one sitting. Or, I might just write a paragraph before going grocery shopping. I won’t forget what I’m writing. It’s burned in my mind.
Usually I write the last chapter of the book when I’m only perhaps a fourth of the way through. But for my current book, ABSURD APRIL, I’m having problems deciding on the last chapter. That’s because I’m having problems deciding how angry my heroine is at her husband. Should they make up or not? I’ll figure it out. I always do.
Ms. Housey, thank you for the enjoyable interview. It was a pleasure to speak with you.
DECADENT DECEMBER, book one of the Kelsey Garrison Series, can be found on Amazon. I enjoyed the wacky characters and recommend the book.
You can reach Betty Jane Housey at her website.
She is also on Facebook.