“Where do you come up with these names?” our friend Joe said, laughing into his glass of a chilled Italian white as we chatted before dinner at our favorite restaurant. “The Pinskys!”
Naming characters is great fun, and occasionally a challenge. Erin Murphy, the protagonist in my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, came to me already named. The perfect name for a half-Irish, half-Italian lass, don’t you think? I liked that it hints at half her heritage, while silent on the other half, though she identifies with both. Her widowed mother Fresca—Francesca Conti Murphy—also popped on to the page fully named, but I puzzled over her older sister. Turns out that, like a family in my childhood neighborhood, the mother named the first two kids—Nick and Chiara (it’s said with a hard C and rhymes with tiara). When the third kid came along, the father decided it was his turn and chose the name himself.
As Erin’s illustrates, names are a chance to hint at a character’s heritage and age, and sometimes, her personality. You expect very different Sally Grimes and Heidi Hunter to be very different women—and they are. Pete Lloyd has a softer sound than Gib Knox—a man who’s earned his nickname, Nasty Knox. Of course Drew Baker is a chef. And Kyle Caldwell? He intends to break the family tradition of starting every name with a K, when he finally settles down.
Erin is intrigued by two young men: Rick Bergstrom, whose first name conveys strength and his last the Norwegian heritage common in Montana’s farming community. The effect, I hope, is a wholesome appeal. And Adam Zimmerman? Well, he’s an all-around, great guy—from A to Z.
Word play is a fun part of naming. In Death al Dente, first in the series, Jay Walker wants nothing more than to leave his past behind, renaming himself James Angelo. Erin uncovers his secrets with help from a former classmate, Polly (Easter) Paulson. In Crime Rib, Erin gets a little help from Polly’s twin sister Bernadette, better known as “Bunny”—now married to Robert “Rob” Burns.
And just as men in my family are often dubbed “Bud,” Old Ned Redaway’s been called Red from childhood, when he had the red hair to match the nickname. Naturally, he calls his bar Red’s. His son Ted, alas, isn’t up to the challenge. In Crime Rib, his grandson steps in—and the burly, red-haired J.D. Beckstead continues the rhyme. Actually, I can’t take credit for his name. A local couple bought a character name at a charity auction, but I’d already used Dean and James (she’s Jamie) in the first book, so we combined their initials and last name. Perfect.
Sometimes, my first choice doesn’t stick. When Polly walked onto the page, well past the half-way mark, my victim’s name had to change from Paulette Rankin to Claudette. And when Claudette turned out to have a teenage son, Ian, I realized her last name had to go, too—I didn’t want to give a character in a cozy the same name as the well-known Scottish crime writer. Thank goodness I was careful using the “search and replace” function when changing Rankin to Randall—or I’d have made up a new word: crandallness!
And Bob and Liz Pinsky? Erin’s friends and landlords clearly echo our pal Joe and his wife Julie, a pair of 60ish working class New Jersey Italians who moved west and made good. But I’d already given Fresca that Italian ancestry. Polish ancestry is common in the northeast, and I adore the poet Robert Pinsky’s work. It fit.
Any fun naming stories to share?
About Crime Rib:
“Gourmet food market owner Erin Murphy is determined to get Jewel Bay, Montana’s scrumptious local fare some national attention. But her scheme for culinary celebrity goes up in flames when the town’s big break is interrupted by murder…
Food Preneurs, one of the hottest cooking shows on TV, has decided to feature Jewel Bay in an upcoming episode, and everyone in town is preparing for their close-ups, including the crew at the Glacier Mercantile, aka the Merc. Not only is Erin busy remodeling her courtyard into a relaxing dining area, she’s organizing a steak-cooking competition between three of Jewel Bay’s hottest chefs to be featured on the program.
But Erin’s plans get scorched when one of the contending cooks is found dead. With all the drama going on behind the scenes, it’s hard to figure out who didn’t have a motive to off the saucy contestant. Now, to keep the town’s rep from crashing and burning on national television, Erin will have to grill some suspects to smoke out the killer…”
Leslie Budewitz is the national best-selling author of Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries set in northwest Montana, and winner of the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Crime Rib, the second in the series, will be published by Berkley Prime Crime on July 1, 2014. Her Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries will debut in March 2015.
Also a lawyer, Leslie won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction for Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books), making her the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction.
For more tales of life in the wilds of northwest Montana, and bonus recipes, visit her website and subscribe to her newsletter.
Crime Rib by Leslie Budewitz
Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, #2
Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Penguin Random House (Berkley Prime Crime)
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