Thursday, September 13, 2012


A few weeks ago, I was driving myself to the airport in a place I don't know at ALL (Northern Minnesota). I'd been at a family reunion, and was returning a day earlier than everyone else to work on a novel I'm really excited about. It's the first time in over 8 years I've felt that way about my own fiction -- and I didn't want to be away from it for too long. Why I thought one day would make such a difference, I don't know -- but I did, and rented my own car instead of going with siblings and cousins.

It was a long drive --  4 hours -- and I decided to get a head start on my writing by using the drive to solve a problem that had been bothering me for the whole book: the heroine's name. Nothing I had was right and I knew it (as one always does).

Fiona McCloud -- too pretentious

Alison -- too plain (though she was Alison for awhile, it didn't suit her: too serious, too plain)

Mackenzie -- too forced, just didn't feel like her

So on the drive I tried to think of new names: I went through every name I knew (like the Queen in Rumplestiltskin) -- NOTHING fit. One name was almost right  but alas, the first name was MY name! And the name of the heroine of my last published novel. And, the more I thought about it, not the right name for this girl anyway. I probably just liked it because at the reunion I'd seen a picture of the person I was named for -- my Scottish great-great-grandmother's sister -- and really liked her name.

So on it went, listing the names; I started repeating some and trying to pretend they were okay but they weren't and I knew it.....after a couple of hours, I looked at the directions I had written down so carefully (or so I thought). The stretch I was on was only supposed to last for 35 minutes, and I'd been on it for well over an hour. With a sick feeling, I pulled over and got out the map.

Yes, I had gone over 150 miles in the wrong direction. I called the airline (there was no way I would get there on time) and I had not only missed MY flight, it was too late for the last flight of the day. So, feeling like a complete idiot, I drove back to the reunion -- having wasted not only the whole day but worse: $750 (the car rental, which had now proved useless since I'd be going to the airport at the same time as the others after all, the change fee, the new, more expensive ticket)....and no, there is no happy ending to THAT part of the story.

But a couple of weeks later, I was listening to a CD someone in Scotland made for me, and heard my heroine's name! The perfect, perfect name for her: it just had that "this is it" feeling.

This was my reward for that fruitless day, and I am absolutely convinced that trying and failing to think of a name was what enabled me, finally, to be given one.

Sometimes things just come the very first time  -- but more often (with my writing, anyway, what about yours?) it's the long slogs -- the putting in the time on the really bad days that makes the good ones possible.


Grace Lin said...

ahh, that story hits a bit too close to home. How many times have I almost burned the house down while making tea but getting distracted by my story? Writing is a hazardous occupation!!

yamster said...

Names are so important! I'm happy you found yours, sorry about the expense!

Libby Koponen said...

Thank you both!