Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Table Talk - The Easter Bunny and Other Names...

Welcome back for the fifteenth installment of Table Talk, where Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock share their conversations about writing, New Pulp and other subjects with anyone willing to read them. This week, the guys discuss coming up with names for their characters, as well as leaving "Easter Eggs" behind for readers to discover.

Question (Mike): Seeing all the trouble I've had with my latest character, Totem/Janus turned Xander, (my New Pulp hero who's gone through two name changes after landing a book deal), I thought I'd see what sort of mental gymnastics you two go through to come up with names for your characters.

Bobby: I hate, hate, hate, coming up with names, but only because I’m so bad at it. My go to names seem to either start with a J or a B, as was really evident to me in Deadly Games! with the hero, John Bartlett. I almost always toss out the first character name that comes to me when creating something new, a lesson I learned after Evil Ways. The main protagonist in Evil Ways is Harold Palmer. I didn’t recall that there were movies staring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer until after. Thankfully, my character is more of a Harold than a Harry. For the lead characters, especially, the name is oh so important. Secondary character names are also important, but are a little less of a headache for me.

Barry: It depends – sometimes I come up with a name first and then create a character around that. I have a hard time coming up with villain names, simply because I’ve written so many stories by now that I don’t want to repeat myself but I still want something that sounds cool or frightening. I use a lot of foreign characters so I sometimes have to balance a name that sounds “cool” and one that I’m going to have to type again and again [laughs].

Mike: For "normal" names, I have several baby name books that give the meanings of the names. I often dig through those looking for a name that suits the character's place/role in the story. Coming up with hero/villain names is much harder though, as you both can see. Death Angel started as Revenant, then went to something else I can't remember before I landed on Death Angel. Totem just sprang to mind as I was mulling over the initial inspiration that brought the character to life. But, it's obvious no matter how hard you try, there's always going to be another storyteller with a same/similar named character.

Bobby: So true. And there are a lot of famous character names that are already taken so you don’t ever want to name your character Kirk, Picard, Buck, Flash, Buffy, Kent, etc.

Barry: “Real” names aren’t too hard for me – I simply try different combinations until I get one that I like. But with codenames, yeah, it’s hard. There’s been so many stories over the years that it’s almost impossible to come up with a name that’s never been used. If I am going to use a pre-existing name, then I try to keep it from being too famous (like Bobby said) and I try to make sure that my character is quite different from the other ones. My Rook, for instance, has virtually nothing in common with the old Warren Comics hero, aside from the name and their gender.

I’ve always been a big fan of the name “Grace” for some reason. I deliberately used it a few times and then noticed that I’d unconsciously used it for Samantha Grace in my Lazarus Gray series – so I came up with the explanation that they’re all related and that there’s this hidden spine to my shared universe where the Grace family continually pops up. I thought it was a fun way to add something to the universe and explain away my obsession with the name.

Bobby: I have a few “go to names” as well that I use often. Benjamin is one of those. In Evil Ways there’s a deputy sheriff, a secondary character, with the name. In Deadly Games! the reporter is named Benjamin. Not really an issue except that the two characters are both in Deadly Games! since it happens in the same town. Not a major issue, but it really made me take notice. I think I use it because my initials are BEN. Go figure.

I like the idea of having characters with connections like that, Barry. I pepper many of my stories with small snippets like that to tie them all to the same universe. In Lance Star: Sky Ranger, I have a G-Man named Agent Palmer show up from time to time. He’s the great grandfather of the two brothers who are the main characters in Evil Ways.

I’ve also had this actress named Margaret Grace that I’ve used in three different stories. In Domino Lady, she is mentioned along with the story of her famous movie director husband who killed his pregnant mistress. When I wrote my Ravenwood story, I needed celebrity guests so I had Miss Grace show up there and even made mention that Ravenwood had met the Domino Lady once to tie it all together. I also alluded to this in the recently released Domino Lady Vs Mummy comic book so I may have to eventually write this story. Heh. Then, for a story set in the 1950’s for the Box 13 anthology coming next year, I once again needed a few celebs for a story so I showed her at that stage of her career where she’s become a grand dame of the cinema. None of the stories are interconnected any other way, but for those that read all three they’ll see how Miss Margaret Grace’s film career has gone. Who knows, I might use her again.

Do you guys like to throw in little “Easter Eggs” like that?

Mike: I agree with you, Barry, the code names are very tough to come up with. As for Easter Eggs, I do that a lot in my all-ages stuff (for instance, Joey from Lions, Tigers and Bears lives three doors down from Timothy of Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel… very odd neighborhood, that one…), but haven't done much so far in my New Pulp stuff. I have tossed in some things here and there that allude to other characters, like vague mentions of Death Angel, Xander and Rook in my Spider/Black Bat crossover tale as well as a nod to a certain Ghost Who Walks in my upcoming Tales of the Rook story.

Barry: I do the Easter Egg thing constantly. I’ve snuck in references to The Rook series in Lazarus Gray and The Damned Thing – I even managed to do it in Rabbit Heart. My pirate novella Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island features a pirate who later shows up as an undead version of himself in The Rook series. My sword & sorcery stories featuring Grimarr tie into The Rook, as well, as Grimarr’s sword is sought after in one of The Rook’s adventures. I do it so much I had to create a timeline to keep it all straight! I love it when other writers do that – it makes me feel terribly clever to spot the details.

Bobby: I love those little Easter Eggs too. They are always a lot of fun to spot and just as much fun to put into the stories. I’ve received quite a few emails from folks trying to see if they found all of them in my Green Hornet Casefiles story. That’s always fun.


  1. For first names I'm a big fan of the SSA website with popular baby names by year:

    Bobby, did you ever watch Lost? As you might find a Margaret "Maggie" Grace on the show...

  2. I did watch LOST, but didn't think about Maggie Grace at all when creating this character for the Domino Lady story back in 2006. It might have been subconscious though. I had never put the two together until you mentioned it here.



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