Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What's in a name? Patricia Skalka's Dave Cubiak #giveaway

HALLIE EPHRON: Today I'm happy to welcome Patricia Skalka. I had the pleasure of getting an early look at her new book, DEATH AT GILLS ROCK (the second Dave Cubiak mystery). It's a terrific police procedural with a moody broody detective and a haunting Green Bay Wisconsin setting. Fans of William Kent Krueger, C. J. Box and Nevada Barr: take note!

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Patricia will be giving away a copy of DEATH AT GILLS ROCK and DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTRY to a lucky commenter.

She raises a great question about character names. What names stick with us?

PATRICIA SKALKA: One of my all-time favorite detectives is Arkady Renko, the brooding and conflicted hero I first met in Martin Cruz Smith's memorable Gorky Park. I like Arkady both as a man and as a protagonist. But I also like his name. It's short and snappy, easy to remember and eminently more pronounceable than most Russian monikers. If I could ask Smith one question, it would be: How'd you come up with the name?

That's a question I'm often asked about Dave Cubiak, the protagonist for my Door County Mystery series. The Door County Peninsula juts out between the cold waters of Green Bay and those of mighty Lake Michigan. It's a real place in northern Wisconsin, a mecca for artists and tourists and with all that shoreline, all those rich forests, all the blue sky and the stunning sunsets — a perfect locale for murder.
Thus, Death Stalks Door County, the first book, and now the newly released Death at Gills Rock... but Door County did more than give rise to the mysteries, it also inspired my hero's name. I wanted something short and snappy and easy to remember. I wanted an ethnic name, and although an authentic Polish spelling would be Kubiak, I allowed for a bit of poetic license. I also wanted a protagonist whose name would lend a bit of alliterative flair to the series title — the Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries.

Readers seem drawn to Dave. Despite being badly bruised by life, he has a good heart. Men say they like him because he's a regular guy. Women fuss and worry about him. Is Dave okay? Is he getting better?


Since I turned from writing nonfiction to fiction, I've spent a lot of
time thinking about character names. I scour news articles, play bills and concert programs for names that are unusual and appealing. I listen to other writers talk about their quests for names: how they do it, what appeals to them, what appeals to their readers. I also find myself thinking of characters that have resonated with me through time. Detectives like Arkady Renko, Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Jane Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, Nero Wolfe and, of course, the indomitable Nancy Drew who started it all for me.


Each protagonist began simply as a name in a mystery but quickly evolved into someone unforgettable. These are a few of the names — the people — on my list, and I wonder: Who's on     yours?



HALLIE: One fortunate thing about writing standalones is that if I go astray with a character name, I'm only saddled with it for one book. It's a huge responsibility naming a series sleuth and it's cool that Dave Cubiak echoes Door County. It's also unique, and it's got a "k" sound in it which I think is always a plus, I'm not sure why.

Names I like. Stephanie Plum is one that's stood the test. Evanovich says she picked the name because she wanted a nice juicy name...  or words to that effect. Not because "Plum" is a character in CLUE. V. I. Warshawski. Like Cubiak it speaks to Polish working class. I named a character Mina Staunton, and she promptly outgrew that name and become Mina Yetner. Needed some ethnicity.


I'm still stunned by how many of my friends have named characters Hallie or Hayley... nods to Lucy Burdette and former Red Jan Brogan. Me and Hayley Mills used to be only Hallies/Hayleys I'd ever heard of. 

What are the character names that have resonated with you? (Remember to qualify for the book giveaway you need to comment.)

ABOUT THE Dave Cubiak Door County series: Mysteries pit a former troubled Chicago cop against a roster of clever killers on the Door County Peninsula in the heart of the Midwest. Set against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty, the series kicks off with Death Stalks Door County and continues with Death at Gills Rock. 

77 comments:

  1. Welcome Patricia, I love those 3 writers that Hallie mentioned, so I'm sure to love yours too! Also add Steve Hamilton and Victoria Houston to that group--Victoria wrote a series set in Wisconsin, and Steve in Michigan. I shivered while I read them!

    Hallie, Hayley Snow was named after Hayley Mills, though I'm sure I had YOU in my subconscious! Names are so important--I'm not sure I spend as much time as I should have picking out my characters...

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  2. I hadn't really thought about liking [or not liking] character names; I can't think of one that I really disliked in anything I've read lately. I like names that are a bit unusual, but not to the point that they seem distracting. Julia's clare Fergusson is one of my favorites.

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  3. I'm not really fond of "cutesie" names, especially when there are several in the book or names that I have no idea how to pronounce!
    I'm a big William Kent Krueger fan so I'm sure I'll love your books, too!
    kpbarnett1941[at]aol.com

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  4. Names are so very important. My life would not be the same without: Armand Gamache, Jimmy Perez, Lucky Santangelo, Duncan Kincaid, Gemma James, Simon Waterhouse, Charlie Zeller, and Tess Monaghan and, and, and...The list goes on and on.

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  5. I like all of the names Patricia uses. The protagonist, the series' name, the names of the books and especially her own name which has a nice ring to it. I think names of characters are as important as names in our own lives. I like to think I was one of the original "Micheles," and get very irritated when someone tries to make me a cutesie "Michelle" with a double L. I really like it when a name carries a story behind it. Why am I "C." Michele? There's a story, but probably only interesting to family.

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  6. Well, Lord Peter Wimsey. And Harriet Vane. So perfect. (And JK Rowling, though sometimes cutesy, was a master at it. ) Oh, Katniss Everdene. (Right out of Thomas Hardy, right?)

    I named a character--out of nowhere--Amaryllis Roldan. ANd last week--I met an Amaryllis! I also have a Hollister called Holly--and now I know one of those, too! SO strange to meet them in real life.

    And yes, I always wonder why authors give characters names that it's a puzzle to pronounce. It makes you skip over them, right?

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  7. Henrietta Stackpole, my favorite character name.

    Gabriel Allon, because "Gabriel" resonates in so many ways.

    when I heard Louise Penny speak, she fielded questions about how to pronounce Gamache's wife's name, Reine Marie.

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  8. Charles Dickens was the master of the perfect name — Miss Havisham, Stella, Ebenezer Scrooge, Fagin, the Chuzzlewits....

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  9. Congratulations on the new book--I enjoyed the first Dave Cubiak very much! I pay attention to names--and agree, Susan, about Dickens! A name that I think fits the character perfectly? Sergeant Wiggins, Richard Jury's long-suffering sidekick in Martha Grimes' series.

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  10. Miss Lemon, Captain Hastings, Lady Georgianna, Edina, Patsy. Mrs. Doyle

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  11. Miss Lemon, Captain Hastings, Lady Georgianna, Edina, Patsy. Mrs. Doyle

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  12. I like names with spunk or "character" - a bit of ethnicity doesn't go amiss, either. Names are so important - you can't name a villain with a cutesy name (at least I can't). And the character often grows into the name. I read somewhere to read up on a name's meaning before you assign it to a character. So my one protagonist is Jim - James: "People with this name have a deep inner desire for a stable, loving family or community, and a need to work with others and to be appreciated." He's a divorced cop looking for the right woman (although he doesn't really know that).

    My other protagonist is Jackson - his grandmother was from the South and a big Stonewall Jackson fan.

    My hangup is getting the names to sound right. Is the rhythm good? And of course, you don't want too many names starting or ending with the same sound.

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  13. Well, how could we top Hercule Poirot? And the attendant running gag of everyone mispronouncing his name. If anyone wants to do the same with my last name, Maslowski, the middle syllable is pronounced "love".

    Names that could have multiple potential pronunciations, like Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, bother me. I have read 23 books in that series and still am unsure how Millhone is pronounced. Is it "Mill-Hone", or is it said like Malone? It distracts me, every time.

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  14. Speaking of Louise Penny, in the new 10th anniversary edition of Still Life, which includes an introduction and essay/interview it is stated that while she is most like Clara now, when she was younger, she was more like Agent Yvette Nichol. It is then pointed out that Nichol's last name is a variation on Nickel (in an homage to her own last name...penny). Very interesting.

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  15. Oh Michele, now we all must know about the C...

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  16. Jungle Red Writers,
    Thanks for letting me share my thoughts on this. Always intrigued by how readers respond to names. Some seem to fall out of the air and others you have to really work to get right!

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  17. Jungle Red Writers,
    Thanks for letting me share my thoughts on this. Always intrigued by how readers respond to names. Some seem to fall out of the air and others you have to really work to get right!

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  18. I liked Agatha Christie's character names - Hercule Poirot (rolls off the tongue), Jane Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence. Also Nick and Nora Charles (and Asta) from the Thin Man. Once I get into an author's books, their characters become real people in my mind. The only thing that drives me crazy when I first start reading a new series is when characters have names that are so much alike I get confused about which character is doing what.

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  19. Joan,
    Good observation.The names I dislike generally are forgettable; it's the one's that appeal to me that linger.

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  20. Karen B,

    I totally agree -- but different kinds of names appeal to different readers. The reason we have 35 flavors of ice cream!

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  21. Kristopher,

    Indeed! All great names and great characters. I pulled one book off the bookseller's shelf because I was intrigued by the author's name which had four "z's" -- two in the first and two in the second.

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  22. Michele Dorsey,
    Thank you! I always thought my name was rather bland so it's nice to hear a positive comment about it as well! And nothing wrong with good family stories -- they often have wide appeal!

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  23. Hank Phillippe Ryan,

    Yes, and Bunter too. How often I find myself thinking:"I need a Bunter!"

    At a recent reading, I met a woman with the last names of "Kubiak" and she had an uncle Dave!She was so delighted with my protagonist's name that she bought both books for her uncle.

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  24. Margaret Turkevich,

    How lucky for you to hear Louise Penny speak. I love her work.

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  25. Susan Elia MacNeal,

    Wouldn't it be fun to sit down with Dickens and ask him how he did it?

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  26. Kinsey Milhone was the first name that came to mind. Sometimes I like to see a Sally, because I've only know a couple of "real" Sallys. I find that if I like a book or series even if the names seemed odd at the beginning they will become just right and a perfect fit for their characters. What I don't like, though, is some of the names in cozy mysteries - sometimes they are just too cute or weird and I can't take the character seriously.

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  27. FChurch,

    Thank you! Hope you enjoy the new book as well. More to come!

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  28. Keenan Powell,

    More great names to add to the mix. Here's a little secret: Patsy was my father's nickname for me.

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  29. Mary Sutton,

    Yes, names with meaning (James) and back story (Jackson) seem to demand more of the character. I agree about not having too many names that sound alike -- can be confusing for the reader. I also try not to have too many names that begin with the same letter.

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  30. Karen,

    Hercule Poirot has to be one of the all-time best names. So very French -- pardon me, Belgian!

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  31. I'll latch on to any Scottish or Irish name, although I have a soft spot for Arkady, that poor put-upon Russian. I went through a phase when I was a teen, reading the classics. The name that disturbed me the most was Natty Bumppo. What kind of a name is that for a hero? Richard Jury's friend Melrose Plante is a hoot, as is his butler Ruthven, pronounced Rivven. Ian Rutledge, Joe Sandilands,Spencer Arrowood, Jack Haldean, Sarah Booth Delaney. Gabriel Crowther. I'm sure I could dig up more but I have to get moving. I am going to enjoy reading your Door County mysteries, Patricia.

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  32. Pat D
    Congratulations on you own great name. Very patrician, is it not?
    Agree -- Natty might work but not linked to Bumppo. Lacks a hero's ring

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  33. Hi Patricia! I laughed out loud when you said, "Some names just fall out of the air and others you really have to work at." That is so true. I've had characters whose names stuck from the first time they were jotted down on paper, and others that changed all the way through the book--and then sometimes got a "search and replace" in the final draft! And sometimes characters start out fitting one name and grow into fitting another one.

    So many good names mentioned already (I think Katniss Everdene has to be one of the best fictional names ever.) I'd add Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden, one of my two favorite Harry heroes.

    Every writer has their own combination of logic and association that dictates which names belong to "good" characters and which can be given to "not so good" characters.

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  34. The names that stick with me happen to be favorite characters from favorite series. I don't think it's the name as much as the wonderful stories I associate with them.

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  35. Deborah Crombie,
    Maybe we should just call it inspiration? Sometimes instantaneous and other times not so much!
    Moving away from mysteries, one of my favorite names comes from children's literature: Pippi Longstocking.

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  36. Mark Baker,

    Good point...a series really gives you a chance to know and grow with a character.

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  37. There is a good argument to be made that I started writing just so I could name characters. While some of my characters name easily, others have to be tweeked. (Thank you find and replace.) I also love real life people who have character quality names. I have a friend named Beaver Gonzalez. And he oozes every bit as much character as his name implies.

    I like my character names with a definite pop. Some of my favorites are... Hermione Granger, Harry Hole, Hayley Snow... maybe I just really like H names my main character is Harlowe Chase... Pepper Reese from Leslie Budewitz's new series is great. Tracey Crosswhite from My Sister's Grave because I love long double-word surnames.

    I love that Hank's Jane and Jake have a Nick and Nora quality.


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  38. I picked up Death at Gill Rock a couple months ago and loved it. I must admit that I don't usually think too much about character names unless they are jarringly wrong, but there are some that are perfect, like Peter Wimsey.

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  39. Kate --

    What a delightful concept, that you write so you can name characters. The very thought inspires a search for memorable names. Have you been tempted to use Beaver Gonzalez?

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  40. PlumGaga,

    Delighted that you enjoyed the new book -- there's so much trepidation involved in sending a book out into the world and always a sense of gratitude in getting positive feedback.

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  41. Grandma Cootie,

    Sally is a strong, slightly old fashioned name -- great for a character. I went to high school with a Sally and remember her still.

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  42. Elaine,

    Good point about names that sound alike being confusing. I make lists to try and avoid, yet in the first book have both a Ruta and a Ruby...sometimes we break out own rules without even realizing it.

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  43. I may be old fashioned but I like traditional and classic names which are meaningful.

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  44. Mark Baker,

    Good point...a series really gives you a chance to know and grow with a character.

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  45. Duncan Kincaid from Deborah Crombie's books and Francis Crawford of Lymond from Dorothy Dunnett's series.

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  46. Sassafras...

    Nice ring to Duncan Kincaid -- the same D/K ring to it as Dave Cubiak!

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  47. Thank you, Kate! Yes, Jake and Jane are my homage to Nick and Nora. Thank you!! xoxo

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  48. Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next is a favorite, along with numerous other names in that series, including Thursday's true love, Landen Park-Laine and her colleague Bowden Cable (which is a part of a bicycle). JFf gets a little too cute when he has Jack Schitt's sister Noe marry a guy named Sherlock and hyphenate her last name.

    Victoria Iphigenia is another favorite.

    Jim

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  49. Too many to pick from. I like most of those mentioned. Atticus is another. Talon was the name of a spy in a book I read in the 60s. I've always wanted to use it myself. :)
    pmettert@yahoo.com

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  50. I can't say I have a preference although cutesy doesn't cut it. The name that always warms my heart is Deborah Crombie's Toby, one of my favorite little boy names. And my favorite dog's name (grin)

    One thing I've been thinking about lately is the names of some of the new authors on the horizon. Seriously, some are more befitting a stripper. And no, I won't name them because that would be hurtful. A word to the wise tho. If you can imagine that name up in lights on the Vegas strip and it isn't Celine Dion, keep thinking.

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  51. Patricia, your books sound right up my alley! I will add to my TBR list.

    I have always really liked Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott, because Judge Knott sounds like a command: Judge Not!

    I know someone earlier mentioned how good J.K. Rowling was at names. Her names in the Harry Potter series were wonderfully clever and noticeable, but I really like the character names she chose in her Robert Galbraith persona, too. Cormoran Strike? Who can resist that?

    I think Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan is well named, too. And like many before me, I think Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are particularly striking names that fit the characters beautifully.

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  52. Jim,

    Thursday Next is fantastic! In fact, all you mention are excellent.

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  53. Heh. My mail secondary character's name is Sally. Old-fashioned, yes. But I picture that name belonging to a woman who can dish it out, too.

    I also have a Tom and a Tabitha in the book I'm querying - they're consistently referred to by last names, which is how I missed it. Debating whether to change.

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  54. MAIN, main secondary character. Ugh.

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  55. Ann,

    Good advice. Sometimes writers perhaps are a bit too clever for their own good.

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  56. Susan,

    Great names to add to the list. Thank you! And hope you enjoy Death at Gills Rock. Please, let me know your thoughts about it.

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  57. Roberta, you can look Beaver up on Facebook. He's quite a character as a person so I probably wouldn't use his name for a character, but it does give me the freedom to go pretty far with names. In fact, I just used Buford, called Butch for a dashing FBI agent.

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  59. So many great character names...I will probably think of this often, today! Immediately coming to mind are Atticus Finch, Rhett Butler, Soames Forsyte, and, at the other end of the spectrum, almost any character by P.G. Wodehouse
    J K Rowlng has come up with some real beauts...Sirius Black and Nearly Headless Nick are among my personal favorites. And her detective, Cormoran Strike just nails it.

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  60. I was just reading up on the Poldark series, and came across this from author Winston Graham: he had a friend named Polgreen, and had always thought it would make for an interesting character, but when he started writing the first book, he realized Polgreen was too "light" for his scarred hero. He needed a darker name. Thus...Poldark.

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    1. Poldark is a doozy and my friend Gayle can't remember it to save her life..."Pondrake, Potsdam...whatever his name is!"

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  61. Julia,

    That speaks so well to a comment made earlier about characters growing into or out of their initial names.

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  62. Wendy,

    How true -- I've been thinking of more great character names ever since I submitted the post.
    Rhett Butler, of course, and there's also Endeavor Morris.

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    1. You are so right..how could I have missed Endeavor Morse? I like that some names could go either way: Atticus Finch could just as easily be a villain's name instead of that of one of the most beloved fictional good guys

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  63. Popping back in to mention Lemony Snickett, and Amelia Peabody, her husband Ratcliffe Emerson, and their son Ramses. Of course who could forget Flavia de Luce? I'm thinking she will someday live up to that name, the way she's going!

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  64. Wendy,

    Morse, of course! Thank you for the correction.

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  65. My favorite sounding character's name, not to be confused with my favorite character, is Jean-Guy Beauvoir (en fran├žais).

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  66. I love alliteration. In titles, in names for people, in names of places. So, I think you have a great name for your character, Patricia. I also love the covet for this book. Moody police detective procedural. Count me in!

    Oh, and Hank, Rita Skeeter is one of my favorites, too.

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  67. Kathy Reel,

    Thanks, Kathy. I love the cover, too! Both covers, in fact.

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  68. Patricia, I actually meant to say I loved both covers.

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  69. Kathy,

    Thank you. Can't wait to see what the designer comes up with for the next one!

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  70. Armand Gamache, the name commands your attention. And of course Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Ruth Zardo whose name fits her personality.
    Nevada Barr's park ranger Anna Pigeon whose name doesn't seem to fit what she does but she does it anyway! Love the sexy sound of Duncan Kincaid.

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  71. Monomi,

    Thanks for adding Anna Pigeon and Ruth Zardo to the mix! These are all fantastic names and characters.

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  72. the JR Ward names are interesting- Wrath

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

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