Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Lily by Any Other Name

An editor asked me recently how I decided on Lily Moore’s name. It was hard to explain. I came up with the idea for The Damage Done more than a decade ago, when I was still living in Toronto and taking a writing workshop at Ryerson University. I think of Lily as a little old-fashioned, something that appears delicate while actually being quite tough. Her last name took more thought, and it only came to me while I was writing the book. I wanted a name that was simple and elegant, yet signified something about the character. While working on a character sketch of her, I wrote: “There’s always more going on under the surface with Lily.” That was it. More became Moore.

I obsess over many things when I write fiction, and names are high on that list. I love it when authors manage to give you a little taste of a character’s personality through a name while, at the same time, not revealing too much about that character. Names can be used to underscore a character’s personality, or to hint at something deeper in their nature that isn’t obvious when you first meet them.

That latter route was the one I took when naming Lily’s best friend, Jesse. His first name came easily, but he gave me trouble on the surname front. I wrote around that problem (his last name only comes up once in The Damage Done), but eventually I had to confront it. Part of me wanted to borrow a name from a famous Oklahoman, since Jesse is deeply attached to his home state. But a bigger part wanted to find something that would reflect his character. Jesse is kind-hearted, courageous, and deeply moral, but he’s also a bit of an outlaw: he’s loyal to Lily, but he sometimes lies to her, and while he’s an upstanding citizen, he breaks New York City laws by owning a handgun illegally. It’s his roguish side that earned him his last name, Robb.

Several names in The Damage Done changed while I was working on my second and third drafts of the book. That’s when I discovered I’d used names that were too similar to each other (extra confusing in a book with a lot of characters), and when I had to fine-tune names that my gut told me weren’t quite right. One of the rare names that didn’t change at all was Detective Bruxton’s. When I thought of this “pit bull disguised as a man,” as Lily calls him, I thought of his abrasive qualities: he’s sharp, abrupt, aggressive, and harsh. He is, in a word, brusque… and that was the root of Bruxton. His first name is never mentioned in the book (he refuses to tell Lily what it is when she asks him directly), but it is alluded to, and there’s a big hint about it. I’ve been stunned by how many people have contacted me, trying to guess his first name. No one has figured it out yet, so obviously my hint wasn’t as big as I thought. Bruxton plays a small role in the second book, The Next One to Fall, and a bigger role in the third book, which I’m writing at the moment. I haven’t revealed his first name yet, but I think I’m just waiting for the right moment.

By the way, the image with this post is the new cover that The Damage Done will have when it comes out in paperback on January 3, 2012. I’m so happy that the designer used the original design (which I loved), and yet managed to create something new that still represents the book well. What do you think of it?


Nigel Bird said...

Many congratulations on the award for The Damage Done. I'm a big fan of the book and it's great to see the recognition. Bruxton is a love - well, kind of - and I imagine he's got a feminine name like John 'Marion' Wayne. I remember a lovely mention by Allan Gurthrie about chosing the name Robin for a robber (uhu) and recently loved Russel D McLean's McNee (Scot with bad leg). Fab.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Congratulations, Hilary! I love that you're keeping that Dectective's name under wraps.

Hilary Davidson said...

Thank you, Nigel and Sue Ann, for the comments and congratulations! I love names that hint at something about a character (McNee is a great one — I love Russel D McLean). Nigel, you are especially sweet for referring to Bruxton as a "love." He's got his sweeter side, but it's a closely guarded secret!

PS I'm glad I set this to post before going off to St. Louis, because once I was there I was caught up in Bouchercon fever!