the new novel

I’d been playing with an idea for a year now, and it never caught fire. I’d take it down one path, back up another, down a third… It didn’t feel like something I wanted to write. 

It started with an angel, but then I removed the angel and the spark went with it. I couldn’t put the angel back, though: he no longer fit. I added a child. Added a weblog. Removed the weblog. Threw in a few quirky side characters, but nothing fit.

Last week, doing laundry, I started “hearing” one of the minor characters talking to the main character, telling her backstory. That was the moment I began to fall in love. In that moment, Character Number Two found her voice. It’s the moment Michelangelo captured with God touching the finger of Adam, the moment a bunch of notions become a person. In my head, I suddenly beheld a blue-haired violinist who had an entire childhood story she told me (or rather, my protagonist) about how she came to America, how she came to play violin, how she came to faith.

Remember last winter when I needed a car repair story for Honest And For True The Sequel, and the next day God provided one?

Well, God looks out for fools, drunks, the United States of America, and me too. Because my protagonist needed a day job, and I couldn’t come up with one. I ran through ideas, and one of them rang true. They all had opportunity for humor, but nothing felt like “her.” She’s been a bear of a character to nail down. I just don’t have the feeling of her at all yet, not even her name.

Thursday morning, waiting at the bus stop with the other SAHMs from my block, as I huddled against the wind, one of the moms said, “Do you know what’s the best job?” And then she told us.

Do you hear that ding-ding-ding sound? That was me striking the lottery.

She went on to talk about several other jobs and how much fun they would be, but I couldn’t get my mind off That One Perfect Job. 

And now my protagonist is gainfully employed. In fact, the location of her gainful employment gave me the final scene of the novel.

So I have a first chapter and a final chapter in mind. I just need about twenty-five for the middle. Oh, and a name for my main character. I’m thinking Joey right now (short for Josephine) but it could change. It usually does.


  1. Chere

    How about Josie instead of Joey? Gender is more obvious, and it’s a cute nickname for an older, traditional name. In fact, it’s my granddaughter’s middle name!

  2. philangelus

    We’ll be in first person, so gender won’t be a problem. The protagonist won’t be referred to strictly by first name. But to tell you the truth, I really like gender-ambiguous names for my female protags. The protagonist of Honest And For True goes by “Lee.” 🙂

    Naming is so tricky because it really has to fit the character just right, and once you settle on a name, the character’s personality migrates somewhat to fit the name. If you change it later, invariably the personality changes too. Very bizarre effect. Makes me wonder what God does with our names and if “our real names” somehow capture our real selves.

    In other words, “Josie” would give me a different protagonist than “Joey” the same way “Leigh” would have given me a different protagonist than “Lee,” and if the story calls for a Joey rather than a Josie, you can’t substitute. I’m just not sure what the story is calling for right now. Joey/Josie/Unnamed isn’t talking to me yet.

  3. Cricket

    Gender can be more of a problem in the early chapters of first person, at least for me as a reader. There’s a big difference between a woman who has a traditionaly male job, and a man who has a traditionally female one. They have different obstacles, both in career and in life. A woman who rarely cares about her clothes is treated very differently than a man with the same attitude. It’s also easier for that man to buy a suit and shave than for a woman to buy a dress and fumble through hair, makeup and heels. You need to decide whether you want me to make a wrong assumption and write accordingly.

    I agree with the name changing personality. It was more difficult than I expected to go from Chris/Christine to Robin. (I blame Jane for indirectly making change it.) I was re-envisioning her at the time (fleshing her out and de-Mary Suing), and it was interesting watching her and the name grow together.

    Josie vs Joey, and Leigh vs Lee also say something about the parents. It can say several different things, but definitely something different than Josie or Josi. The nurses wanted Mom to call me Sandi, not Sandy, and I’m very glad Mom (and Dad) stuck firm, athough there were a few years I thought it would be neat.

  4. philangelus

    Lee’s mother named her Juliet, actually. The guys at the garage gave her a name tag that said “Lee” because customers got upset at having someone named “Juliet” working on their car. So her name tells us something both about her and about her mother.