Saturday, April 30, 2016

What's In A Name? - A Guest Post by William Eleazer

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger William Eleazer. William, an attorney and former law professor, is the author of three legal thrillers set in Savannah Georgia. He was our featured writer on September 5, 2014.

I think Roy Peter Clark says it well in his book, Writing Tools. 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. He puts it this way:

      “What’s in a name? For the attentive writer, and the eager reader, the answer can be fun, insight, charm, aura, character, identity, psychosis, fulfillment, inheritance, decorum, indiscretion, and possession.”

 Most successful novels have unforgettable characters.  The strength and morals of the characters—or lack thereof—are the heart and soul of the novel. Have you ever wondered just how much of a part, if any, the names we choose for our characters play in the novel’s success? No doubt Gone with the Wind would have been successful without naming the main characters Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, but I think those names were perfect and perhaps even a contributing factor to the novel’s success. It has been reported that during the early drafts of the novel, the author, Margaret Mitchell, referred to Scarlett as “Pansy” and it wasn’t until it was ready for print that “Scarlett” was substituted. Can you imagine the movie with Vivian Lee, the English actress selected from the 1400 who were interviewed for the role of Scarlett, playing it as “Pansy?” I can’t either.   

I don’t recall using any specific methodology when selecting the names for Savannah Law. For most characters, I used the names of friends and relatives. (A great marketing tool!) This included the names of all the members of my Friday night poker club. Of course, if the character was evil, deceitful, or weak, I was careful to choose a generic name, one far from any friend or relative. It’s almost impossible to come up with a name that no one in the entire country has, but because my novel’s locale was Savannah, Georgia, for names of the evil characters I checked the internet for anyone in Savannah with that name. Two of the novel’s characters were the sons of a World War II immigrant couple from Estonia, Jaan and Ingrid Terras, who had settled in Springfield, Georgia, a small town near Savannah. And it was here that I made a writing mistake that I still regret.

I needed two Estonian male first names. Neither would be the main character, but both would be major characters. After substantial research to ensure authenticity (which included correspondence with the Estonian Embassy in Washington), I named these two characters “Jaak” and “Juri.” In the novel, I explained that “Jaak” was pronounced YA-ak, and that the Estonian pronunciation of Juri was YER-ee. Bad decision on names! If you are a writer and still reading this, take this to the bank and learn from my mistake: NEVER use names that are hard to pronounce. Several readers have called this to my attention. Sure, the reader is not vocally pronouncing the name, but the mind is, and it’s disconcerting to come to an unfamiliar name that is difficult to pronounce. It simply stops the ease of reading and is unnecessary. For name authenticity, there were dozens of Estonian male names I could have chosen that are the same as our own and easy to pronounce. 

In my second novel, The Indictments, which was a sequel to Savannah Law, I made another mistake in naming characters. In Savannah Law, I had introduced Jennifer Stone as the girlfriend of the protagonist, Scott Marino. Jennifer, like Scott, was a law student. She was smart, beautiful, and honest. In The Indictments, I brought in Jessica Valdez, who was also smart and beautiful—but evil. Jessica also sought a relationship with Scott, bringing her into conflict with Jennifer. And the mistake here was in the two first names. Several of my readers informed me that they had difficulty keeping the character names apart, and after reflecting on it, I agree. Both names are common names, but both begin with “J” and both consist of three syllables. Would have been much better with “Claudette” or “Zelma” Valdez. Subtle difference, yes, but from the reader’s viewpoint, important. In selecting character names, the devil is in the details.

Let me end on a positive note— the selection of a good character name. In each of my novels, Scott Marino is the protagonist. I don’t know how I came up with that name, but I like it. Easy to pronounce and, at least to me, sounds like action, strength, courage. Not sure of  why, but maybe I associate it with Dan Marino, the great Miami Dolphins quarterback who was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame just a few years before my first novel. In any case, don’t you think “Scott Marino” reads much better than “Wilbert Peevey?” (My apologies to all the “Wilberts” out there!)  

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

David Edmonds - Writing What He Knows

David Edmonds has had enough fascinating experiences to fill several lifetimes. This Tarpon Springs writer’s life has taken him from a historic Civil War homestead in Louisiana to a remote Indian village in Peru to war-torn Nicaragua and many other exotic stops along the way. He is a former marine, Peace Corps volunteer, senior Fulbright professor, academic dean and U.S. government official. As an author whose life reads like fiction, Edmonds can keep readers spellbound by writing what he knows.

Edmonds grew up in Louisiana and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Spanish and a Master’s degree in Economics from Louisiana State University. He studied at Notre Dame, Georgetown and George Washington University and earned a Ph.D. in International Economics from American University. His assignments with the US Government took him to Latin America during the turbulent 80s and 90s. There he experienced cultures where assassinations, terrorism, torture and kidnapping were commonplace. This would eventually provide fodder for his fiction.

“I’ve been a writer most of my adult life,” Edmonds says. “Even though I majored in Economics, I took creative writing courses everywhere.”
But it was returning to his home in Louisiana that kick-started his literary career. “My family home was used as a hospital during the Civil War, so I decided to do some research and write about it. What started as an article became a 600 page non-fiction book titled Yankee Autumn in Acadiana which won a literary award from the Louisiana Library Association.

Edmonds followed this with four more history books and a couple of ghost-written books, but it was a chance encounter in a tiny Chilean village that led to his first novel.“I was in the Peace Corps stationed in a miserable little Indian village,” he recalls. “The weather was bad, and I was sick much of the time. While I was recuperating in a hospital, I met this beautiful, classy Peruvian exchange student. After I returned to my village, I got the idea of writing a romance.” This was the genesis of his first novel, Lily of Peru, which wouldn’t be completed for another 20 years.

During those years, Edmonds often wondered about the woman’s fate. “I tried to get in touch with her a few times and often fantasized about linking up with her. Then I met my lovely wife, Maria, and lost all interest in her.” He didn’t, however, lose interest in his novel. Published in 2015, Lily of Peru garnered four awards, including a prestigious Royal Palm Literary Award of the Florida Writers Association, a Readers' Favorite Award, and an International Latino Book Award.  Lily of Peru tells the story of USF Professor Mark Thorsen who travels to war-torn Peru to meet with Marisa, an old love from his Peace Corps days. When he discovers that Marisa is connected with Shining Path, a terrorist organization, he sets out to learn the truth while defending himself against government agents, anarchists, soldiers and hostile jungle tribes in an adventure that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

His second thriller, which was just published by Peace Corps Writers, is titled The Girl of the Glyphs (co-written with his wife). “When I was in Nicaragua, I worked with former Sandinista soldiers,” Edmonds says. "One of them hid in a cave during the war between contras and  Sandinistas.  The cave had once been a Mayan jade mine and its walls were covered with mysterious symbols. He asked for my help in finding it, and thus began an arduous journey. My wife suggested I write a book about it.”

In the novel, a young woman from the Smithsonian hears of a cave containing writings about a mysterious holy man. She finds herself chased by a group of tomb looters who think the cave contains a lost treasure. Edmonds has also written a prequel to The Girl from the Glyphs. Set in the 1740s, The Heretic of Granada tells of a priest who escapes the Inquisition and takes up with pirates to get revenge on his enemies.

It is the  element of realism that makes Edmonds’s books particularly compelling. “All my stories are based on personal experiences that have been fictionalized,” he says. “One of the things I love about writing is re-living an experience through my protagonist, embellishing it and having it turn out the way I wanted it.” He hopes his books will give readers a window into life in South and Central America and the Caribbean. “We complain about the United States,” he says, “but we’re lucky we don’t have to go through the things they do.” Thanks to Edmonds, readers can live the experience from the safety of their armchairs.

For more information, go to or David's author page on