This week I mailed out two copies of Some Like It Hawk, my latest book. One was a thank you present and the other was by way of an apology.
The thank you present was to reader Sarah Smith of Nevada. Some months back, Sarah noticed I was having a contest on my website, looking for bird titles that I can use for future books in my Meg Langslow series. The deal? If you submit your title, and I like it enough to send it to my publisher and they like it enough to let me use it--then you win a signed copy of the book, assuming I can still track you down. Sarah's brilliant suggestion was--you guessed it--Some Like It Hawk.
It's an ongoing contest, so anyone who's interested can check out the potential titles that are already taken here and submit any new ones that come to mind. Although the title for my 2013 book is already set--and I'll be giving myself the signed book for that one: The Hen of the Baskervilles.
The other book, the apology one, goes to Melissa Banks and her daughter, Kate. Some while back Melissa bid on and won the naming rights to a character in one of my books, and asked me to name a character after Kate. And I planned to, in Some Like It Hawk. I thought "Kate Banks" sounded perfect for one of the characters, a young, ambitious reporter from the Washington Star-Tribune (which is the newspaper I have invented so that real newspapers like the Washington Post and the Washington Times won't get offended and sue me.)
My Kate Banks started off as a walk-on, but I liked the character, and I gave her a larger part. She showed up on Meg's doorstep way too early one morning, demanding information. She hung around enough to drop a few clues. I liked her. Heck, Meg's brother, Rob, liked her and flirted with her. Some readers have suggested that Rob's overdue for another romance. I pondered whether Kate Banks should be a recurring character. I've done that before. The continuing character of Rose Noire, Meg's New Age cousin, whose real name is Rosemary Keenan, arrived in my fictional world when the real Rosemary's father bought naming rights in an auction. Tempting. But not something I had to settle right away, so I focused on gettting the book finished, and then getting the next one started.
Finally came the day when I had real, live pritned copies of Some Like It Hawk, I sat down to inscribe one to Kate. And I flipped through the book to find where her character first appears, so I could note the page number on the title page as part of my inscription. And then I saw the fatal words.
"Ms. Blake is with the Star-Tribune," Randall said.
NOOOOOO! She's supposed to be BANKS! How had Kate Banks morphed into Kate Blake? She's not supposed to be Blake--Blake is the last name of Meg's grandfather. And--
Oh, dear. I suddenly realized what had happened. I even almost remember when it happened--the day I was reading over a section of the book, and realized I'd called Meg's grandfather Dr. Banks. Twice.
Not an uncommon occurrence. I once wrote an entire draft of a book with Meg's cousin, Horace Hollingsworth appearing under the name "Harold." No idea why. Some kind of mental block. An alert critique partner spotted it, though I suspect at least one Harold made it past the proofreader. And then there was the book where I realized, just before sending it to my editor, that I had a character named Bob in addition to Meg's brother, Rob. Which happens a lot in real life, but doesn't work well in a book. So I went through and switched Bob to Jim. After checking, of course, to make sure I didn't have any Tims lurking in the manuscript.
And I didn't use global search and replace Bob, either. I still remember the time when a fellow writer brought something to a critique group and realized, too late, that she'd made a global faux pax. She had a character named Ed, and she decided, at the last minute, that she had too many plain vanilla WASP names, so she'd change Ed to something else. Like maybe Angelo. And she used global search and replace, leading to sentences like this:
She wantangelo to tell him how much she missangelo him, but she decidangelo instead to work on the dangeloication of her book. And then she fangelo the dog.
You'd think I might have learnangelo from her example, but no. I'm pretty sure I used global search and replace to make sure Meg's grandfather was consistently Blake instead of Banks.
And I swept away poor Kate Banks with him.
Not the first time Meg's grandfather's name has given me name trouble. At another auction, a reader bought the naming rights and asked if I could name not one character but two--a couple. I was willing to try. But when I heard their names--Phyllis and Henry Blanke--I panicked. How could I have a brace of Blankes in my book if I already had a Blake? The reader would be too confused. And then I realized that there was a way to use that similarity of the names, and advance the plot at the same time. I won't tell what. You'll have to read the book. (The Penguin Who Knew Too Much.)
It's always fun figuring out how to work in the name of a real person who's bought naming rights. Sometimes it's tough--like the time Marguerite Johnson bought the right to have a Tennessee Belted Fainting Goat named after her. The challenge wasn't to name the goat, of course, but to figure out a situation when the goat's owner would plausibly use her full name. (And the answer: when she's being naughty. Check out Swan for the Money to see just how naughty.)
As you can see, I've done this thing before. I thought I had it down pat. I check with the person who bought the naming rights to make sure they're okay with what I'm planning to do. I don't make people murder victims or bad guys (or, for that matter, goats) unless they WANT me to. And this time I thought using the name I'd been given was going to be a piece of cake. Kate Banks was the perfect name for the character. And a likable character, too. And one who got a big part. I was so looking forward to see how the real Kate and her mother liked it.
Ah, well. I guess this means that fairly soon there will be another Kate in one of my books--and this time it will be Kate Banks. It might even be in The Hen of the Baskervilles, if I can find a suitable character.
So congratulations to Sarah. And apologies again to Kate and Melissa. I owe you one.