Category Archives: inspiration

The Naming of a Character

Getting It Right

It’s one of the tricky things about writing historical novels. While contemporary novelists probably devote plenty of time in choosing a novel’s characters’ names, when you are

via Flickr by Jack Dorsey

via Flickr by Jack Dorsey

writing historical, particularly in the ancient time frame I’m using now, you sometimes have to choose between names a reader can pronounce in his/her head and names that were actually in use at the time.

I was in the middle of this task when I decided to run my proposed names by the people who follow my Facebook page. Here is what I said:

Readers: Please help! In the novel I’m working on I have to name some children. Always hard to strike a balance with names readers are familiar with and those that have somewhat of an ancient Irish feel. In this case I’m trying to keep them somewhat similar to the actual names in history. How do you feel about these: Egan, Keeva, Meredit, Shona. I’ve tried to use a spelling that helps the reader hear the correct sound. In order they are boy, girl, girl, girl.

The feedback on that post was very helpful. If you offered your opinion, thank you! If you did not, but would like to, feel free to comment below.

Names in My Past Novels

I thought you might like to hear how I came up with other character names. Some of them were quite simple, but here was my thinking:

For Brigid of Ireland, I obviously already had the main character. The original publisher of that book included a pronunciation guide at the front. For instance, Aine is AWN-ya. (Some readers of Pages of Ireland have asked about that one.) My rule for that book was that the names that were fairly easy to pronounce were fictional, and many others that were not were historical.

Grace's Pictures by Cindy ThomsonFor Grace’s Pictures, I thought of Grace O’Malley, the sixteenth-century Irish pirate. I don’t know why. The characters aren’t really alike, but the name stayed with me, and it’s a beautiful name that taken literally reminds one that there by the grace we go. Owen is a name of Celtic origin, and I was influenced by a former youth pastor my son was mentored by. The Parker family was explained in the book: the children were named after trees, which Grace thought was funny…trees in the park? But their mother was an avid gardner. Reverend Clarke got his name because I once knew a Reverend Clark. The other names in the book came to me for no particular reason.

 

For Annie’s Stories I named Annie for Annie Moore, the first immigrant to come through Ellis Island.

The mark used by Annie's father, explained in the novel.

The mark used by Annie’s father, explained in the novel.

For her counterpart, I wanted a name that sounded very American. What’s more American than a president? So, I used Adams. I thought Stephen sounded appropriate for the early twentieth-century and quite American. Speaking of names, I explain in the novel about Annie’s father’s name and his pen name. Annie’s father is the source of “Annie’s stories.”

I held a contest for the naming rights for two characters in this book, but then most of the characters were already in Grace’s Pictures. So the two Eastern European sisters in the book were named that way.

For Sofia’s Tune, I had originally used Sophia, but the publisher (who later opted not to publish

Sofia's Tune by Cindy Thomson

Book Three, Ellis Island Series

this book) changed it to Sofia, which I think is more of an Italian spelling. Sofia means wisdom, and I hoped that throughout the story my character would grow in wisdom, which only comes from God. That is why I was so happy to be able to use Sophia Sing to Me, written by Irish singer/songwriter Andy Rogers. You can hear it on the book trailer found here. I believe the other characters came out of my imagination, if I remember right. But, oh, the dog? Nothing earth-shattering, but I think it was a name I heard in high school and thought it was Italian but not overly common.

I often consult baby name web sites when searching for a name. I love these because they often give the meaning of the name. If you look some of my character names up, you might understand why I gave a certain character a specific name. For instance, in Brigid of Ireland there is a druid named Bram. This is a derivative of Abraham, the father of many. While we don’t specifically know if Bram’s heart was changed in the story, he represented the old beliefs that were about to change for many of the Irish people. Another example. Back to Aine. Her name means “splendor, radiance, brilliance.” As you might remember from Brigid of Ireland, she had leprosy and was healed.

Names Are Hard/Names Are Fun

That pretty much sums it up for me. I spend maybe too much time deciding on character names, but I do love the process. Let me know what you think!

 

The Pursuit

The Journey of a Book

4222f-img_0583Writing is a definitely a creative pursuit, but it’s not all about creating an entertaining read, although it is that. It’s about a journey, a process, a growing and ever-changing trek through the publishing wilderness. And believe me, it is wild out there. I have talked before about my seven years in the writing desert. During that time I thought I was wandering hopelessly about, but in fact there was a plan and Brigid of Ireland would not be my only novel. It’s that uncertainty that makes a writer’s life a journey.

 

 

Grace's Pictures by Cindy Thomson

When my advanced copies of Grace’s Pictures arrived, I thought my wandering in the writing desert was over.

The Detours

The thing about journeys is they are usually unpredictable. As soon as you decide you know how things will be, they change. This can be upsetting. People don’t like change, not much anyway. This perspective is sometimes altered by taking a trip. Take for instance these photographs below from my 2013 trip to Ireland. We were visiting St. Brendan’s Cathedral in Clonfert. We went looking for that because I’ve been intrigued by St. Brendan’s journey for some time. I’d seen photographs of this lovely building, and it was a wonder to see up close.

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But then, just a few steps away, I spotted this.

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We went inside after those ladies there were finished and followed the path. It wove around in the woods and past a few spots where children had left toys. A sort of secret garden? And then…IMG_1152

It led to this view. Something we would have missed had we not stopped off on this detour.

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This is only one example. The BEST experiences in Ireland (and probably in many other places) is taking wrong turns and even getting lost because there is so much beauty around every corner.

The best experiences in the life of a #writer are the detours. Click To Tweet

We Are Never Truly Lost

Not if we keep looking up! A wise writer friend with tons more publishing experience than I have once told me how excited she was to find out what God had for her next. And she was sincere. I thought I’d never get to that place, but today (and it is one day at a time) I’m moving in that direction. It’s very much like life. We can plan, but we don’t have control over everything. And often, the best things are experiences and circumstances and meeting new people that we would never have imagined.

What’s your journey been like thus far? What are you looking forward to?

The Leafy Office

Working From Home Conundrum

It’s great working from home for many reasons. One downside is that it’s easy to get distracted when you aren’t punching a clock. When it’s May, and the weather is gorgeous, I’m sometimes wandering around the yard–not taking up projects like pulling weeds, because, I’m supposed to be working. You might find me checking out the progress of the robin sitting on the nest on the downspout or checking on the health of the plants that are new this  year.

 

Cindy Thomson's garden

My book reading angels give a hint as to what the owner does.

But am I wasting time?

Breathing in Spring

I don’t think I am, unless I give in and start pulling those weeds or painting the backyard furniture. The truth is, I have trouble thinking if I don’t take time to refresh myself. Observation is an important skill for a novelist. I need to breath the air, note the colors in nature, listen to the different bird calls. A tiny part of what I observe might make it into one novel or another. But mostly, I need to clear my head so that I can concentrate better on my story.

Cindy Thomson's window

Gazing out my window

Listening is Underrated

J. Philip Newell wrote a book I love called Listening For the Heartbeat of God. I try to do that. Every day. It’s hard, you know? But listening is the best way to pray, to learn, to write a novel.

Get Outside

I hope you do, at least for a little while. I know it’s difficult for many people who work inside, but even if it’s just walking back and forth to the car, sniff the air, look at the clouds, pay attention, and refresh your soul. (Just my tip for the day!)

Dogwood

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3 Top Reasons to Hunt the Good Stuff

Why Your Attitude Matters

A few weeks ago I attended an all-day meeting for families with deployed soldiers. I was just thinking that what I learned there is very appropriate for Thanksgiving week, so this a reminder for me, but just in case it’s also helpful to you, I thought I’d share.

One of the presenters showed us this video of a father and son.

She used it as an example of hunting the good stuff. Sure, there are lots of obstacles in life. This boy wanted to run. He asked his father to help him, and he did. Can you think of a better example of not giving up a dream? If we hunt the good stuff, which is another way of saying look on the bright side, find what you can do instead of lamenting what you cannot, how much better will our lives be?

Here are three reasons it’s a good idea to hunt the good stuff.

1. If you hunt the good stuff, you’ll find it.

The Good Stuff!

photo by scribbletaylor

 

 

A defeatist attitude will only get you that, defeat. Looking for what’s good, beautiful, inspiring, however, can only make life better. Reminds me that we’ve been told this before:

 

 
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.–Philippians 4:8

And good attracts more good. Here’s what I mean. Say you’re having a bad day. You’ve misplaced your keys, you can’t find your favorite jeans so you had to settle for something else, you forgot your computer password, and the coffeemaker broke. Bad day, huh? Suppose you

Attitude is contagious

photo by ayadi othmane

decide instead to hunt the good stuff. You have a job. You have choices of clothing in your closet. You will save your password in the future, so you’ve learned a valuable lesson. These are SMALL things, but they add up. If you keep that bad attitude, guess what you’ll keep experiencing the rest of the day? But if you choose to look for the positive, guess what you’ll find then?

2. You’ll bring others with you.

Nothing is worse than a pity party. Sure, there is a lot in this world to be down about. There is a lot to scary you silly. But dwelling on those things causes not only anxiety, but also causes you to miss what’s truly good, not to mention the affect it has on everyone around you. Don’t be that Debbie Downer-type. Choose to encourage and inspire instead. (That’s what I would like to do, anyway. I’m trying!) And think about what a difference you could have in the lives of others if you hunt the good stuff more often than not. The people around you will begin to do the same thing. It works both ways, in my experience.

3. You will lessen the pain of the bad stuff.

And who doesn’t want that? Count your blessings. You have them, I’m sure. Have you counted them lately?

What are you most grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Blessings quote

photo by BK

My 2014 One Word

My One Word, Changing Your Life

My One WordHave you heard of this? Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen wrote a book in which they explain how choosing one word to focus on for an entire year can change your life. The concept involves praying about what God wants to teach you, and that can be both scary and enlightening. Often the word you pick turns out to show you something you hadn’t considered before or you end up needing that message more than you could have ever imagined. You can read more about the book and the whole movement on this website.

My Words

PEACE

Photo: Muff McElfresh

In past years my words have been: Listen, Kindness, Peace, and Focus. Each year I have learned something new about myself and about where God is leading me by meditating on these words, seeking them out in the Bible, and praying over them. Sometimes they are a slap to the head. I’ll just let you imagine what that could mean! 😉

Often women who choose a word will buy something with that word on it to help encourage them along the way. Usually, yeah, it’s jewelry. But also ornaments, coffee mugs…

I admit I’ve ordered something with my word on it. I’ve even created my own little pictures. They are reminders because I forget easily. The more reminders, the better. I made this little image to place on my desk because in 2014, I really needed to focus.

Cindy Thomson FOCUS

There have been so many distractions keeping me from making as much progress on my writing as I should. Some of them I created. Others have been beyond my control, but overall I just needed to focus and plow through.

How Is That Working?

Slowly. I am so happy God is patient with me. I would like to report that these words have changed me in spectacular ways, but the truth is, I have a long way to go. It’s a journey, and I have to keep reminding myself of that. I should not expect to have arrived. Because of that I’m a little reluctant to let my words go at the end of the year. I haven’t learned everything yet! That is why I’ve been keeping some of them together like this:

Cindy Thomson's My One Word

One thing I have learned from concentrating on one word for an entire year is that there is always something I have indeed learned. Maybe not perfectly, but it’s progress I might have missed had I not chosen to do this.

My 2015 Word

This came to me in church one Sunday, and then I heard the word somewhere right after. And I felt it in my heart.

SHARE

I realize that this word could have several meanings (as is the case with a lot of words) and I am not entirely sure what it means for me. My first thought had to do with mentoring since I’ve been seeing some changes in the way I’ve mentored in the past. My next thought was that I need to give away some of my writing, which feels just a bit painful right now because my writing income is virtually nil. Another thought is that if I don’t FOCUS in 2014 and get the current novel I’m working on finished, I won’t be able to SHARE in 2015.

But there are other things it could mean, such as speaking up, sharing my heart, my passion, the Gospel. I don’t know where it will lead in 2015, but I am sure God has a reason for asking me to focus on this word.

Have you chosen a word to focus on for a year? Are you considering doing so?

Say But Little

Gaelic proverb

On the wall of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh. Photo by Beth

Making Words Count

I came across a photograph of this sign in a book I own and I was thinking it’s a fitting sentiment for lawmakers and politicians. I’m sure it’s the upcoming election that made me realize that. But as is so often the case with things I hear, I tend to think they are for someone else. I remember a minister who used to complain about folks who would come up to him after services and say they wished their son, or uncle, or wife, or husband should have been there to hear that sermon. It drove him nuts because he believed the people who needed to hear it were the ones sitting in the pews and they didn’t even realize it. So, I’m sure this proverb is for me too. Especially since I write. I need to make sure I use the right number of words to “say it well.”

Cindy Thomson's books

Books I’ve written or contributed to.

Consider Your Words Carefully

It’s so easy to say the first thing that comes to mind. I try not to do that. In a moment of high anxiety I often do and regret it later. But mostly I wait before I speak, or before I act, because…you can’t take it back, can you? You can apologize for your words but they remain suspended in that conversation. (Or forever on the Internet!) 😉

Words Have Power

Thomson Family BookI strongly believe that. As a Christian, I believe the words in the Bible are living and filled with power and meaning. But other words, in other kinds of books and publications, have power as well. For instance, think about how the public was persuaded to fight for independence from England. There were many people who did not feel compelled to wage war. They were convinced. With words. Sometimes with words that were exaggerated and emotionally charged, such as how an altercation in Boston became a massacre. Not that the colonies shouldn’t have revolted. I’m glad we won independence. I’m just saying words, more than anything else, got that war started.

Words have power to soothe as well. That’s why we send cards when someone dies or is sick or sad. The words “I love you” and “I’m sorry” are extremely important words in our relationships.

And who doesn’t feel moved by beautifully written words such as these:

“Through the opening of the mouth, we bring out sounds from the mountain beneath our soul. These sounds are words. The world is full of words. There are so many talking all the time, loudly, quietly, in rooms, on streets, on television, on radio, in the paper, in books. The noise of words keeps what we call the world there for us…Yet the uttering of the word reveals how each of us relentlessly creates. Everyone is an artist. Each person brings sound out of silence and coaxes the invisible to become visible.”~From Anam Cara, A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

A Couple of Notes About My Words

Cindy Thomson's Newsletter SignupJust wanted to alert you to a couple of things. One is that my monthly newsletter will be going out soon and if you haven’t signed up look for the form to right of this post. I’ve got a few things to share that subscribers hear first, and sometimes some giveaways as well.

And finally I wanted to alert you that if you have an ereader or know someone who does, or would like to read on your computer via the free Kindle ap, Annie’s Stories is only $2.99 through tomorrow, November 1. Here is the link.Annie's Stories by Cindy Thomson

I hope you enjoy some good words this weekend. Are you listening to something or reading something you’d like to share? Please leave a comment. I will be listening to a Yellow Ribbon event held for the families of my son’s National Guard unit, and hopefully reading the books I’ve started. (It’s leaf-racking season too, but I’ll do my best to get a few words in–writing a few too, hopefully!) If you’d like to see what I’m reading on Goodreads, go here.

What Was Here Before?

Getting a Historical Perspective

History geeks like me are always thinking about what a place looked like a hundred or two hundred years ago. For example, ever since I heard that the area around Plain City, Ohio, had been a hunting ground for Indians because it was where the buffalo roamed, I think about that when I’m driving past on I70. It’s so flat there, and I can just imagine it.

I discovered a children’s book years ago when I went to hear the author speak at a library that gives perspective. Perhaps it’s just how writers think, I’m not sure. It’s called Who Came Down That Road by George Ella Lyon. It explores the fact that a road or path has probably been used by people and animals for centuries.

51vgWM6qnXLHistorical Novelists Are Rightful Daydreamers

We live in the past, yet we’re writing for today’s readers. Can you see how that can make us a little bit…conflicted? (You thought I was going to say crazy, didn’t you?) This is why many novelists have “Do Not Disturb the Writer” signs on their doors. It’s a delicate state of sanity requiring much concentration!

Nobody Gets in to See the Wizard Sign

Similar to the sign Jerry Jenkins has outside his office.

Why You Too Should Envision the Past

We’ve all heard the adage, those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat its mistakes–or some version of it. I believe it is usually attributed to Edmund Burke. But whoever said it was correct. We need to know what came before so we can move forward with wisdom and thoughtfulness.

So if you’re convinced, here’s a video I think you’ll enjoy. I have this kind of thing going on in my head every day. Let me know if this makes sense to you. 😉

Ireland, Yeats, and My Writing Inspiration

Drumcliffe Church built in 1809. Photo ©Cindy Thomson, 2013

When people learn about my visits to Ireland, most ask if I was researching a new book or if going there influenced my writing somehow. I usually don’t have a definitive answer. All my experiences  influence my stories in some way. But, yes, Ireland is inspirational, and so is Ireland’s literary history.
Since my last trip included a stay in Sligo, W.B. Yeats, who spent much of his childhood there and is buried in Drumcliffe, and how the landscape influenced him (and his brother Jack who painted some of Sligo’s scenery) provided inspiration (but what for exactly, I’ve yet to discover!)

Benbulben, County Sligo. Photo © Cindy Thomson, 2013

Graveyard at Drumcliffe. Photo ©Cindy Thomson, 2013.

Over a century before Yeats spent his summers in Sligo, St. Columcille chose the site for one of his monasteries. In the 6th century, Columcille founded Drumcliffe and it has remained a sacred site since. (Although for all I know it was sacred to the pagans before Christianity, as many sites were.) 

Drumcliffe sits in the shadow of the magnificent mountain called Benbulben or Benbulbin (above.) The church that sits there now is of the Church of Ireland, and Yeats’s great grandfather was a rector there. Not too far from the church’s front doors (below, do you see swans? Some of my friends didn’t when they looked at this pic) lies Yeats’s grave. He died in France, but it was his wish (as written in one of his poems) to be buried at the base of Benbulben.

Drumcliffe church doors. Photo ©Cindy Thomson, 2013

 

W.B. Yeats Grave, Drumcliffe. Photo ©Cindy Thomson, 2013. Yeats’s wife is buried there too.

The churchyard is home to a 10th century high cross, and the ruin of a round tower, which dates at least to the 10th century, but perhaps even earlier.

Drumcliffe Round Tower. Photo ©Cindy Thomson, 2013.

Apparently some of the ancient monastery’s tumbledown stones were used to build the new church. I’m fascinated by the fact that for centuries people have come here to worship, celebrate, bury and mourn their dead. Hearts were full or heavy here, over and over. You can almost feel it.

Win!! Prints That Inspired Grace’s Pictures

Update: Mandy is the winner! Thanks for entering, everyone. If you’d like me to run another contest like this, just ask! 🙂

I would love to give these four prints away to one of my readers. If I get a good response, I may do it again and perhaps add some different ones. You can use these for crafts (lots of inspiration over on Pinterest!) or just frame them as a set. They are printed on book pages (not my book, but a library discard!) The photos are in the public domain, and I think they are quite charming. They helped inspire me as I wrote Grace’s Pictures. What do you think?

Not crafty? Send one of your friends over and remind her you have a birthday coming up! 😉