At exactly 10:43 pm on Wednesday, May 27, 2020, as she is lying in bed trying to fall asleep, it occurs to Leah that her name is all wrong for the book she is trying to write. For one thing, Leah means "weary" -- a condition she may have had at the start of the book.
But now that’s all changed. She’s got lots of energy to write.
Leah tries to think back to how and why she chose the name Leah in the first place.
Frankly, it just came to her as she was playing with the first few chapters. But all along Leah was a stand in for me, Claudia.
I’ve been thinking about why a writer might decide to use a name that’s not her own. It opens up the possibility that she can falsify details in the action.
That combined with writing in the third person gives the author a lot of leeway. She can put considerable distance between her narrative and the life she is living and writing about. In short, she can mix fiction with the “truth.”
Why not just write in the first person? I certainly have done that plenty of times in the past, but it isn't right for this project. I want to introduce more uncertainty, a bit of mystery, as the readers have to piece together what is driving the character. I am using first person here, as I want to be crystal clear about my intentions. I use this voice in my journalism and in much of my poetry.
But for Pearly Everlasting, the new book, I want to be able to play with the truth of the situations I am writing about. I want to be free to mix up different genres. I want to fly off every which way, on different narrative tangents in the story.
The question arises, so why do I use everyone else’s real name? I don’t have a good answer to that question. Everyone else seems more fixed in my mind. For that reason, I feel like they have to be truthfully displayed in the narrative.
Earlier in the book, in a chapter called “The Name Game,” we learn that Leah, a character in the Old Testament, had a daughter named Dinah, a name similar to my own mother’s name, Dina.
In trying to decide what to name my protagonist, I could choose to do what I did in the last novel, Sister Mysteries, and call my protagonist Gina, which means “Queen” in Italian. And it rhymes so nicely with Dina.
It wouldn’t seem to be such a big deal what you name your characters, but actually characters’ names are a really important part of writing a book. Sometimes characters arise out of no more than a name. The name in effect names a core trait, or how they behave.
Writing about her novel, Animal Dreams, writer Barbara Kingsolver has said she derived a character out of the name Loyd. Specifically, she wanted to explore what it would do to a young man to grow up with a name that is not spelled in the conventional manner, i.e. Lloyd. What would losing that second L do?
Talking to Mary just now the name situation became crystal clear.
I am Gina, as I was in Sister Mysteries. Of course I'm Gina, because she is the part of me connected to the Divine. Ginais a Queen of the Heavens.
“In my rolodex,” Mary said, “I have you down as Gina!”
Interesting how I had “forgotten” about Gina!
And it rhymes with “Dina.”
Thanks Be to God…AND to Mary!