Please welcome Tom Milani back to the blog today with a guest post on writing a short story for an upcoming issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine. Published every Sunday by Wildside Press, the read is a mix of genres. More information, including subscription information, can be found on their website.
What’s in a Name?
I have a short story coming out in issue 78 of Black Cat Weekly. Here’s how it came to life.
Years ago, a friend in my writers group told me that one of my character’s names wasn’t appropriate for a guy in his mid-twenties. It turns out that online, you can find the most popular baby names by year of birth. Who knew? After I did a search, Larry became Drew, and the story became better for the change.
More recently, I was drafting a story in which one of the characters was named Jenny. Although the name was age-appropriate for her, I looked it up anyway. According to Wikipedia, Jennifer is the Cornish form of Guinevere. I knew that she was Lancelot’s love interest in the Arthurian legends. That peaked my interest.
As a writer, my focus is sometimes … lacking. But that same lack of focus can be serendipitous when falling down internet rabbit holes. From one of my college professors, I was familiar with Arthurian Romances by Chrétien de Troyes, a twelfth-century writer. I skimmed my copy, then revisited Wikipedia, which calls the tale, titled Lancelot in my volume, Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart. And with that, I was off.
Old Macintosh programs had so-called Easter eggs, unexpected graphics or information that would appear when certain keystrokes and mouse clicks were used. I took that approach to my story, trying to drop into it as many Arthurian references as I could. I began with the title, which I changed from “Jenny” to “Night of the Laundry Cart,” and went onto other character and place names. My protagonist, Nick Melvin, became Mel, after Meleagant, who abducted Guinevere from Arthur. Guinevere became Gwen, one of the love interests, and Arthur became Artie, the villain. In the romance, King Bademagu rules the Kindom of Gorre. In my story, Jill Bademagu is the owner of Gorre’s, the bar where Mel plays guitar as the leader of the Lancers, the band he founded. In the romance, Lancelot, after riding two horses to death, ends up getting a ride in a cart driven by a dwarf. In my story, Mel encounters a dwarf who owns a laundromat. Even minor characters play a part. One of the waiters is named Gawain or Dwayne (Artie couldn’t tell); in the romance Gawain serves Arthur.
A funny thing happened on the way to finishing the story—choosing those names and that title drove the plot in unexpected directions. What I initially imagined as something dark and brooding became far lighter and funnier.
I hope you have as much fun reading the story as I did writing it.
Tom Milani ©2023
Tom Milani's novel Blues for the Road was shortlisted in the St. Martin/Private Eye Writers of America contest. Tom is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. For 10 years, he edited The Masik, the online journal of Qajaq USA, and for the last 25 years, he has been a technical editor for a federally funded research and development center. Tom has a BA and an MA from George Mason University, where he studied writing under Richard Bausch and Steve Goodwin. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife, glass artist Alison Sigethy. His website is https://www.tommilani.com/
Great post! Thanks so much for sharing this intriguing piece about names---and your creative adventure writing the story. Looking forward to reading it soon!
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