Friday, September 25, 2009

Cake Time! Train Cakes!

Last week was my Big Boy's sixth birthday and we walked him to school with cookies shaped like the number six. It's great his teacher allows kindergarteners to bring class treats and greater that my sweet husband made them all, as well as this knock-me-over cake designed after LINK, Seattle's new light rail.

Perhaps my domestic bliss is why I don't read "mommy lit." I'm not interested in reading about the work vs. stay home conflict, having made and lived with my choices with open eyes. Lots of the other perceived staples of mommy-lit (self-sabotaging women old enough to know better, tooth and nail competition over stupid stuff, carpool angst, doofus spouses) have zero appeal to me as plot points. What's your opinion of "Mommy Lit"?

This week I found the first mommy-lit-light book I'm enjoying, Saving Face, a free on-line serial at Slate Magazine by my favorite writing lawyer, Dahlia Lithwick. Read past the first chapter (school pickup angst - almost stopped me reading. I hate the "I can't do anything right anymore because I've become a flabby loser with kids boo hoo" whine). After the first chapter it gallups into grown-up friendship, how easily the internet can dominate your life, and the lure of being snarky with strangers. These I like to read about. (Full Disclosure: I too am a former lawyer who misplaced her black suit - but it wasn't Armani - and I can't get my post-baby feet into my amazing red suede hiiiigh heels.).

In Saving Face Dahlia Lithwick harnessed her loyal readers' efforts for chores like naming characters, one of the the hardest parts of writing. In my first novel I named characters after San Francisco BART train stations because names are soooo hard. For my current book I used the social security database to find popular names in certain decades - workable but boring for given names. But surnames? If you write, how do you decide on those?

Dahlia poses reader questions at the end of each chapter and incorporates answers into her writing, letting her fans do the research. Amazing collaboration and yet the work is her voice. Read it and come back and tell me what you think. Want to help with Warrior's Hilt? Even though it's "finished" I have a few less-than-inspired names for secondary characters and I need a New Jersey suburb location, among other things. If you're interested drop a comment and I'll post more details.


Ciara said...

Great cake! For surnames I've tended to use Seattle neighborhoods or my friend's last names, because I can never think of anything clever when I'm staring at the blank page. whoops! My critique partner gave me a small journal to carry around in my purse in which to write all my writing-related flashes of inspiration. I should start a list of names and surnames in it, for when I think of a good one standing in line at the coffee shop.

Good luck!

Shelli Stevens said...

That is an AWESOME cake! I want one!

Anna Richland said...

It tasted great too - we agreed the new recipe was his best yet (used yogurt and brown sugar as well as all the usual chocolate cake stuff). My husband makes all the birthday cakes. We've had a string of transportation themes - last year was a giant articulated bus, the year before that a train in a tunnel (involved constructing a tunnel from milk cartons and caking around it). I like to make fruit pies and one layer fruity cake things like plum upside down cake, but absolutely no decorating. Sad to say, he usually gets store-bought fancy cupcakes for his own birthday.

EilisFlynn said...

What's the LINK doing there?! Oh, it's an amazing-looking cake! Wow!

I avoid mommy lit. First, I'm not a mommy (but I do goo over my cat), and second, for the most part, the topic bores me. The only time I willingly read it (and paid for it) was Kathleen Gilles Seidel's contribution to the genre, and then I was just disappointed it wasn't something I was interested in, even though she has to be one of my favorite authors.

Anna Richland said...

Eilis - I'll pass on to my Dear Canadian your kudos on the cake.

Anna Richland said...

What I'm wondering about on names is my second Afghan girl minor character. The first, Farzana, is at teen bride with a breech pregnancy, so treating her brings the Army doctor heroine and the special forces immortal Viking warrior hero (don't try saying that after two drinks) together. A younger girl comes with her to the Army hospital and, in an effort to entertain her, the Special Ops guys show Cinderella. The heroine - who has promised herself to stay away from the hero - must chaperone the little girl. So I need a second Afghan (Pashtun) girl name, something that is recognizably feminine to an American reader, like Farzana, and yet not so similar that a reader would think "oh the pregnant girl again -where's her baby?" Ideas?

Angelia Sparrow said...

Naming Characters:
Everyone I know has trouble with this except me.

I use very common names. Chuck. Fred. Sean. Nick. James. David. Chris. Jason. Joshua. Sometimes a character will let me know his name at once, sometimes I have to futz.

The surnames come from a database of common US surnames. I often know a character's ethnicity or family before his surname and that can dictate.


Common Boston surnames gave me Inman.
David Inman, called the Butcher of Cairo, considers himself the best mind of the twenty-first century.

A hunt for Cherokee surnames gave me Hummingbird and Mankiller.
Chuck Hummingbird, truck driver out of Seattle. (yes, there is a reason he's in Seattle instead of Oklahoma)
Elizabeth Mankiller, high chief of the Tribal Lands, is a formidable woman of about fifty.

And Greek gave me James Ligatos. Which has one major flaw in that both names end in S are impossible to make possessive.

Phone books are good places to look too.
Nick Admire got his surname from a phonebook, one which actually covers a town in his congressional district.

The toughest one? Romany surnames. Irish gypsies are more documented, so Corin Faw came easily, but Romany took some googling. And gave me Danior Camomescro, Professor Dan, a werewolf who specializes in New England Transcendentalists.

Mary said...

I love the cake. I tried my hand at making cakes and decorating them, it's not as easy as it looks. But it is fun.

Anna Richland said...

Angelia -

I love your surname post. I knew my heroine was Italian American from NJ, so I needed an Italian name and someone I briefly met fifteen years ago in the Army (where I got to see everyone's surnames on their shirt, written out, and call them by that name all the time) popped up. Poof, I had Theresa Chiesa (with a key sound on the front). It came from a specific region of Italy and I was off to the races.

Afghan names seem really hard to research b/c a lot derive from Pakistani or Persian/Iranian influences or epics, and I can't find the definitive answer on whether that name would actually be appropriate for a Pashtun. Perhaps only an Iranian thinks it would be an Afghan name. I know this can be thorny b/c I was stationed in the country of Macedonia and Bulgarians, Albanians and Greeks all used language, names, place names, traditional song lyrics, etc to make territorial claims over Macedonia. I once had a Macedonian interpreter revile the only standard English-Macedonian dictionary available at the time b/c he claimed it was written by a Bulgarian and when reading between the lines the word choices expressed territorial claims (as in, Bulgarian words in the dictionary listed as Macedonian).

I'm overthinking this, aren't I?

Kate Diamond said...

I love that cake!

My personal favorite would be naming places and streets, not people. I always write down street names when I'm traveling.

At one point, I actually had a friend living on Podunk Road (yes, it was out in the boonies). This is in real life!

Anneliese Kelly said...

I right Regency-set novels, so I need lots of names--first names, last names, titles, estate names. I generally name after important places in my life. The country home of the Viscount in my first novel is named after my favorite bridge in Central Park. The ducal title in my second book is named after the boarding school I attended in England.

I haven't written enough books to have run out of important places yet :)