Today, author Kirstin Cronn-Mills, the author of Wreck, stops by with a guest post about naming her characters. Read on for a great post & to learn more about Wreck.
When I write a book, I start with a character and a thing to do, and that character needs a name as soon as possible. Sometimes the names are there right away. Frankie is Frankie (Original Fake) because I wanted to write about a kid who was related to Frank N. Furter, the character from Rocky Horror Picture Show(odd choice, sure, but it worked well). Gabe is Gabriel (Beautiful Music) because I was visited by the Archangel Gabriel (I know! so weird!). Gabe’s dead name is Elizabeth because Gabriel was the angel who came to Elizabeth, in the Bible, to tell her she was pregnant in her old age. Frankie and Gabe were easy.
(Random side note: nobody ever notices Gabe’s parents are named Mary and Joseph, since the angel Gabriel was the one to tell Mary about Jesus. It would make me really happy to have someone email me and say “Hey! Did you name Gabe’s parents Mary and Joseph for Biblical reasons?” LOL.)
Tobin was nameless for a few weeks, which kind of freaked me out. She became Tobin when I was watching the 2015 US women’s national soccer team play the final game of the World Cup. All of a sudden, the announcer said, “Tobin Heath” (she’s a midfielder), and I thought “Yup, Tobin it is.” My girl’s full nameis Tobin Mariette Oliver—her other two names have significance as well, but I won’t spoil it here.
Tobin, of course, has to have people in her world. Her dad is Stephen Tobin Oliver, and I don’t know why he’s Steve, he just is. Her aunt Allison, Steve’s sister, is Allison for the same reason—it just sounded right, as Steve did. Gracie, her BFF (mostly) was named Gracie as a thank you to my niece, Lexi, who helped me understand paramedics (Lexi’s in a scene, too!). Gracie is her beloved puppy. Sid is just Sid—same as Allison and Steve, just a name that fit him.
Ike is Ike because he’s always been Ike. His full name is Isaac Richard Navarro. Richard is after his dad, Rich, Steve’s ambulance rig partner who appears in various places in the book. Navarro is a last name loaned to me from a kind former student. Ike is modeled a bit after my high school boyfriend and another former student—big, Mexican American, and sweet as the day is long.
Paul is Paul because one of the first people to help me understand the loss and devastation of ALS was a friend named Paul. When I started the book in the summer of 2015, Paul’s dad Bob had just been diagnosed with ALS a few months prior. Bob passed away in February 2019, so he bested the disease for about four years—which is a really long time, actually. Paul was kind enough to share Bob’s struggles, and his own sadness about his dad’s diagnosis, so Tobin’s uncle Paul is a tribute to the real Paul. It’s hard to talk about losing your dad in this way, and he was the first person to help me see into Tobin’s heart.
There are three other women in the book that are named: Elena, Ike’s mom and Rich’s spouse; Meredith, Tobin’s mom; and Mariette, the woman who gave Tobin her middle name. Mariettehad to be a French name, for reasons that will make sense when you read the novel.
Maybe it’s this way for other writers, too, I don’t know: sometimes book character names are significant, and their names have backstories, and sometimes they don’t. The end result is the same each time, however—these imaginary people feel as real to me as the people I see every day.
Sometimes loss has its own timetable.
Set on the shores of Lake Superior, Wreck follows high school junior Tobin Oliver as she navigates her father’s diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
Steve’s life as a paramedic and a runner comes to an abrupt halt just as Tobin is preparing her application for a scholarship to art school. With the help of Steve’s personal care assistant (and family friend) Ike, Tobin attends to both her photography and to Steve as his brain unexpectedly fails right along with his body.
Tobin struggles to find a “normal” life, especially as Steve makes choices about how his own will end, and though she fights hard, Tobin comes to realize that respecting her father’s decision is the ultimate act of love.
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Kirstin Cronn-Mills is a writer and teacher. Her novel Beautiful Music for Ugly Children won the 2014 Stonewall Award from the American Library Association, and several of her books have received both state and national recognition. She lives with her family and her goofball animals in southern Minnesota, which is entirely too far from Lake Superior. Her website is: http://kirstincronn-mills.com.