Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What's in a Name?

By Robin Kaye

My hero in Too Hot to Handle is named Dr. Mike Flynn and I have to tell you, I’ve taken quite a lot of ribbing because of it. It all started because I’m terrible with names. I have a hard time remembering my own name, no less those of my secondary characters.

When I wrote Romeo, Romeo, I needed a doctor. Since I had no plans to make this doctor a central character in the book, I called him Mike after my personal doctor so that I’d remember his name. That seems harmless, doesn’t it? After all, it wasn’t as if I used his last name, too.

Well, was I ever wrong about the fictional Dr. Mike being just a walk on character. After writing the scene – a conversation between Nick, the hero in Romeo, Romeo and Dr. Mike Flynn, I fell in love and not just with my hero. I’m fickle that way. I was head over tongue depressors in love with Mike. Who knew?

At one of my appointments with Dr. Mike, he asked how my writing was going. Since I eventually had to tell him that Too Hot to Handle was the fictional Dr. Mike’s book, I figured that was as good an opening as any. I held my breath and waited for him to give me a hard time. He just laughed and asked if he could tell his wife I thought he was hero material. Everything went along swimmingly until all of the real Dr. Mike’s nurses read Romeo, Romeo. I began getting questions about whether I modeled Mike Flynn after the real Dr. Mike. I felt like asking “Have you not read Romeo, Romeo?” The answer to that is NO!!! There would be way too much of an ick factor if the similarities went beyond first name and specialty. My character and my doctor look nothing alike, they sound different, they’re different ages, and I certainly don’t want to know if my personal physician wears boxers or briefs. My hero on the other hand is a briefs man—of this I’m sure.

In the nine years I’ve been a patient, my doctor and I have become friends. Dr. Mike’s my go-to guy whenever I need medical advice—real or fictional. When I had to cure Rosalie of pneumonia, I ran it by him. Of course, we argued about the treatment. He said I had all the medicines correct but that he’d make Rosalie stay in the hospital for a few days. I told him that Rosalie refused to stay in the hospital, that she was carried, kicking and screaming into the ER in the first place. I suppose there is a reason people say that art imitates life because he shot back “Oh, so she’s like you.” The only time my wonderful doctor gets mad about it is when I forget to mention that the person in need of medical attention is a fictional character. One day I said that Annabelle had ripped tendons and ligaments in her ankle and he thought I was talking about a one of my daughters who are named Anna and Isabelle. He actually got upset. You gotta love a doctor who really cares that much about you and your family. It took him a few minuets to calm down at which time he made me promise to begin each research question with “I have a fictional character named…”

Dr. Mike is also a fabulous resource when it comes to plotting. I take him out to lunch sometimes and grill him. He was extremely helpful when I was researching an external conflict for Too Hot to Handle. He told me all about nightmare partnership scenarios a few of his friends had gone through, listened to ideas for a conflict and debated them with me and has also read through a few scenes for authenticity.

I’ve met people who have become huge assets to me and my career in the most unlikely places but like every good story, there should be a moral…maybe this one is, naming a character after a friend/doctor is probably not a good idea, but using him as a resource is.

I'm on my way to Chicago today and since I'm the one doing the driving, I probably won't be able to check in until very late tonight but I will check in eventually. I'd love to hear all about your resources.


  1. I love your humor and verve, Robin!

    I've mentioned the generosity of SEALs elsewhere. One resource I couldn't operate without is Romancing the Military Stone--an online group of military romance writers. Unlike moi, many of them have a military background. Recently I turned to them for help dealing with NAVSPEAK, distinguishing LIMDU and CONLEAVE.

  2. Hi Robin, wherever you are!
    I just wanted to say that I've read THTH and though I enjoyed it very much, I must admit, that in thirty years of nursing, I've rarely met a hunky doctor. However, the real Dr. Mike sounds like a gem.
    Looking forward to the next installment!

  3. Hi, Robin-On-The-Road!

    I've found character ideas most easily from people I don't know, but observe, or from people I don't know very well. Once I know them too well, they lose the ability, for me, to transform into a book character.

    As for people who are 'resources'... I don't think I've used too many real life people for resources for romance novels. Since I write historicals, that may be a little difficult!

  4. Hey Robin-

    I can relate a bit; my mom is an OR nurse (now in administration)... whenever my friends have health questions, they immediately call me and I always have to say "give me a few minutes, I'll call my mom." It's a great feeling though, having that go-to resource.

    See you on Thursday!!!

  5. LOL on your Dr. Mikes, Robin!! Your real Dr. Mike sounds like a gem.

    Have a safe trip to Chicago!

  6. Your post was very entertaining, Robin!

    Since I'm writing in Regency I find the Beau Monde chapter loop is the best place to get information about the Regency time period. The ladies on that loop are the best! I'm amazed at how much they know and how generously they give.


  7. Robin,
    I'm LOL about you naming the character and THEN realizing he was going to be the hero for your next book. I tried really hard not to name anyone in TWS after actual relatives in Ireland, which was difficult considering how many Murphys, Flannagans, and Maguires there are running around!

    One of best resources is my CP Cathy who is a former Deputy Sheriff, and her husband is a gun collector. In one of my stories, I researched what kind of hand gun would be most readily available in a certain part of Italy. I was at Cathy's house when I asked her if she knew what this gun looked like. She said, "Just a minute." went into the back bedroom and came out CARRYING THE EXACT GUN! So I got to hold it, test the weight, everything. And she said, "Oh and my husband says that's a good choice since it is readily available as is the ammo." WOW! Talk about technical expertise!


  8. Oh wow. I shall have to be more careful about naming characters, and I'm already hopeless at it. But I loved your article.

  9. That is hysterical, Robin! How cool that Dr. Mike has a wonderful sense of humor about his namesake.

    I usually start by searching through several lists of traditional English names. Eventually one will just hit me as working for the person I have in mind. I also like homages. I have several characters named after friends, places I love, or Austen characters from other books, such as Rev. Bertram. It is fun and a special way to say thanks.

    For other information I have about a thousand websites bookmarked! Gotta make sure the history is accurate.

  10. Names--I love to make them up. Some are ordinary, but some are just...mine. While others have a real meaning. :) A fan asked me the other day where I came up with Leidolf's name? She had hoped it might be historical as she was having a time finding different historical names that weren't all from the Bible. :) In Leidolf's case, it's Viking and means "wolf descendent". In Heart of the Wolf for Volan's name, it was totally made up. Volan was the bad guy...and the name reminded me of Vulcan, god of fire in Latin. I tend to love certain names and end up using them over and over, so I have to really make an effort to come up with something new sometimes! :)