About forgiveness

When Della Brown was 22 years old, she had just returned from a hellish year serving as a U.S. Army nurse in a combat hospital in Vietnam. During that time she had learned and lost much. She had made mistakes: errors of judgment, of inexperience. One mistake may have ended the life of a grievously injured soldier. Another cost Della her best friend. Thirty years later, Della was forced to confront those mistakes and find out whether she could learn to forgive: her country, her family, and most of all, herself.

Della is a fictional character in my novel Her Own Vietnam. But her dilemma is real. Many of us have made our own lives more difficult by holding onto grievances and regrets.

Looking back at your 22-year-old self, what would you counsel her about forgiveness?

This is how my guest blog on TNBBC’s The Next Best Book Blog begins. And then a dozen women answer the question in fascinating ways.

What would you say?

Read their answers here.


A quote to savor


For some reason I’m often inclined to contemplate quotations on Sunday afternoon. This one is from Laura McBride’s wonderful novel, We Are Called to Rise.

We are inside the point of view of one of the characters. She grew up in deep poverty and managed to eke out a happy, middle-class life for herself. Now, in middle age, she sees it all beginning to disintegrate:

It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing.

Words to savor.

In which I slap my forehead and start from scratch

Arrrgh! Begin again. Photo by Marie Coleman.

Arrrgh! Starting from scratch.
Photo by Marie Coleman.

A few days ago I was excited to have found a new first name for my character, originally named Rosalie Brown. Two days ago I awoke with the realization that the new name I had chosen – Caroline – would not work.

Why? Because there is another major character named Charlene. And while the names Caroline and Charlene sound nothing alike, on the page they look very similar.

Slap my forehead

It was a true slap my head moment. Of course I should have realized immediately that the names were too much alike. And the reason I didn’t will sound ridiculous to anyone who doesn’t write fiction (and to most people who do). It’s because in the world of the novel, Caroline and Charlene never meet.

I had thought about all the people in Rosalie/Caroline’s life, and what their names were, and what nicknames they might have for her. But I forgot to think about the people who were not in her life, but were still in the book.

Let me re-re-introduce you

Luckily, I had 77 other names to consider, thanks to suggestions from people who read this blog and/or my Facebook page. So here is the new and (I devoutly hope) final name for the character once known as Rosalie:

Rosalind Brown.

As in Rosalind Russell. And Rosalind Ashford of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. And the scientist Rosalind Franklin, whose crucial role in understanding DNA was ignored and erased, while male colleagues Watson and Crick won Nobels for research they based on her discoveries.

So yes – Rosalind Brown. Say it with me and perhaps this name will stick.

Thanks to my friend Marvin Randolph for suggesting the name.

My character’s new name

Last week I asked for help to rename Rosalie Brown, a major character in my novel who shared a first name with my publisher.

People chimed in with an amazing list of suggested first names – 78 in all. Although I only need one at the moment, I will certainly keep this treasure trove of names for future use.

How to name a fictional character

In the world of fiction writers, naming characters can be a challenge, so let me share how I selected a new name out of the 78 suggested ones.

It’s technical

My choice was guided in part by writing issues. The new name had to have the same number of syllables and the same stress pattern as Rosalie, so it would not disrupt the rhythm of the sentences in which the name appears. It also had to sound good with the names of other characters in the book, and be appropriate for the character’s age, gender, race, class, region of the country, etc.

It’s personal

The name had to feel right to me. It had to convey the same kind of strength I think the character has – and it couldn’t be a name I associate strongly with a real person in my life. Among the suggestions were the names of my grandmother, my best friend’s mother, several friends, and an ex-girlfriend. Can you see why this might be problematic?

Drum roll, please

Allow me to introduce Caroline Brown. (And let’s all take a moment of silence for the former Rosalie Brown.)

Caroline was suggested by two people, and I will thank them here as well as in the book’s acknowledgments: Marjorie Fine and Michael Alan Weinberg.

Margie and Michael, Caroline Brown thanks you. Rosalie Brown, not so much.

A new name blooms.

A new name blooms.