The Name Thing

This post has two topics, really. The first is why the names of characters in my books are so culturally blended, the second is my use of a pen name.

I’ve always been fascinated by names that reflect different cultural backgrounds. A Mexican restaurateur called Jésus Fong. A CNN news anchor called Soledad O’Brien. Names like these abound, and often escape our notice. To me they are a sign that our world is shrinking and coming together, one child at a time.

So when I set out to build a fictional world, I wanted that. I also wanted gender equality. The name I have is patriarchal. It was my father’s name, and his father’s name. I do know my mother’s maiden name, but that was her mother’s husband’s name. I vowed that on my world, it would be different.

So here’s how it works on Celadon, my orphaned colony planet. Girls take their family name from their mother, and it does not change when they marry. (Hi, Quebec!) So Raisa Wing is the daughter of Maria Wing, who is the daughter of Rhiannon Wing, and so on, all the way back to the First Landing. Raisa gets her first name from her dad. Boys do the opposite: they take their family name from their fathers, and are given their first name by their mothers.

You can guess that Raisa and her sister Nikita’s dad has Russian lineage, and sure enough his name is Anthony Kinakin.

On Celadon, the surviving settlers comprised a limited gene pool, so there has been a concerted effort to mix it up, resulting in some fun names. Some of my favourites include Rajeet Bjornsen, Ichigo Bertollini and Roberto Chan.

This naming convention leads to two things. First, there are powerful dynasties built by both male and female lines. Second, there is a tendency for careers to fall into gender-led roles, as children follow their dynasty’s field of expertise. Raisa is expected to study the silk industry of her powerful fore-mothers. Her brothers will be more likely to take after their father, a dye-master.

This is one reason why all the pilots are women or girls. That, and I thought it would make a nice change from the day-to-day realities of my male-dominated profession.

Now, as to the pen name. My real name isn’t a secret, but Tim Armstrong is a very common name. There are two of us in the town where I live, for instance, and if you Google it, you get a lot of articles about an executive at a software giant. There are a lot of other famous Armstrongs, too: Neil the astronaut, Louis the jazz musician, Lance the cyclist, Bess the actress, Jo Jo the football player. And let’s not forget Kelley Armstrong, the author of speculative fiction for young adults. As far as I know, I’m not related to any of them.

I could never have registered Tim Armstrong as a web domain or a Twitter handle, whereas Timothy Gwyn was a snap. I do have to spell it for people, but I hold a sneaky hope that they’ll then remember it. Gwyn was the middle name given to me by my Welsh mother, by the way. We’re closing the circle here. AVIANS is dedicated to Ruth Maureen. That’s my mom. She’s long gone now, but she was always supportive of my writing.Avians-promo

If any of this makes you feel interested in AVIANS, it’s available for pre-order at an increasing number of vendors. The official release date is August 1st. Various formats of e-book and the trade paperback can be ordered through Five Rivers Publishing, Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble, with others to follow. Chapters/Indigo and vendors in the European Union are rolling out in the next weeks. If you want a good old-fashioned printed copy, and you don’t want to order it online, you can ask your local bookstore to order it in, and they should be glad to help. I’m pretty sure they don’t have any other authors called Timothy Gwyn.

Herding Cats

I had a good writing day today. Not NaNoWriMo rapid, but creative. I’ve been struggling with the opening pages of my sequel for some time now. At one time, I thought Bandits of Celadon would go twice as fast as Avians of Celadon, because I have more experience and all the world-building and character development is done. Wrong. I kept getting lost in recaps and going off on tangents. Yesterday I had a revelation while I was driving to Winnipeg for Samantha Beiko’s seminar/blue pencil at the Manitoba Writer’s Guild. Excellent, by the way, I came back feeling re-energized. Oh, yeah, the revelation. The characters are fighting me. It’s not that they want to stray from their nature, it’s that they won’t follow the script. I want them to accomplish certain things in certain scenes. I need Corby to reveal that Raven is being monitored by the Converts. She won’t do it. She doesn’t trust Raven’s young friends with such dangerous information, and she is more concerned with the object Raven brought back from her perilous journey – a leather flying jacket from a long-lost friend. Is the friend trying to send her a message? Or is someone else? So all my previous attempts went awry, disintegrating into meaningless dialogue and treading over what amounts (for the reader) to old ground. Multiple points of view were used in Avians so that the reader could learn of separate events in different places. Now some of the principal characters need to compare notes and combine their efforts. I have to create the right stresses to get them to interact in the ways I require. Today, I made progress on that, writing an opening scene that has a decent opening line, new conflict, and propels the plot forward. It speaks to the goal of the protagonist and suggests what the resolution must be. It fits the themes. It has anger!

I feel so much better now. All my cats are running in the same direction.