Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Alchemy of Naming: Jon Keys on Writing "Crossfire"

I love hearing how other writers come up with things: names, places, ideas. So it's a pleasure to host Jon Keys and find out how he picks names for his characters. Also, I love this cover so much I'm showing it twice. Excuse me while I go fan myself. Welcome, Jon!


Thanks Tali for having me! I’m thrilled to be here announcing the release of Crossfire as part of the Men in Uniform anthology from Torquere Press. I’m very excited that two of my short stories are appearing in Torquere Press’s anthologies this year with another shortcoming in July. But before I get too far ahead of myself I thought I’d give everyone a little insight into my writing process. Specifically I thought I’d talk about how I select character names.

Naming my characters has to be one of the most enjoyable, and frustrating, part of the whole outlining process. When I first started writing I was fairly casual about picking names. After that bit me in the rear-end a few times, I put a lot more effort into the character names now.

In Crossfire I had a general idea what I wanted my main characters to look like. Rick is muscular and Mediterranean while Gabriel is more slender and Scandinavian. Yay! I have a starting point for working out names. So here’s where I turn to the Internet. After trying to work out numerous character names, I’ve found a couple of places that are my go to sites for help.

Surnames are the easiest. Well, they are for me. I knew basically which areas of the world, and Wikipedia has a listing of most common surnames by continent. Bingo, pull up Europe and start shopping. Now, I’m playing a little fast and loose at this point. So I started trolling northern countries, and picked out my top four or five last names. How they sounded, how they looked on a page, and some indefinable parts that made me want to write using them. Then I repeated it for Rick and soon had another list of surnames from the European side of the Mediterranean.

Okay, short list for last names. Well, first names I have another site…Social Security. Yes, honest. They list the most common first names by decade, and even better, they break them down by state. So I shop through the names from the birthdates of my characters. Typically I don’t use the top of the list, although Joshua is a top ten pick. But I digress. I pick out more first names for each character on separate lists.

So now I have two lists for each character. (I seem to like lists a lot in case you haven’t picked up on that.) So I play mix and match. Some of the combinations are like fingernails on a chalkboard, some are questionable, but usually I have two last names and three or four first names that I think are workable. At this point, I stop working on the names. I know from experience that if I keep pressing it, the names won’t settle out. So I work on plot, or scenes or on this story I had to do a lot of research about the Colorado Highway Patrol. But the names wait.

Once I’ve given them a few days to ripen, I go back and look over my character names. By this point I usually have one that just seems right, so I let it audition. That’s right, the names have to audition. They’re trying out for the part of my characters name. So I begin writing. Usually they settle right in and after a page or two, I know they’re going to work. But occasionally, they never work right. Or I’m constantly misspelling them or worse yet, using the wrong name. Occasionally I press on. I can be stubborn! Damn it, I picked the name, it will work! Sometimes the character will settle down, but I finished a novel recently and had to go back and changed a characters name at that point. Sometimes stubborn is just stubborn.
So anyway, that’s how I decided on the character names for Crossfire. I hope everyone enjoys the tale as much as I did.

~ Jon ~


Rick Anthis, a forty-five year old veteran of the Colorado State Police, and his husband, Gabriel Thorkelson, a deputy sheriff in a nearby county, enjoy the peace of their suburban Boulder home. Until three gunshots rip through the tranquil neighborhood and Rick witnesses the kidnapping of his buddy, eight year old Jacob.

The clues are sparse until Gabe reminds Rick of something Jacob had said. Rick has a starting point. He and his CSI team locate the remote hideout, only to find the the kidnappers are gone, and Gabe is missing too.

Excerpt from Crossfire.

Rick dried the last dish and handed it to Gabriel to put away. Gabriel settled the last plate into the white cabinets. He loved their house and the quiet, older neighborhood it was in. He hoped Mark and Rachel could work out their issues, keeping Jacob in the forefront.

Rick put his hand around Gabriel's slender waist. He's as sexy as he was in college. Damn just being next to him makes me randy. Releasing Gabriel, Rick folded the dishtowel carefully and laid it beside the sink. "Supper was great. You're a damn fine cook."

Gabriel snickered and spun to pop Rick with a wet towel. "It should taste good. Your mother gave me herbs from her garden the last time we visited."

"Mom's just trying to fatten me up. I'm kind of skinny for a forty-three year old Greek man."

The towel snapped against Rick's butt again and he grabbed at it. Gabriel danced away, his face lit with delight. "Where does that leave me?"

Rick swept Gabriel up and kissed him. "It leaves you in my arms, just where you should be."

Rick paused as he remembered the note in his pocket. Leaving his hand on the small of Gabriel's back he reached in his shirt pocket and fished out a small piece of yellow paper. He gripped it between two fingers and dangled the sheet in front of Gabriel.

"Speaking of, I found another note in my lunch."

Gabriel studied the symbols on the page as if he'd never seen them. "Huh, what do you think that means?"

Rick smiled. "I know what it's meant the last dozen times I found one in my lunch."
"Really? And what was that?"

"It meant I was going to be exhausted the whole next day."

"You don't say. Let me see that." Gabriel took the paper from Rick's hand and appeared to study the content. "Looks like Native American symbols. Hmm, maybe 'bear' and 'hunt'." He smiled at Rick with a glimmer in his eyes. "Are we going on a bear hunt this fall?" Gabriel reached up and tugged on the short hair coming from the top of Rick's T-shirt. The slight touch shifted his libido into high gear.

He nuzzled his face against Gabriel's throat and sighed at the spicy fragrance that curled through his nostrils. Rick slid his hand under Gabriel's shirt; the rub of his chest hair on Rick's palm ignited his desire. "What's the sign for otter? Because I think I need to hunt one of those little furry things." I still can't believe Mom gave Gabe my Eagle Scout pictogram project.

eBook Link:


Jon Keys’ earliest memories revolve around books; with the first ones he can recall reading himself being “The Warlord of Mars” and anything with Tarzan. (The local library wasn’t particularly up to date.) But as puberty set in he started sneaking his mother’s romance magazines and added the world of romance and erotica to his mix of science fiction, fantasy, and comic books.

A voracious reader for almost half a century, Jon has only recently begun creating his own flights of fiction for the entertainment of others. Born in the Southwest and now living in the Midwest, Jon has worked as a ranch hand, teacher, computer tech, roughneck, designer, retail clerk, welder, artist, and, yes, pool boy; with interests ranging from kayaking and hunting to painting and cooking, he draws from a wide range of life experiences to create written works that draw the reader in and wrap them in a good story.

You can find me at:

Twitter: @Jon4Keys

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