Women of Speculative Fiction: Lois Lane

You might ask, if I’m going to explore women in comic books, why not Wonder Woman? Or any of the other female characters with genuine superpowers? The simple answer is that Lois Lane is my personal favorite. Nothing against Wonder Woman and her important role in comic book feminism; I just like Lois a lot.  Here’s why.

My liking is, of course, related to the fact that Superman is my favorite superhero. (So this post will probably be equal parts analysis and fangirling, let’s be honest.) And I’ve always appreciated the fact that his love interest is far more than just a pretty face or a damsel in need of rescue. She manages to be his equal match without having any superpowers. If Superman is in awe of her, she must be pretty spectacular.

Now, as we’re talking about comic books, I should clarify that Lois Lane has appeared in perhaps hundreds of varied incarnations. Her portrayal differs depending on the specific writers, the social mores of the particular time period, and the overall dynamics of each version of Superman’s story. Some of the portrayals have been downright awful. She’s been made into a silly woman whose driving motivation is to get Superman to marry her; she’s been set up as an idiot fooled by nothing more than a pair of glasses, perpetually oblivious to Clark Kent’s other identity. Those are, obviously, not my favorite renditions of Lois.

But let’s start with the beginning. One thing I love about Lois is that she’s there in the original issue of Action Comics, an integral part of Superman’s story from the start. Lex Luthor came later; the details of Superman’s origins and childhood were fleshed out over the years. But Action Comics #1 introduced Lois right alongside Superman. And they made her tough. Back in 1938, there weren’t a ton of job options for women other than menial labor, but one acceptable profession was a newspaper reporter. So they made Lois a reporter, and a very good one. She was inspired partly by the real-life Nellie Bly as well as Torchy Blane, a reporter from a 1930s serial. (Her name was inspired by Lola Lane, one of the actresses who portrayed that character.)

She doesn’t exist merely to provide Superman or Clark with a romance. She has her own motivations; she wants to get headlines and she’s good at it. She’s no-nonsense, aggressive, determined. Most of the time that she ends up in trouble needing to be rescued, it’s because she’s out looking for a story. And sometimes she goes ahead and rescues herself.

With regards to Superman’s alter ego, her suspicions of his secret varied in relation to her own character’s portrayal. She was pretty sure he and Clark Kent were the same during the Silver Age of comics in the 50s and 60s, but Superman (being a bit of a jerk during that era) delighted in foiling her schemes to reveal him. When they rebooted his character somewhat in the 70s and 80s, Lois herself was less concerned with such schemes and more focused on her job. Clark has voluntarily revealed his secret to her in multiple storylines, sometimes to her surprise and sometimes less so. The best versions, to me, are the ones that have Lois shown to be smart, perceptive and perfectly at east with Superman’s need to hide his mild-mannered alter ego. When she is one of his secret-keepers, it showcases the strength of their partnership.

Which brings us to the portrayal of their romance. Let’s just ignore the husband-hungry Lois of the 50s and focus on the stories that grant her more respect. So, why is Lois a good match for a super-powered alien?

To me, the essence of Superman is not his Kryptonian heritage or his tremendous powers, though those do of course inform his character. It is his goodness, his passion for seeking truth and justice, and his simple upbringing on a Kansas farm. His adoptive parents helped to ground him, to feel like a human even if he wasn’t one, and to value virtue rather than power or glory. Lois Lane matches those ideals in every regard. She too has a passion for truth (it’s why she’s a reporter) and justice (she’s constantly pursuing stories that uncover corruption). She is a human who proves that humans are extraordinary not because of what they can do, but because of what they are and what they believe in. Lois represents everything that Clark values about the inhabitants of his adoptive planet, and why he decides to become a benevolent superhero.

In the 80s and 90s comics, there was a new emphasis on Clark Kent as a real identity, while Superman was his hero persona. He wasn’t pretending to be a dorky guy with glasses; he needed to live an ordinary human life in order to be a better superhero when it was needed. Lois had a crush on Superman, but she fell in love with Clark. He proposed, revealed his secret, and they were married (after a long series of complications, of course, because those are required in comic books). For quite a few years of DC comic book continuity, they were a happily married couple, supporting each other, working through their differences, well-matched in their personalities regardless of their vast physical differences.

Then they rebooted the continuity again to make a universe where they weren’t a couple. Well, on the one hand, I appreciate the idea of developing Lois’s character outside the context of a relationship with Clark/Superman. On the other hand, seeing how they pretty much immediately paired him up with Wonder Woman, I can’t help wondering if it was motivated by a bunch of impassioned Superman/Wonder Woman shippers who always resented Lois.

Of course all of this is mere speculation, and since I have neither the time nor brainpower to follow every detail of comic book plots, I have no idea where this reboot is headed right now. It’s more of a general annoyance whenever people match up Superman and Wonder Woman because they have similar superpowers – as mentioned previously, I don’t feel Superman’s powers form the core of his character or what makes him most interesting, and I think his attraction to Lois emphasizes the importance of character over superficial, external characteristics. That’s not to say that Wonder Woman isn’t a strong, virtuous character in her own right, but I’d hate to think that they’re pitting female characters against each other merely as romantic rivals.

In any case, the resolution (or lack thereof) of Superman and Lois’s romance and the revelation of his identity have played out in quite a few ways outside of comic books. In the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve Superman movies, Marogt Kidder played her behavior with Clark and with Superman into two extremes – the first, with the dismissiveness she would show toward someone who had an unrequited crush on her, and the second, with the gushing adoration of her having a crush. It’s mostly comedic, though it takes a turn into melodrama in the second film when he reveals his secret and then has to decide whether to give up his powers to be with Lois or remain Superman. His eventual decision, to regain his powers and erase Lois’s memory with the dubious plot device of a mind-blowing kiss? Yeah, I remember being enraged watching that, even as a kid. Lois isn’t granted much agency at all.

Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman, on the other hand, was written specifically as a romantic comedy, with the obvious intent of bringing Lois and Clark together. Lois is breathlessly enamored with Superman, but she’s also attracted to Clark, however she tries to deny it. They really played with the whole love-triangle-for-two concept, with Clark sort of jealous of his own alter ego. In this scenario, Clark is who he is, and Superman is just what he does. He doesn’t want Lois to have a crush on Superman; he wants her to like the guy right across from her in the newsroom. And then he’ll tell her his secret. As it happens, she figures it out on her own (though it takes two years, so she still comes across as pretty oblivious for a while) and the remaining two seasons of the show involve them navigating marriage plans and such while also having Lois adjust to her new role as secret-keeper. It was far from perfect, but there were some great moments for Lois.

I never would have expected it, but one of my favorite portrayals of Lois Lane ended up being by Erica Durance on Smallville, the angst-drenched prequel with a mopey teenaged Clark. She doesn’t show up until the fourth season, and doesn’t become a regular until the fifth, but she’s like a breath of fresh air in a show that usually takes itself way too seriously. She’s brash, pushy and has no patience for Clark’s moping. A flawed character, yes, and so much more interesting than the sweet but unfortunately rather bland Lana Lang that Clark has been pining after for way too many seasons.

Since it’s set in the years before Clark dons the cape, they refrain from making Lois his love interest right away. This is really to the benefit of her character – she has time for developments in other non-romantic areas. That’s not to say that she doesn’t have romantic plots, as they match her up with everyone from Green Arrow to a clone of Lex Luthor’s deceased brother (don’t ask – the show is rife with that sort of convoluted nonsense) but they also give her storylines that show her overcoming various missteps in her young adult life and gradually gravitating toward a career in journalism, determined to prove herself. And she spends the last few seasons as Clark’s mentor at the Daily Planet.

When they do finally start revving up the romance, they put in an interesting twist: she falls for Clark first. Not just before she falls for Superman, but before Clark falls for her. In most renditions, Clark finds himself smitten with Lois long before she starts to grant him much notice. Here, she has to deal with potentially unrequited feelings, and struggles with that vulnerability.

They also put a fresh spin on the Clark/Lois/Superman triangle, since he hasn’t fully donned his superhero persona yet. He’s a mysterious there-and-gone figure that people call “the Blur.” He starts making phone calls to Lois as that persona (with a voice modulator), at first to throw her a bone because she desperately wants a front-page story about the Blur, but then he discovers having her for a confidante is very helpful for him. When he starts dating Lois as Clark, he find himself jealous that the Blur does something for her that he can’t – even though it’s really him! It’s not exactly a romantic connection, either – it’s more the idea of serving a higher purpose. Of course the obvious solution is to just tell her the truth, but he drags his feet for another season, while Lois herself acknowledges that if the Blur told her who he was, it would put her in greater danger. Eventually she figures it out, and when Clark tells her his secret she asks with a grin, “What took you so long?” It’s pretty darn charming, and I was willing to put up with a lot of convoluted plot-lines and tortured overwrought angst just to see their relationship to its conclusion.

The new Man of Steel, with Amy Adams, also did some nice things with Lois’s investigative skills, leading her from a chance encounter with Superman (before he has the official title or persona) to a trail that leads to his childhood home in Smallville. She isn’t duped for a second, and when he shows up as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent at the end, she’s fully in on the secret. Their romance is perhaps a bit rushed, but it’s clear why both of them are drawn to each other. I’m not sure if they’ll have much room to further develop Lois’s character when the new film has such a dominating figure as Batman overshadowing everything else, but I’m hoping for at least a few tidbits of Lois being awesome.

I’m aware that even at her best, Lois will generally be considered an appendage to Superman’s story. She’s still iconic in her own right. Tough, competent, brave, and determined, she sets a high standard for all the leading ladies of comic books and female characters in general.

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Women of Speculative Fiction: Emma Orczy

This one might be a bit more surprising than Mary Shelley. Baroness Orczy wrote adventure and mystery stories, and however outlandish and fanciful their plotlines were, it would be a stretch to categorize them as either fantasy or science fiction. However, Emma’s character of the Scarlet Pimpernel provided a prototype for one of the bedrock features of comic book stories: the disguised hero with a secret identity. For this contribution alone, her influence on speculative fiction is invaluable.

Born to a baron father and a countess mother in Hungary, Emma Orczy nonetheless did not spend her childhood in wealth and luxury. Her parents, fearing a peasant revolt, left their estate and traveled across Europe for a time before settling in London, where Emma attended art school. Though she did not become a painter as hoped, she did meet illustrator Montague MacLean Barstow, the man she would eventually marry. By all accounts their partnership was a very happy one for the nearly fifty years of their marriage, though they were very poor to begin with.

Her first novel was a failure. She had moderate success with the second, as well as some short stories. Then she and her husband decided to write a play based on the character from one of her stories, a British aristocrat who secretly rescued French nobles from the guillotine. His name was Percy Blakeney; his alias was The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Emma wrote a companion novel around the same time, and as the play began to draw notice and become very popular, so did the book’s popularity. She would go on to write over a dozen sequels, as well as other mystery and adventure romances (including Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, containing a female detective! but again, not speculative fiction, so we’ll move on.) The success of her books was considerable enough that she was eventually able to buy an estate in Monte Carlo.

She was quite conservative in her political views, a staunch supporter of the superiority of aristocrats. Perhaps that’s not too surprising when you consider that her famous hero was a nobleman rescuing other noblemen from tyrannical commoners. She did organize the Women of England’s Active Service League during World War I, eventually recruiting over 20,000 women…though it seems their primary aim was to convince the men to serve their country.

Regardless, she could tell a rollicking good story. The iconic Scarlet Pimpernel endures in our cultural imagination, because there’s something so delightful about a do-gooder who manages to fool everyone into thinking he’s a mindless fop while secretly performing daring feats of heroism. Interestingly, the original novel is told from the point of view of his estranged wife Maguerite, who doesn’t learn her husband’s alter-ego until very close to the end of the story. She spends much of the novel confused by Percy’s shallow behavior and coldness toward her – she doesn’t know that he has come to fear she is a sympathizer with those leading the Reign of Terror (in fact, she only had a personal vendetta against a Marquis who tormented her brother and didn’t realize her desire for vengeance would send his entire family to the guillotine). Meanwhile, she hears tales of the gallant Scarlet Pimpernel and fantasizes about this dashing mystery man, much like every other woman in England.

The plot thickens as Marguerite finds herself embroiled in a blackmail plot regarding her brother’s involvement with the Pimpernel. When she finally realizes who he really is, she hurries off to France to try to protect her husband. They both escape the clutches of the villainous Citizen Chauvelin thanks to another of Percy’s ingenious disguises, and return to England happily reconciled.

You can see that in addition to creating a highly entertaining figure with a dual identity, Emma Orczy was also writing the sort of romantic fantasy that we’ve all probably entertained at some point – what if that mysterious dreamy hero you’ve admired from a distance is actually the unassuming person right in front of you? And oh, he also happens to be married to you. You can resolve your marriage woes and get your dream guy all at once; how convenient! But who cares if it’s wildly implausible. It’s plain old fun entertainment. As it’s highly unlikely too many modern-day readers will pick this book up without already knowing Percy’s secret identity, they can enjoy being in the position of knowing what Marguerite doesn’t, chuckling at her naiveté and cheering when she finally sees the truth.

Descendants of the Scarlet Pimpernel archetype are plentiful, from Zorro to most of the costumed superheroes in comic books. Superman took the secret identity trope to the extreme with an awkward, bespectacled Clark Kent providing the cover for nothing less than an otherworldly superhuman. There was an important woman in his story too, and we’ll be getting to that next time. But it started with Sir Percy Blakeney and Baroness Emma Orczy.

Women of Speculative Fiction: Mary Shelley

I’ve decided to start a new series of posts exploring the influence of women on the genres of fantasy and science fiction. So often those genres, particularly sci-fi, are coded as “male,” which is not only a completely arbitrary and nonsensical categorization, but also demonstrably untrue. Women have been present in these genres from the beginning; indeed, speculative fiction as we know it today might not even exist without these women’s influence. I’ll be exploring writers and other real-life figures as well as female characters who populate the worlds of these genres.

We’ll start with one who has often been called the Mother of science fiction, though perhaps it might be slightly more accurate to call her the Grandmother. Frankenstein is a seminal work, no question of that, but it’s probably more properly viewed as proto-science fiction, and could be categorized just as accurately as a work of Gothic horror. I’ll get to the details of that later. First, let’s talk about Mary Shelley herself.

She was the daughter of famed feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Though her mother died before Mary had the chance to know her, she was raised to think well of her beliefs and her writings. She was taught the political idealism of her father, William Godwin.

In one regard she followed very much in her mother’s footsteps – just as Wollstonecraft mothered an illegitimate child before marrying Mary’s father, Mary would embark on a romance at just 17 with a married Percy Shelley and bear several children before Percy’s wife died and they were themselves finally married.

Mary believed, as Percy did, in the concept of free love. Unfortunately, this played out rather differently for Percy than it did for her. While Percy had quite a few lovers, Mary could never bring herself to do much more than flirt with anyone but Percy. She was never as complacent about Percy’s free love practices as her convictions told her to be. She was painfully jealous when he seemed to favor another woman over her. And then of course there is the added consequence that only women have to deal with – several pregnancies, always very difficult, and ultimately resulting in the infant death of all but one of her children.

Her life was rife with tragedy. In addition to losing her mother and several children, Mary had to endure the suicide of her half-sister around the same time that Percy’s first wife also killed herself; the poverty of wandering through Europe in disgrace; estrangement from her father and the dislike of a stepmother who heavily favored her own children; much of what was probably undiagnosed depression; a terrifying miscarriage; the premature death of Percy by drowning; and health issues that eventually culminated in her death from a brain tumor at age 53.

Pretty bleak. So what sort of literature did this woman produce? Frankenstein was far from her only work, though it was her first novel and by far the most famous and memorable. None of her later novels contain the supernatural bent of the first, but all of them were written in the Romantic tradition. This refers not to our modern concept of romantic love, but to the literary and philosophical movement that believed in the supremacy of the chaotic natural word, stressing emotion over reason. Percy was a strong contributor to the movement, but Mary’s views differed from his in a few key ways. Unlike Romanticism’s praise of the individual, Mary believed that cooperation and sympathy were the only ways to reform society.

Perhaps it was quite deliberate that Victor Frankenstein, the title hero/anti-hero of the novel, brings about his destruction by working solitary dark deeds and spurning connectedness with others. That would be one of many ways to approach this curious novel. If you’re only familiar with the pop culture perception of Frankenstein, chiefly influenced by the 1930s films, you’d be quite surprised to learn the original form of the story. It contains frame stories with frame stories, beginning in the Arctic with an explorer named Walton who encounters an ailing Frankenstein. He tells Walton his sad tale, which in turn contains the monster’s own accounting of his birth and miserable life. He’s far more articulate and eloquent than the grunting, fire-fearing beast of the films! The letters that form the frame of the narrative might seem peculiar to us, but they were quite typical of the time. In the early 19th century when Frankenstein was written, the concept of the novel was still a fairly recent invention, and writers often felt compelled to compose their stories in the form of letters or other apparently real-world frameworks, as if to lend more credibility.

But perhaps even more bewildering for readers seeking a great bastion of early science fiction, there is very little actual science. Frankenstein makes vague references to his studies and his eventual success in creating life, but it is never explained precisely how. Indeed, he balks at Walton’s request to explain in more detail, as such knowledge should best be kept buried. How convenient. But the truth is, Mary wasn’t setting out to provide a fully plausible tale of reanimating corpses. She was writing a ghost story, as the origin of Frankenstein indicates: she, Percy and a few other writer friends were looking to amuse themselves during a rainy stay at Lake Geneva, and they all decided to write scary stories. Mary’s was the one that endured.

As the subtitle “The Modern Prometheus” would suggest, it is a cautionary tale against overreaching pride. This theme became almost ubiquitous in the sci-fi films of the 40s and 50s, to the point of becoming a cliché: “he tampered in God’s domain”, greatly appropriate for the fear of the atomic age. There, too, the line between science fiction and horror became very thin, as mad scientists and doctors created monsters meant to evoke our worst nightmares. Fans of hard science fiction are understandably frustrated by this conflation, as there is usually very little attempt to provide plausible explanations for the creation of these horrors. Still, it seems a common aspect of human nature is to always feel just a little skittish of scientific advancements.

Frankenstein plays with fire. And yet there is still ambiguity regarding which sin is the greater: creating the monster in the first place, or abandoning it upon its birth? Unlike the dramatic movie scenes with the doctor letting out wild exultant cries of “It’s alive!!”, Frankenstein does not rejoice when he brings his creation to life. All his fevered delight at making a living organism instantly turns to revulsion as the creature stirs, and he flees. The monster, alone and unguided, desperately seeks the company of others and only turns to violence when it is spurned based on its horrid appearance. We are also left to wonder if the monster would have inevitably turned monstrous by nature, or only did so because of Frankenstein’s careless abandonment. It’s quite likely that Mary’s own complicated experiences with motherhood influenced her, even if only unconsciously, to write a tale of a tortured, unnatural parent.

But what about women? Surely the daughter of such an acclaimed feminist would – no. There are only a few significant female characters in Frankenstein, and they are sadly flat and underdeveloped. Of course the only truly fleshed-out (no pun intended) characters are the monster and Frankenstein himself; everyone else is thinly drawn. That doesn’t quite excuse the fact that Frankenstein’s mother, his lover Elizabeth (who also happens to be his adoptive sister, but let’s not get into that weirdness right now) and all the rest of them are playing the same limited roles women are too often confined to – mother, wife, victim. And almost all of them must die to play out their role in Frankenstein’s story.

On the other hand, Mary believed that the cooperative, sympathetic influence necessary to reform society was best found with women, so perhaps she was implying that Frankenstein’s destruction was the result of his lack of that influence? Perhaps such an interpretation is a bit of stretch, but what else is literary theory for if not to tease out every possible convoluted explanation? The novel is short, yet there is no lack of possible interpretations as we try to speculate what it all means, what Mary Shelley was trying to say, and how this book provided the foundation of modern science fiction. One thing is clear – the speculative fiction world would be a very different one if Mary Shelley hadn’t decided to write down that ghost story.

Name Game

How do you come up with names for your story? The question is most significant in regards to the characters, but also for places and objects that you’ve made up. The more extravagant your world-building, the more new names you’ll need to invent. It can be quite fun, and it’s probably a better medium to exercise your creativity than with your real children, since most kids would rather not get saddled with alien-sounding names that no on can ever spell or pronounce correctly. But within a fictional world, anything goes.

Or does it? The truth is, goofy or inconsistent naming systems can make it very difficult for readers to immerse themselves in a story. Every name you select should match the tone and phonetic logic of its context, both the broader context of the fictional world and the individual context of whatever is being named. If you’re writing something that’s meant to be absurd or humorous, Mmmorglespazz might be completely appropriate. Otherwise,  you might want to take it down a notch or two. In addition, even the most basic grounding in linguistic systems can prevent a collection of names that sound like they were spit out of a random generator.

Let’s look at a few examples. Even within the realms of realistic fiction, you have room to be rather creative. Perhaps the most famous case of that is Charles Dickens, who created names of such a quirky quality that they’re sometimes the most memorable part of his books. Scrooge is so evocative it’s become a descriptor for all miserly Christmas-haters (that, or Grinch, which comes from the consummate word/name inventor Dr. Seuss). But there are so many more. Micawber, Magwitch, Quilp, Pickwick, Squeers, Heep…you have only to hear the name, and you can start envisioning what sort of character it might describe. In some ways you might consider JK Rowling’s naming conventions the literary descendants of Dickens, with just a little extra other-worldliness for that magical quality: Dumbledore, Flitwick, Lockhart, Skeeter. Some of the names in Harry Potter – Remus Lupin, for heaven’s sake! – are straight-up puns for anyone who speaks Latin.

On the far extreme of linguistic meticulousness, we have Tolkien, who loved languages so much he started with them and subsequently built his stories on that foundation. He took extreme care that the names of Elves and Dwarves and Orcs and such each have their own separate consistency that matches the flavor of their race. Elvish languages are musical and flowing, full of liquid consonants, like Luthien, Elrond, and Arwen. Dwarvish names have a bit more toughness, with dental and velar stops; Gimli and Kili and Durin. Orcs are fully harsh and gutteral, the sounds you make when you’re clearing your throat. Perhaps one of Tolkien’s most brilliant namings is the alias Smeagol acquires as the ring begins to corrupt him. Gollum evokes, with just two well-chosen syllables, the pathetic and repulsive and gulping creature he becomes.

Of course, not every writer is going to be an esteemed professor of philology. Even if you create wholly new worlds, you aren’t obligated to provide a fully-realized language to go along with it, complete with a thousand-word lexicon and an original grammar system. You should, however, create at least a simple system of rules. Don’t stick random apostrophes into names just because they look cool. What do they mean? Does it represent a glottal stop? An accent? A shortening of a longer word? And try not to make the name prohibitively difficult to pronounce unless that’s part of the story, such as humanoids encountering a race with such drastically different facial features that they produce an entirely unfamiliar set of sounds. Otherwise, you’ll make your readers groan every time they see yet another ridiculously unpronounceable word.

If you’re working within existing languages or naming systems, do your research. Don’t set a story in the Far East and give everyone names that sound vaguely Asian. Find out what words actually mean. At best you’re being sloppy; at worst you’re treating entire languages and cultures like nothing but a collection of meaningless syllables. And read every new invention out loud. Something might look cool but actually sounds quite silly.

As far as place and object names, sometimes it’s worth inventing something, and sometimes you’re better off using real words. Maybe your villagers call the distant mountain some mystic arcane name. But maybe they just call it “the mountain.” Slang can also be off-putting if it sounds forced and unnatural. And especially with science fiction, you need to be careful not to inundate the reader with a flood of unfamiliar terminology.

“Grapple me the flositronic hammet, Polt! I’m evering the oist andle and it won’t rudge!”

If there’s only one or two familiar words in the whole sentence, you might want to make some changes.

So how does this play out in my own books? I feel like my naming is a mixed bag, sometimes successful, sometimes in need of more tweaking. For my fairy tale stories I tried to find variations of the original character’s names – Alain for Beauty, as it’s a male name that might mean handsome; Bianca, meaning white or fair, for Snow White; and Zellie for Rapunzel. For my sci-fic novel Vitro/Vivo, I created contrasting naming systems for the two societies. It would be fitting for the hyper-controlled City to give its citizens numbers for names, but I decided to shake up that trope by using numbers from lots of different languages; hence, my female protagonist is Drei, the German word for three. The Vivos, meanwhile, have far more fluidity in their names, letting the kids choose whatever they want to be called whenever they feel like it. This results in a wide variety of names, some more unwieldy than others: Freckles, Vulture, Fire-mark, Eyes of a Jaguar.

With Silver I chose names that were much like familiar modern names, with some slight variation. Alinda, Mellory, Landrea. Like our world, but just a little off. I was relatively satisfied with the results, but it turns out one of the critiques I received during my last round of querying was that the names all sounded a little too similar and it was hard to keep track of which character was which. So, looks like I might need to do a little tweaking there.

Mortal Failings, my one novel set in the real world – at least a supernatural version of it – required more typical names, but I still put a lot of thought into each one. Erik in particular I chose because of its association with the Phantom of the Opera, as his character turns out to be just as monstrous, however alluring he might seem at the start. Also, I felt like the “k” spelling was evocative of that tendency in the paranormal romance genre to give the supernatural characters old-fashioned, foreign-ish names and/or spellings.

So how obvious should a name’s evocation be? Most of the time, it’s better if it’s a subtle background feature rather than an incredibly obvious bit of exposition or foreshadowing. There’s a place for flagrant puns and extravagant naming systems, and a place for names that provide quiet world-building and characterization without drawing attention to themselves. I like both.

…..That’s probably why I named my son after Luke Skywalker.