Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a holiday bereft of holiday songs. I don't know why that is, but maybe the one song is all it needs.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday Writing Quote ~ John Long

Wooden dialogue comes from someone thinking out loud rather than feeling out loud. ~ John Long

Tuesday Teaser/Opening ~ Sand

Before I get to my Tuesday Teaser, I just want to mention that today my short retelling of Snow White & the Eighth Dwarf is free on Amazon. Be warned, if this were a movie, it would probably be R rated, but it's also written with humor.

Short Blurb:
You always knew there was something fishy about Snow White's story, didn’t you? Seven lusty men. One young, nubile woman. Living innocently together in a cottage in the woods.

But life ain't no fairy tale.

Now Bitchy, the eighth dwarf, tells the real story of Snow White and it's nothing like you imagined. Or maybe it is.


Now on to the main attraction.

Frankly, I wouldn't read the Sand Omnibus by Hugh Howey based on the blurb or the first paragraph, but I read Wool and I know Hugh Howey can pull me in and make me care. Sometimes you go on faith.

The Blurb:
The old world is buried. A new one has been forged atop the shifting dunes. Here in this land of howling wind and infernal sand, four siblings find themselves scattered and lost. Their father was a sand diver, one of the elite few who could travel deep beneath the desert floor and bring up the relics and scraps that keep their people alive. But their father is gone. And the world he left behind might be next.

Welcome to the world of Sand, the first new novel from New York Times bestselling author Hugh Howey since his publication of the Silo Saga. Unrelated to those works, which looked at a dystopian world under totalitarian rule, Sand is an exploration of lawlessness. Here is a land ignored. Here is a people left to fend for themselves. Adjust your ker and take a last, deep breath before you enter.

The Opening:
Starlight guided them through the valley of dunes and into the northern wastes. A dozen men walked single file, kers tied around their necks and pulled up over their noses and mouths, leather creaking and scabbards clacking. The route was circuitous but a direct line meant summiting the crumbling sand and braving the howling winds at its peaks. There was the long way and there was the hard way, and the brigands of the northern wastes rarely chose the hard way.

The Teaser:
He flowed the sand upward, pulling Hap and his tank with him, rising through the last hundred meters of sand as his air ran out, but he knew and Vic told him that he could make it. And he believed.

Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following: Grab your current readOpen to a random pageShare two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! To see what others are sharing on the Teaser Tuesdays, check the comments at:: http://shouldbereading.wordpress.com/


Share the first paragraph (or a few) from a book you are reading. Here's the link: Bibliophile By The Sea

Interview with Hugh Howey

Insights from Hugh Howey. Lots of good stuff about things like foreign translations and what publishing will look like in the future.

Tuesday Teaser - Racing in the Rain

I'm not a big fan of talking animals. If you give me a choice between the original version of The Incredible Journey with its narrator voice over and the remake that gives the animals voices, I'll pick the original every time and be crying by the closing credits. Experience has taught me that if I watch it again within a week's time, I'll also start blubbering at the opening credits. *sigh* Well, sometimes you just need a good cry.

That's why I was so surprised at how much I like The Art of Racing in the Rain. It's told from the dog's point of view, but Enzo understands that he is a dog and his reasoning is that of a dog (mostly). For whatever reason, it works for me.

The Blurb:
Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.

Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny's wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.

The First Paragraph:
Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while I occasionally cross the line into the world of the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively. In order to make my point understood. I have no words I can rely on because, much to my dismay, my tongue was designed long and flat and loose. It is a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food around my mouth while chewing. And an even less effective tool for making clever and complicated sounds that can be linked together to form sentences. And that's why I'm here now waiting for Denny to come home. He should be here soon. I'm lying on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor in a puddle of my own urine.

"One bark means 'slower,' two means 'faster,' got it?" I barked twice and that surprised him and Pat and Jim, who were both leaning in the passenger window.

Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following: Grab your current readOpen to a random pageShare two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

To see what others are sharing on the Teaser Tuesdays, check the comments at: http://shouldbereading.wordpress.com/ 

Share the first paragraph (or a few) from a book you are reading. Here's the link: Bibliophile By The Sea

The Soundtrack - The Charlie Daniels Band

 In Knight of Hearts, Rachel is a big fan of Outlaw Country. Charlie Daniels is one of those outlaws.

The fiddle has always had a place in country music, but no one has brought it to forefront like Charlie Daniels. The band's biggest hit is the crossover song, The Devil Went Down To Georgia. It's a song I expect folks who don't even like country music know.

I have a friend in Seattle who sings Irish Folk music, and I asked him once what qualified music as "folk." His answer was that it told a story. By that definition, Charlie is as much a folk singer as he is country, so I included Midnight Train. There's a lot I love about this song. The way the music has that train rhythm, the way Charlie never misses a beat in the lyrics, the fiddle as train whistle. All of it comes together in a way that makes me smile when I hear it.

I could have included this in my post on Chris LeDoux, but there were so many great songs to choose from for that post. And really, it's Charlie's contribution to Caballo Diablo that makes me catch my breath. I actually think that if, as a writer, I could capture that same feeling I have when this song hushes and Charlie speaks the lyrics so softly that you almost have to strain to hear it . . . I'm not sure what that would look like on the page, but it's something I would like very much to achieve.

Charlie's one of a kind.

Thursday Writing Quote ~ George R R Martin

In creative writing classes in college, the professors will say, ‘Write what you know.’ And that’s often misinterpreted to mean you should write a thinly veiled autobiography. [Like] a graduate student in English Literature at University, writing a story in which the hero is a graduate student in English Literature at University. It would seem to, on the surface, disallow science fiction and fantasy and so forth, since none of us are actually barbarians or knights or lords or even peasants. But I think you have to interpret ‘Write what you know’ much more broadly than that. We’re talking about emotional truth here. We’re talking about reaching inside here to make your characters real. If you’re going to write about a character witnessing a loved one die, you have to dig into yourself, and say, “Did you ever remember losing a loved one?” Even if it’s only a dog that you loved as a child or something. Tap that vein of emotional energy. In some ways, it’s not terribly different from what method actors do…. We observe other people from the outside. The only person we ever really know inside and out is ourselves, and we have to reach into ourselves to find the power that makes great fiction real. ~ George R R Martin

And isn't it amazing that you can now get Fire & Ice calendars. (Click on the picture to order it from Amazon.)

Tuesday Teaser/Opening ~ Darkness Bound

This week's book is Darkness Bound by Larry Brooks. I discovered Larry Brooks through his writing blog. He's very opinionated, and I decided to read one of his books to see if he knew what he was talking about. He does. I've learned not to try to second guess him, just going along for the ride on his twisted path to an ending that always surprises me.

The Blurb:
In Darkness . . . Two strangers meet. A woman without inhibitions . . . a man without limits . . . for a private game between two consenting adults.

In Darkness . . . They indulge in every secret fantasy, cross every boundary of sexual deviation. But one of them has a secret yet to be shared, a desire yet to be explored . . .

In Darkness . . . Fear will become the ultimate pleasure. Revenge, the ultimate reward—and reality, the deadliest fantasy of all. Now the real games are about to begin.

The First Paragraph:
She sat very still in her husband's favorite chair, sipping an exquisite Pinot Noir as she watched him die. That there could be pleasure in the taking of a life was something she hadn't considered. For all her meticulous planning and diabolical patience, the notion of experiencing some dark shiver of satisfaction had never entered her mind. But here on the threshold of commitment, fully invested and completely immersed in the moment, she understood it instinctively. Whether it was death or power or simply the venom of revenge made no difference really. Perhaps it was just the intoxicating whiff of impending freedom. For her these things had become a sum in excess of their parts, melting and melding, changing everything.

The Teaser:
  "I can't tell which you hate more, men or women."
  "Women are evil, men are stupid . . . it's the food chain of relationships."

Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following: Grab your current readOpen to a random pageShare two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! To see what others are sharing on the Teaser Tuesdays, check the comments at:: http://shouldbereading.wordpress.com/ 

Share the first paragraph (or a few) from a book you are reading. Here's the link: Bibliophile By The Sea

Writing Romance - A Review

Writing Romance
By Vanessa Grant

I have a particular standard when evaluating books that purport to focus on one aspect of writing. If the book only superficially touches on the subject, spending most of the time teaching the writer the basics of writing, it’s a big, fat FAIL for me.

Based on that criteria, most books I've read that focus on a particular genre fail. Primarily I think, because there's not enough specific to most genres to fill an entire book, so they fall back to passing on general writing "wisdom." I've seen it so often that I've come to expect failure. Imagine my surprise when I came away loving this.

One of the first things Grant does is list the element of a successful romance:
1. A story question
2. An empowering story
3. A sympathetic heroine
4. A hero she can love
5. An emotionally intense core conflict
7. a plot
8. Appropriate sensuality
9. Archetypes
10 Crisis and satisfying resolution
11 An emotionally satisfying ending

Much of that applies to good stories of any genre, but there's a romance spin even to the bare list. When Grant expands on the list, it's even more obvious. For example, here's some of what she says regarding a few of these points:

  • The hero and heroine are deeply altered by their love. They emerge from their struggles more emotionally whole than they began (the empowering story.)
  • The heroine need not be beautiful, but it must be believable that the hero finds her attractive . . . your heroine needs strong personality and at least one believable and nontrivial weakness. (a sympathetic heroine)
  • By the time the hero and heroine arrive at the last page, they must achieve personal growth. In a romance novel, the ending must be emotionally satisfying, affirming the values of love and positive relationships. (an emotionally satisfying ending.)

Some, if not all of these things, can be applied to all stories, but Grant's emphasis on the specific expectations of the romance genre provide an important yardstick for romance stories.

So while some of her topics sound generic on the surface and much of what she writes would be of value to anyone writing character-driven fiction, the lessons she teaches are so romance-genre-centric that I can't categorize this as general writing advice. In this, she succeeds where so many other how-to-write-a-romance books fail. How does she do it? By keeping her focus on the couple and their dynamics. It’s not just about who the hero and heroine are individually, but how they fit together as a couple. 

For instance, when she writes about the different ways men and women communicate and think, she builds on John Gray’s statement in Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus that different genders “keep score” differently. (Men think taking their women to Paris for a long romantic weekend earns them 30 love points; women, on the other hand, award one point for each romantic gesture.) This is useful to know when considering how to create conflict in a romance, but it could be used in any story where interpersonal relationships are involved.

If you think it’s not important to understand these gender differences outside of the romance genre, consider this. I read Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent when it first came out. The legal thriller revolves around a lawyer accused of murdering the woman he was having an extramarital affair with. Little attention was given to the protagonist's wife (Sue me. I’m a romance writer. I’m constitutionally incapable of calling a cheating scumbag a hero.) I can guarantee that, in real life, even if the wife stands by her husband publicly, privately, she would give him hell. (Even Clinton admits that he was relegated to sleeping on the couch after finally acknowledging his affair with Monica.) The wife’s missing response in Turow’s novel raised red flags with me, but this was his first novel, so I didn’t know if this failing signaled:
A) Turow's lack of understanding about women, or
B) he didn’t know or care to write her response, or
C) a sleight of hand Turow was hoping the reader wouldn’t notice.
If I’d had more experience with Turow,  I would have known what to make of the wife’s lack of response because he does understand women (at least on this point) and he knew if he made more than a passing reference to the wife's public support, he would draw attention to his silence on what was happening between them in private and that would give away the game. It's a trick that worked in his debut novel, but not one I think he could get away with twice.
There are lots of other good stuff in Writing Romance. For instance, when the author talks about sex scenes, she says:

If your characters’ lovemaking complicates their relationship or reveals hero and heroine to each other in new ways that increase their emotional intimacy, it’s important to your story.  If you’re uncertain whether a love scene belongs in your story, try removing it. Make a fresh copy of your book on your computer and delete the scene from the copy. If you can delete the scene without seriously affecting the plot, it doesn’t belong in your novel. A love scene that belongs should have a measurable affect on the subsequent actions of both hero and heroine.

Even if you write erotica, applying that criteria is only going to make your book better.

One other thing I found delightfully refreshing is that, in the pantser vs. plotter divide, Ms. Grant leans heavily toward pantsing.  It seems like nearly everyone these days extols the virtues of plotting and talks ad nauseaum about methods of plotting like the infamous index cards. Ms Grant started out as a plotter but discovered that, for her, pantsing worked better. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t do any preliminary work on her stories, but instead of focusing on events, she focuses on character building. She shows repeatedly how a deeply satisfying story can be grown from pairing the right characters with the right internal and external conflicts. When the heroine’s personality and issues compliment the hero's, when proper attention is paid to the crucible, the story unfolds on its own.

My second book, Knight of Hearts, was that way. I felt as though I was channeling the story instead of writing it because Rachel's and Mac's individual goals created a situation that lead step-by-step to a resolution that brought them together. Easiest thing I've ever written.

Even though her focus is on character, Grant does talk about plots. Or at least ways to find plots. Everything from writing your own worst nightmare to playing what-if to brief discussions of favorite troupes of the genre.

The long and short of it is that I highly recommend this not just to romance writers but to any one who writes character-driven stories. It's a bargain, even at new book prices.

Thursday Writing Quote ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

To discuss the use of tense, we have to realize that in fictional and nonfictional narrative the ‘past tense’ is not past and the ‘present tense’ is not present. Both are entirely fictive. The story, whether or not it’s based on a real event, exists only on the page. The only real present time is the reader’s. ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

Tuesday Teaser ~ Wife 22

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon is a re-read for me. Both funny and touching, I'm having a great time revisiting Alice and her family.

The Blurb:
Alice has been married to her husband, William, for twenty years. Though she can still remember the first time they met like it was yesterday, these days she finds herself posting things on Facebook that she used to confide to him. So when she’s invited to participate in an anonymous online survey on marriage and love, she finds that all her longings come pouring out as she dutifully answers questions under the name “Wife 22.”

Evaluating her responses is “Researcher 101,” who seems to listen to her in a way that William hasn’t in a very long time, and before she knows it, she finds herself trying hard not to e-flirt with him. Meanwhile, her elderly father is chatting on Facebook, her fifteen-year-old daughter is tweeting, and everything in her life is turning upside down.

The First Paragraph
I stare into the bathroom mirror and wonder why nobody has told me my left eyelife has grown a little hood. For a long time I looked younger than I was. An now, suddenly all the years have pooled up and I look my age--forty-four, possibly older. I lift the excess skin with finger and waggle it about. Is there some cream I can buy? How about some eyelid pushups?

The Teaser:
This September when I turn forty-five, I will be exactly the same age my mother was when she died. This is my tipping point year. Up until now I've been able to comfort myself with the fact that even though my mother is dead, she was always out in front of me.

Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following: Grab your current readOpen to a random pageShare two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! To see what others are sharing on the Teaser Tuesdays, check the comments at: http://shouldbereading.wordpress.com/ 

Share the first paragraph (or a few) from a book you are reading. Here's the link: Bibliophile By The Sea

Writing References I Couldn't Do Without

When talking about reference books, most writers will mention a thesaurus early on. I've never cared for them myself because they make you flip back and forth so much. Like I have nothing better to do. But there are alternatives out there that I like so much better.

I stumbled across The Word Finder/The Synonym Finder 2-book set by J.I. Rodale at a yard sale and they were the best find EVER. The Word Finder appears to be out of print, but if you can find a copy it's worthwhile to get it. The Synonym Finder is available in paperback, so you're in luck there.

Here's a sample of what the entries look like:

The Word Finder:
delightful; gleeful; unconscious; passionate; drunken; increasong; intoxicated; idolatrous; hilarious; airy; fanatical; reckless; universal; insane; humourous; bird-like; wild; childish; desolate; mystic; sensual; cruel; wanton; natural; boyish; typical; joyful; delirious; carefree; ecstatic.

shamelessly; ingloriously; regretfully; dramatically; definitely ; recklessly; simultaneously; reluctantly; prudently; despairingly; eventually; inhumanly; cravenly; wantonly; childishly; temporarily; pusillanimously; faint-heartedly; pitiably; haplessly; remorsefully; ruefully; sullenly; woefully; wretchedly; contritely; dejectedly; dolefully; mournfully; dispiritedly; mirthlessly; tragically.
(See repudiate, forsaken, waive, surrender)

 The Synonym Finder:
 abandon (v) 1. forsake, desert, leave behind, throw over, jilt, run out on, Inf. turn one's back on , Sl. give the deep six; ignore, cut off, neglect, ostracize, leave, depart, quit, go away from, vacate, evacuate.
2. discard, cast off, jettison, throw away, get rid of, toss out, (of cards) throw in Inf. ditch Inf. chuck, Sl. deep six.
3. discontinue, give up, retire from, withdraw from, stop, end, cease, Inf. quit cold; throw up, lose hope of, despair of, forbear, desist from, drop, forgo, do or go without, despense with, waive, lay aside.

Okay, there are three more subsections on abandon, the verb, plus a section on abandon, the noun, but you get the idea. Both of these books are 1300+ pages of fairly small print, so you get an idea of how comprehensive they are. And best of all, no requirement to flip back and forth. I love these books.

Every writer should have a reverse dictionary. Mine is Bernstein's Reverse Dictionary by Theodore M. Bernstein. This is the book I pull out when I know there's a word for something but I can't think of it or I don't know the technical term. Examples are the best way to illustrate, so here are a few related to sailing (a subject I know little about):
sail of triangular shape ahead of the foremast: JIB
sailboat with a single mast and fore and aft rigging: SLOOP
sailboat's mast or boom: SPAR
sailing close to the wind: LUFF
sailor who is veteran, old salt: SHELLBACK
sailor's bag for belongings: DITTY BAG

Reader's Digest Illustrated Reverse Dictionary: Find the Words at the Tip of Your Tongue This has some of the qualities of a reverse dictionary, but what makes this different and valuable are the pictures and charts (hence the "Illustrated" in the title.)

If you want to know the visual difference between, say, a 19th century whaler and a clipper ship, there's  a page full of illustrations of various ships. All labeled of course because it wouldn't be much good without it. Need to know the names of various parts of a saddle? There's a illustration with the parts labeled. What if you need the name of a purple gemstone, something other than an amethyst? How about an almandine, garnet, or spinel? You'll find that in a chart.

Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary (Writers Library) (Facts on File Writer's Library) is great if you have a subject of interest and need to know the vocabulary that applies. It's broken down by topic (Animals, Architecture, Clothing, Electronics, etc.) Each topic is broken into subtopics, and sometimes broken down again. For instance, Livestock is one of the subtopics of animals, which is, in turn, broken down into cattle, goat, pig, and sheep breeds. Clothing is broken down by era until the 16th century. After that, it's broken down by century. The 20th century is broken down even further by clothing type.

Foreign Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers by Lewis Herman and Margaret Shalett Herman (along with American Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers) is a wonderful resource. I used both books extensively when I was first trying to pin down how to get my characters' voice to sound distinct. If you have a character who has a foreign accent, this book is invaluable. For instance, I have a supporting character (a French supermodel) who I want to use in future book. I want her to sound French but not in a trite stereotypical way. This is a sample of what this book says about the French language.

  The French language is spoken in a pitch that is the highest of all the Romance languages. Italian and Spanish both have the same excitable quality which tends to make the voice shrill--but they possess certain other features which soften them. The Italians, for instance, lengthen their vowels and introduce the aspirate "uh" abundantly. The Spanish people soften their consonants and use the aspirate "uh" occasionally. The French use none of the softening features.
  Consequently, the French dialect is brisk and sharp and is spoken with almost staccato effect. This does not mean that they race through their words. On the contrary, they give each word its full, clear value. But they do break off each word cleanly and they do not linger on the vowel sounds. To achieve this staccato effect, it is necessary to break the sentences into small groups of words, for the French will vigorously stress several words in a sentence while the Americans will, possibly, stress two and those lightly.

There is a long section (relatively) that is aimed at actors to help them capture the sound and cadence of French accented English. This isn't vital to an author, although I do think it's useful because being able to hear the cadence in your head will make your word choices stronger.

This is followed by a section on grammar that is very useful. FREX:

The French almost always insert a definite or indefinite article before each noun, as in:
 "We have the book and the paper for the printing."

It goes on to list some other peculiarities of French grammar that commonly show up when the French speak English.

Do you see why I value these books?

In preparing this post, I was delighted to discover that Proverbs, maxims and phrases of all ages : classified subjectively and arranged alphabetically by Robert Christy has been digitalized. I have a physical copy (copyright 1888), but I immediately bought the ebook (for the bargain price of 99 cents) because I can use the search function with kindle for PC, which I think will be handy.

What I like best about this book is that it includes not just famous English proverbs but foreign ones as well. I've used it to stimulate my mind when I wanted to come up with ways of saying something that isn't trite. At other times, I've used it to find a seasoning for a character from another culture.

Here are a sample of what's listed under Laziness:
A lazy sheep thinks its wool is heavy.
To a lazy man every day is a holiday Turk.
To the lazy the way is full of thorns. Ger.
Who is lazy in his youth must work in old age. Ger.

Naming Books

Like most writers, I have more than one baby naming book. So many, in fact, that I refuse to look at that section in used book stores because I know what that will lead to. Here are a few that I find especially interesting because they're more than just lists of names with their meanings and heritage.

I own both Beyond Jennifer & Jason: An Enlightened Guide to Naming Your Baby and Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana: What to Name Your Baby Now. Why both? Because names have a shelf life, and this helps naming characters of different generations.

What I like about the format is that it lists names by theme. What's popular, what's not. If you're looking for names that have a specific emotional content, this is a good place to look. Got a dorky character whose name should reflect that? You've found the source. Looking for a name with biblical connotations? You'll find a list here. What creative names are celebrities using? That's here, too.

Need a name for a German character? Or a Welsh character? Or a Japanese character? The Best Baby Names in the World by J.M. Congemi is a useful resource because it lists names by country/culture. It's not as vital as it once was because much of this information is online, but if you're the sort who likes working from a paper book as I do and you can pick up a book like this cheap, it's worth doing.

The Guinness Book of Names by Leslie Dunkling addresses first names in a limited way, but it goes beyond that, and that's good for writers. Street names, place names, pub names, nicknames, surnames, these are all things we writers often need names for. This book address how such things have been named historically which can be helpful in coming up with our own versions.

So what are your indispensable reference works?