Guest Leslie Karst, plus #giveaway

Edith/Maddie here, writing north of Boston and gearing up for a fun month! (Can you spell vacation?)

Leslie Karst is my third Leslie guest in a month, and certainly not least (none of them is). I’m so excited to have her back with the Wickeds, because that means she has a new Sally Solari mystery for me to inhale…I mean, read. If you haven’t read this wonderful foodie series set in Santa Cruz, California, you need to catch up, stat. Let’s see what The Fragrance of Death is like.

Ooh, artichokes, one of my favorite foods! Here’s the blurb:

Restaurateur Sally Solari is a champion, both in the kitchen and on the case, but after getting mixed up in one too many murders, she’s noticed her nonna’s friends have now taken to crossing themselves when they see her in the street. Adding to her woes, a sinus infection has knocked out her sense of smell, making cooking on the hot line difficult, indeed. Nevertheless, Sally is determined to stay out of trouble and focus on her work.

But then her old acquaintance Neil Lerici is murdered at the annual Santa Cruz Artichoke Cook-Off, and her powers of investigation are called into action once more. Sally plunges headfirst into the case, risking alienating everyone she knows—including the dapper Detective Vargas, who finds her sleuthing both infuriating and endearing. And soon it’s not only her restaurant and tentative new relationship that are on the line—it’s her life . . .

A Rose by Any Other Name…Would be Sally!

Coming up with names is hard, be it baby names, pen names, or character names.

For babies, new parents often simply use those of family members or people in their close circle, naming their daughter after a favorite aunt or grandmother or a good friend. (I, for example, was given my father’s middle name, who had been named after my grandmother’s best friend’s husband, Les.)

Grammy and Belle, 1920s

(Edith butting in here – Leslie looks just like her Grammy!)

And for pen names, it’s often a whimsical choice, the chance to use a moniker you always thought would be fun to have, but never wanted to actually change your name to. When I worked briefly as a disc jockey at a local country radio station, for example, I did so under a name I’d come up with years earlier as an amusing alter-ego: Iris Haven. (It came to me one night after having imbibed several cocktails, when I was trying to articulate the phrase “artists’ haven.” I was in my twenties at the time, and thought it would be marvelous to go live in such a place.)

Or again, one’s pseudonym might derive from a family member. Ellen Byron’s pen name, Maria DiRico, for example, comes from that of her Italian nonna. Similarly, I always thought that if I had to come up with another author name, I’d use Olivia Cook, the maiden name of my maternal grandmother (and a highly appropriate one, at that, given the culinary mysteries I write).

But what about our characters’ names? Where did Sally Solari get her name? Well, it’s actually a fun story:

Back in the early 1980s, I sang and played guitar in a new wave rock n’ roll band called Enigma, during which period I had my hair spiked and wore red hightop Chuck Taylors and pegged black slacks. One of the songs I wrote for the band was called “Jet Black,” about a gal named Sally (inspired by Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”) and her shiny black guitar. Many years later, when casting about for what to call my fourth-generation Italian amateur sleuth, I decided it would be fun to use the same name—partly because it meant I could have her named after her grandfather, Salvatore.

A young Leslie rockin’ out

But next I needed to find a last name for the restaurant-owning family, whose fishermen ancestors arrived from Liguria in the late nineteenth century. Researching surnames from that area of northern coastal Italy, I spotted “Solari” amongst the list. I loved how it evoked the word “solo,” as in someone working on her own against the odds. (There’s a reason other fictional characters have been called Napoleon Solo and Han Solo.) And I was also pleased that the name would be a nod to a local treasure, Mary Solari, who’s been a generous patron of the arts in Santa Cruz over many years.

These Italian fishermen in San Francisco in the late 1890s could be Sally’s great-grandfathers. [Photo public domain from Wikimedia Commons]

As for side characters, the trick is to have the names start with the different letters and not sound too much alike. But it’s great fun coming up with monikers for secondary characters, and the ones in my books derive their names from a host of different places: authors and musicians I admire (e.g., [David] Byrne, [Ray] Davies, [Declan] McManus); friends of mine; opera characters (Violetta/Letta; Mario); and once I even named someone after a stack of soda water cases I spied in the grocery store (Lacroix).

Readers: For a chance to win a copy of the first book in my Sally Solari series, Dying for a Taste, answer this question in the comments (US only; don’t forget to leave your email): How much attention do you pay to characters’ names? Do you have any favorites?

Leslie Karst is the author of the Lefty Award-nominated Sally Solari culinary mystery series. The daughter of a law professor and a potter, she waited tables and sang in a new wave rock band before deciding she was ready for “real” job and ending up at Stanford Law School. It was during her career as a research and appellate attorney in Santa Cruz, California, that she rediscovered her youthful passion for food and cooking, and she once more returned to school—this time to earn a degree in culinary arts.

Now retired from the law, Leslie spends her time cooking, cycling, gardening, singing alto in her local community chorus, and of course writing. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i.

54 Thoughts

  1. I do enjoy interesting character names in books – for example Harry Bosch is really Hieronymus Bosch because his dad was a fan of the painter, Ellie McDonnell is really Electra because of a love of classic mythology in the family. When authors explain how they came up with names for their characters, even more prosaic names become more interesting.

    1. Ha! I didn’t know that about Harry Bosch–love it! In my books, Sally’s father, Mario, is named after the character in Tosca, and his sister Letta (for Violetta) is named after the character in La Traviatta.

  2. I love the stories behind your characters’ names. I do appreciate well chosen, appropriate ones. I like them to be slightly unusual, but not hard to pronounce. This series sounds as if it will great.

    1. Yes, and it’s nice if you can remember the name easily. I remember being SOOOO confused with all those similar Russian names when I read War and Peace many years ago.

      And thank you, Ginny!

  3. I love hearing how authors come up with names for their characters and make it work for them.

  4. I do pay attention to names and I think Tonya Kappes comes up with come creative ones but it seems she has a book a month coming out. But then I get into the story and the names become less important. Thank you for this chance at your giveaway. pgenest57 at aol dot com

    1. It’s true that if you really get into the story, then you pay less attention to names. As long as you can keep the characters straight!

  5. I’m not sure I ever do a deep dive into a character’s name unless it is something quite memorable like Hieronymous Bosch. I pay attention to names mostly so I know who each character is when they appear on the page/screen.

    Otherwise, unless the POV character specifically mentions something “special” about another character’s “regular sounding” name, I just read it, learn it and get on with the reading.

    This is how I read NOW. But when fantasy novels were my main reading interest, they were always packed with names that were interesting. If for no other reason than the fact I had to learn how to pronounce ones like Eilonwy, Flewddur, Eiddileg and the like.

  6. Three cheers on your new release, Leslie! I enjoy characters with unusual names. I think it helps provide a sense of place in a novel. Especially, like in Ellen Byron’s books set in Louisiana. My favorite character name is Gaynell Bourgeois. And to have that be based on a real person. So much fun!

    1. That IS indeed a terrific name, J.C.! I love it when authors do benefit auctions for people to have their names in your books, but it’s even better when they have a fun or unusual name.

  7. As a reader, I don’t pay attention to names UNLESS there is a particularly interesting one or they interrupt the flow of my reading.

    As a writer, I’m constantly looking for the right name – and then changing them when I realize I have too many names that start with the same letter or the same sound. LOL

    1. Yes, that’s the key, Liz: not having the name take the reader out of the story–unless it’s intentional. And I, too, dicker a lot with my names, changing them around. But it’s a fun part of writing for me.

  8. I do pay attention to characters names, especially ones that have a family history behind them. Hercule Poirot stands out, but I think my favorite would be Aurora Teagarden– aurora being a bright, shiny occurrence and Teagarden evoking a simple garden setting with lots of Earl Grey and scones!

    1. That is indeed a delicious name, Kathy! Makes me want to settle down under the shade of a plane tree and read the book! (Tea and scones would be nice, too.)

  9. I sometimes notice, if it’s an unusual name or there’s a story behind it.

  10. Welcome back and congratulations on the new book! I love that people are crossing themselves when they see Sally — so funny. And I love the photos! Aimee Hix named her protagonist Willow because she would bend but not break. I always loved that.

    1. I enjoy reading all the different characters names. Especially the unique ones.

      Thanks for the chance!

  11. How fascinating to learn about how you have been able to come up with interesting names “with a story” 🙂 We absolutely love artichokes and have them for dinner with just lemon or lime juice to dip the tips in. Healthy and quick. I am so glad you mentioned that you are careful to name your characters with names that do not sound similar. My pet peeve when I am reading is when two characters have names like Sheryl and Sharon. Some British authors also mention characters by their full names… like Lawrence Cavendish, then the next you read about Cavendish, or Lawrence…I appreciate it when there is a list of characters at the beginning of the book, so one can refer to it until all characters sink in. Often at our book club one of us does make up a list of characters and shares it with all of us. Thank you for the wonderful insight into your amazing life Leslie! May you find many ways in which to murder future ‘bad guys’ in your novels. Luis at ole dot travel

    1. That might be a good idea for a panel discussion at Malice Domestic–how authors name their characters. Maybe I’ll suggest it next year….

  12. I just remembered Joan Hess and the Maggody series. Talk about fun names! I reread those books just for the names.

  13. Interesting information on Sally.

    I don’t think too much about a character’s name, unless information is given in the book that reflects on their character. But I definitely agree. Not too many similar names or I get very confused. (No need to enter me in the drawing since I’ve read all the books in the series already, including the wonderful new one.)

  14. Great photos! Don’t you wish you had one of those flapper outfits. Love the purse. Characters are important. One of my favorites is Brooklyn Wainwright from The Bibliophile Mysteries. But there are so many that I like, and it is fun to know what inspired these names.

    1. I actually now own that string of (faux) pearls that Grammy is wearing in the photo–one of my most precious pieces of jewelry!

      1. That is too cool! I love things from relatives or that have a story.

  15. Hi Leslie, I love your photos, thank you for sharing them! I actually don’t mind any names in books unless they are very hard to pronounce, other than that any name is good for me. Have a great weekend and stay safe. Thank you for the chance.

  16. Congratulations on your new release. I don’t really pay much attention to the names of the characters and after reading a bit of the book, they become their name.

  17. I love interesting names and ethnic names. I think names sometimes help picture a character in your mind.

  18. I don’t have favorite character names but I really don’t like when all the names in a book begin with the same letter! Too confusing for me!

  19. I do not have a favorite character name. I would say that I fall in love with the character themselves not their names. As I grow older, I have issues with remembering people’s names. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

  20. I pay attention to character’s names and enjoy when there is alliteration.

  21. When I read a book, I read ALL of a book including comments by the author about characters in the book. I find all that interesting. Some times when I read a book a certain name may really relate in some way to the name they have been give – like it fits them if that makes sense. It’s another way that the author fits all the pieces to the puzzle so the speak. Sometimes a name reminds me of someone I know and then you tend to compare them to the character. I find it amusing when the character in the book sounds just like the person I know by that name. I also love somewhat unusual names be it a certain spelling or just unusual as not heard of it before. That probably relates to my maiden name being unusual and may account for the naming of our daughter JENET instead of Jeanette – after all we aren’t French so why use all them other letters. 🙂

    Thank you for the chance to win a copy of “Dying for a Taste”. Can’t wait to read “The Fragrance of Death” which is already on my TBR list.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. I named the murderer in one of my books the same name as a person a friend of mine truly despises, and my friend insists I did it on purpose, lol. (Not at all true, but I let him have his fun.) Thank you, Kay!

  22. Now I have a new book and series to add to my tbr list! “Dying for a Taste” sounds super fun! I so appreciate cool names for characters. My favorite be Washington Irving’s Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow. Thanks for the chance to win-

  23. I prefer names that I have a hope of pronouncing and it ticks me off when the obviously wrong name is used in the middle of a conversation (somone not even in the area or character replying to themself when it obiously is the OTHER character speaking. Have pity on newer readers and don’t confuse them. [Carefully climbing down from my former-remidial-reading-teacher soapbox].)

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