The mummified cat did me in. I mean… how? And why? Also, names. Characters’ names, to be specific. Could you guess it’s one of the most difficult things to do, and each one of us (authors) has one way to do it? Oh, you thought it was just throw-in-the-first-one-that-hops-into-your-mind kinds thing? Yeah, no. It’s really not (never forget, books are our babies and to us, naming a character is like naming a child), and Jeannette is here to tell us how she does it, and what (if) there’s something behind the names she chooses.
The book is The Deadliest Blessing (Provincetown Mystery Series #3) by Jeannette de Beauvoir, a Cozy Mystery.
If there’s a dead body anywhere in Provincetown, wedding consultant Sydney Riley is going to be the one to find it! The seaside town’s annual Portuguese Festival is approaching and it looks like smooth sailing until Sydney’s neighbor decides to have some construction done in her home—and finds more than she bargained for inside her wall.
Now Sydney is again balancing her work at the Race Point Inn with an unexpected adventure that will eventually involve fishermen, gunrunners, a mummified cat, a family fortune, misplaced heirs, a girl with a mysterious past, and lots and lots of Portuguese food. The Blessing of the Fleet is coming up, and unless Sydney can find the key to a decades-old murder, it might yet come back to haunt everyone in this otherwise-peaceful fishing village.
Hi Jeannine, and thank you for being here. So, after my intro, tell us.
What’s in a Name?
One of the joys of writing fiction is being able to populate your own world. Seriously, how cool is that? You can choose who lives next to whom, what they do for a living, explore quirks and personalities that are as familiar or as foreign as you like. And that process includes selecting names.
Okay, so it’s maybe not such a joy, after all. The truth is, I hate selecting names.
My characters come to life as I write, not before. They shift and morph and often change the entire narrative arc of my stories. They become who they are in chapter five, or eight, or ten. So the name I started with generally just doesn’t fit the character as they emerge, as they talk with other characters, as they make choices, as they tell me where the book needs to go. Ah, but word processing makes that easy, doesn’t it? Just do a global search-and-replace, and voilà! Kate Stewart is now Miranda Weatherby.
The exception is the name of the protagonist in my current mystery series. I found a name for her and it… just worked. The third book in the series, The Deadliest Blessing, just came out, I’m writing the fourth book, and Sydney is still perfectly, marvelously, appropriately Sydney.
I have to wonder if her name works because I didn’t make it up. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it ahead of time. It was a gift from the gods of travel.
I’d gone up to Québec to do a talk about a prior character and series, Martine LeDuc, the protagonist of my novels Asylum and Deadly Jewels. I live on the tip of Cape Cod, so this is a long drive! But I was prepared: I had a set of CDs from The Great Courses, and I was good to go. I’d already taken their class on the Vikings, the history of London, women in medieval literature, and a few I’m probably forgetting, and I was looking forward to the new set on the history of espionage.
I’d just passed the border into Vermont when the professor started talking about the man who was the model for Ian Fleming’s James Bond, a real-life cosmopolitan, elegant, enigmatic spy. Not just an agent for the British Secret Service, he was a double and sometimes treble agent, Russian-born, world-traveled, who had torrid affairs with aristocratic women, slipped behind enemy lines during World War Two, planned an unsuccessful coup in the Soviet Union, procured Persian oil concessions for the British Admiralty… the list goes on and on.
His name was Sydney Reilly.
And there it came to me as I drove through Vermont’s snow-covered mountains, that this was a gorgeous name. Even if people didn’t know the history, it was a name that resonated, that was both memorable and slightly exotic, that would fit someone destined for adventure. I named Sydney at once and never looked back.
Of course, I didn’t have the sense to look the spy up online and ascertain how he spelled his name, so my Sydney spells hers a little differently; but perhaps that just adds to her mystique. (She’d laugh if she heard me: I can just imagine her saying, “Mystique? Me? You’ve got the wrong girl, Jeannette!”)
So… what’s in a name? Sometimes it’s just a happy coincidence. One thing I know for sure: I’m going to keep listening to the Great Courses. Who knows what might be gifted to me next?
Mrs. Mattos sat down, still fussing with her hands. “I’m having construction work done,” she said, and stood up again. “I should show you.”
“What kind of work?”
“Insulation.” Her voice was repressive, as if she were delivering censure of something. We’d just come off an amazingly, spectacularly cold winter, with single-digit temperatures and a nor-easter that brought the highest tides ever recorded, so I suspected she wasn’t the only one thinking about making changes. “In the walls. Them people at the Cape Cod Energy said I should.”
“Okay.” I still wasn’t getting what was wrong here. “Do you want to show me?”
She turned and led me into the front parlor (in Mrs. Mattos’ house, you don’t call it a living room); I had to duck to get through the heavy framed doorway, and the ceiling here was about an inch or so over my head. She, of course, had no such problems. A loveseat had been pulled away from one of the exterior walls and a significant hole made. She didn’t have drywall, but rather plaster and lathing, as older houses tended to. “There wasn’t nothing wrong with it. The insulation before was just fine,” she said, resentful. “Seaweed.”
She nodded vigorously. “Dried out. It’s what they used.” No need for anything else, her tone suggested.
“Okay,” I said again. “What is—“
“Go look,” she said, flapping her hands at me. “Just look.”
I looked. I pulled my smartphone out of my pocket and used the built-in flashlight. Wedged between strips of lathing was a box. “Is this it?”
Mrs. Mattos blessed herself. “Holy Mother of God,” she said, which I took for assent.
“Can I take it out?” I asked, eyeing the box. It looked as innocuous as last year’s Christmas present. Well, maybe not last year’s. Maybe from sometime around 1950.
Another quick sign of the cross. “Just don’t make me look. I can’t look again.”
I put my smartphone in my pocket and reached gingerly into the opening. Didn’t Poe write a story about a cat getting walled up somewhere? “Who’s doing your work for you, Mrs. Mattos?” It didn’t look as though they’d gotten very far in opening up the wall.
She was back to twisting her hands again. “The company wanted so much,” she began, and I nodded. Rather than getting a contractor, pulling a permit, having a bunch of workmen in her house and paying reasonable rates, she’d found someone to do it on the side. Someone’s unemployed cousin or nephew, probably. That sort of thing happens a lot in P’town, especially among the thrifty Portuguese. It explained the size of the hole, anyway: this was someone without a whole range of tools.
I pulled the box out—it was about the size of a shoebox, only square—and set it down carefully on the coffee table. Mrs. Mattos was looking at it as though something were about to pop out and bite her, like the creatures in Alien; she actually took a physical step back. This wasn’t just Mrs. Mattos being Mrs. Mattos; this thing was really spooking her.
I sat down beside the table and gingerly—you can’t say that I don’t pick up on a mood—lifted the top off the box. Sudden thoughts of Pandora blew by like an errant wind and I shook them off and looked inside.
Shoes; small shoes. Children’s shoes. Three of them, and none matching the others. It was wildly anticlimactic. “Shoes?” I said, doubt—and no doubt disappointment—in my voice.
“It’s not the shoes,” she said. “It’s that we shouldn’t never have moved them.”
I looked at them again. Old leather, dry and curling and peeling. But shoes? She was clearly seeing something I wasn’t. Had these children died some horrible death? Were these memories of lives that hadn’t been lived to their fullest? Something haunting, a song or an echo of laughter, moved through my mind as though on a whisper of summer air. I didn’t recognize the tune. “Mrs. Mattos?”
“It’s to keep them witches out,” she said, grimly.
She nodded. “An’ now there’s nothing to keep ’em from coming in. And nothing we can do about it, neither.”
About the Author
Jeannette de Beauvoir grew up in Angers, France, but has lived in the United States since her twenties. (No, she’s not going to say how long ago that was!) She spends most of her time inside her own head, which is great for writing, though possibly not so much for her social life. When she’s not writing, she’s reading or traveling… to inspire her writing.
The author of a number of mystery and historical novels (some of which you can see on Amazon, Goodreads, Criminal Element, HomePort Press, and her author website), de Beauvoir’s work has appeared in 15 countries and has been translated into 12 languages. Midwest Review called her Martine LeDuc Montréal series “riveting (…) demonstrating her total mastery of the mystery/suspense genre.” She is currently writing a Provincetown Theme Week cozy mystery series featuring female sleuth Sydney Riley.
De Beauvoir’s academic background is in history and religion, and the politics and intrigue of the medieval period have always fascinated her (and provided her with great storylines!). She coaches and edits individual writers, teaches writing online and on Cape Cod, and thinks Aaron Sorkin is a god. Her cat, Beckett, totally disagrees.
$20 Amazon card , Copies of past books in the series
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