Monday, June 9, 2014

The Story Behind the Names in Little Island by Katharine Britton + Giveaway! (US/Can only)

Little Island
Katharine Britton

By the water
Have fun!

These are Joy’s grandmother’s last words—left behind on a note. A note that Joy’s mother, Grace, has interpreted as instructions for her memorial service. And so, the far-flung clan will gather at their inn on Little Island, Maine, to honor her.

Joy can’t help dreading the weekend. Twenty years ago, a tragedy nearly destroyed the family—and still defines them. Joy, Grace, her father Gar, and twins Roger and Tamar all have their parts to play. And now Joy, facing an empty nest and a nebulous future, feels more vulnerable than ever to the dangerous currents running through her family.

But this time, Joy will discover that there is more than pain and heartbreak that binds them together, when a few simple words lift the fog and reveal what truly matters…

Who's Who in Little Island

Naming characters can be challenging, but also good fun. Charles Dickens is, in my mind, the master of the name game. Skimpole, Scrooge, Bumble, Heep… Dickens was merciless with his monikers and, what’s more, he often modeled his characters after family members, friends, even public figures.

I don’t model my characters on people I know, but I do spend a good deal of time thinking about what to name them. Little Island is about four generations of the Little family who gather for a weekend on their small island in Maine for a memorial service.

Grace Little, the matriarch, is one of two women at the center of the novel (it’s her mother who has passed away), so I’ll begin with Grace.

As a noun, grace is defined as elegance of movement, as well as the love and mercy of God. As a verb, it means to honor someone with your presence. However you manifest it, grace seems like a daunting state—and a tough name to live up to. Grace Little could not agree more.

In the novel, Grace finds a cryptic note beside her dying mother’s bed, which reads, “Grace, Fresh flowers, By the water, Have fun!” Assuming these to be her mother’s wishes for her memorial service, Grace sets out to fulfill them. As she lives on an island and loves to garden, Grace finds the first two directives no problem. Fun, however, is not a word she associates with her family gatherings. Indeed, maintaining a state of grace in the face of what transpires as her family assembles with all their baggage (and luggage) and the weekend progresses becomes quite a challenge.

Grace’s eldest daughter Joy, the other woman who anchors the novel, is the first to arrive for the weekend. Joy’s only child has just departed for college, and Joy is suffering from an acute case of empty nest syndrome. She lands on Little Island still harboring the dark secret that she’s carried for twenty years and wondering whether, perhaps, this might be the weekend to reveal it. Positioned as she is as between her parents and her younger twin siblings, Joy has long felt, not only like the emotional fulcrum for her family, but like the odd person out. For one thing, she’s terrified of the water: not a happy state in a family whose most cherished tradition is leaping from a footbridge into the incoming tide. Is Joy, joyful? Not hardly. Not at first, anyway.

Roger, Joy’s brother, on the other hand, is a positive guy (granted with some substance abuse issues). He’s affable, thoughtful, and well meaning, even if his schemes don’t always pan out. Roger means, “message received and understood.” (It turns out that roger is also English slang for having sexual intercourse with a woman, which actually fits Roger pretty well, too.)

Roger’s twin sister Tamar announced herself to me that way on day one as she swept into the narrative, and stubbornly refused to budge. This was unusual because my characters often go through several name changes during early drafts. Readers tell me that Tamar, a self-absorbed lawyer with really bad parenting skills, is a hard character to like. I know the softer, more vulnerable side of Tamar (the one that she doesn’t like to show) but there’s no doubt, she can be prickly. If she wanted to be called Tamar, I was not going to argue.

One reader suggested that Tamar sounded to her like “to mar” or even “tumor.” I love it when readers find symbolism and meaning in my books, and so I respectfully include it here, taking absolutely no credit. (Let me know what you think of Tamar. Any thoughts on the name?)

And then there’s Sophie, the dog. Sophie means wisdom, and this old lady has plenty. I modeled her after my own dearly departed Maggie, a Glen of Imaal Terrier, who was in the last stages of life when I wrote Little Island. Sophie wisely avoids most of the drama that ensues during this three-day gathering—until the end, when the memorial service gets underway and a most unexpected guest arrives. Sophie then takes center stage in what turns out to be, perhaps, not her wisest move.

There are stories behind some of the other characters’ names: Edgar, Grace’s husband, is nicknamed Gar, which is what I used to call my grandmother. It is also a type of fish; Gar loves to fish and spends a good portion of the novel searching for a missing lure.

Beau was my family’s German shorthaired pointer. Corintha and Callista were my mother-in-law’s aunts, and Bonnie Day… Well, that just seemed like a good idea.

About the Author

Katharine Britton has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College, and a Master’s in Education from the University of Vermont. Her screenplay, “Goodbye Don’t Mean Gone,” was a Moondance Film Festival winner and a finalist in the New England Women in Film and Television contest. Katharine is a member of the League of Vermont Writers, New England Independent Booksellers Association, and The New Hampshire Writer’s Project. She has taught at Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth, Colby-Sawyer College, and The Writer’s Center in White River Junction.

When not at her desk, Katharine can often be found in her Norwich garden, waging a non-toxic war against the slugs, snails, deer, woodchucks, chipmunks, moles, voles, and beetles with whom she shares her yard. Katharine’s defense consists mainly of hand-wringing, after the fact.

Katharine’s first novel Her Sister's Shadow was published in 2011 by Berkley Books (Penguin, USA), and Little Island is her second novel. She is currently working on another manuscript.


Books à la Mode is giving away
 one finished print copy of Little Island—yay!! To enter, all you have to do is answer Katharine's question:

What is your favorite literary name? Any thoughts on why the author named the  character that?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Katharine and I really want to hear from you guys! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the tour publicist and publisher—a huge thank you to TLC Book Tours and Penguin Group!
Giveaway ends June 23rd at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US/Can residents only—sorry, everyone else! Check out my sidebar for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!