Inspiration is everywhere and for me, it comes from all kinds of places. Most recently the Houston Writers Guild called for submissions for a crime anthology they were publishing. When I heard this I just sat down and tried to think of any crime I personally have been involved in or knew about. My mind flashed to a time when I was about 19 years old. I was working at a fortune 500 oil company downtown in the computer operations department.

They switched me working the midnight shift. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be but I didn’t stay on that shift for long because news broke that there was some guy going around raping girls’ downtown, where the office building was. The first rape was not anywhere near the building but in time authorities figured out the one thing all of these girls had in common was they all worked at this company. So management scrambled around to issue new security protocols and switched off as many females on the midnight shift as they could. I got switched to say shift and never gave the incident another thought. So anyway, I used that story to write my submission for the crime anthology.

But I don’t always draw from real life. Sometimes I get inspired by other books I’ve read or a movie I’ve seen, a dream and I one time I even got inspired by a story from CSI. A girl overheard a murder in a hotel room. I only saw about the first five minutes of the episode but that was enough to give me a great idea for a new story about an FBI agent investigating a string of high-profile murders and a witness he wants to protect by not letting anyone know she saw anything in the first place.

When I do think of a new story idea what I do is type up everything I can think of about the story idea, the world, the characters, whatever comes to mind. I then save the document and file it away and then when I have more time or something else about the story comes to me, I open it back up and start writing away.

When I’m really ready to commit to a particular story I’ll think about it before I lay down. I’ll picture the whole story in my head, from scene to scene. Then when I have a scene that works, I’ll write down the details of what I’ve already played out in mind head.

If you read Stephen King’s book Under The Dome then one of the things you might have noticed were the unique names of each of his characters. There was Dale “Barbie” Barbara, Julia Shumway, James Rennie, Joseph McClatchey. Brenda Perkins, Frank DeLesseps, Carter Thibodeau, Phil Bushey, Dodee Sanders, Rose Twitchell, Alva Drake, Norrie Calvert, and Georgia Roxu just to name a few. Without knowing a single thing about any of these people, you know just by seeing their names that they sound like real people, not made up fictional characters in some book.

All to often when we are making up names for the characters in our books, we tend to name them things like Amy Adams, Tom Travis, Lisa Love.

People tell us that when we pick a name for our character it should tell them something about who they are, where they come from or where they are going. But that’s much easier said than done. I also think that’s totally stupid advice.

Let me ask you a question … what do you know about Phil Bushey from the Under The Dome story? His name doesn’t tell you anything about who it is, where he is from or that he’s some crazy meth chemist. It’s just a name, but a unique, real sounding one.

Giving your character a bad name can actually detract from your overall story.

So how do you pick a good name?

I use resources like baby naming websites, or websites like Name My Sim, but another great resource is your own family tree. Several years ago I began researching my family tree at ancestry.com. A family tree has a bunch of branches, that include a huge database of names, not just your mother and fathers.  You have your mother’s maiden name, your grandmother’s maiden name and then from there it just keeps branching out.

I have over 3,800 in my family tree and every one of those names is a potential new character in one of my books. I even added in my step-father’s name into my tree and started working on the branches of his tree, giving me even more fabulous names to pick from. “Errett Fox” … I mean come on, how great of a name is that?

So how do you create a family tree? Well before you visit a site like Ancestry.com you have some work to do. You always start a family tree with yourself. You can track this information using a spreadsheet.

Write down your first, middle and last name, your date of birth and where you were born at. Now do the same for any brothers or sisters you may have, as well as your parents. Keep in mind when it comes to your mother, you want her maiden name. Now Find out when your parents got married and where. If your parents got divorced find out when and where as well. ie: June 15, 1993, in Wise, Texas. Now it’s time to get the same information about your grandparents, both sets. If they died, find out when and where they passed.

Now that you have all of this information you can register for a trial account at ancestry.com and start entering this information. Once you have all of that put in, you’ll notice little hints will start to appear and you can use that information to find out more on your family.