Posts Tagged ‘titles’

Encouragement

January 13, 2009

Yes, it’s a lame title, I know. But good titles are hard to come up with, aren’t they? Just a little while ago I was complaining to a friend about the trouble I’ve had finding a title for one of my works-in-progress. I was calling it The Fires of the Deep until an editor told me I’d better change it so that no one would confuse it with Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. Recently, I thought I had it all figured out: I was going to call it The Twilight. Beautiful, right? But what is every girl and her mom in America reading right now?–yep, a little something called Twilight. Sigh. Anyway, titles fascinate me. (Back in the early days of this blog, I asked readers what some of their favorite titles were. Anyone else want to ring in on that? I still say the current reigning champion is The Pillars of the Earth. I’m not talking about content, mind you: just sheer titular awesomeness.)

But anyway! I’m overwhelmed with thankfulness this week for the letters that continue to come in, either to Cricket (which Cricket very kindly forwards to me) or on the Web site (www.cricketmagkids.com/corner/frederic-s-durbin). Now, to keep things in perspective, not 100% of readers like the story. On the Web site, in some of the discussion threads, there are a few readers who say they haven’t read it — that they’ve avoided reading it — which is understandable. As a kid, I was put off by continued stories. I disliked them in comic books, I disliked them on TV, and I disliked them in magazines. I much preferred stories that ended inside one cover. Long was fine, but I never wanted to see “to be continued.” So I understand where those readers are coming from.

There are also some readers who say “What’s all this fuss about ‘The Star Shard’? I don’t like it.” Those always upset me, and that’s human nature, I suppose: no matter how many kids say they love it, when one comes along who says s/he doesn’t, I’m all aargh and ouch. I walk around for the rest of the day with one of those smoldering cartoon balloons over my head — the kind that are just full of dark scribbles. The worst was one who said she didn’t think Cymbril acted like a real girl. Coming from a real girl, that hurt! Another wrote that she didn’t think Cymbril really wanted to escape from the Thunder Rake — and actually, that’s quite a fair and astute observation. Cymbril does have mixed feelings about escaping, and that’s an important part of the story for me. It explores the true nature of happiness. What is the difference between a blessing and a burden? Is there always a clear difference? Can there be an overlapping of the two? What is the nature of freedom? “Stone walls do not a prison make, / Nor iron bars a cage.”

Most often, though, the naysayers then go on to rip on the illustrations — and if anyone starts ripping on those, which are breathtakingly gorgeous and perfectly appropriate to the story, then I know the commenters are just plain out to attack, and I don’t feel as bad. It’s like how, if someone starts spouting racial slurs, for example, you know you don’t have to worry too much about that person’s opinions.

(To be clear: most readers are saying good things about “The Star Shard” — I don’t want to give the impression that it’s a controversial story. To the best of my knowledge, the response to it has been quite good.)

But to speak of the illustrations brings me to another point: I am fully aware that a lot of the enthusiasm readers have for “The Star Shard” is on account of the pictures. Some readers have said, “I love this story — especially the pictures!” I can tell that some love Loric because of the way the artist has drawn him. If this story were published without the artwork, I don’t think it would be nearly as popular. One of the funniest things is how Cymbril’s dresses have built up a fan base among younger teen and pre-teen girls! That’s something I certainly didn’t think about when writing the story, but the fact that her Master dictates exactly what she wears at each of the markets is another significant part of the character’s development . . . and the artist has made the costumes all look so good that we get letters and fan art centered on Cymbril’s wardrobe! (If the series ever does well enough to generate a line of action figures, we’ll have to have Pink-Dress Cymbril, Green-Dress Cymbril, Puffy-Sleeves Cymbril. . . .)

Three letters this week have been particularly encouraging. One reader wrote: “I wanted to tell you that I am totally hooked on ‘The Star Shard’ (April 2008-2009)! It is one of the most incredible continued stories I have read. . . .”

Another was from a young person whose life was completely turned on its side recently when she was diagnosed with diabetes. Now she has to endure daily injections, and everything is different; but she says Cricket and “The Star Shard” have been a source of fun that she really looks forward to. When you hear things like that. . . .

Finally, just today I read a letter that said “The Star Shard” made the person start reading Cricket! She had always considered Cricket to be her sister’s magazine. One day she picked it up idly and read Part V of my story, and she was so captivated by it that she went tearing around the house digging through National Geographics in search of the earlier installments in Cricket! She went on to say that if this becomes a book, she’s definitely going to buy it.

And a great many fans have said that — they’re clamoring for a book. One wrote that it’s the sort of story one curls up with on a rainy day and reads even though one has read it many times before — wow!

So it continues to be an overwhelming, humbling experience. I never dreamed I’d be in this place as a writer — even a year or two ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. Soli Deo gloria — “To God alone be glory”!

By about the end of this week, Lord willing, I’ll be delivering the novel-length version of The Star Shard to my agent. If he finds no problems with it, he’ll pass it along to the editor who has expressed a significant interest in it (and whose detailed notes I used carefully in the expansion process). This is a critical phase: will the story stand up without the illustrations? Have I successfully built a novel — or rather, helped a novel to grow — around the more streamlined version? I feel good about it and would certainly appreciate the prayers of anyone so inclined that The Star Shard will find a publisher as Book One of a series — and that readers will embrace the book as they have the magazine story!

Okay, on a humorous note: my computer’s grammar- and spelling-checker cracks me up! It always goes nuts over my fiction, griping endlessly about my use of commas. It hates all reflexive pronouns, even when they’re used correctly — like photocopy machines made after about 1990, it thinks it knows better than any silly human what needs to be done. Again and again, my grammar-checker says to me, “You can’t be serious,” to which I reply, “I’m deadly serious. Now back way off.”

This is the hilarious part: this evening I was making a worksheet for my academic writing kids. It was a whole sheet of sentences with no punctuation whatever — my students will be adding the commas, colons, and semicolons needed. By force of habit, I ran the spell- and grammar check — and the computer instantly gave the green light to the whole page. No problems at all!

So there you are. If you want to be really correct, just don’t use punctuation. Don’t use any. None. Just don’t use it. Let your sentences run on and your clauses commingle.

It’s just like how our society believes that “I” is always more correct than “me.” Always, in every case. “Me” is for unschooled cretins. And every single “s” should have an apostrophe in front of it. In fact, I think they’re teaching the alphabet that way in schools now, aren’t they?

. . . O P Q R ‘S T U V. . .

On that note, until next time — many ble’s’sing’s!

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Working Titles, Titles that Work

May 19, 2008

How does it work for you as a writer? Do you tend to know the title of the piece you’re writing from square one, or from early on? Or are you more like me, still struggling with the title long after you’ve done all the damage you can possibly do to the whole rest of the story? I heard Madeleine L’Engle say that she had no idea what to call A Wrinkle in Time, and it was someone else who finally suggested that title to her after the book was finished. There are quite a few funny stories out there of now-famous books that their authors had intended to call something else, until fortunately a.) they came to their senses, or b.) a sensible agent, editor, or friend said, “Wup-wup-wup waaaiiit a minute. . . .” [Gee, I wish I could remember some of those examples! Maybe you can–help me out here! I seem to recall that The Great Gatsby was one of them. All I can think of right now is that Charles M. Schulz wanted to call his Peanuts comic strip Li’l Folks.] Almost all my own stories have worn several other working titles before finding their ways to the ones they were published under. Here’s a list of a few — finished titles first, followed by working titles:

Dragonfly — The High Dark Shelf (That change was the editor’s idea; I didn’t really agree, but here was a publisher offering to give my long-wandering novel manuscript a home. If he’d wanted to call the book Wombat Boy and the Pink Lollipops, I probably would have seen it his way.)

“The Bone Man” — “The Hallowe’en Parade” (My idea, once I got about halfway into the story.)

“The Star Shard” — “The Star-Shard” (The editor changed that one, too: I tend to hyphenate everything that isn’t nailed down.)

“The Fool Who Fished for a King” — This was the original title as well as the finished one, but for awhile, during a second rewrite phase requested by the editors, it was called “The Fish of Heavensdrop.”

“Here About to Die” — “The Arena” (There are several other things called “The Arena.”)

“The Bones of Oron-Dha” — “Land’s End” (Just watch: a new maker of stylishly rugged clothing will emerge and call their line “The Bones of Oron-Dha.”)

The Witching Wild — The Cry of the Nightbird — Halcyon Fey (My agent actually said, and I quote: “Any title would be better than ‘Halcyon Fey.’ Can you imagine a bookstore clerk trying to type that into a computer to search for it, or a young-adult reader trying to spell it?” Although I knew he had a point about the store clerk, I said, “Why would a reader have to spell it?” The conversation went rather downhill from there.)

The Fires of the Deep — Lachii (But this title needs to change again before the book ever sees print. It’s been pointed out that Vernor Vinge has a book called A Fire Upon the Deep, and mine is close enough to cause confusion.)

Anyway, here’s my question for discussion: of all the titles you’ve encountered in your life (we can include movies as well as books, if you like), can you name one, two, or three that you think absolutely rule?–that is, they seem the perfect title for the work in question? To be perfect, they have to be an ideal fit for the work as well as to “sell” it — to be eye-catching, perhaps haunting, fascinating, whatever–it has to be a title that grabs hold of your imagination with both hands.

So, what are they? To what handful of works would you hand out prizes?

I’ll be bold and narrow my picks down to just two. My mind is not made up for all time. You may be able to convince me there are better titles out there. And again, in case you came in late or skimmed over all that rambling about my own titles, I’ll re-emphasize [See? I hyphenate everything! Don’t stand too close, or you may go home wearing a hyphen.]–I’ll re-emphasize that these are not my favorite books. I’m only talking about titles here. I’m naming the winners of the FSD Best Title Award:

First runner-up: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

And the winner: The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. I haven’t read this book. And what’s really funny is that a good friend just told me she was reading it and absolutely hates it! In Japanese, it was released under a title that translates to The Great Cathedral. A friend in Japan liked it, but she said the characters all seemed too smart to be normal people. Anyway, regardless of the content, doesn’t that title simply rock? I have read some different articles about the building of medieval cathedrals. (One such article about the construction of Chartres directly inspired my story “The Gift.”) What struck me was how important raising these cathedrals was to the communities that erected them. People quite literally gave their lives in the construction. They’d fall into the foundation-pits and die in the fall; they’d tumble off the high scaffolds; they’d get smashed under stones. Children in the area would die of malnutrition because the people had sold their cows to buy building materials and pay artisans. These people were completely devoted to creating these magnificent structures as houses for God on Earth. It was an era in which faith lay at the center of existence, and everything else took a back seat.

So . . . doesn’t The Pillars of the Earth capture that colossal importance, that centrality? The image is of mighty pillars holding up the Earth itself. That’s what faith was to the cathedral-builders, who willingly gave up their pennies, their livestock, their health, and their children to build these marvels of architecture.

Cast your votes! Also, if you’re a writer, feel free to add which is your favorite title from among your own works, and tell us why! As for me? My favorite of my own titles is “Glory Day,” which has long been a sonnetesque poem I wrote back in my college days–and is the working title of a short story I’m working on right now! (I just sold my cow in order to buy some typing paper.)

“Glory Day” is, of course, a name some people call the Fourth of July. For me it has wonderful associations of summer heat, freedom, fireworks, memory, nostalgia, and childhood imaginings. Yes, “Glory Day” is the title . . . until an editor comes along and changes it to “Six Days of the Avocado.” Or something.