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On Titles and Originality

Before I start, just a publicity update: Go to Barren Island Books to read an interview with me just before I am banished to a desert island. Fun times, and many thanks to A.F.E. Smith for the opportunity!

Now, let’s to brass tacks.

You know what I find the hardest thing, ultimately, to do for a novel or story? Give it a title.

Seriously, what the hell do you call the whole thing? Me? I don’t know. It always seems like the best titles are already taken. Anytime I come up with a good title – a real zinger, you know? – I make the mistake of Googling it. When I finish, this is my face:

But...but I was being so *original!*

But…but I was being so *original!*

Yep – somebody else had used it. Sometimes numerous somebodies else. Super lame.

You know that book I’ve been telling you all to buy – The Iron Ring, remember? Well, even though it wasn’t my first choice for title, it was the one my editor liked best and, as it turns out, Lloyd Alexander liked it, too. Dammit!

So, anyway, after much hand-wringing and nonsense about the titles of the various books of The Saga of the Redeemed (that one’s original – take that ye gods of Google!), I came up with a system that I felt would create decent titles for my fantasy books. Namely, I’d take a common saying and chop it up. Books 1 and 2 (which are really the same story) were/are titled The Oldest Trick, for instance. As in “the oldest trick in the book.” Right? Get it? Huh, huh? Neat, right? Google that one and you come up with nothing – it’s all mine, baby!

Fast Forward to Book 3 (or Part 2, depending on how you look at it). The working title has always been All That Glitters, as in “all that glitters is not gold.” Pithy, clever, thematically appropriate – I love it. Google it, and all you get is a short-run sitcom in 1977. Ha!

Oh, but wait, it’s also:

  • A VC Andrews novel from 1995.
  • A Michael Anthony novel from 1981
  • A memoir by Pearl Lowe in 2007
  • Some kind of documentary/reality show set to air this year.

And about a million other titles. Bye-bye that title.

Turns out, though, that no matter what I pick, odds are I’m going to step on somebody’s toes. You have to ask, though, whether that’s such a big deal. Like, if the last time somebody used the title was in a different medium (movie, not book) for a different audience (crime thriller, not fantasy) a couple years ago, does it really matter? How much of a chance of confusion is there, really?

In bouncing potential titles back and forth with my editor, the one she liked best was No Good Deed. Yes, yes – it’s the title of an Idris Elba thriller released last year, I know. It isn’t as though anybody’s going to be confused, though. It would be one thing, I guess, if the movie were a big hit (nobody’s walking around titling their novel The Empire Strikes Back or Platoon, I suppose), but even then one has to wonder. What’s in a title, anyway? It’s just one of the umpteen billion handy devices by which we convince people to pick up our books and read. Perhaps the “perfect originality” standard is a bit too stiff for so modest an element.

Or maybe I’m just lazy. That’s also pretty likely.

Nevertheless, I’m going to stick with No Good Deed for now. I’m calling dibs, everyone, got it? It’s mine! Well, for now, anyway, and unless I can think of something better.

 

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Hack and Slash

While I get increasingly excited about The Iron Ring being released in a mere two and a half weeks or so and wait for my editing notes for Blood and Iron to come through so I can get that in the can, I have a whole other book to worry about. A book that is not done and that must become done by May 1st. That is Book 3 of The Saga of the Redeemed, and it is called All That Glitters.

The book is currently in its fourth revision. All plot pieces are pretty well in place, all the character arcs are established, and the whole thing makes sense. There is, however, a problem: it is 124,000 words (445 pages or so, for you uninitiated). My editor has informed me that, in no uncertain terms, the longest they will accept is 100,000 and they’d really prefer 85K. That’s between 24K and about 40K words. This is not a matter of trimming vocabulary or cutting the odd paragraph. My book needs to go here:

chopping-block

This represents and interesting (and rather terrifying) new problem for me: I do not have the time to write an entirely new book, but the book I have needs to be about 100 pages shorter. So, can I, Auston Habershaw, loquacious chatterbox extraordinaire, find a way to trim fat from a book that, honestly doesn’t have a hell of a lot of fat? Also: can he do it while teaching four university courses, reading thirteen novels (needed to teach those four courses), and read/grade about 20-30 pages of writing from each of my 100 students?

You watch me.

(Well, no – don’t watch me. That would be weird and creepy.)

The book is still pretty, right? RIGHT?

The book is still pretty, right? RIGHT?

I’ve got a plan, actually. I’m going to hack some stuff from the beginning, I’m going to axe two major characters, and then I’m going to try and stitch together the pieces in such a way that nobody notices that it’s gone and I still have a kickass novel on my hands. The real trick is, though, that I need to pull this off in one try. The deadline is too close and I have too much work to do to have this plan fail and to go back to square one.

Accordingly, I am approaching this with all the methodical strategy of a general organizing a campaign. I’ve got the wall of my office covered with index cards representing each individual scene of the novel and, most importantly, that scene’s word count. I’ve never done this before because, prior to having a book deal, I’ve never needed to worry overmuch about word count. If I wrote a 124K book before, I’d say to myself, “Hell, I’ve read plenty of fantasy novels that were 450 pages!” Then I’d pat myself on the back and eat a steak. Now, though, I need to worry about things like contracts and editors and marketing and having a length of book that will fit well in the market and so on. So, no steak for me. Not yet.

Steak is for closers.

Exactly Where It Hurts

This is a post for non-writers. This is a post intended to inform you of something you might not know about your writing friends. Well, your serious writing friends. Okay, for your serious, crazy writing friends, anyway. I know it sounds really specific, but there are a lot of us. Believe me.

To the seriously crazy writer – most of your poets and fiction writers, nearly all novelists, and many other writers – their work is alive. Not “alive” in that metaphoric sense we sometimes apply to clearly not-alive things, like electrical wires or wind gusts, but really, honestly alive. Their work is like a person they can talk to. Their work is a friend or, occasionally, a nemesis or lover or (sometimes) an abuser. In any event, your crazy writer friend is in a relationship with their writing that is more like a relationship with a person than it is with a thing. I’m not joking about this. Seriously, it isn’t funny. I mean it.

Why is this important? Well, it is important for your own safety and well-being as well as the safety and well-being of your relationship with said seriously crazy writer person. Here, let me tell you a story:

Last week, I was doing my damnedest to finish the latest draft of the third book in the Saga of the Redeemed. Due to my job as a college professor, my writing time is basically restricted to the times between semesters, since I have so much work during the semester very little writing can get done. Each day of semester break is a precious resource, not to be squandered. This novel (ALL THAT GLITTERS) is due on May 1st, which means this semester break is one of the last times I have to give it my undivided attention before it will be due.

I had just finished a day of revising and writing, my brain totally fried, when I realized I hadn’t backed up my work in a few days. So, having lost data before in a hard drive crash a year ago (while working on this precise book, actually), I resolved to back it up right away. The only problem was this: because of how seamlessly my cloud-based back-up account meshes with my hard drive, it is very easy for a tired person to confuse the new document with the back-up document and Microsoft Word’s most recent iteration uses a “copy-over” warning that is counterintuitive to read. So,

Pictured: Me.

Pictured: Me

what did I do? Yep. I copied over the new file with the back-up file.

I think I screamed “NOOOOOO!” for a literal fifteen minutes. My fight-or-flight response triggered and I was jittery with adrenaline for something like 18 hours. I didn’t sleep that night. My hands shook. I cannot possibly explain to you my TOWERING RAGE.

All this over 10,000 words of a rough draft of an unpublished manuscript not due for months. Ridiculous, right? Well, sure. But you gotta understand: to me, those 10,000 words were part of something alive I was making. Losing it because of my own stupidity felt, essentially, like I had shot my own dog. I didn’t feel normal again until I had started to write those 10K words over again.

Now me, being the over-sharing type, stupidly posted to Facebook about how upset I was over losing all that work. They kept offering ways to fix the problem, both in public and in private, for days. Each suggestion was two things:

  1. Useless. This wasn’t a “lost data” thing, this was a “I willingly destroyed my own data because I was an idiot” thing.
  2. Like stabbing me.

I know these people meant well, and it was nice of them to reach out, but, seriously, I felt like I was being stabbed. Each suggestion just brought to mind all the various ways I could have saved my data if only it had been deleted/lost by accident and not copied over on purpose. It was like somebody walking up to me and saying “Oh, hey–I heard your kid got hit by a bus! Good thing you can just use this magic pill to bring him back to life!” Except that magic pill won’t work for my kid, because his head was ripped off and tossed into a woodchipper after the accident.

(Did I go too far there? Yeah, I went too far. Apologies to anybody who’s lost somebody in a woodchipper accident.)

Knowing this, I shouldn’t have posted anything at all and nursed my grief over my lost work privately, since I know my reaction is essentially crazy and I was not fit to interact with normal humans during that period. The experience, of course, brought to mind that most people don’t know how it feels to lose a chunk of work that is so important to you that it seems alive. The best comment I got on that (stupid) facebook status was from a fellow author, Gina Damico (who has a new book out, by the way – HELLHOLE. Go and buy it!), who wrote:

(vomits in sympathy) Oh my God, I am SO SORRY! (vomits again)

Yeah, that pretty much summed it up. I felt like I wanted to vomit. I had shot my own dog, with nobody to blame but myself.

So, anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that, should an author close to you have one of these tragedies of loss (hard drive explodes, half a novel is wiped, etc., etc.), you really ought to treat them as though a good friend of theirs was just put in the hospital and you are there to support them in their time of need. Your author will appreciate it.

Hey, Look: Cover Art!

Hello, Friends! Happy New Year!

My, my, but I have been a busy little bee. When last we spoke, I told you I had writing to do. Well, over this break I have revised/rewritten some 100,000 words or so. Yes, I know. I am only about two and half chapters or so (not counting the Epilogue) away from finishing the fourth draft and third complete draft of All That Glitters – my sequel to The Iron Ring and Blood and Iron. It rocks. When this draft is done (ideally tomorrow), I will be sending it off to beta readers just to make sure my assessment of its quality isn’t some elaborate fever dream of my overtaxed imagination.

Speaking of The Iron Ring (release date is February 10th, 2015, so…a little over a month away!), I got to see some of the preliminary cover art a few weeks back. I’ve been sitting on it all this time, waiting for the finalized cover art to be confirmed, but I’m tired of waiting and I need something quick and simple to post on this blog to bring it back to life. So, without further ado, here is what the cover of my debut novel may look like:

The other versions had this same image, just varying type and font layouts.

Now, this is very exciting. I wasn’t sure what to expect for a cover, and this isn’t what I expected, to be honest (I had in my mind some Charlie’s Angels-

Behold! Thumbnail version!

Behold! Thumbnail version!

esque tableau of my main characters engaged in various acts of derring-do), but I do like this. It’s very striking and simple and I just love the font. Of note, as this is an e-book release, the simple elemental design makes a lot of sense. Everybody is going to see this thing as a thumbnail, which means an intricate art style would be wasted – this grabs the attention and displays a key plot element (Tyvian’s infernal, behavior-modifying iron ring).

Anyway, when the really super-official title art is released, I’ll be sure to let everybody know. For now, this post is just to say I’m back, I missed you all, and I’ve got a lot more stuff to do. Be seeing you around!

Feces and Fans

It's time to blow up the blue aliens' magic tree, everybody. Watch out for arrows, flying lizards, and the power of love.

It’s time to blow up the blue aliens’ magic tree, everybody. Watch out for arrows, flying lizards, and the power of love.

So, I’m getting towards the very last act of All That Glitters, my sequel to The Oldest Trick (which is due out next year from Harper Voyager). For those of you who haven’t written a novel (or perhaps those of you who haven’t written one all the way through yet), the end is an unusual and difficult time. See, you’ve spent all this time working in the exposition, introducing the conflict, raising the stakes, and suddenly there you are: the end. This is where all the birds come home to roost. This is where the whole thing is supposed to explode. We have to reach the climax, here – no more noodling around. Get it done.

This can be a surprisingly complicated affair.

The funny thing is that I spend most of my time daydreaming about the climax – about how awesome it will be, the cool pithy one-liners I’ll have Tyvian say, the things I’m going to have explode, and so on. When I finally get there, though, everything seems to be in the wrong place. I mean, sure, I’ve set the stage for all the right stuff to happen, but assembling it so it actually happens is tough. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, but the puzzle pieces are scattered throughout 200-some-odd pages of text and it’s up to your sketchy notes and foggy memory to track them all down. If you put it together wrong, well…remember when you and your dad spent an entire Sunday afternoon building that volcano that was supposed to explode lava and stuff? Remember how you felt when you got it to school and everybody crowded around in breathless anticipation and then nothing happened? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

I think the most about the endings of my books. Beginnings are pretty easy, middles are my honeymoon period, and then comes the end. That’s where I sit, staring at the computer screen, trying to figure out how to manage the explosions in just such a way that they remain sensible and engaging rather than simply crass and boring. The problem doesn’t just apply to exterior conflicts, either – there are those emotional explosions to manage, too, which are probably more important. We’re getting to the point where the guy is going to have to kiss the girl, to where the young man is going to have to mature into adulthood, to where the hero is going to have to have his moment of epiphany – again, hard to manage. Go too far one way or another and you break the illusion; the reader sits back and sneers ‘that would never happen that way.’ Booo! Bummer!

So, back into the fray. The precise path to the end will become clear soon, I’m sure. For now, I’ve got to figure out how Character X is going to steal that kiss from Character Y without it being creepy. As you may imagine, I don’t exactly have a long history of being a masterful kiss-stealer (just ask my wife), so this is proving challenging. Anyway, be seeing you all on the other side.

Or when I can’t stand all the thinking and I come crawling back to blog-land for a breather. Whichever comes first.