Thursday, April 16, 2015

Title, Come Hither

The New Pastmaster book!

Thriller Guy is still exhausted after his three part rant against literary snobs and the publishing industry in general, so he’s going to let Allen Appel take the podium today.

Thank you, TG. I’m sure the writing community joins me in hoping that you’ll get some much needed rest and be back in fine fettle as soon as possible, ready and able to take on the book world’s injustices. (Of course I had to stop and look up the derivation of “fine fettle.” It’s kind of obscure, but it’s British in origin and seems to have something to do with fettle meaning fixing things up, putting them in order.)

For those of you who have no interest in the trials and tribulations of the writing process, you’re excused to go back to doing something more productive than reading this blog. This entry falls in the category of “too inside baseball” as my wife always says. But for those of you in the business, or trying to be in the business, read on.

Why the weird title for this entry? I was reading a review of a Lewis Begley book in the Washington Post a few days ago. The book  -- the review isn’t important here – was titled Killer, Come Hither, and my immediate thought was, what a stupid title.

Titles have been on my mind recently. I just finished the sixth entry in my time travel, Pastmaster, series and have been casting about for a good title. As readers can obviously see on my Amazon sales page for all of these fine novels, the word Time is in every one: Time After Time, Till the Endof Time, Twice Upon a Time, The Sea of Time, In Time of War, and the new one, The Test of Time. I had kicked around a number of other Time worded titles before settling on Test; One More Time was the working title for a long time ( no word play intended there) and after asking friends who had little interest in the discussion, the majority went for The Test of Time as the best of all the options. It sounds simple enough, but finding these few words did not come easily, nor did the titles of all the others.

Finding the right title is the second most difficult part of writing a novel, after coming up with an original concept in the first place. I have known many fine writers who thrash around, wailing and moaning, while they try and figure out a good one. Really, it drives some folks mad. And editors and agents aren’t much help. You’d think they’d be good at it, but my experiences, and what I’ve heard from writer pals, says that they aren’t. They’re very quick to shoot down all the titles you come up with, but are spectacularly bad about offering any alternatives.

Some people are better at it than others. My writer pal Frank is able to bang out great titles for his short stories. I’m pretty good at thinking up titles for my friend’s books, but not so good for my own.

The first thing a writer must do is make a list of possibilities. Then he must turn to his friends, family, people walking down the street, anyone, to try them out on. My go-to source for possibilities is the shelf of poetry books I have in my office. For example, when titling my Civil War book, In Time of War, I read the complete poems of Walt Whitman. I love reading Whitman, but I didn’t find anything that struck me as relevant. Delving into editions of compilations of Japanese poetry, Chinese poetry, American poetry and other weighty collections didn’t get me any further. Eventually I decided to turn to the bible, the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, that I had been resisting simply because it seemed too easy. Everyone knows at least a chunk of this passage from the famous Pete Segar song, Turn, Turn, Turn. I look at the entire quotation will show that I have enough titles here to write many more books than I’ll ever turn out in my lifetime:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

See what I mean? A veritable embarrassment of riches of time travel titles.

I’m running a little long here, so I’ll save the second half of this discussion for the next entry.

By the way, the new book, The Test of Time, is, at present, only available to the fine people who donated on Kickstarter to encouraged me to write it. It will be available to the public sometime in the future. I can't say exactly when at this point, but I can promise you it will be before George R. R. Martin finishes the next Game of Thrones novel.