Sunday, July 22, 2012

What's In a Name ... or a Title For That Matter!

Photo by Andrzej Gdula

Choosing names of places and characters has always been a challenge for me. Some I admit will resonate only with my family, a family name became the name of a local manor in my first book and the condo where my parents lived was another manor name. They both sounded so … English.
Character names are a challenge too. My kids, well my daughters, rolled their eyes at my hero’s name in Knight of Runes, Arik. Their brother is Ari. They accuse him of being the prince anyway so they were not surprised. If they look close at the heroine of the story, Rebeka, they may be surprised to see some essences of themselves. (Only the good things I assure you!).
Sometimes I can agonize for days over a name. I research lists of common and not so common names. What I find the most helpful is a deep understanding each character. When I came up with a name for my villain in my new story he stopped me cold with a glare and an acerbic, “Really!” He looked down his nose at me. After thinking about it I had to agree with him. I continued my search and was happy with the result.   
The book title is a totally different story. My working title is Mine Forever. The words are significant to the story but for a medieval fantasy it just doesn’t work. I sent the story under this name into my editor. Carina Press will be publishing it but it needs a title change. This story is part of a five book series, The Stelton Legacy. That part of the title I got. Once again I struggle with the book title. I remembered reading a post of the Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal (an online chapter of RWA) blog about book titles, Creating Compelling Titles. Once again I was in the same boat as Anne Marsh. I’m re-reading her post.  It’s a good read. I’ve included it below.
My editor sent me a worksheet to help me and the Carina team develop a more compelling title. Aside from the obvious genre, timeframe, and setting other questions included:
  •       Key hooks, themes, and concepts
  •       Key actions and conflicts with corresponding key words
  •       Keywords
  •       Objects and symbols
  •       Favorite line and/or description
No, I haven’t come up with the new title yet but I’m working on it. I’ll definitely keep you informed. Here is the short story concept. Feel free to suggest a title.
In thirteenth century England, Alex Stelton finds his life in jeopardy after the king awards him Lisbeth’s cursed castle. Someone, or something, wants him dead. The knight’s trusted friend, Bryce Mitchell, secretly wants it all, the castle and the woman. He’ll stop at nothing to get them. Even set up the King’s favorite as a traitor. In order to save the man she loves and prevent being married off to Bryce, Lisbeth must make a crucial decision. Dare she rely on her knight to find a way to save them both or does she trust her magick and risk exposure and persecution as a witch?
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at the FFnP Blog
Guest blogger Anne Marsh

Titles were originally an afterthought for me—a handful of words that got slapped on my book right before I shipped it off. At best, the title was a convenient shorthand for picking out my current WIP from its fellow computer files. I wrote the Cat book. Next, I wrote the Goblin book. And the Amazon book. When, as an unpublished author, I decided to send a handful of manuscripts off on the RWA contest circuit, I simply had to give the blasted manuscripts better titles, so I sat down and considered the key elements in the book: my Cat book was sexy, with a big, shapeshifting hero. Plus, an erotic hunt figured prominently in the book. I came up with ”Caught by the Cat” and patted myself on the back. As titles went, it was marginally better than “The Cat Book” (which sounded like it should be coffee table fare filled with pictures of the African savannah). And, alliteration had to count for something—right? Since “everyone” knows that New York always changes your title, I figured the title didn’t really matter (besides, I had this fabulous midnight epiphany that I’d call the next books in the series “Claimed by the Cat” and “Charmed by Cat,” although, after that, I’d probably have to end the series as I’d already run out of words that began with the letter “C”).

I was wrong.

I didn’t know squat about titles.

“Caught by the Cat” sold to an editor juding the Orange Rose contest. Soon after I sold, however, my editor gently asked how I would feel about changing the title. She wanted to find something edgier, something that packed an erotic punch. That sounded great to me—right up until she asked me to brainstorm a list of possible new titles. Fortunately, I was able to brainstorm with both my agent and my editor—and we ended up going with one of my editor’s ideas.

Why do titles matter? First and foremost, a title makes the reader look. A good title conveys the flavor of a book in just a few words. My agent said that “The Hunt” jumped out at her and would make her pick the book up from the shelf (score!). It also shrieked “Alpha male!,” which was our goal. Strong. Forceful. Sexy. Just like my hero.

A successful title also connects the books in a series. Repeated words, elements, or themes work well. For example, we could have called a trio of shapeshifter books: The Hunt, The Game, and The Breakpoint. Instead, we decided to play with variations on a hunt: “The Hunt,” “The Pursuit,” “The Capture. Always think ahead: how would you pitch the next book in the series? How will you tie them together.
Things to consider when you’re coming up with a title for you book:
  • The title needs to be short and to the point—it has to fit on the cover of a book and the graphic designer creating your cover doesn’t need the challenge of a five-line, polysyllabic tongue twister.
  • The title should hint at the tone of your book. Is the book dark and sexy? Sweet? Hero-centric or focused on the heroine?
  • The title of the book should also serve as a hook for the series (unless you’re truly planning just one standalone book). You may also want to brainstorm a series name -- especially for FF&P-ers, this is a      fabulous place to introduce your world-building.
  • Keep an open mind and get feedback from as many folks as possible. A truly successful title is marketable and hooks in as many readers as possible… so you want to get impressions from as many people as possible. What do they think of when you say your title? What kind of book would they guess the book is? What adjectives come to mind? If your beta readers are thinking “Oooh! Dark and sexy!” but you’re writing light paranormal—or vice versa—you need to rethink the title.
  • Search (Amazon is a great tool). Has anyone else used that title? It may not be a deal-breaker if someone else has used “your” title (the title I proposed for my forthcoming sexy contemporary, for example, was apparently used by an anthology a few years ago, but my editor wasn’t too concerned as the other book was an anthology).
There are lots of great titles out there, titles that make me go “Wow. Wish I’d thought of that!” The titles for Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalkers series, for example, let you know loud and clear that, when you crack those covers, you’re going to read about strong, forceful alphas. Jacob, Gideon, Elijah, Damien—these are forceful, honorable, no-nonsense Biblical names. Kathy Love, on the other hand, writes fabulously funny, sexy paranormal and her titles convey that message clearly– “Truth or Demon”, “What a Demon Wants”, “Fangs for the Memories.” Rebecca Zanetti’s two books—“Fated” and “Claimed”—use strong adjectives describing the relationship between the hero and the heroine in some very sexy terms. And, Karen Kelly’s books (“The Jaguar Prince,” “The Falcon Prince”) are tied together by the fact that her heroes are princes and shapeshifters.  Each title reflects the different stories we’re going to find between the covers and draws us in, hinting and promising at what we’ll find. I’ve picked up more than one book based on the title alone because I love the kind of story line the title hints at (cough—Karen Kelly—cough). The next time you’re naming your book, think about what kind of story you’re promising your reader—and what message you want to convey.
A professional technical writer, Anne discovered that getting laid off was actually A Very Good Thing. While looking for her next writing gig, she picked up her pen (well, okay, she used her writing as an excuse to buy a new Apple laptop) and started writing. She soon discovered that writing was uncomfortably similar to sit-ups: add a few more crunches each day, wake up sore, but, by God, you will fit into that bikini. Or finish the book (she’s still working on the bikini). Now she cranks out software manuals during the daylight hours– and writes about alpha shapeshifters the rest of the time.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Egypt and Greco-Roman Art, Mystery, Adventure and Romance

Years ago I traveled overseas for business and was gone for two weeks at a time. I traveled alone and kept my suitcase filled with paperback books. It was the perfect way to spend the evening after finishing up my reports and preparing for the next city.

On the long trip from New York to Egypt I consumed a romance mystery novel, The Mummy. It wasn't the classic story, definitely a romance. I wish I could remember the author. I do remember the story taking place in the 1920's. When I got to Cairo I stepped back in time. I walked through the Cairo Museum, a smallish building, that was filled to overflowing with mummies and sarcophagi. I took the obligatory trip to the Sphinx and Pyramids.

On a drive through the desert to Alexandria with my Egyptian colleague I saw sand dunes as large as mountains and in the distance large tanker ships that seemed to float through the desert. They were going through the Suez Canal. Business-wise the trip was a success. Personally, I reread my book as I experienced Egypt. It was more wonderful the second time.

When I returned home I once again scoured my local bookstore (we had them then) for something new. I found Elizabeth Peters. She's become one of my favorite authors. She writes about Amelia Peabody, a Victorian woman deeply in love with her husband, archaeologist Lord Radcliffe Emerson, her son, Ramses, and Egypt. The stories are filled with mystery, adventure, romance and Egypt.

You can find out more about Lady Amelia in a post by Shelley Noble as well as on Amelia Peabody's own website.

There is another author that writes along a similar vein, Tasha Alexander. Her Lady Emily series is also filled with mystery, adventure and romance but instead of Egypt, Lady Emily is enraptured with Greco-Roman antiquities. The series begins with Lady Emily trying to find out more about her late husband. A marriage of convenience, Lady Emily knew little about her archaeologist husband. By the end of several hundred pages Lady Emily solves the mystery and truly falls in love with her husband.

I'm excited that Tasha will be one of the speakers at this year's NJRW Put Your Heart in a Book Conference October 12-13.

I know some of you write about Egypt, Greece and Rome. Tell me about them. Better yet, send me your covers with a link and I'll post them here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Speaking to a Stone Wall

At the Romantic Times Convention last April I told my senior editor that I had learned a valuable lesson. When my book, Knight of Runes, was getting ready for release last November I asked her what I should do to promote it. She said write the next book. I thought she was crazy. This is my first book. No one knows who I am. Who will buy it if no one knows about it?
I read up on book promotion and marketing and as a result I did a three week blog tour. I tweeted. I Facebooked. I made swag to send to conferences. I did everything except write the next book. I watched as my colleague debut authors released their second and third book. I still hadn’t put pen to paper.
When I saw Angela in April my new story, a series of five books, was well underway. The beginning of June, Mine Forever , the first of the series was packed up and sent into m editor. It’s not a sure thing so I sit and wait to hear if they want to publish it. In the meantime, my now multi-published colleagues and critique partners encouraged me to start the next story. 
Where is the stone wall? I’m getting to it. 
I work with building my characters before I work through the plot. I admit I laid the ground work for the second story nicely in the first one so I had a head start. But speaking to my hero, Cameron, was like... speaking to a stone wall. He's handsome, outgoing, tall and blond. He's a throw-back to his family's Viking influence but no matter how much I spoke to him, how many questions I asked he didn't reveal very much. I love the strong silent type but wasn't getting the second book written. 
On a whim, I spoke to Lady Barbara, the heroine. She was much more communicative. In a matter of hours I had the goal, motivation and conflict right there in front of me.
My point is sometimes when you can’t get to the route of the issue, problem, action, etc. change your perspective or point of view. For me, the walls came tumbling down!
How to you get around problems? How do you take down those walls?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

72 Quotes About Writing

I took some time to catch up on blogs and email. I had tagged them to read later in the week when I had more time. One email was from Writer's Digest. This post had an article by Zachary Petit. It was a collection of quotes on writing. He said he uses these quotes to keep him motivated. I can see why.
 Here is Mr. Petit's full article. I'm certain you have some favorite quotes. What are they? What keeps you motivated?  

A good writing  quote can give me goosebumps.
For those days when the well is feeling dry and a tad echo-y, I keep a running list of my favorite quotes—things I’ve read, things I’ve edited, things I’ve found in the WD archives, things people have said to me in interviews.
Such tiny, perfect revelations.
A couple of years ago, I posted a portion of this list on my old WD blog. Recently, someone asked if I was still collecting quotes.
Here’s the latest iteration of the list. (I’d love to expand it, too—please share some of your favorites in the Comments section of this blog post.)
Happy Friday, and happy writing.
“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”
—Philip Roth
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
—Stephen King
“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
—Enid Bagnold
“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg, WD
“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”
—William S. Burroughs
“All readers come to fiction as willing accomplices to your lies. Such is the basic goodwill contract made the moment we pick up a work of fiction.”
—Steve Almond, WD
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
—George Orwell
“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”
—Jack Kerouac, WD
“Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.”
—Hunter S. Thompson
“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
—George Orwell
“I don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.”
—Roald Dahl, WD
“The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.”
—Robert Benchley
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
—Ernest Hemingway
“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf
“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”
—Stephen King, WD
“If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.”
—Peter Handke
“To defend what you’ve written is a sign that you are alive.”
—William Zinsser, WD
“If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, all of us.”
—William Faulkner
“For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.”
—Catherine Drinker Bowen
“Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players. … I have 10 or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.”
—Gore Vidal
“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. … Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.”
—John Updike, WD
“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”
—Samuel Johnson
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”
—Elmore Leonard
“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”
—Larry L. King, WD
“Know your literary tradition, savor it, steal from it, but when you sit down to write, forget about worshiping greatness and fetishizing masterpieces.”
—Allegra Goodman
“I’m out there to clean the plate. Once they’ve read what I’ve written on a subject, I want them to think, ‘That’s it!’ I think the highest aspiration people in our trade can have is that once they’ve written a story, nobody will ever try it again.”
—Richard Ben Cramer
“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.”
—Doris Lessing
“Style means the right word. The rest matters little.”
—Jules Renard
“Style is to forget all styles.”
—Jules Renard
“I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”
—Tom Clancy, WD
“The writing of a novel is taking life as it already exists, not to report it but to make an object, toward the end that the finished work might contain this life inside it and offer it to the reader. The essence will not be, of course, the same thing as the raw material; it is not even of the same family of things. The novel is something that never was before and will not be again.”
—Eudora Welty, WD
“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
—Lawrence Block, WD
“Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.”
—Leslie Gordon Barnard, WD
“If you tell the reader that Bull Beezley is a brutal-faced, loose-lipped bully, with snake’s blood in his veins, the reader’s reaction may be, ‘Oh, yeah!’ But if you show the reader Bull Beezley raking the bloodied flanks of his weary, sweat-encrusted pony, and flogging the tottering, red-eyed animal with a quirt, or have him booting in the protruding ribs of a starved mongrel and, boy, the reader believes!”
—Fred East, WD
“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”
—Leigh Brackett, WD
“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”
—Joyce Carol Oates, WD
“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
—Stephen King, WD
“Genius gives birth, talent delivers. What Rembrandt or Van Gogh saw in the night can never be seen again. Born writers of the future are amazed already at what they’re seeing now, what we’ll all see in time for the first time, and then see imitated many times by made writers.”
–Jack Kerouac, WD
“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”
—Jim Tully, October 1923
“All stories have to at least try to explain some small portion of the meaning of life. You can do that in 20 minutes, and 15 inches. I still remember a piece that the great Barry Bearak did in The Miami Herald some 30 years ago. It was a nothing story, really: Some high school kid was leading a campaign to ban books he found offensive from the school library. Bearak didn’t even have an interview with the kid, who was ducking him. The story was short, mostly about the issue. But Bearak had a fact that he withheld until the kicker. The fact put the whole story, subtly, in complete perspective. The kicker noted the true, wonderful fact that the kid was not in school that day because “his ulcer was acting up.” Meaning of life, 15 inches.”
—Gene Weingarten, WD
“Beware of advice—even this.”
—Carl Sandburg, WD
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
—Harper Lee, WD
“I think the deeper you go into questions, the deeper or more interesting the questions get. And I think that’s the job of art.”
—Andre Dubus, WD
“Geniuses can be scintillating and geniuses can be somber, but it’s that inescapable sorrowful depth that shines through—originality.”
—Jack Kerouac, WD
“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”
—R.L. Stine, WD
“I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
“I don’t believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
—Ernest Hemingway
“Writers are always selling somebody out.”
—Joan Didion
“Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”
—Robert A. Heinlein
“Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk—away from any open flames—to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.”
—George Singleton
“There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.”
—Jim Thompson
“Anyone who is going to be a writer knows enough at 15 to write several novels.”
—May Sarton
“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.”
—William Carlos Williams
“The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes.”
—Andre Gide
“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.”
—Virginia Woolf
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
—Elmore Leonard
“You do not have to explain every single drop of water contained in a rain barrel. You have to explain one drop—H2O. The reader will get it.”
—George Singleton
“When I say work I only mean writing. Everything else is just odd jobs.”
—Margaret Laurence
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
—Mark Twain
“I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind.”
—Patrick Dennis
“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”
—Annie Dillard
“A book is simply the container of an idea—like a bottle; what is inside the book is what matters.”
—Angela Carter
“I almost always urge people to write in the first person. … Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it.”
—William Zinsser
“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”
—Ernest Hemingway
“Write while the heat is in you. … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.”
—Henry David Thoreau
“You don’t actually have to write anything until you’ve thought it out. This is an enormous relief, and you can sit there searching for the point at which the story becomes a toboggan and starts to slide.”
—Marie de Nervaud, WD
“Whether a character in your novel is full of choler, bile, phlegm, blood or plain old buffalo chips, the fire of life is in there, too, as long as that character lives.”
—James Alexander Thom
          “Writers live twice.”
          —Natalie Goldberg