Saturday, December 16, 2006

What are you calling it?

This is probably the most common question I get from readers about whatever my current work in progress is.

Sadly, I never have an answer for it. I no longer name my books as I write them, and I haven't for a few years now.

Why? For starters, authors rarely get to have any say in their titles.

That can come as a surprise to aspiring writers who spend hours concocting the perfect title and imagine it emblazoned on a stack of books at their favorite bookstore.

But the reality is that the marketing department gets to pick the title, and an author is extremely lucky to have any say at all. Every book I've submitted has hit shelves with a different title than I gave it. (The closest I've come is with book #3: the title I suggested had the word "house" in it. The final title was House on the Hill.)

I think most authors will be honest and admit that there's a part of us that hates having no control over the title. It's MY baby; why can't I have a say in what it's called?

But then you have to remember the one and only purpose for a title: to get potential readers to take an interest and pick up the book. If the title does that, it's a good title, no matter how well it ties into the story.

Authors write stories; that's our specialty. We aren't as good at selling them. On the other hand, the marketing department specializes in selling books and knowing what kind of title grabs interest. They have entire meetings devoted to picking titles. And since the publisher is the one footing the editing, marketing, printing, shipping, and other bills associated with my book, it's only fair that they get to pick the title that will give the book its best shot. They have a vested interest in seeing the book do well, so they'll pick a title they think will get the final product off the shelf and out the bookstore doors.

That said, I still dislike the title of my first book. When my editor informed me that it would be called Lost Without You, I sent her an email in hopes she could clarify what in the world that had to do with my story. Basically: nothing. It's just a romantic-sounding title.

But since it didn't even almost fit the story or my characters, I added a line of dialogue in the final scene so the title would both make some sense as well as reflect what I felt was the entire point of the book. (Which, by the way, wasn't the romance.)

Aside from the fact that I know whatever title I pick won't be used, there is another reason I don't have working titles for my projects: It's emotionally and mentally tough to rename your baby. For Lost Without You it took me a good year to be able to refer to the book by name. For months it was just, "My book." (That worked at the time, since it was my only one so far.) Since my stories always become such a part of me, it feels like an appendage gets cut off when they're renamed.

So I no longer give my books titles as I work on them. Instead I refer to them by a significant element in the book, sometimes a character (House on the Hill was my "Lizzy" book), but usually part of the setting (At the Journey's End was my "Honeymoon Trail" book). My current work in progress is simply, "Salt Lake City," since that's the temple it focuses on.

Catchy title, eh?

The good news is that my publisher now asks for at least five title suggestions, along with lists of significant locations, objects, ideas, words, etc. so the marketing folks can have a better idea of what's inside the pages--and then attach a more fitting title.

I love that it gives me some input in the process. But I must admit that my last three titles all rock; they fit the story and are catchy enough to grasp a reader's attention.

Even better, with each one, I haven't had to call them my second, third, and fourth books while I get used to the title. Without batting an eye, I've been able to call my babies by their final titles even before they're in print.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Blogging for a Friend

Jeff Savage, long-time friend and member of my critique group, is part of a great blog circle made up of six LDS writers (and, apparently, a frog).

Each writer takes a day of the week for their posts. In addition to Jeff, there's Kerry Blair, Sariah Wilson, Robison Wells, Julie Bellon, and Stephanie Black. You can spend a frightening amount of time reading their entries as you laugh your head off one minute and learn something about writing the next. It's great fun.

This week Jeff is having fun with his family at the Happiest Place on Earth. Word also has it that today he has set up shop at a table in New Orleans Square and is writing to his heart's content while his family plays. This is his family's third time to Disneyland this year, and they have a season pass, so getting in cost him nothing. Talk about a writer's dream!

As a result, he asked if I'd sub for him on his blog this week, so I did.

Check it out. It was posted December 12, 2006 (Tuesday).

So now that I'm done with drafting my manuscript and taking Jeff's turn on his blog, what am I up to? This week I'm doing edits on two friends' manuscripts while they do the same on mine. After I input changes next week, I'll submit it, take a break for Christmas, then get to work on several projects:

-Research and writing a Manti temple book.
-A series of middle-grade historical books I recently pitched to my publisher
-A chocolate cookbook (oh, yeah . . .)
-plus other various and sundry projects that are always floating around in my head, including preparing for the two classes I'll be teaching at the annual LDStorymaker's Writing Conference and a project for kids. I'm also tinkering with magazine articles. (I have pieces coming out soon in ByLine and LDSLiving.)

Lots of fun!

And it truly is. When I'm not writing, I miss it sorely. It keeps me level and sane, even moreso than chocolate. At this Christmas time, may you find joy in the things that keep you sane!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Time of birth: 1:05 pm

YES!!! My "baby" is born!

Today I officially finished my manuscript.

I have a few things to thank for it. In part, I have a suspicion that the planets aligned just right. And a few panicked prayers were definitely heard.

For starters, yesterday I managed to get some work done thanks to two big things.

One: The migraine medicine finally kicked in after three hours (how's that for an odd time table?). So by 11:00 am I was almost pain free--feeling a bit off center and more liable to make typos, but relatively close to my normal self. At least close enough to do some writing.

Two: When my friend picked up her kids, she took pity on me and swept away my sweet little four-year-old to her house. She also took my daughter to her tumbling class, fed her lunch, and tended her until my the kids were out of school and I sent one of them down to pick her up.

Then today another dear friend tended my daughter as a favor after I had helped her with some editing on her own manuscript last week. I spent a solid four hours at the computer, breaking only for lunch, then printed the book off. (I love seeing a thick stack of pages and knowing my story is inside them!)

Bottom line: There is no way on this planet or otherwise that I could have finished the book this week without the support of friends. I am one lucky woman to have people willing to help me out. My visiting teacher even offered to help out--I swear she's the best VT I've ever, ever, ever had. I'm also glad I've finally learned to ASK for help when I need it instead of pretending I'm as strong as Xena Warrior Princess.

Some of my critique group members will be reading the book over the next week so I can go over their feedback and get the manuscript submitted by Christmas. (Again, thank heaven for good friends!)

My schedule next week will be pretty much filled with trying to bring Christmas to the house (finally!) and spending as many waking hours as I can with my toddler to make up for the time spent apart from her this week.

I have a feeling we'll be playing a lot of Dora Candyland, but I won't mind one bit, even if I get sent back to the Fiesta Trio time and again. I love being with my little girl.

And my book is WRITTEN!!!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Migraine, anyone?

Murphy must be laughing his head off. Aside from having four smoke alarms lose their batteries in three weeks (see my "CHIRP" blog about that), I'm having trouble getting my book finished. I promised my editor to have it to her by Christmas, and I'm still working toward that goal

Backing up a bit--the Relief Society president in my ward is out of town for her father's funeral, so I needed to go to Enrichment last night (being as I have the building keys for now as her counselor). Besides, December is one of the few times of the year that I don't meet weekly with my critique group, so I figured it would be good to actually be part of the ward for once.

I've been on the final push to finish my current manuscript (my next historical temple book, this one a romantic novel centered on the Salt Lake Temple). I've gotten a ton done and figured I was right on track to finish up this book between Thursday and Friday, so I could afford to not work on it last night and enjoy the evening at the chapel instead.

The plan is to get the whole thing done on Friday and printed out so some of my writer friends can take their red pens to it over the next week. That gives me a few days after getting it back to make needed changes and submit it to my publisher by Christmas.

So far so good.

For some bizarre reason I came home from Enrichment with a sharp headache that was the kind I knew would ramp up until I'm trembling with the pain, so I took a percocet to get to sleep. It took care of the pain, but kept me up instead of making me drowsy. If that were all, no biggie. At least we didn't have a fifth smoke detector battery go out.

Then this morning, just as I'm seeing my older kids off to school, I start getting blurry vision and the little flashing threads in my vision that signify a doosy of a migraine is on the way. I haven't had a full-blown migraine in several months (and I don't remember ever getting one at 8 am). At least I had prescription medication in the bathroom, so I hurried to get it before the pain kicked in for real.

Trouble is, I had agreed to tend two neighbor kids whose mother really needed the help--for just an hour and a half, but they were coming in forty-five minutes. Barely enough time for the medicine to work and maybe get a shower. It took care of the flashing lights, but the pain has continued to ramp up.

In a few minutes I can take another dose (although I don't know if it'll do much since the last one didn't), but I'm about to lose it (literally, my breakfast) from the nausea.

So instead of working on my book, which would mean going over stacks of critiques from my writer friends and writing a new scene that needs to bridge a gap in the story, I'm sitting here at the computer with my blog trying to distract myself. I'm too miserable to be able to write anything on my book, because it would take too much mental energy.

Instead I want to curl into a ball and rip my head off so it'll stop hurting. My friend should be here to get her kids in about half an hour. Fortunately these are easy-going kids, so they aren't tough to tend at all; one of them is my toddler daughter's best bud, and they just play happily the entire time. Forty-five minutes after they leave, I'm supposed to take said daughter to her tumbling class.

So today should be interesting.

What was that about being right on track with finishing the book on Friday?

I was tempting fate by saying it yesterday. By golly, I'm going to get it done if it kills me. But at this rate, I don't dare speak a word of it aloud.

You never know if Murphy's listening.