Tag Archives: novels

Writing Tip Wednesday: I Suck At Titles, So Let Me Offer Some Advice…

I suck at titles. Or at least I think of myself as sucking at titles. It turns out, though, that many of my colleagues think that they suck at titles, too, and I’ve always kind of admired their titles. Which either means A) that all of us just THINK we suck at titles, or B) I REALLY suck at titles, so much that I can’t even judge the quality of other people’s titles.

For the purposes of this post, let’s go with option A.

The other day I asked the folks in my Facebook group (the David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson Facebook Group – you can join here) to suggest possible topics for the Writing Tip Wednesday feature on my blog. I will be taking suggestions for as long as you all want to offer them, so again, if you want to join the group, the link is here. (Too much?)

People responded with several suggestions (finding agents, marshaling ideas into a coherent story, using a pseudonym – all of these sound good to me and all of them will eventually work their way into posts), but one that seemed to get some traction related to coming up with titles for novels and short stories.

I found this somewhat amusing, because I suck at titles. Or at least I think of myself as sucking at titles. It turns out, though, that many of my colleagues think that they suck at titles, too, and I’ve always kind of admired their titles. Which either means A) that all of us just THINK we suck at titles, or B) I REALLY suck at titles, so much that I can’t even judge the quality of other people’s titles.

For the purposes of this post, let’s go with option A.

I tend to think that titling a novel and titling a short story are quite different. For one thing, with a novel we have more to work with. To my mind, it’s just easier to find the right turn of phrase for a 100,000 word project, than it is for one that’s only, say, 6,000 words. More, quite often our novels are connected to a series of books, and together the franchise can yield an effective title pattern. (The Harry Potter books are an obvious example.) Short story titles can be more difficult.

So allow me to begin with a couple of basics.

A title, whether for a novel or a shorter piece, should be as simple as possible. It should be memorable, or if not, at least easy to remember (and those are two separate things). It should tell the reader something about the story, but not so much that it either gives away key information or depends on the reader understanding details he or she can’t possibly know. Keep your titles short, avoid words or phrases that are unique to your made-up world or that are likely to be unfamiliar. Obviously there are exceptions to this. (My very first book was called Children of Amarid, which turned out to be a crappy title, because, A) no one knew who Amarid was, and B) everyone assumed (incorrectly) that it was a book for kids. And yet the book did well commercially and critically. So, what the hell do I know?

The Hunger Games is a great title for a book, particularly for the first in a franchise. Simple words that are put together in a way that is both intriguing and memorable. The title captures the essence of the book, introducing a fundamental element of the plotting that will remain central throughout the entire series.

I believe my best titles were those I used in the Thieftaker series. I knew I was writing a sequence of books and I knew as well that I was introducing many readers to a profession that was somewhat different for our genre. And so calling the first book Thieftaker allowed me to present the series concept right out of the gate, kind of like a musical act titling their first album eponymously. For the second book, since I was still building series momentum, I wanted a title that related back to the first in some way. And since I had Ethan both hunting for a thief and being hunted by one, I went with Thieves’ Quarry.

By the time I was working on book 3, I thought another “Thief” title would feel hokey, and so was ready to go with something different. My first choice, City of Shades, was TERRIBLE. Shades is another word for ghosts, and, yes, ghosts figure prominently in the story, but still… Yuck. Then I started thinking about my villain, who was a sea captain, almost a pirate. When the final title, A Plunder of Souls, came to me, I knew I had a winner. Again, simple words – unlike “shades” there is no word there that can be misinterpreted. But the words were memorable, evocative, and unusual, especially taken together. Same with the fourth title, Dead Man’s Reach, which sounds ominous and atmospheric, but also evokes the image of a body of water (continuing the nautical theme).

When I work on short story titles, of course, I don’t have to worry as much about a franchise. Yes, I write stories in universes first created in novels (Thieftaker, Fearsson, Islevale) but we don’t market short fiction the same way. Which means that those guidelines I mentioned earlier are even more important for short story titles: keep them simple, make them easy to remember, make them relevant to the story, and avoid words and phrases that are likely to trip up readers. For instance, a couple of years ago I wrote a Thieftaker story for the Razor’s Edge anthology. The story had intrigue, a historical battle, magic, and a villain, a woman who could conjure and who wears a green gown. I could have named the story any number of things, but I went with simple: “The Woman in Green.” She is key to the story, the title is easy to recall and not at all confusing, and there is, to my mind, something slightly mysterious about presenting her in that way.

A few more things to remember about titles. First, they can’t be copyrighted. You can use a title that you have seen elsewhere, and someone can use your title if it fits their story. This also means that there is no harm in using a memorable phrase, say from a nursery rhyme or idiom, as a title. Plenty of people do. (I’ve long thought James Patterson’s use of “Along came a spider” was brilliant.) That said, once I find a title, I do an Amazon search, because though different works can have the same titles, I prefer to have as few duplicates with my titles as possible, and I really don’t want to name my book after something that has been released in the last year or two. Also, keep in mind the genre you’re writing in. If you’re writing an epic fantasy, you might want to avoid titles that sound like science fiction. If you’re writing military SF, you probably don’t want to use a title that sounds like a Regency romance. (Although, as with everything else, there are exceptions. Irony can be fun.) And finally, as with all “rules” about writing. There are as many exceptions to the rules as there are rules themselves. As I say, my very first book had what I would now consider a terrible title, and it did very well. For every Hunger Games or American Gods, there is a The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, and lots of them do just fine.

In the end you need a title that speaks to you, that captures what you were after as you wrote. Some of my titles (His Father’s Eyes, for instance) come to me in mere moments. Others, like A Plunder of Souls, I struggle with with months. Ask friends what they think of your title. Ask them what sort of book comes to mind when they hear it. And understand that in the end, a publisher might change your title. It’s never happened to me, but it does happen. Because ultimately titles are part of marketing, and many of us authors really, really suck at that…

Keep writing!

TIME’S DEMON Blog Tour, So Far

TIME'S DEMON, by D.B. Jackson (Art by Jan Weßbecher)Time’s Demon, the second volume in The Islevale Cycle, my time travel/epic fantasy series (written as D.B. Jackson), came out last week. The reviews have been very nice, with SFFWorld saying that the book is “about as perfect a second book in a series as a reader could hope to have.” I have been blogging about the book a lot, and thought I would take advantage of this small lull in the blog tour to give you a review of where I have been so far. Below you will find a list of my appearances to date for the release. As I make more stops on the tour, I will alert you to those as well. In the meantime, I hope you will take a few moments to check out these posts and interviews. Thanks, and enjoy!

*****

Black Gate Magazine, a post about my writing inspirations

[Earlier in May, I wrote for Black Gate a review of Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest novel, A Brightness Long Ago. And Black Gate also published a “Future Treasures” preview of Time’s Demon.]

PaulSemel.com, an interview with Paul

My Life, My Books, My Escape, an interview with D.J.

Civilian Reader, a post about the challenge of middle books

A Refuge From Life, an interview with Will

Joshua Palmatier’s blog, a post about imposter syndrome

Stephen Leigh’s blog, a post about plotting or not plotting

Marie Brennan’s blog, a post in her Spark of Life feature

Faith Hunter’s blog, an excerpt from Time’s Demon

Alma Alexander’s blog, an interview with Alma

Pub Date and Cover Art Reveal!

This is a big day in my world. Today saw the official pub date announcement and cover art reveal for TIME’S CHILDREN, book I in The Islevale Cycle, my new epic fantasy/time travel series. The series is being published by Angry Robot Books. The first volume will be out on October 2 and will be available as a trade paperback and also in all electronic formats. You can preorder here.

 Time’s Children, by D.B. Jackson © Angry Robot. Art by Jan Weßbecher.Interested in learning more? Well here is the link to the official announcement at Unbound Worlds, complete with the artwork. But I’m also going to show you the art here, because I love, love, LOVE it.

As a bonus, you also get to see the jacket art for TIME’S DEMON, the second book in the series, which will be out in May 2019. Follow the link.

I love these books. I think they represent my finest work to date. I hope you enjoy them, too. As more news about the releases becomes available, I’ll pass it along. In the meantime, you can read excerpts from the books in my newsletter. There is a sign-up link in the menu along the side of this page. Not only am I providing book teasers, I’m also running monthly giveaways. You can win a free, signed copy of one of my books just by subscribing. Pretty cool, eh? So what are you waiting for? Follow the link! Check out the art! Subscribe to the newsletter! And please enjoy!

A New Quick-Tip Tuesday Post!

With that in mind, I would like to suggest that you use the idea of the narrative theme to stir your imagination.

It can be really hard to come up with an idea on demand for just a generic a story. On the other hand, it can be much easier to come up with a story idea with a little bit more of a hint. In other words, create your own prompts.

Today’s Quick-Tip Tuesday post is up at Magical Words. This week’s unsolicited, free, you-get-what-you-pay-for advice is on the subject of story ideas. I hope you find it useful.

Keep writing!

More Free Fiction, and a Post About Community and Genre

The 2015 Summer-of-Two-Releases Virtual Tour continues today with a couple of posts. One is an essay, the first of two, on Genre and Community. The post appears at SFSignal, and I’m grateful to John DeNardo for hosting me again. You can find the essay here.

I am also back today at the site of my friend Faith Hunter with the second half of the short story we started yesterday. Following up on “Water Witch,” which came out last month, Faith and I have written a quick piece featuring Ethan Kaille, the hero of the Thieftaker books, and Hannah Everhart, an ancestor of Molly Everhart Trueblood, Jane Yellowrock’s closest friend. I hope you enjoy it. The second half can be found here. The first half is here.

Today I am Interviewed by Diana Pharaoh Francis

I have a new interview up — my good friend Diana Pharaoh Francis, a wonderful writer in her own right, asked me some questions about writing Spell Blind, the first book in my new series, the Case Files of Justis Fearsson.

You can find the interview here.

Interview with Stephen Leigh!

Crow Final CoverMy good friend Stephen Leigh, who is a terrific writer, has a new book out, and so I invited him here to talk a bit about his work and his writing life.

Why don’t you begin by telling us about your latest release, THE CROW OF CONNEMARA? What’s the book about? Where did the idea come from? And are there more books planned for the project?

So many questions packed into one little paragraph!  ☺  I’ll try to tackle ‘em one at a time.  What’s the book about?  Man, that’s always a question I dread, because it’s terrifically difficult (for me, anyway) to boil down a whole novel into a few sentences.  But let me try… On one level, it’s about a character discovering himself and his purpose in life.  On another, it’s about the diminishment that old gods must feel as belief in them fades, and how they might react to that.  It’s about the role of music in people’s lives. It’s about finding a home for yourself, even when where you find yourself is foreign to you. It’s about prejudice. It’s about family (and what creates a family). It’s about all those things and more. Read it, and you can give me your own definition!

Where did the idea come from?  Ultimately, it goes back to a trip I took to Ireland several years ago (and which also spawned the Cloudmages trilogy — HOLDER OF LIGHTNING, MAGE OF CLOUDS, and HEIR OF STONE, written under my “S.L. Farrell” pseudonym — the first books I wrote for DAW).  I loved being there… and not just because Ireland is part of my heritage.  But one incident in particular stuck with me.  My sister and I climbed Diamond Hill in the Connemara National Park, and in looking out over the landscape before us with all these green hills and deep valleys and an ocean bay in the misty distance, a revelation hit me.  Back in my college days as a Fine Arts student, I loved doing watercolors.  Most of them were imagined landscapes; nothing I’d ever actually seen.  Looking out over the Connemara landscape, I was seeing what I used to paint: the same steep, emerald-touched hills, the same walled valleys. I had the proverbial cliché shiver along my spine, and suddenly felt like I was home.  I know, I know, that sounds incredibly corny, but it’s nonetheless true.

In some ways, THE CROW OF CONNEMARA is an attempt to recapture that feeling via a fictional character…

Are there more books planned for the project?  Not at this time.  I planned the book, like my previous book IMMORTAL MUSE (which also has its mass market pb release this month), to be that rare beast:  the standalone fantasy.  However, astute readers might notice that there is a connection in CROW to other books of mine, and I won’t rule out following these characters in a future book, should fans clamor for that.  But at the moment, no.  When you close the book, you’re done.

Music plays a significant role in this narrative and also in your life outside of writing. Tell us about the link between your writing and your musical endeavors.

I’ve been writing since I was in grade school.  I’ve also been playing guitar since about the same time, and for significant period in my life, I made my living as a musician.  Strangely enough, though, I’ve never considered myself a songwriter.  Yeah, I’ve written the occasional song (and still do), but composing music never grabbed me and refused to let go as has writing fiction.  So as the bands broke up and I wearied of living out of a suitcase in strange hotel rooms with too many people in them, I gave most of my creative energy and attention to writing.

Mind you, I still play music: some of the people I played with over the long decades are still in a band with me, and I occasionally do some ‘quiet’ gigs as a duo, and sometimes even an occasional solo gig, or you might find me in a music circle at a con.

And one of my songs (well, at least the lyrics for it) appears in CROW.  And I fully intend to sing a few songs from CROW at my readings.

If that doesn’t scare people away, nothing will.

A lot of your work touches on Celtic mythology and the link between ancestry and destiny. Do you feel that your writing is an expression of something in your familial background? Do you see it as a way of connecting with past generations?

Not to be disingenuous, but I don’t know.  I’m interested in history in general — a lot of my ‘pleasure’ reading is nonfiction history books, about any time or place that I find interesting — and that’s generally always reflected in my work.  IMMORTAL MUSE, for instance, was a book with sections set anywhere from the late 1300s Paris to modern day New York City.  I’ve been to France (and a lot of that trip is reflected in IMMORTAL MUSE); I’ve been to London and England a few times (and those trips are also reflected in my fiction).  I’ve already spoke to how Ireland has influenced both the Cloudmages trilogy and CROW.  So it’s probably less a ‘familial’ connection (though I do feel that with Ireland), but more that I like seeing and learning about different cultures and times than my own, and that interest, that research, and those experiences gets tangled up (to my pleasure and delight) in the creative process.

But… touching on family, early in CROW (I don’t think this is so much that it demands a spoiler alert, but  SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH if you really want to know nothing about the book before you read it.  Seriously.  Go on, we’ll wait.)  So…  As I was saying, touching on family, the father of Colin, the male protagonist, dies early in the book. Writing the initial draft was no issue, but in between that and the time that I was doing the revisions for the book, my own father passed away — not in the same way exactly, but under somewhat similar circumstances. Writing that section immediately following the death of my own father was… difficult. At a recent convention, I read that section and I had to stop a few times to stop my voice from breaking. Sometimes fiction cleaves too damn close to reality.

You’ve written science fiction, epic fantasy, historical fantasy, YA, and now a tale that, in your own words, blends contemporary Celtic fantasy with tragic romance. Do you enjoy shifting among subgenres? Do you think it keeps your work fresh? And is there one genre in particular that you’re drawn to above the others?

I don’t know that it keeps my work fresh, but it keeps me from getting bored as a writer — which is also one reason why the last two books have been standalone.  I find that (and I speak only for myself), that by the time I finish three books set in the same place and general time, that I’m hungry to try something new and different. I don’t particularly want to go back there. For instance, when I started the Cloudmages series, I had an entire 12-book arc planned in my head, consisting of four separate trilogies which would follow that world through the entire centuries-long slow cycle of rising and falling magic… but by the time I finished the first trilogy, I really felt like I needed to do something different to recharge the creative batteries.

I may even return to that world one day because I do love it and because there are things there I’m interested in exploring, but I’m also happy moving on.  That’s also the case with the Nessantico series, which I thought I also might continue, but didn’t because I was much more interested in writing IMMORTAL MUSE.

There are certainly writers who have written multiple books in the same universe, and are obviously still happy to be working there.  There’s nothing at all wrong with that, and more power to ‘em. Like many sf/fantasy fans, sometimes I really enjoy going on that ’long ride’ with an author (for instance, David, I love your own “Thieftaker” series).  I know fans like long series… but alas, I don’t think I’m a writer who can easily accommodate that.

And someday, maybe, I might attempt a straight historical novel, or maybe an alternate history novel.  Just because.

What are you working on now? Where do you think your work will take you after the Connemara project?

I already know what I’m doing next — in fact, I’ve already started on it.  I have a two-book contract with DAW for a ‘duology’ (as opposed to a trilogy…).  This one will be set in a world that will bear a resemblance to 1st century Britain under the Roman occupation, but it will not be that historical world (though much of my research into the period will go into the work, and some of the incidents in the novels will be drawn from actual historical encounters).  This is a world where there is true magic, and where ghosts might be real, and the gods might actually get involved in the affairs of humans.  So, yes, I suppose it’s another “Celtic” fantasy.

The first book is tentatively entitled A FADING SUN, and the second will be A RISING MOON.  The protagonists, in both cases, will be women (as, for some inexplicable reason, seems to be usually the case for me; CROW has two protagonists, one male and one female).  Right now, I’m, oh, maybe a third of the way through the first draft of A FADING SUN.  So it’ll be awhile before the first of the two appears in print.  Between teaching at a local university and the rest of life interfering, I don’t qualify as a ‘fast’ writer.

Thanks, though, for giving me the chance to natter away about my work and the writing life in your blog.  I appreciate the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to seeing what your readers say!

Dead Man’s Reach Update

Today I finished reading through the first pass galley proofs of Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth and (for now) final book in the Thieftaker Chronicles (which I write as D.B. Jackson). There is really nothing left for me to do in terms of production for the novel. It will be released on July 21, 2015, and I really can’t wait. It is my favorite of the Thieftaker books and it may well be the finest novel I’ve ever written.

And it also sports the best cover of the series, which is saying something because ALL of Chris McGrath‘s Thieftaker art has been magnificent. I mean, really: check this out. Amazing, right?

DeadMansReachFix

 

A Novel By Any Other Name . . .

My Facebook page was hopping today, because I asked for people’s opinions on the title for the book I’ve been working on. The book is the third in my new series from Baen, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson. The first two books in the series are called Spell Blind (released earlier this month) and His Father’s Eyes (coming out in August). The list of possible titles from which I asked people to choose included:

The Pale Blade (or Knife), The Stone Knife (or Blade), The Lost Blade (or Knife), The Necromancer’s Blade, The Killing Blade, The Blood Blade.

And the responses I got were fascinating, and made me think about what goes into a title, what makes a title work or not work.

First let me say that I’m grateful to all who have offered opinions thus far. I really am paying close attention to responses, because I want to get this right. Over the years, I feel that I’ve done pretty well with my book titles.  There are one or two that I think could have been stronger, but generally speaking I feel good about the titles I’ve chosen. (Among my favorites: The Outlanders, Seeds of Betrayal, Weavers of War, The Sorcerers’ Plague, A Plunder of Souls, Dead Man’s Reach, His Father’s Eyes)

But, of course, it’s entirely subjective. Others might not like any of those I’ve just listed, and might feel that one of the titles I didn’t mention as a favorite is better than all of them.

As an author, I want a title that sounds cool, whatever the hell that means. I want it to have a certain poetry, a cadence that rolls off the tongue. I also want it to conjure imagery that is both intriguing and representative of some key element of the book. But again, even these criteria are subject to personal taste. Today alone I’ve had someone tell me that he/she loves the title The Pale Blade because of the repeated long “a” sound. And I’ve had another reader say that the title doesn’t work for him/her for the exact same reason. Some folks love the word Necromancer, and others feel that I should avoid it at all costs. The Pale Blade emerged as a clear favorite, but it also elicited the most forceful negative responses. “It’s mysterious.” “It sounds cool.” “It’s boring and plain.” “It’s weak.”

Now, one might think that all these contradictory opinions would cloud the issue for me and make what will ultimately be my choice that much harder. But the fact is, the feedback is valuable if for no other reason than because I react to these arguments in a visceral way. And my responses give me a sense of where I’m leaning, what direction I think I might want to go.

I haven’t come to a decision yet (so feel free to weigh in on the discussion). Right now I’m thinking strongly about Pale Blade (without the “The”) and Lost Blade. But that could change. It’s possible that something will come to me that I haven’t even considered yet. So stay tuned. And again, thanks for the input.

A Word About Editors

I have just turned in a revised version of the short story I submitted to TEMPORALLY OUT OF ORDER, the new anthology being edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray. I am on “Team Patty,” which means that Patricia edited my story. And her feedback, and the subsequent revisions I did on my story, reminded me once more (as if I needed reminding) of how important a good editor is for all that we write, regardless of length.

As it happened, my story didn’t really need extensive rewriting. But it did need polishing and some subtle changes to deepen the character work and clear up the plotting. I hadn’t realized that it needed these things; it took Patricia pointing them out to me, gently, diplomatically, professionally for me to see the issues and find solutions. It helped that she was looking at it fresh — having a different set of eyes look through a story always helps, which is why having Beta readers can be so helpful. But more than that, Patricia is a fine editor who understands storytelling and can diagnose narrative problems with a simple read-through.

Of course she’s not the only person who can do this. Joshua is an excellent editor as well, and I have been fortunate enough to have worked with countless others — both on my books and my short fiction — who have improved my work and taught me valuable lessons about the craft. And that, really, is the point. We ALL need editing. I have been writing for a long, long time, and I have never written anything that was so perfect it didn’t need at least some help. A good editor is invaluable. And a good writer understands that her/his work can always — ALWAYS — be improved by editorial feedback.