Monday, July 23, 2007

Thanks, Mimi.

It all started seven years ago. My wife and I were fresh out of college, sharing a floor of a ramshackle old house with a pack of friends both old and new. One of those friends was in the thrall of a certain boy-wizard, a fact I picked on her mercilessly for to no end – after all, it was a children’s book, and an obscenely popular one at that; there was simply no way it was any damn good. But Mimi was more formidable than her name may suggest. She bought me a copy, and threw down a challenge: if I read it, and did not buy myself the second one, I could mock her all I wanted.

So read it I did. My wife, for her part, mocked me as I’d mocked Mimi, but it didn’t matter – I was only reading it to win a bet. Of course, I had to admit, it wasn’t half-bad, but still, I was sure I’d coast to victory.

A few days later, I finished. It was close to midnight, and Kat was working late. When we spoke on the phone, I mentioned I might duck out to the CVS for a minute. “Are you sick?” she asked. I wasn’t. But Charlottesville closes shop early, and I was pretty sure the drugstore was my best bet to pick up the second Harry Potter.

Yeah, she mocked me. Until I made her the same bet. It wasn’t long before the mocking stopped.

Last night, Kat and I both finished the final installment of Rowling’s epic cycle. Yeah, we bought two. And you know what? I loved it. Say what you will, the woman spins one hell of a yarn. So thanks, Ms. Rowling, and thanks to Mimi, too. Sometimes, being wrong doesn’t suck at all.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

It's no zombie kickball, but still...

I couldn't help but notice my fair burg was mentioned in a recent Times article about the release of the new Harry Potter. It seems we're the host of Mugglefest Portland 2007, an absolutely insane Harry Potter extravaganza designed to celebrate the final book's release and benefiting the local non-profit Youth and Family Outreach.

Now, I know some writer-types roll their eyes every time some uber-bestseller rolls around and sweeps the public off their collective feet, but as far as I'm concerned, this is awesome. These people are going freaking nuts over a book. Okay, a series of books, really, but a series of books that a) are pretty freakin' entertaining, and b) are creating a veritable army of voracious children readers, many of whom will grow up to be voracious adult readers, and that doesn't suck. Plus, as you can see in my bio to the left, I'm a bit of a Star Wars fan; what kind of geek would I be if I didn't support a group of folks so willing to let their freak-flags fly?

Friday, July 06, 2007

When Working Titles Don't

A recent post on David Dvorkin’s blog has got me thinking about the importance of a good working title. I’m sure it’s a little different for everyone, but for me, having a working title that I like is paramount. I’d had the framework of The Angels’ Share bouncing around my head for years, but until I settled on a title, the idea never really crystallized. When the title hit me, it served to define the central conceit of the novel, and I suddenly knew how the story needed to be told.

My new work-in-progress was a little different. The idea just kind of whacked me on the head one day, and I started writing. I tried out a half a dozen working titles before I found the one that stuck. (As I’ve said before, and as evidenced by this post, names – for me, at least – have power, and I’m not yet ready to let this one out into the world, hence the dodginess.) Even though I’d already started writing, I’m convinced that the title served to focus the novel, affecting nearly every aspect of it, from plot to tone to narrative voice.

My short stories, as far as titles go, are a bit of a mixed bag. Seven Days of Rain and A Simple Kindness began as nothing but a title. The Toll Collectors, on the other hand, was finished long before it found a name – it tried on title after title until finally one fit. (Truth be told, it was my wife who suggested the name, and thank God. Honestly, I had nothing.)

Of course, this post isn’t simply about titles; it’s about working titles. I’ve been fortunate enough that all my stories accepted thus far have retained their original title, but that streak can’t last forever. To quote David Dvorkin, “To us, our titles are the distillation of our novels. To publishers, they're part of the marketing package.” One of these days, some big-shot publisher is sure to deem my package inadequate. So what then? Tears? Rending of fabric? Dogged insistence on sticking to my working title, and publication be damned? Nah. I’m attached to my titles, to be sure, but partly because they serve to inform my writing. Once the writing’s done, I suppose it’ll look more or less the same no matter what title’s on the cover. In a way, the title is like training-wheels – early on, they keep me riding straight, but eventually, the book’s got to stay up on it’s own.