Saturday, July 7, 2012

Page 19 of 186 - Severance in Edit: Why I Picked that Stupid Title

You know that I'm really serious about finishing up Severance when I pass up a chance to waste my money at a casino. At this very moment I could be foolishly inserting money into the Sex and the City penny slot (because yes, I only play penny slots) and crossing my fingers that I'll be lucky enough to land on the Mr. Big bonus wheel and profit 800 dollars.

But no, I'm chilling here in my bedroom and I'm editing my book.

Of course, as a child of the computer generation, I am very easily distracted. And despite my dizziness issues that arise with all things technological, I stopped editing on page 19 of 186 of my Word document, and started watching a movie.

For some reason I felt like watching 127 Hours starring James Franco. Frankly, I knew from the get go that this incredible tale of man versus nature wasn't going to please me. I just wanted to stare at James Franco's face. Still, I watched all 93 minutes of the film (jokes, I barely saw the last scenes--you know, where he amputates his arm with a knife that's about as sharp as an emery board) and I actually really enjoyed it. Despite the fact that James Franco spends the entire film in an orange t-shirt with a sunflower on it, it was sort of beautiful to watch (ew, I'm gross, I know--just stay with me). And at the risk of sounding like a cheesy fool, I admit that watching this film put me on track with my editing process.

Titling my books is pretty easy for me. First of all, I'm a very no-nonsense person. There are a lot of book titles that tend to be very poetic and beautiful and all that, which is something that doesn't come naturally to me. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example. If I were Harper Lee, I probably would have called it something stupid like Atticus Finch, or The Radley House, or The Trial (no, that wasn't a dig at Franz Kafka...mainly because I've never read The Trial...awkward). One of the trends of our world nowadays is to apply titles and names to objects that can be really confusing. Remember the good old days when things had names that were almost too logical? Like nail clipper--it clips nails; CD player--it plays CDs; tap light--you tap it, and the light turns on. The technology age started this trend of ambiguous names--Magic Bullet, Kindle, Blackberry...I could do this for a while.

So, my approach to naming my novels is to be as straightforward as possible. When I wrote The Complex, I thought I was going to call it Eyam. It made the most sense to me, and I titled all of my Word documents Eyam. Then I worried that people would be put off by the fact that it's hard to pronounce, and I thought that it would be too ambiguous. So, I nixed it. As you know, I went with The Complex.

But despite the fact that The Complex is a very straightforward title, I did select it because there are layers to the meaning. Obviously, the complex is the most important place in the novel. All subsequent books in the series will be named after locations that are integral to the story line as well. Secondly, I picked Complex because the world that the characters live in is exceedingly complicated, to the point where very few individuals, if any, truly understand the nature of their world. It's a place of secrets and deception and I thought that "complex"--complicated or difficult--fit that. Lastly, the title The Complex refers to a mental complex--or as defines it,
a system of interrelated, emotion-charged ideas, feelings, memories and impulses, that is usually repressed and that gives rise to abnormal or pathological behavior. 
All of my characters, Canyoners and Complex babies alike, suffer the emotional repercussions of what happened to them and to the world, and that dictates the way they act.

I know, I'm lame. But I did put a lot of thought into it, and I've been told that my title is simple. My hope is that this shows that it's not too simple, but something I picked after a lot of deliberation.

So, then I wrote Severance and needed a title. The word severance is defined as:
1. the act of severing or the state of being severed.
2. a breaking off, as of a friendship.
3. Law . a division into parts, as of liabilities or provisions;removal of a part from the whole.
4. severance pay.
Without giving too much away about the book before I even publish it, I do want to explain where the title comes from. Severance is the name of a nightclub in the book, where their specialty drink is called a severance. There aren't a lot of nightclub scenes in the book, but the club and the things that occur there are some of the most important components of the storyline.

Watching James Franco cut off (or sever) his arm in 127 Hours really got me to thinking about what I wanted to convey with this sequel to The Complex. After watching the film I went on Wikipedia and read about the real hiker who cut off his arm, and learned that he returned to that spot to sprinkle the ashes of his arm because that's where they belonged. I was fascinated by the idea that one of his limbs didn't really belong with him. The idea of having something be so important to your function as a person for so long, only to separate from it entirely and to learn to live without it, accepting that this separation or severance was supposed to happen, really resonated with me because at the end of this novel, that's one of the things that I want to make clear.

I'm being ambiguous, so I guess the only thing I can do to make this clear is to explain why that resonates with me--why I would name my novel Severance. Don't read on if you don't want a hint about a spoiler: At then end of the book I killed a main character, one who I loved to write. But after planning out the events that will take place in this four-book series, it's something that has to happen. Hopefully you'll see it that way too.

Authors, how do you title your works?
Readers, best and worst book titles you've encountered--go!


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