Where do titles come from?

Recently, I was asked by a reader:  “How do you come up with the titles for your books?”   This question pops up enough I figured I’d make it the topic for this week’s Freehold Friday.

So, how do I come up with the titles for my books?

As I sit here on the deck, watching my older kids fight–er, play…I can honestly say writing is indeed hard work.  Most people think we authors just sit down at a computer, steaming cup of caffeine in one hand and start pounding out pages and pages of beautiful prose.

Well, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Granted, when I sit down, I can crank out the rough draft of a chapter in about an hour and a half (for me that’s about 2,000 words an hour…).  That’s the easy part.  The only easy part.  I can stop and start as I like and pick right up where I left off the last time.  But, once that draft is done and it’s time to revise so it actually makes sense to a reader….whoooeeeee that’s a whole other can of worms.

The only times I have available to work on editing is the hour before dawn (or anyone else gets up) and the hour or so after the kids go to bed and after the kitchen is cleaned for the night.  Juggling my ever supportive wife, three little kids (5, 3, and 6 months), the house, the yard, and cooking, cleaning, and everything else….yeah, finding time to write is a bit of an on-going challenge.  Especially during the summer (school…ah…a dream…only 3 weeks away!)

So,  you can see I don’t have time to sit around and think up perfect titles.  My sitting-around-and-thinking times are reserved for story ideas and blog ideas!

The answer then, for me is quite simple: I don’t find the title, the title finds me.  I am one of those writers that like to see their story as it’s revealed–like Stephen King says in On Writing, I unearth the story as I go.   There’s a certain mystery in the process, not unlike reading a new book for the first time.  In that way,  I never know if I’ve got a T-Rex or a turd.   [NB: I’m making my first serious attempt at hybrid plotting for the sequel to AJE…but that’s a story for a different post.]

For Alea Jacta Est, I wanted something different (boy did I find that).  In Latin, alea jacta est means “the die is cast”.  Kind of a ‘point of no return’,  so to speak.  It’s what Julius Caesar said when he was ready to cross the Rubicon–at the time, the river marked the boundary of Rome (the city) itself.  To cross the Rubicon at the head of an army meant you were intent on conquering Rome and was considered an act of high treason–punishable by death.  It’s the ultimate “all-in” moment.

I likened that to the moment faced by Erik Larsson (the main character of Alea Jacta Est for those who haven’t read the story) when he realized that if the community didn’t band together and start organizing, they would all either starve or be driven from their homes or even killed.

Do or die, baby.

Leaving that aside, I had taken 4 years of Latin back in my school days and I’ve always admired the Romans (we are, in terms of Western Civilization, the direct heirs of Rome), and wanted to use a Latin phrase for the title.  Put it all together, and Alea Jacta Est was born.

Apache Dawn is a bit of a different story.  The title was originally conceived as Oath of Office. But towards the end of the book I realized that the Oath part mostly applied to the President (one of the point of view characters in the story).  All well and good, except that by the end of the revision process, said President and his plotline created the background story, the undercurrent of tension that is applied to the other POV characters.

So if Oath of Office didn’t apply to the majority of the POV characters (only one–the President–is an elected official) what then?  Well, I realized that a certain code phrase used by the military in the story to denote…uh…hmmm…how to say this without giving away a pretty big spoiler….?

Okay.  Apache Dawn is a code word.  That code either has a direct or rather serious impact on every character in the story (and the spin-off stories I’ve already started daydreaming about, heh heh).  Plus, I kinda liked how it sounded.  By the time I had finished the first draft, I at last realized that Apache Dawn was the title had to be the title of the book.

Hey, at least its not Latin!  I can’t tell you how many people have asked me what alea jacta est means over the past few years!

Anyway, you can see now that I don’t just reach up into the air and pull a name out of the sky.  I try to have the title reflect something major in the book, albeit with subtlety.  And more often than not, it just hits me, out of the blue.

Now for the weekly AD update you’ve been waiting for: I’ve managed to scrape together enough time this past week to get to chapter 23…that’s right folks, 10 chapters left and AD (new and improved!) will be ready for release…


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