Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"What's in a Name?" Redux

I really should have known better.

See, when I was a kid, there was little I dreaded more than my teacher taking attendance. Whether it was the first attendance of the year, or a substitute killing time, the conversation was always the same.

"Haynes, Brian?"

"Here."

"Hinman, Maureen?"

"Here."

"Holmes, Christopher?"

"Um, I'm here, but that's not my name."

The teacher, invariably, would scowl at his or her sheet a moment, perplexed. "But that's what it says here."

"I'm pretty sure it doesn't."

An eyeroll, an exasperated sigh. "All right, then, what does it say?"

"Holm, Chris."

"Ah," the teacher would declare, "it's Holm, not Holmes. I'll make a note. Christopher Holm."

"Actually, my name's not Christopher."

"Oh. Christian, then?"

"No, just Chris."

This is where things got dicey. "Really." Notice it wasn't a question.

"Yes, really."

"Your name is just Chris."

"Yes."

"Are you sure?"

Now, I know I was probably all of four or five the first time this happened, but when exactly did you all learn your names? Let's leave aside the fact that my sister called me Fish for a couple of years, there, and assume I was, in fact, relatively sure my name was Chris, only Chris, and nothing but the Chris. You think the conversation ended there? Nope. It never did. They always took it one step further (and God knows why I didn't just let them call me Christopher Holmes, but every time, I swear I took the bait):

"Is that what it says on your birth certificate?"

The problem there is, no matter what you say, there is no earthly way you can convince the teacher in question that you are, in fact, telling the truth without producing the document in question, and I didn't exactly make a practice of carrying it, since my Empire Strikes Back lunchbox was chock-full of juiceboxes and sandwiches and whatnot, and it just wouldn't fit in my Kangaroos, no matter how small I folded it up. So instead I'd get an eyeroll, and the teacher would make a smug and thoroughly unconvincing show of humoring me, like I'd just tried to buy booze with a license reading 'Jerbingle Terwilliger, DOB 2/30/1908,' but she was gonna let it slide. And I gotta tell you, back then, there wasn't much that bugged me more.

That's all fine and good, but what the hell's it got to do with writing? Well, I'll tell you. Between the query process, and correspondence with friends and family and whatnot, I've come across the following:

The Angle Share
The Angel's Share
The Angels Share
The Ankles Bare
The English Hare

Okay, so I might have made up a couple there, but I doubtless left a few off of the list, as well. The problem is, none of those are my book. My book is called The Angels' Share, as in 'the share that belongs to the angels'. Only here's the thing: I kind of can't blame anybody for screwing it up. That there apostrophe is a bit of a pain in the ass. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've typed it wrong a time or two myself. And man, I should have known better.

The problem is, I really dig the name. It gets right at the central conceit of the book, and it's an evocative phrase to boot. I suppose I could have gone the way of DuPont, naming teflon and lycra in such a fashion that they could not be mispronounced (if anybody out there is as big a dork as I am, they're dying to point out that even DuPont screwed that plan up with dacron, which is supposed to be pronounced 'day-cron' but never is). Instead, I just resigned myself to the troublesome apostrophe, and we'll see how far it takes me. After all, they can't all be The Satan Strain, you know?

I leave you with a quote from Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney (italics mine):

Corin left a message for me one day saying that we would call ourselves "Sleater-Kinney". Up until that moment it had only been a road in a neighboring town. Now it was us. If band names were like baby names, we had picked a Gilbert or Sinclair or Beatrice. When we said, "We've picked out a name", we always got a "Hmm", or a head scratch, or a comment as soon as we left the room, like "that poor kid will be teased endlessly". Never listen to other people's advice about your band name. Otherwise, you will end up with an Ashley, or a Madison.

Now, one of these days, I may actually get around to explaining the name of this blog, aka The Story of Why My Wife has it Worse Than Me, Name-wise. And then there's the matter of the next book's title...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Forgive me, Blogger, for I have sinned.

It's been three weeks since my last confession. Eh – they say absence makes the heart grow fonder. If that's true, you folks must freakin' love me.

Truth is, there's been plenty of progress of late, writing-wise, it just doesn't always make for the compellingest blogging. I'm nearing 200 pages on the WIP, and it looks like I've set myself up nicely to careen to a violent, smoking wreck of an ending (um, in a good way) right around the 250 mark. Too short, you say? Normally, I'd agree, but there's a B-story still to be dealt with – five scenes or so to be peppered throughout the book that will tie things together nicely. I've got it all sketched out, but I've yet to write it, because I want to take a pass at reading the A-story first, to make sure I hit every beat just right.

Thus far, writing the new book differs dramatically from my experience in writing The Angels' Share. I think that's partly due to the fact that one was outlined while the other was not, and partly due to the fact that, tonally, they're very different works. If I've done my job right, The Angels' Share is a long, slow sip of Islay malt: explosive up front, but with an underlying complexity that unfolds over time. The WIP, on the other hand, is a shot of cheap bourbon, searing and relentless. With luck, it's a ton of fun as well (I'm shooting for thrill-ride, not bleak-ass noirer-than-thou bum-out).

Despite their differences, though, the writing of The Angels' Share greatly informed the writing of the new book in so many ways, not least of which is the fact that I now have a far greater understanding of what bits to put into a book, and what bits to leave out. As an avid (rabid?) reader for as long as I can remember, you'd think I'd have known this from the get-go, but it's trickier than one might imagine. With The Angels' Share, I ended up trimming somewhere in the ballpark of 30,000 words, and believe me, the book is better for it. With the new book, I think I've avoided some of the meandering I fell victim to last time, and as a result, I suspect I'll have a lot less to cut. I hesitate to say I'm getting the hang of this novel-writing thing, because the Gods of Fiction are fickle, spiteful (wonderful, charming, and did I mention good-looking?) creatures, but I'm psyched to realize how much I've already learned.

In conclusion, Libya is a land of many contrasts. No, wait, that's not it. But to wrap up this rambling post, I guess what I'm left with are two books that on the face of things are very different, but are in fact (for me, at least) flip-sides of the same literary coin. With one finished and the other getting there, I've realized I'm not yet ready to part with either of them so soon. The new WIP was conceived as a series, so no surprise there; what does surprise me is that Alex's story is not yet finished. So can a fledgling writer gain traction for two series at once? Honestly, I have no idea. One thing's for sure, though: I plan to find out. Also, I really have to learn to write faster. After all, I want to see how these stories end...