A Story by Any Other Name…

Tonight, on my way home from work, I swung by a thrift shop near my house.  I love to browse around and meticulously read every single title on the shelf.  Sometimes, you get lucky and find a gem hidden among the dross.  (I once found a pristine, anniversary reprint of the first five 1920’s era Nancy Drew books.  It can happen.)  Going through all the titles–award-winners like Bud, Not Buddy right next to Babysitter’s Club #374: Claudia and the Fill-In-The-Blank-Here–is interesting.  I usually find myself imagining what the books with titles I don’t recognize might be about.

I am a writer, by hobby, but for me the title is the last thing I come up with.  I usually refer to the manuscript by the protagonist’s name until it is finished and I have to call it something.  It’s been that way for me since I was a wee thing writing the first grade mangum opus, The Grouchy Horse. (You notice that seven year-old me did not bother to branch out from this theme.)

But I think it might be fun to make up a bunch of titles and then try to work backward.  I’d also like to know what kind of stories other people would write from such a title–I’m sure we’d get a sea of really interesting and vastly different works. (Which a nerd like me would find endlessly amusing…)

There are definite title “trends” that I have observed.  There are the usual juvenile series that give you the name of the series/hero and… titles (Harry Potter AND the Sorcerer’s Stone, Percy Jackson AND the Lightning Thief, etc.)  Chick lit prominently features references to rings, bridesmaid dresses, and bad breakups.  Things like A Ring for the Road, or Stacey Oliver’s Secret, and so on.  It’s actually kind of interesting.

I, of course, had to start developing a prototype list standing in the store, because (let’s face it) this is who I am as a person.  Some of my ideas include:

  • Reading the Novel Backward: This could either be a mystery of some kind, or one of those “Person who leaves home at a young age returning to hometown and making peace with past” deals.
  • Just Out of Focus:  I see this as a potential coming-of-age novel, after the tradition of Stand By Me, etc.
  • The Birds Never Sing: Historical fiction.  I envision the Gilded Age.
  • The Tower to the East:  Fantasy.  Or Medieval historical fiction.  But probably fantasy
  • Turn Left at Decorah:  Sister (or brother) against-wishes road trip.  Relationships healed.  Bonding ensues.
  • 327 Sycamore:  I don’t know what this is about, but there are always books with house numbers.
  • The Magic of Dusk: Harry Potter-Twilight rip off-style hybrid.  Basically it will make a million dollars because those are two monster franchises right there…
  • Call Me After 30:  Chick lit, with a side of “grown-up-ing is hard.”

So, there you go. Writing a novel?  Need a title?  Look no further!  I’m sure all of these will be big winners for you!  (Also–any good ones to add to the list?)

Restart Button

As any person who has ever gotten into shape, then gotten out of shape, then back into shape again will tell you, getting into shape is hard.  Getting back into shape is a million times worse.  My theory is that when you first start, everything is painful and hard and awful, but you think, “It’s okay.  This too shall pass. I can go farther than yesterday.” (Even if going farther is only going an extra five feet.  It still counts.)  Getting back into shape, on the other hand, you’re shuffling along, wheezing with every muscle in your body screaming at you, and all you can think (well, all I can think, anyway,) is, “This used to be so easy!”  From my perspective, the temptation to give up is much higher with the Get-Back-Into-Shape process.

And I should know.  I am flying to Alabama to run a half marathon with a friend who lives down there.  I have two sets of running shoes that have been staring at me accusingly for the past three months, because I have laced them up and run…hm…once?  It’s bad.  I know I should run.  I know I need to.  I know that I may just die on the side of the road in Tennessee if I don’t.  But…I also know what’s coming my way.  I know how awful day three is.  I know how gross that “one hill” is (every route everywhere has that “one hill”) when you’re not in shape.  And so I keep putting it off.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize (with growing trepidation verging on open panic) is that I need to re-start a lot of things.  I need to restart to eating actual dinner–I’ve been subsisting very well on a diet of popcorn and tortillas.  (Last week, I impulse-bought a bag of cheese curls, which I proceeded to eat for dinner three times…until I ran out of cheese curls.  How appalling is that?)  I need to restart a regular cleaning schedule, rather than my current “I’ll clean it when a.) I have company coming over; b.) it looks dirty; or c.) I can no longer remember the last time I cleaned it” method.

And then there’s my writing.

Right now, I have three different friends who are varying levels of mad at me because I let them read manuscripts for the books I’m writing.  Books that don’t yet have a single finished manuscript.  Books whose status and length has not changed significantly for anywhere from eight months to four years, depending.  Like I said, I have some people who are mad at me.

And like the running and the cleaning and the cooking, I know that I should get back to it.  I know that I need to.  Occasionally, I’ll even start turning around ideas in my head.  I’ll talk a dialogue out loud on my commute home from work.  Rarely, I even open the darn manuscript and stare at it a while.  I don’t know what my deal is.  Writing a rough draft shouldn’t be this hard.  You just write it, even if it’s crap.  It’s in the editing that writing turns into a novel, after all.

But increasingly in the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling the internal pressure to get back behind the keys–to put metaphorical pen to paper, as it were. I need to tell stories and be creative in a vein that is not my career (which, for me, is music.)  In the same way I need to just lace up those running shoes and force myself out of the house, I need to sit behind and keyboard and force myself to write.  Write anything.  Write it even if I hate it.  Even if it dead ends.  Even if I just toss it all in six months anyway.  Write to write.

And for me to do that, I have to get out of my house, out of my city.  Away from all the things I use to distract me–laundry, kitchen, friends, family, work–all the things that occupy all of the time.  I need to get away, to be still, and to find my voice again.

Spring break is coming up in a few weeks.  I have the time.  Maybe I should go…

Well, fast forward twenty minutes.  I walked away from this post to book a cabin in a cute, touristy area a few hours from my house.  I’m going to go.  I’m going to lock myself in a snug little house with only comfy, un-cool clothes, my computer, and all the coffee.  I’m going to sit at the keyboard and just start writing.  I’m going to remember my voice.  I’m going to remember my love.  I’m going to hit the re-start button.  And while I’m at it…

…I’ll probably take my running shoes.