I usually review books and occasionally have an author or voiceover artist by so you can get to know more about them. This year I’d like to continue as I’ve been doing, in addition, to discuss components of a novel. With that in mind, I’ve asked author Ann Swann to join us to muse on her experience of titles, covers and character development.
We all agree a title and cover are very important to a book. I for one will overlook a book if the cover is uninteresting. How about you?
Titles are pretty important to me, but the graphics seem more so. Once past the cover and back jacket, other parts of the novel are scrutinized. Please feel free to comment or ask questions relevant to the subject in the comment section.
Ann Swann has just released book 3 of a wonderful suspenseful series Stutter Creek, titled The Copper Lake. I asked her to share her thoughts on titling, designing covers of her novels, and how she builds her characters.
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Okay, let me begin by saying that every time someone calls me an author, I have to stop myself from saying, “Who me?” because I’ve been dreaming this dream for so long that it still seems like just that, a dream.
But now I’ve just released my seventh book (lucky #7 yippee!) so I guess it’s time to stop pinching myself. Copper Lake is book three in the Stutter Creek series. It is about a middle-aged female detective who is in the midst of an internal affairs investigation regarding the suicide of a suspect who died while in her custody. She goes into “hiding” at the lake and stumbles across the remains of a murder victim. There’s also a younger love interest, but we don’t need to get into that right now.
In this suspense series, I wound up making the titles sound somewhat similar. Book One, Stutter Creek, was actually a name that occurred to me while on vacation in New Mexico. We drove across a little creek and I made the remark that it really stuttered over the rocks. I liked the sound of that so I wrote it in my iPhone notepad and voila! It became the name of the book.
Book Two in this series is Lilac Lane, but it almost had a different title. As I wrote it, I gave it the working title of Maybe Someday (which wouldn’t have complemented the first book at all). Fortunately, a better-known author came out with her new book by that exact same title just days before mine. I emailed my editor in all caps and told her what had happened. She confessed that she’d never liked that title anyway, and then she helped me come up with some new ideas. That’s when Lilac Lane was born. Once again, it was set in the village of Stutter Creek, but this time the story focused on a character that lived on the street named Lilac Lane.
When I started writing book three, Copper Lake, I knew I wanted another place name for the title—to go with the first two—and since I had subconsciously echoed the number of syllables in Stutter Creek, and Lilac Lane, I definitely wanted to continue that trend. I remembered a picture I’d seen once in which the setting sun had appeared to pour molten copper across the surface of a lake, and since I’d already decided that the setting for this book would be the lake community outside Stutter Creek, that seemed the best choice for my third title. Luckily, Copper Lake even had the correct number of syllables!
I have another book coming out soon—a speculative allegory—about beings from the dimension of Purgatory who fall to Earth and begin to ravage the entire population in search of new souls. The title of that book is Takers: Apocalypse in Eden. It seems like a really long title, but since it is set in the town of Eden, Texas, I felt I had to include that in the title. Furthermore, since the beings from Purgatory do nothing but take everything from Jack, the fourteen-year-old hero of the book, he begins to call them Takers. Naturally, I had to get that in the title, too, especially since that is what I’d been calling them all along.
Now, speaking of long titles, my first book for 5 Prince Publishing is All For Love. But it didn’t start out that way. The working title on it was How Long Does it Take to Fall Out of Love. Whew! I guess you can see why the publisher actually wrote in the contract that the title would have to be changed. LOL.
I had title woes with my first three book series, too. The first one—Stevie-girl and the Phantom Pilot—began life as an award-winning short story, The Escort. No, it wasn’t about a woman of the night. It was about a German shepherd whose job was to escort her deceased owner’s spirit to “the other side.” But after turning the story into a novella, the focus shifted to the owner—the phantom pilot—rather than the German shepherd. Oddly enough, once I started book two in the series, I realized the focus of the entire series was going to be on Stevie Rae Sanders, the ghost-hunting teen whose nickname was Stevie-girl. So now all the books in the series sport the amazingly long titles. Oh well. Live and learn.
Isn’t it odd how characters come in and change everything? You know, I never believed in Muses. Never thought I had one. For me, writing was like . . . breathing. It just happened. When I had a few spare moments, I wrote. Then, as I got more and more adept at writing—actually getting in the zone so-to-speak—I noticed my characters sometimes did things I hadn’t intended. Like the love interest that developed between the older and younger detectives in Copper Lake. That occurred as a result of Detective Kendra Dean’s devotion to her work. Her husband felt left out, jealous of all the time she spent with her younger co-worker. Once he left, the two co-workers’ relationship began to really develop.
Do I think my Muse had something to do with that character development? Possibly. Or maybe it was just logic. I’m not certain, however, I do know my Muse is responsible for some of the things I write, because honestly, I often don’t recall writing them. Once, a reviewer commented on a favorite passage in one of my books and I actually had to ask her for the page number because I didn’t recall writing it. I believe it was this passage from All For Love: The moonlight lay across the water like a transparent veil across a woman’s hair. José held me close and we danced in and out of the surf while mariachis played Spanish love songs. I did not feel guilty that he was not my husband.
Another passage I’m certain came from the Muse was this one from Copper Lake (because I don’t recall writing it all): “A halo of crunchy hair created an icy no-color nimbus around the melted facial features. Most of the skin had sloughed away or puddled in the eye sockets and mouth. It appeared the dead woman had somehow attempted to swallow her own face.”
That wasn’t exactly character development, but it certainly was the Muse’s way of describing a character. It also gave new insight into the character of the killer. It was the first I’d heard of him having used a chemical on his victims. I had to totally go back and figure out how to work that into the story!
I also had to add it to the page I write about each character. I keep a type of outline on each character that details their traits, appearance, background, and relationship with the other characters. Sometimes I end up rewriting those details according to the whims of the Muse. Like with the killer’s use of chemicals.
The only part of the book that the Muse doesn’t monkey with is the cover. I always look forward to finishing the book so that I can start working with the cover artist. At 5 Prince Books, we are fortunate to have artists who really try to take the author’s wishes into account. On Stutter Creek, I asked the artist to envision a creek and a cabin in the snowy woods, and then I asked her if she could make it look like an old Christmas card in shades of blue. I think she did a great job. On book two, Lilac Lane, I sent her the passage from the book that described the home of the main character. Of course she already knew the plot of the book so she included the eerie figure of the woman outside the house. This time we wanted to go with a dark lilac hue. Once again, I thought it was a wonderful cover. This last cover is one of my favorites. Copper Lake looks almost exactly the way I wrote it, dark, mysterious, beautiful, and all done in the shades of an autumn sunset, which is exactly what I requested.
Having said all that, I feel I should also take a moment to include the cover artist who did all the Stevie-girl and the Phantoms books. The first book actually had a beautiful yellow cover in its original incarnation, but when that publishing company went out of business, I reacquired the rights and published the books myself. The covers I entrusted to a company called Tugboat Design. Deborah, the owner, does exactly what I ask of her, but she will tell me if she thinks my idea is a poor one. And I usually trust her advice. The third book, Stevie-girl and the Phantom of Crybaby Bridge, is my favorite of that series. I think we knocked it out of the park on that one.
So there you have it, a few random thoughts on titles, characters, covers, and the Muse who may or may not be stirring the entire simmering cauldron. Thank you for allowing me to ramble . . . well, me and you-know-who.
Amazon page: http://tinyurl.com/6wl3oe2