As Robert V.S. Redick’s editor, I’ve been privileged to join this intrepid writer on part of his journey to finish the epic Chathrand saga–a magnificent multi-thousand page, four-book epic fantasy cycle, the writing of which has been itself a quest worthy of a four book epic fantasy series. But the hardest part turned out to be writing three little words.
Robert’s not alone in this particular quest. Coming up with the title is always one of the most treacherous of tasks facing an author and editor. It means braving a host of dangers, from crossing the Boring Bog (with its toxic Mists of Vagueness) to swimming the Whirlpool of the Utterly Ridiculous to climbing past the Mountains of Cliche. We can summon aid–the wordsmithing wizards of Del Rey’s copywriting department–but in the end, our hero, the author, must follow his heart to save the day.
It’s because a title has to do so much. It has to give us a hint of the story–but leave enough mystery to tantalize us to look deeper. It has to give us clues to the book’s style and genre–without sounding like every other book on the shelf. It has to be aesthetically satisfying, pithy, elegant–but not so fancy-pants it’s not easy to remember and a pleasure to repeat. But the best titles defy this kind of analysis. They simply feel right, as if they were always there, runed magically on an ancient stone…but also new, as if opening the door to a new world.
In brainstorming the title for the third book in the Chathrand series, The River of Shadows, Robert came up with 220 candidates, and, in a winning spirit of self-deprecation, has shared the whole unvarnished and edited list on his blog. Some are funny–my personal favorites include The Tears of the Spider and The Lust of the Spider (the whole Spider section is a pretty rich vein, actually)–and some are intriguing, as if Robert were noting down the bibliography of a phantasmagoric library of books-not-yet written. The list offers a delightful insight into one of the most delicate and difficult parts of a writer’s process.