Have I ever told you guys the story of my book title?
Some of you may recall a time before Aeterna was Aeterna. If you do, I feel sorry for you; my writing was a mess back then. Naturally, I didn’t know it was a mess — not at the time — and to my young, innocent brain, “The Silvershaw of Glenborn” was the coolest title ever. After all, it was the very reason my book came into being. The title randomly popped into my head one day, and I thought, “Neato! I should write a story for this!” and proceeded to work a bunch of unrealistic happenings around those four prestigious words.
Disregard the fact that I had no idea what a silvershaw was, or how on earth its connection to Glenborn (I didn’t know where that was, either) was significant. The names sounded cool, so I rolled with it.
Several years later, I’m still rolling with the mess my younger self created.
As I’ve grown older and learned more about my craft, I acquired a few scraps of sense. And with those few scraps of sense came the realization that “The Silvershaw of Glenborn” just wasn’t going to cut it. The focus of my book had shifted, and the old title no longer said what I needed it to say. Nor was it a particularly riveting name, which all book titles ought to be if they can possibly help it.
In a moment of utter horror, I knew that the old title had to go.
This was somewhat devastating.
See, I am a chronic failure at naming things. Even from the earliest days of my childhood, that fact has been obvious. The very first doll I ever had was named “Crabby Baby”. (She looked really grumpy, okay?) I had another doll named “Mitsubishi” (I thought it was a cool Japanese name…), and another named “Jack-o-Lantern. (Until I learned what they were, and Jack-o-Lantern became Jacqueline.)
I would like to say that my naming ability has improved as the years have gone by.
But then all five of our new kittens ended up being named “Ferdinand”.
All of them.
I am a terrible namer.
And titles… Titles are hard, by anyone’s standards. You take this thing you’ve spent hours of pain grinding out, and somehow have to come up with a few random words that will encapsulate 200+ pages of character development, plot twists, suspense, symbolism, and angst, all without being too direct.
Not only that, but you have to make it interesting, appealing, eye-catching, unique, and thematically-intriguing, NOT TO MENTION there are a thousand cliche titles out there you have to steer clear of. Also, did I mention you only have a few words to do ALL OF THIS??
If you’re not even a little stressed by now, you’re not human.
I briefly considered naming the thing “Bucket Head” and moving on.
But after at least a week (if not more) of heavy thinking and minor panicking, one word slowly began to burn its way into my head:
It was so simple. So short and unassuming, yet still holding an immense amount of gravitas and grandeur for only one word. It fit my book to a T, and I loved it. I wanted to brand it to my forehead. I wanted to print it on T-shirts and wear them everywhere. I blathered endlessly about it to my entire family, and even spent an hour making a ton of collages and mock-up covers for it.
My book was officially Immortal.
Immensely pleased with myself, I ran off and emailed a close friend and writing mentor to “get her opinion.” (Though really, I had no intention of listening to that opinion if it was negative, because… come on, dear, it’s an awesome name.)
Fortunately, she liked it.
Unfortunately, the reason she liked it was because she’d staked a claim on it long before I even knew my old title had to go.
She was naming one of her books Immortal. That name was taken. I couldn’t have it.
I’ll spare you the devastation and broken pieces, because honestly, it wasn’t a pretty day for me. My mom will back me up on this.
“Just pick a different name…?” she dared to suggest, her voice laden with that pathetic variety of naivety that only comes from non-writers.
“You don’t UNDERSTAND,” I moaned, face shoved into the corner of the sofa. “It was PERFECT but it’s not MINE because I have been ROBBED by that PERSON who PRETENDED to be my FRIEND so she could RUIN my LIFE. I can’t recover, mom. There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts go too deep, and have taken hold.”
“Name it something Latin,” she said, completely ignoring me.
“It fit my story so well,” I whimpered, not listening to a word she said. “Nothing will ever be as perfect.”
Meanwhile, mom was busy googling a Latin dictionary. “Name it ‘Impraesentiarum’.”
“For three glorious seconds, my writing life had meaning. And then WHAM—”
“Name it Amaranthanine.”
“—it all came crumbling down. Now it’s utterly dark in the abyss before my feet. A light shines behind me, but I can’t turn. I can do nothing but stare at the charred remains of my happy future.”
“Hey, name it Aeterna!”
I rose from my mound of self-pity and trauma-blankets to give her my deepest, most sincere scowl, and throw a sock in her general direction. “THAT is the STUPIDEST name I have EVER heard.”
She looked mildly offended. “Well, don’t say I didn’t try.”
I burrowed back into my misery and prepared to languish in inconsolable suffering for the rest of the day. Except…
Come to think of it, Aeterna was actually a pretty cool word.
“What’s it mean?” I cautiously asked.
Mom sniffed, refusing to look at me. “Eternal.”
Immortal. Eternal. Aeterna.
That’s when a strange thing happened. The longer I thought about it — the more I whispered it, in my head and out loud — the more I liked it. The more it began to fit. Until suddenly, it had surpassed Immortal. I liked Aeterna better. Instead of growling at my friend for snatching my precious name away, I felt immense gratitude to her for giving me the obstacle needed to find a name that better suited my book.
And suddenly, Aeterna wasn’t only a title. It was a people group and a culture and a language and a conflict. The door to world-building — something I’d had a strangely difficult time with — opened wider than I’d ever thought possible. My theme went from a bungled mess to a tidy little roll of twine, tying everything together. Conflict between characters became clearer, more precise.
One little name opened up a whole slew of new possibilities for my book.
Which was nice.
I don’t want to go full out Aesop Mode on you with my nuggets of wisdom and “moral of the story”, but seriously, guys, think about it:
By the ruin of my “unbeatable” idea, I was given the opportunity to find something even better.
Since then, with that thought in mind, the disappointments and annoyances and set-backs that life has thrown my way don’t seem quite as villainous. Because in the back of my head, there’s always this “what if…?”
What if this is God saying, “I don’t want you to settle for second best?”
It’s a mildly intriguing idea.
And thus it was that my book had a new title, I learned a valuable lesson, and my mother’s ego inflated to unnaturally large heights. (Seriously, she’ll never let me forget that she’s responsible for my new title. She’s quite pleased with herself. Someone, please help.)
And in the meantime, I’ve sprained my tongue trying to pronounce Amaranthanine and Impraesentiarum.