A friend of mine is totally fascinated by the process of writing a book. Thinking up plots, developing characters, prying words from my brain and splattering them across a keyboard. . .well, I guess it has it’s intriguing moments. My favorite parts of creating a story are (1) figuring out how I can complicate a perfectly simple relationship and (2) titling a story. Those are also my two least favorite parts of the writing process.
Maybe I’ll get better at this as time passes, but my stories seldom start out named. It’s like couples who say they have to wait and see how their new baby looks and acts before they label her Cynthia or Summer. My stories are similar because I’m not one of those authors who knows the ending when they start writing. Except for the fact that the heroine and her hero end up together, my outcomes always surprise me.
So far it’s been the journey that sealed the title. And, as of this blog posts, those titles have all been derived from songs. The name of my first novel, Where Souls Collide, came from a song called Heaven by Kem. After a gazillion working titles – and even being entered into contests as “Inkling,” I was working on revisions, preparing to submit the story to Dorchester (who did wind up as my publisher), and listening to a hodgepodge of music on my computer when I seemed to hear the tune in an entirely new way. The lyrics follow the transformation of a man’s heart and tell how he’s no longer the person he used to be, but a renewed individual ready for this woman’s love. And then I heard a line about a place where two souls collide.
Bam! That was it. I immediately changed the title of the story – even renamed all the computer files with the former title in it – and submitted the story shortly thereafter. It just felt right. Same way with last year’s novella, Can You Believe in The Holiday Inn anthology. In this story, a newlywed couple is thrust into a future where they find they’re no longer together. They’re journey tests their ability to believe in themselves, each other, and a tomorrow other than the one they’ve been shown. I have Robin Thicke to thank for that very fitting title.
Now, lately, I’ve been fixated with angels. Not your ordinary cherubs to hang out and play harps all day. No, I’m a paranormal writer, so even heaven has to have a twist. I wrote a (short) short story for Parker Publishing entitled Stealing a Moment. The title is a line from a song I remember from childhood called Stairway to Heaven. (Not Led Zeppelin’s, but one by the O’Jays). All I really remember from those long ago days is the hook and the plea, “stealing a moment.” So, when I wrote this 15-pager about an angel whose fondest desire is to return to her husband on earth – if only for a moment, yes, the song fit so the story wears it.
I carried my angel fascination through to HeavenSent.com, my latest novella in the Holiday Brides anthology. This year’s story depicts a very different hereafter with angels assigned to connect an earthly couple. I admit, this one was easy: online dating + guardian angles = definitely sent from heaven. Though Keyshia Cole gets the nod for inspiring the idea.
Alas, my trend took an unexpected turn with my current work in progress. Still named from a song lyric, this time, the story’s not finished but my title has stuck. I find that it helps set the twists and turns in the plot and provides me with a mini road map as I weave the tale. It’s a nice departure from the constant needling of, “Yeah, but what’s it called?” that’s plagued me from the back of my mind in previous works. Not sure I like this pre-titling enough to make it my new “process,” but we’ll see how I feel at THE END.
What about you? Have you ever heard a song that you thought would make a great story? I have a copy of Holiday Brides for one commenter who shares thoughts on stretching lyrics into a novel.
HeavenSent.com by Stefanie Worth
From the Holiday Brides anthology
“Sunday School heaven was all cherubs and choirs,” Kay muttered. “Now they tell me there’s more work?”
Certainly grateful to pass the Life Inspection Application Process, Kay wasn’t sure she liked the unexpected promotion that resulted. If they’d asked, she would have declined this job and opted for a role more appropriate.
“I would’ve figured that a life – albeit, short – of faithful service, daily prayer, and eager witnessing deserved more than being appointed Official Babysitter of Fickle Grown Folks.” Miffed and disappointed, Kay lamented her plight. “At least it’s only for twelve days.”
“Maybe it’s my profile picture.” At the end of the year, in less than two weeks, Brenna Campbell’s online match guarantee would expire and no one would be able to view the photo no one seemed to want anyway. “After five months, two weeks, and six days as a member of HeavenSent-dot-com can’t you find one single man to send my way?”
She stared at happily hitched couples proclaiming their finds and contemplated revising her Perfect Mate criteria. When Brenna first joined the site, she’d spent so much time agonizing over the questionnaire, the thought of re-working her heart’s desires in order to snag a suitor was unbearable.
A dialogue box appeared at the center of her screen: YOUR FREE MEMBERSHIP EXPIRES ON DECEMBER 31ST. CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE.
“So does that mean you think there’s hope for me yet, or that I need a full year of rejection to prove my lack of compatibility?” She asked the laptop its opinion since none of her family, friends or co-workers knew she’d reached the online dating level of desperation.
To Brenna, a goal was a goal. Five years of failing to achieve marriage meant she needed a change in strategy. That’s why, as another year wound itself to a fitful close, she found herself assessing her life list of things-to-do:
Spiritual life: check.
Healthy eating, regular exercise: check, check.
Job, savings, good credit rating: check, check, check.
But no matches to her personality profile meant she kept falling short of one particular aim, signaling a personal low that she had no tactics to address: Brenna still hadn’t managed to find a man.
“Nobody wants me.” She clicked on a video featuring a man supposedly searching for his soul mate. “Or could it be that they don’t know I am what they’re looking for?”
A split second pause in thought let the background sounds of Sunday night television news seep to the forefront of her consciousness. According to recent reports, she heard, about half of all African American women had never married, nor would ever.
“Oh, please let me be on the other side of that unwed half,” Brenna begged the universe, suddenly even more motivated to find her perfect someone among the profiles of HeavenSent.com.
Not as though she hadn’t tried this exercise before; skimming the pictures, searching for the optimum mix of rugged features – gentle smile, mysterious eyes, touchable hair – and then reviewing the selected faces’ profiles to see what they claimed to be about. Lastly, she looked at the qualities of the women they professed to want.
Most of them had entered few choices other than, No preference.
“You don’t care what my religious, political or relationship philosophies are?” Hmmm. “No man is that easy going.”
Yet, Brenna extended Nods – quick “I’m-interested-are-you?” notes – to five men in their late thirties, telling herself they were more likely to be ready to settle down than twenty-somethings. Last time she took this approach, no one Nodded back.
She could hardly wait to see who appeared in her results this time.
“I just don’t get this,” she whined to the laptop. “Maybe five-ten is too tall or they don’t like layered bobs. I’m brown-haired, my full lips and well-placed curves are original factory equipment, so to speak. So why is it that HeavenSent makes me feel outdated and used up?”
She tapped the SIGN OUT link and shut down her computer.
The chances of landing the man who made her heart flutter and let her check off the last item on her to-do list seemed dismally slim this close to the end of the year.
Singsong tones on her computer indicated the laptop was going to sleep and she probably should, too. She closed its lid, turned off her desk lamp, and swept her hand across the desk’s mahogany surface to shovel a palm full of the day’s dust and paper crumbs into the waiting wastebasket below. She picked up her PDA in time to catch an incoming text message.
The note from HeavenSent proclaimed Mr. Decent Nodded back! Login to meet up.
“Why not?” she whispered. A quick glance at the desktop digital clock let her know she’d be just shy of her eight hours of beauty sleep if she started tinkering around online once more. But she did it anyway; opening the laptop, signing on, and pulling up HeavenSent.com to read the message from the self-proclaimed Mr. Decent.
A face she wouldn’t notice if it passed her on the street, messaged, Hi! You’re beautiful!! When can we hook up??!!!
Her stomach flipped. “The profile says he’s thirty-eight, but he’s using teenage jargon. Maybe he’s trying to be cool. Maybe he thinks this is the booty call site.” She stared at his ordinary face, devoid of facial hair or personality. Her stomach flopped.
“It is your first nibble, girlfriend,” she argued with herself. “Bite back.”
His real name, he said, was Ron. They exchanged a flurry of polite electronic niceties and decided they’d meet for lunch on Tuesday at a spot of her choosing. Brenna opted for a familiar downtown eatery, public and escapable, in case he turned out to be a psychopath.
Tuesday at 2, she typed in confirmation, trying not to read more into the line than the words on the screen said.