Book Titles: Creating a Good Book Name | Rachel Hartman, Author of Seraphina
Shadow Scale: What’s in a Name?
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’m bad at naming things. The problem, almost entirely, is that I enjoy a good (that is to say, terrible) pun far more than is generally considered decent in an adult person.
I’m always coming up with hilarious restaurant names, for example. It will suddenly occur to me that a great name for a Russian-Canadian restaurant would be Vladimir Poutine*. If I had a Thai-Irish establishment, I’d call it Bangkok Shamrock. (I like rhymes almost as much as puns; you begin to see the depth and breadth of my problem, here.)
*Poutine, for non-Canadians, is basically fries with cheese curds and gravy.
If it makes me laugh, it wins. My physicist husband says I need my sense of humour recalibrated.
Silly restaurant names come to me quite easily, but book titles are hard. The stakes are higher, obviously. A terrible title will put people off, and despite evidence to the contrary, I really don’t want that.
For my first book, Seraphina, I admit to taking the easy way out. Seraphina is the main character, and the book is narrated entirely from her point of view. I’m not sure I could have come up with a more obvious name, unless it was That Book Rachel Wrote.
The sequel was another matter entirely. Seraphina is our narrator once again, but Seraphina 2 seemed like an uninspiring choice. For a long time, the working title was Dracomachia, named for the anti-dragon martial art practiced by my fictional knights. I love the word dracomachia: it comes straight from ancient Greek and means, literally, “dragon-battle.”
It had a couple problems as a title, however. First: it’s not immediately obvious (to English speakers) how to pronounce the word. Second: it’s also hard to spell. I’ve worked in bookstores myself, and it is indeed frustrating to look up a title you can’t spell, that your customer isn’t even sure how to say. Out of compassion for the librarians and bookstore clerks of the world, I had to come up with something else.
I did a lot of brainstorming with my agent and editor. We came up with long lists of dumbfoundingly dreadful titles. Every time there was one I kind of liked, we’d find something wrong with it. One of my favourite candidates, for example, was Emergent, but we decided it sounded like a sequel to Divergent, and so we had to let it go.
The title, in the end, was suggested by my agent as one of a long list of possibilities with the word “shadow” in them. My super-mature knee-jerk reaction was to hate it, but I have learned from long experience to ignore such reactions. They’re almost always wrong; my knee really is the world’s biggest jerk.
I stared at the list for a while, until suddenly Shadow Scale jumped out at me. It was more complex than it first appeared, I realized in that moment, because “scale” could mean several different things. It could signify a dragon scale, of course, which was undoubtedly the way Dan meant it, but that was only the most obvious meaning. It could also mean a musical scale; Seraphina is a musician, and part of the book deals with harmonics, which are like an auditory shadow behind the music we hear.
Scale could also refer to size or scope, which seemed particularly apropos to this book. Seraphina spends much of the book travelling, and as the world expands around her, so does her understanding of it. She learns difficult truths which allow her to fully comprehend how much of her world was an illusion—or shadow.
The title fit the book perfectly, and it was a pun. All my dreams had come true at once.
That said, I’m glad I don’t have to name books every day. I’ll stick to imaginary restaurants, thanks. My Vietnamese place will be Unphogettable.
About the Author
As a child, RACHEL HARTMAN played cello, lip-synched Mozart operas with her sisters, and fostered the deep love of music that inspired much of her award-winning debut novel, Seraphina. Born in Kentucky, Rachel has lived in Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, England, and Japan. She now lives with her family in Vancouver, Canada. To learn more, please visit RachelHartmanBooks.com and follow her on Twitter @_rachelhartman.
In her Morris Award-winning and New York Times bestselling debut, Rachel Hartman took our breath away with an utterly original alternative-medieval world full of dragons.
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors and universities as scholars. However, as the anniversary of the treaty of peace draws near, tensions rise.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. A gifted musician, Seraphina joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered–in suspiciously draconian fashion. She is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
“This is a debut novel quite like no other, a fantasy painted in the most intricate and believable manner, one that will take a hold on the imagination of readers’ young and old.” — The Children’s Book Review (Read our full review of Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman.)
Ages 12+ | Publisher: Ember, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books | 2012 | ISBN-13: 978-0-375-86622-7
Publisher’s Synopsis: Dragons and humans battle in this breathtaking sequel to the acclaimed Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.
The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, a part-girl, part-dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, it is she who must travel the lands to find those like herself–for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful new and magical ways.
As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying one chasing her, is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice. Cling to the safety of her old life or embrace a powerful new destiny?
Ages 12+ | Publisher: Ember, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-0375866579
Enter to win a copy of Seraphina, written by Rachel Hartman, and the newest release, Shadow Scale (Seraphina: Book Two). Giveaway ends April 8, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST.
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