By Juliann Rich
Choosing a title is one of the hardest parts of writing a book for me. Seriously, I’d rather write thirty additional chapters than one word or a few words for a title. TOTAL AGONY.
A good title needs to communicate the core of the book, catch readers’ attention, and leave them wanting to dive in to see if the book fulfills its promise. Easy-peasy, right?
Wrong. It’s bloody hard to do well.
In fact, I thought I’d never figure out the title for the sequel to Caught in the Crossfire (originally titled in my mind as The Conviction of Jonathan Cooper – I know, I know…gag!). I waited for that magical moment when the perfect title would leap off the page and take a victory lap around my living room all through the year or so that it took me to write my second book, but that moment never arrived. So I decided to “pick” a title.
First, I tried on Fall Out. Nope. Too familiar. Too Schwarzenegger-y.
Then, Inside the Trenches. Better, but it still a titch too military.
After that I tried on Trial by Fire. I liked that…except the title seemed more fitting for book three (which was ultimately titled Taking the Stand and is coming out in April of 2015).
I tried on a few other titles and subsequently perma-erased them from my memory because they were so bad. I began to despair that electric shock of recognition, but the deadline to title the book was approaching and I needed to figure out what was tripping me up. I knew I wanted a phrase to keep with the sound of Caught in the Crossfire, but I was open to stepping away a bit from the military tone. So I spent some time analyzing my favorite young adult titles that are also phrases: The Impossible Knife of Memory, The Fault in Our Stars, Thirteen Reasons Why. The more I thought about these titles, the more I realized they succeed because they give readers glimpses not only into the books’ plots, but into the characters’ journeys.
My first attempts at titling the sequel had failed because they put the emphasis on the forces against which my main character, Jonathan Cooper, was fighting and not what he was fighting for. I realized I needed a title that would illuminate his heart’s desire, which had evolved since the first book.
In Caught in the Crossfire, Jonathan’s desire is to integrate what he believes are two conflicting parts of himself: being a Christian and being gay. He is able to explore the intersection of these identities with the help of two factors. The first is meeting Ian McGuire. With Ian’s support and strength Jonathan is able to face parts of himself that have previously been off-limits. Secondly, Jonathan is living in a bubble at camp. A Christian bubble, to be sure, but it is still time away from his family and friends which gives him the freedom to step out of the roles he plays in his day-to-day life. While there are external forces that come against him at camp, none are equal to the opposition he faces within himself.
But in the second book, all that has changed. The bubble of camp has burst. Jonathan has gone home and is now facing the challenge of integrating what he has learned about himself with his real life. The battle has moved from within Jonathan to the realities of his life: the home he shares with a silent mother and his private Christian high school where he has been outed and is facing social exile by his closest friends. I mis-stepped initially by focusing on the external battle in the sequel to Caught in the Crossfire where Jonathan is literally facing the fall out inside the trenches as he goes through a trial by fire. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.) What I needed was a title that would strike at his heart’s deepest desire, which was finding a safe place in his real life where he could be himself.
But how to put all that in a title?
Luckily, I stumbled over a word rhyme one day when I was writing a blog post about the importance of creating space. Space to be real. Space to be different. Space to disagree.
Space…grace. Finally I experienced that moment of recognition, which was quickly followed by a moment of distinction. We occupy space, but we are given grace. And just like that the two threads of Jonathan’s journey merged in the magic of that word rhyme.
Over the length of two books now sixteen-year-old Jonathan Cooper, a gay Christian boy, has been seeking not only his identity but God’s love and acceptance of who he truly is. One day (quite near the title deadline) I envisioned Jonathan in the midst of his deepest desire and saw him on the battlefield of his life, pausing and praying for a safe space to be provided for him by God.
He was, I realized, Searching for Grace.
First it’s a rumor. Then it’s a fact. And then it’s on.
Camp is over and Jonathan Cooper returns home. To life with his mother whose silence is worse than anything she could say…to his varsity soccer teammates at East Bay Christian Academy…to the growing rumors about what he did with a boy last summer at bible camp.
All the important lines blur. Between truth and lies. Between friends and enemies. Between reality and illusion.
Just when Jonathan feels the most alone, help arrives from the unlikeliest of sources: Frances “Sketch” Mallory, the weird girl from his art class, and her equally eccentric friend, Mason. For a short while, thanks to Sketch and Mason, life is almost survivable. Then Ian McGuire comes to town on the night of the homecoming dance and tensions explode. Fists fly, blood flows, and Jonathan—powerless to stop it—does the only thing he believes might save them all: he prays for God’s grace.
Minnesota writer Juliann Rich spent her childhood in search of the perfect climbing tree. The taller the better! A branch thirty feet off the ground and surrounded by leaves, caterpillars, birds, and squirrels was a good perch for a young girl to find herself. Seeking truth in nature and finding a unique point of view remain crucial elements in her life as well as her writing.
Juliann is a PFLAG mom who can be found walking Pride parades with her son. She is also the daughter of evangelical Christian parents. As such she has been caught in the crossfire of the most heated topic to challenge our society and our churches today. She is drawn to stories that shed light on the conflicts that arise when sexual orientation, spirituality, family dynamics and peer relationships collide. You can read more about her journey as an author and as an affirming mom on her website, juliannrich.com.
Juliann is the author of three young adult novels: Caught in the Crossfire, Searching for Grace, and Taking the Stand. She is the 2014 recipient of the Emerging Writer Award from The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival and lives with her husband and their two dogs, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Ms. Bella Moriarty, in the beautiful Minnesota River Valley.
Previous books by Juliann Rich:
Caught in the Crossfire, June 2014 (Bold Strokes Books)