Sometimes the title to a book comes first.
That’s how it happened with my picture book Snuggle Mountain, I was watching my daughter climb my bed one morning and I thought, I bet my bed looks like a mountain. Boom. I drafted a story about a little girl’s metaphoric climb up her parent’s bed to wake the two headed giant. There was never any question. Snuggle Mountain was the title.
Evidence of Things Not Seen has had a much different journey.
My first stirrings of this book came from a dream that woke me up. A boy was standing in the middle of a pull out by the side of a road. Just standing there. Alone.
I remember getting up and writing the first bits of a story. (It is still in the novel.) Gradually, I began to place other people in that pull-out, building the world of the novel in that strange patch of dirt.
When I finally came to the end of the first draft, I titled it The Stillwell Pull-out because the Stillwell Ranch butted up against that pull-out. Truth be told, I had called it The Pull-Out but if you Google those words you will find pornographic pictures, not a patch of dirt by the side of the road.
Title aside, I tucked back into another revision of the novel because I’d found a problem with the ending. Namely, that I’d wrapped it up too neatly. And the whole story was being choked by a big red bow at the end.
Thing was, that last section of the novel was called Particles and it held the key to my next draft. I dug into the next revision and remembered that original dream. The boy standing in the pull-out. Tommy.
He was missing. He’d gone missing from the pull-out and he was the thread that connected all these stories. Not only that, he was a physics geek, mostly recently obsessed with particle physics. No one had any idea of where Tommy was but because of his obsession with physics, some kids dealt with his disappearance by speculating that he went into another dimension.
I took the novel down to the floorboards and rebuilt it.
When it was “finished,” I titled it Particles because of Tommy’s obsession with particle physics and because I wrote the novel in multiple viewpoints like particles in space. I sent it to Erin Murphy who sent it to Joy Peskin at Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers who loved it (see The Call).
After the acquisitions meeting, Joy told me that the sales and marketing folks were not wild about the title and that she’d said, “No problem. There are lots of title possibilities on the pages of the novel.” I love that she met their hesitation with a positive attitude. It helped me not worry. I knew we’d find a title and I wasn’t attached to Particles. (Word to the wise: Unless it’s perfect, don’t get attached to the title).
I tried them on. I polled friends. Anything is Possible sounded like that Stephen Sondheim musical Anyone Can Whistle. I wasn’t sure I could carry off the irony of a title like Everything Can Be Explained (ahem) by Lindsey Lane. And while I liked The Space Between, sales and marketing was ‘meh’ about it.
Back to the drawing board. Fortunately, Joy went to the drawing board with Angus Killick, associate publisher. She threw out about hundred title ideas, read sections of the book and talked about the ideas in the book. (I still can’t decide if I would have like to be in that meeting.)
And then she hit upon it. Evidence of Things Not Seen. It comes from a quote in the Bible: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) From the moment I read it, I knew it was perfect.
Because the book is about mystery, about faith, about carrying on, about finding small things that buoy us up even in the face of hardship.