Thursday, July 21, 2011

Help Me Name My Novel and You Could Win a Walk-On Role in its Pages

Dear Blog Readers,

We've had a marvelous relationship, you and I.  I've told you about books I love and you've gone out and bought them.  I've hosted contests and you've enthusiastically sent in your entries (some of you have even won).  I've written about my sex life and you've said "Enough already!"

But now, I really truly need your help: give me a catchy, sure-fire title for my novel.  I'm at the point where my agent is ready to start making the rounds of publishing houses, but he's a little "eh" on the manuscript's current title (Fobbit).  I've brainstormed a few ideas, but none of them really leap off the page into my lap.  I'm hoping somebody out there might have a better idea, something that will take my agent from "eh" to "Hey!"

Fobbit has been the working title of my novel about the Iraq War from the start and I am probably too tightly married to the name at this point.  I wanted something simple, direct and memorable (like Catch-22, for instance), but now I'm wondering if it's too obscure for the average reader.  The term is a derogatory military put-down for support soldiers of modern warfare, combining "FOB" (Forward Operating Base) and "Hobbits" (Tolkien's characters who are afraid to leave the shire).  This paragraph from the early pages of the novel gives further explanation:
They were Fobbits because, at the core, they were nothing but marshmallow.  Crack open their chests and in the space where the heart should be beating with courage and selfless regard, you’d find a pale, gooey softness which only went a little way in explaining why they fiercely clung to their desks at Forward Operating Base Triumph, home to the U.S. military task force headquarters at the western edge of Baghdad.  If the FOB was a mother’s skirt, then they were pressed hard against the pleats.

Here's the pitch for the novel--the brief summary to capture editors' interest (I'm open for suggestions on how to improve the pitch, too):
Staff Sergeant Chance Gooding Jr. never wanted to be a soldier, but after 16 years as a journalist in the Army, he’s deployed to Iraq in 2005 as part of a public affairs team.  In the cubicle jungle of military headquarters, he must juggle the demands of phone calls from CNN, compile reports of daily body counts, and placate a boss prone to nosebleeds.  Gooding lives the safe, air-conditioned life of a rear-echelon soldier, but out on the streets of Baghdad, it’s a different story.  The novel also follows a platoon of combat infantry soldiers led by Sergeant Brock Lumley—another career soldier who is also questioning his role as a warrior stuck between bringing peace to a country that may not want it and carrying out the orders of his less-intelligent superior officers, one of whom takes impetuous action on a mission which might just spark an international scandal.  Gooding, the public affairs soldier, must eventually deal with the media fallout from the actions by Lumley’s men.  Gooding and Lumley reflect the two different experiences of the military in combat: the boots-on-the-ground infantryman and the rear-echelon support soldier.  A dark comedy in the vein of Catch-22, my novel highlights the insanity of war and the media circus that fuels it.

For excerpts from the novel, visit this page to get a better feel for the tone of the book.

I was noodling around with ideas for new titles last night and this is what I came up with:

Soft Men, Hard Bullets
The Smog of War
The Soft Soldier Goes to War
Of Men and Marshmallows

Surely you can do better.  If you have a suggestion for a new title (or if you think I should leave well enough alone and stick with Fobbit), please send it to

If I like it (or, better yet, my agent calls me in the middle of doing handsprings and cartwheels), there's a chance I'll give you a small, walk-on role as a character in the final draft of the novel.  At the very least, you'll get a thank-you from me in the acknowledgements and a special Certificate of Appreciation printed from my computer and mailed directly to your home address.


  1. Wait, your sex life? I missed that part!

  2. Lose Tolkien. "Bagdad FOB." You know where I'm going here, right? Everyone will get it.

  3. "War Without Roses"

  4. Inference
    20-20 Illusion

    Bouncing off of Mr. Edmond's suggestion:
    The Daily Bullet

  5. The best titles are a kind of comment on the work's content - an arrow pointing to some important thing the author wants the reader to take away. I just finished reading Andrea Barrett's story "The Behavior of the Hawkweeds," in which one learns that the hawkweeds' heredity patterns are "irrational" - and that the irrationality is eventually explained by an understanding of parthenogenesis. It's like a flashing neon sign that points to pattern analysis and irrationality, ideas which made my understanding of the story much richer.

    So here's an idea, take it or leave it: Take out a blank piece of paper and start drawing some signposts on it. Iraqi-style signposts, billboards, signs in shops, if that helps put your head in the right place. (I think that signs look different in different places, but maybe that's just me.) Put words or phrases in them that signal a reader to look for a main idea or theme in your story and see if that generates something new. Use all the acronyms or military jargon you want. Not many people knew what a Catch-22 was before the book came out.

    I love the title "Fobbit," but then again I was "in" (if not in the sandbox). Based on your blurb, it may not quite have the resonance that would best enhance your novel. But you'll get there. You will.

  6. Subscription to the Front, Stories from the Rear.

  7. "Marshmallow Men"
    "Soft Soldiers"

    At the risk of losing the contest, I also really liked Mark's "Baghdad FOB"

  8. I like Baghdad FOB, too. Titles are so important, and this one hits it home. Good luck with your book.