Free FallingBy Sandy James
I’m not really a Tom Petty fan. He was one of the 1980s singers I could take or leave. Good enough I’d probably not change the radio channel if one of his songs popped up, but not good enough to run out and buy his latest CD. Which probably raises the question, “Why in the world would you use one of Tom Petty’s best-known songs as the title of one of your books?” Because to me, titles are as important as the plot. Yeah, I know. That doesn’t answer your question, but please bear with me. As I tell my students, there’s always a method to my madness.
Every now and then, a title comes easy. A good example would be Turning Thirty-Twelve. That was the first book I ever wrote around a title. More often, I complete several chapters of a book before the title makes itself known. And the titles choose me, I don’t choose them. Free Falling came to me that way.
Murphy’s Law was the third book I wrote. At the time, my son was a senior at the high school where I teach. As a result, I was really close to the seniors that year. I’d watched most of them grow up, and they were all very supportive of my first endeavors into writing novels. To thank them for all their encouragement, I named several of the characters in Murphy’s Law after some of my students. One of my favorite students begged me to name the villain after him. So Ross Kennedy was born. But I immediately encountered a problem. My Ross, my character, simply wouldn’t let me write him the way I wanted. I tried. I really did. But Ross just couldn’t be a bad guy.
The character slowly evolved into a strong man who tried to do the right thing, even if it included getting hurt in the process. He loved Katie Murphy, the heroine, but in the end, he lets her go with Seth Remington so she can be with the love of her life. Ross sacrifices what he believes will make him happy to ensure her happiness. With such a wonderful character, how could I possibly leave him all alone? As I wrapped up Murphy’s Law, I decided that Ross had a story of his own to tell, so I set out to create for him a heroine who would not only complement him, but complete him.
Ross was already well characterized, but when you thrust a secondary into the spotlight, you have to add more layers. A history. Quirks. Emotional baggage. Ross became the superlative Type A. Always working. Always planning. Always trying to control every aspect of his life. Into his regimented and orderly world, I dropped Laurie Miller.
Laurie was such a joy to write. She was just as committed to her career as a psychologist as Ross was to his career as a lawyer. (And by the way, my student Ross has decided to study law because “his” character was a lawyer. How neat is that?) But even though Laurie was dedicated to her job, she had more “balance” to her life than Ross. She knew how to stop and appreciate the important moments rather than plot and plan all the moments yet to come and missing out on real life. She knew how and when to just let go, something Ross had never learned. She was exactly what he needed.
I was a good third of the way into writing the book before the title finally made itself known. As I wrote the scenes where Laurie and Ross get to know each other, as their relationship developed, I realized that she was giving him a marvelous gift, that she could help Ross finally learn one of the most important lessons of his life. She gave him the ability to live in the moment, to – for once – let life come as it may. To…free fall. The Tom Petty song suddenly popped into my head, and I knew the book had a name. The rest of the story came so easily, the book practically wrote itself. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. It was still a lot of work, but the focus “made” the story.
I suppose that each of my books offers a sort of lesson that I hope enhances readers’ lives. In Turning Thirty-Twelve, I hope people can follow Jackie’s lead and learn to love themselves. In Murphy’s Law, I hope people catch onto Seth’s changing circumstances and realize that there are more important things in life than money. In Free Falling, I hope that people watch Ross learn to let go and perhaps learn to appreciate the little things in their own lives.
And wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn how to free fall?
Visit author Sandy James at her website http://www.sandy-james.com
What are some of the best titles you've chosen? What was the process you went through in choosing them?