Things were starting to get rough in the fall of 2005, both for me and for my son. I won’t bore you with details, especially since some of the major topics were touched on in the book, which I hope you’ll be reading soon.
If you’ve been following The Door to Canellin for a while, you probably know that the book was originally conceived as a short story for my son, as a way for father and son to bond. I kind of had the vague idea that if I could write something that my son, the avid reader, would enjoy, he might look at me a little differently and maybe be a little more open to taking the lessons I had to teach to heart. But what not everyone knows is that the characters of Ryan and Wes, in the original draft, were actually Eric and Hal… me and my son.
Which leads me to an amusing anecdote. You see, about two weeks after I finished the first draft of The Door to Canellin, I was lucky enough to find representation with a well known literary agency. But one of the first things my agent suggested, and quite strongly, was that I would have trouble getting the book published if the main two characters shared my name, Eric Hal. I was reluctant at first to change the names, though. This was a very personal effort, and changing the names would change the feel of the book for me. But in the end, I decided that possible publication was more important, and that I could share the book with Hal and with my family with the original names. So I used the handy-dandy find and replace feature in MS Word, and found all instances of “Eric” and replaced them with “Ryan”. It worked out fine. So I went ahead and did a find and replace, to replace “Hal” with “Wes”, and then went about my business. But later, I had several copies printed up, clearly labeled as rough drafts, to give as Christmas gifts to my family.
Whereupon, I got a phone call from my brother, asking me in confusion, “What’s a Great Wesl?”
I had no idea what he was talking about, of course. So he gave me a page number, and I tracked down the reference. And that’s when I realized that you have to be very careful with find and replace. Not only did Collegium Keep have a Great Wesl instead of a Great Hall, there was a scene later in which a guard shouts, “West and identify!”, and other examples throughout the book. Choosing “whole word” when using find and replace is apparently very important.
Of course, that’s been fixed in the final version. It’s been polished and refined, and edited, and if you find any typos or editing errors, let’s hope they’re minimal.
But that’s not the end of that story. When I started writing book 2, The Door to Justice, I had a lot of trouble. I worked on it for over two months, but I couldn’t seem to get anywhere. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. And then I finally made the connection. I didn’t really care about Ryan and Wes all that much! Don’t get me wrong, I can read both books now and I care about the characters, they do draw me in. But when I was writing, Ryan and Wes were just meaningless words on the page. So I went back to my old find and replace. I changed Ryan and Wes back to Eric and Hal. It was miraculous! I got back to writing, and finished the first draft of book 2 in record time.
So there are two lessons to be learned from the name change in my book. Number one, technology is no match for eyeballs. Edit, proofread, and polish by hand, even if you use technology as a handy shortcut. And number two, stay with what feels right, even if it’s something as simple as a character name. It can always be changed later, but if it doesn’t feel right, it won’t be right in the end.