Well, here’s something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be doing: the annotations for Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. I’m looking at the proofs right now (January 2007), and have to say I’m impressed–and a little bit amazed–at the whirlwind (at least in publishing terms) history of this book.
I’ll talk more about that later. For right now, however, perhaps hearing the various different titles that were proposed for the book will give you an idea of how crazy the life of the novel has been.
One of the very first things I started with, when formulating this book in my head, was the name Alcatraz for a protagonist. At the very beginning, I was planning for Alcatraz to be the name of an adult private investigator in a wacky mystery series. He’d solve crimes by getting all of the clues wrong, and interpreting them in strange ways, but then end up catching the crook anyway.
Yeah, I know. The story has come a long way. I never got very far in the Alcatraz detective story. I thought about it a few times, but then eventually discarded it. The name, however, stayed–and I eventually added Smedry as the surname. Now I had a pretty fun name–Alcatraz Smedry–but no story to go along with it.
Eventually, as I’ll talk about, I drafted the first version of the novel you now hold. At that point, I named it:
The Absolutely True–And in No Way Embellished–Tale of
and the Sands of Rashid
by Cecil G. Bagsworth the Third(a pen name of Stet Cannister)
Based on a story.
Whew! That’s a mouthful. I particularly liked the “Based on a story” crack. However, after my agent Joshua suggested switching the book to first person, I couldn’t keep this title anymore. So I had to come up with something else. By draft version 3.0, this book had come to be named Alcatraz Illuminated, book one of the Sands of Rashid.
I liked the sound of this title, but it has some problems. Primarily, I was still imagining this book as a young adult book–and it took my editor at scholastic to suggest it be middle grade to really get the feel on target. However, Alcatraz Illuminated just didn’t seem like it would fit with a middle-grade audience. Plus, on paper without a cover illustration, it sounds like a documentary book about Alcatraz Island.
So, once Scholastic had picked the book up, we started to talk about different potential titles. Early on, Anica established that we really needed to lose the Illuminated, and I agreed. We went through various rounds of emails with suggestions.
- Alcatraz Smedry and the Sands of Rashid(This one had problems in that it just sounded too “Harry Potter” to me. Plus it just felt a little bland.)
- The Completely True, and in No Way Exaggerated, Autobiography of Alcatraz Smedry(Harking back to the original title, but this felt too long.)
- The Autobiography of Alcatraz Smedry, Librarian Slayer(He doesn’t really kill librarians, though.)
- Alcatraz Smedry and the Incredibly Long, Exaggerated, and Somewhat Boring Fantasy Book Title(I kind of like this one still, but no one else took it seriously.)
- Lenz-Wielder(If we wanted to go really fantasyish.)
- The Utterly Unheroic Adventures of Alcatraz Smedry Versus the Evil Librarians(This is the one that stuck around the longest.)
Eventually, we decided to simply go with Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. It cut out a lot of the jokiness from the title, but it gave us what we wanted. Enough questions in the title to make people pick it up, with a good snappy feel to it. It got “Evil Librarians” in the title, which the marketing department really, really wanted. It got Alcatraz being used in a way that didn’t imply a documentary about the prison.
The title does give the book a bit more of a pulp feel, which is just fine, since that kind of fits. We’ll have to see what the whole package looks like. I have seen the cover, and love it, so I think I’m going to be pleased.
Assistant Peter’s note: I think Brandon forgot that he wrote these annotations. He seemed surprised when I mentioned that I had found them. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that this is the only Alcatraz book that Brandon annotated. Enjoy.