Land of Giants!

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour


[Update: May 12.  Some good title ideas coming in.  How about the Giant Side?  No–sounds like a rib restaurant.   It’s still The High Side for now… That’s the name of the vast mansion and estate in the book–If I could think of a great name for a vast mansion and estate that would also be a great novel title, I’d happily make all the changes–any more ideas out there?] [Update: May 11.  Land of Giants turns out to be what they call San Francisco… Just isn’t quite gonna work…  How about just GIANT?  No, it doesn’t work at all the same way…  Okay, back to The High Side for now… And off to ten editors tomorrow with a great note from Betsy, framing it as I never could…  Whatever happens, Later in the summer, cocktails with all you New York readers…  Alaska in June.] [Original Post: May 10]: I’ve recently finished a new novel—four solid years worth of drafting and revisions and moaning and groaning trying to make it look effortless, characters I love. The working titlehas been The High Side, but I’m not terribly happy with that. Land of Giants just came to mind this morning, but you know how that is. Sounds great at 5 a.m. just before you go back to sleep on a Sunday morning. But by now I’m hearing the Green Giant ho-ho-ho thing in the back of my head. I never have any trouble naming short work—bang, the title’s there just as I’m finishing, or even well before. But a novel? It’s so big and covers so much ground and so many events—anyway, no one title has seemed to encompass this tome… Except for Land of Giants, which by tomorrow I will hate. I already hate it, in fact. No, I love it. (I can just see the rejection letter: “Not for us. Perhaps better suited for a San Francisco publisher?”) Hate. Love. Hate.

I tend to write long, and this book is no exception, in fact breaks my record in manuscript: 540 pages. Some drafts have been longer (Temple Stream was longer in an early draft until I cut 300 pages, mostly about beavers, thank you Susan). (People often ask how manuscript pages translate into book pages. Depends on font size and kerning and margins and gutters and page size and just about everything else. Could be 1:1, manuscript to book, more often about 1.5:1, easily 2:1, or sometimes, if you’re Philip Roth, 1:1.5. War and Peace was over 3000 pages in actual manuscript, I mean, written out by hand ((Tolstoy’s wife’s hand)), and there are print editions that I can’t read even with reading glasses, you know–those dense paperbacks assigned for college courses). I wonder often if my new book is simply too long for the world today, however. Maybe get it down to four pages and sell it in a box complete with magnifying glass?

Another question people often ask is, What’s this novel about? But I just said—it’s about 540 pages. I make v. bad joke sorry because the question is so hard—almost at this stage as hard as a title. A title should capture the essence of the thing somehow, while exciting interest. Land of God-Damned Giants! Then there’s the blurb, which you leave to someone else. (“A massive swelling glissando of passion, better than most sex! Land of Giants!”) A description (the pitch, as it’s sometimes called, later to be flap copy) should boil the story down. But I can’t do it yet. I’m still so close to the work that when I’ve tried—people actually ask—I sit there at whatever bistro and restate the entire book, forty drinks worth. My agent, Betsy Lerner, is very good at saying what a book is, brilliant in fact, and after talking to her about my pages I have a sense of what they’re about for a while, often as long as four hours. But this surety fades. She says supportive, sweeping things like that it’s a Big American Story, that’s it’s Richard Ford in The Sportswriter only with dancers, that it’s big and it’s sweet (this after reading like 47 drafts), and of course I take it all in. I love Betsy.  She does what I can’t do.

But let me try:

It’s about a seventeen year-old kid who loses his parents in one violent moment, and then must carry on. Land of Giants!

It’s about a kid who grows up across a little pond from a mansion where a rock star lives with a world-class ballerina. Land of Giants!

It’s about a middle-aged guy struggling with his father’s loser legacy. (It’s certainly not about my father, who is a great guy and a major success, and happens to be visiting me right now.) Land of Giants!

It’s about a pair of siblings who share a tragedy. Land of Giants!

It’s about a football player who could have been great. Land of Giants!

It’s about a sports figure turned restaurateur. Land of Giants!

It’s about a guy who doesn’t quite credit his drive for revenge until he must credit it. Land of Giants!

It’s about high school sex.  Land of Giants!

Love is an illusion. That’s what it’s about. Everything’s an illusion. Land of Giants!

It’s about the sentences, one after the next. Land of Giants!

It’s about 540 pages.


What’s next for LOG? (Or am I jumping the gun on the acronym?) I am braced for a certain amount of rejection. In the past I’ve purchased myself a nice present at this juncture, usually a watch, to mark the success: I’ve finished writing a book I like very much. This is an important gesture for any writer at this stage in the suffering process. It separates the artistic success from the commercial picture, which is a different form of success altogether. Congratulations, self! You’ve done it! You’ve written a good book! Trouble is that now I tell time with my cell phone, primarily. And I don’t like jewelry. I already have a canoe and chickens. And I’m writing full time again, which is another way to say I don’t have money for anything very fancy. Maybe a nice meal. Oh—or a party! I will throw a bash! A successful-advanced-draft party!

You are invited.

BYOB = Bring your own book!

We will blurb one another promiscuously!

And don’t ask me what mine’s about, because I don’t know, except in a very close-up kind of way. Land of Giants!

Meanwhile, and seriously if I may: while we’re partying down, my manuscript will be out getting read by a short list of discerning editors. I anticipate rejection, because that’s the safest stance to take emotionally. After seven books published, I’m good at rejection, which is after all just another step in the complex suffering process that is writing. (In the old days I decided to change my goal from getting published to collecting rejection slips. That way, I was always successful. Publication when it came was a disappointment—where’s that slip?)  Don’t worry.  I can take it.  I’m a suffering machine.

But still, in the back of my heart I believe it’s all coming, that this is the one. Right? I’m right, right? I mean, right? It’s happened to friends. It’s happened to enemies. It’s happened to a woman I met at a party who went on and on till my eyes glazed over about her vampire book idea. I think she even bit my neck, or anyway, my personality sure changed after that encounter. But back to the point: These smart, savvy editors who’ve been aware of me (or have published me) for many years, they’ll look at the book with pleasure, stay up all night reading, rush early to the office brimming with ideas—ideas that will help me achieve that last, transformative draft. The return call from Betsy won’t come soon enough! Keys to the house treasury please! Yes, sure, okay, we’ll accept payment in diamonds. And here comes the book, like molasses down a pipeline. No, something quicker and not so brown, also hipper! Bio-diesel? The copyeditors, the typesetters, the design people, the sales team, the booksellers, and finally the readers, all of them will beam beholding this achievement, this monstrous bleat, this triumphant, sterterous snort of satisfaction from that old warhorse Bill, the steadfast, stentorian steed who’s come all this way with a spear in his side and an arrow in his eye, burrs under the bridle straps, bit made of razors, spurs of broken glass, rider a cruel and indifferent master who now lies drunk across the saddle, stinking and oblivious! These perspicacious editors will have their assistants and the boys from accounting pull up a few figures and think—Jesus, this  guy is due! 540 pages are hardly enough! Let’s do it large type, so even our man can see what he’s made! The 90-city, 10-country tour will nearly kill me, but Oprah and Charlie Rose will have a joint show on which they will take turns massaging me. Careful with my neck, you two! Better clothes, maybe. Definitely better shoes. And a new little tasteful awards shelf over the fireplace in the modest beach cottage. Deodorant.

Land of Giants!

  1. Dori writes:

    Wow – didn’t check in for a few days and missed all the big news! Congratulations, Bill, on finishing your book! Like Michael K. – I’m going to look forward to reading it whatever you end up calling it.



  2. Wendy writes:

    I think that a book’s title is very important. Granted, this is coming from the first line\last line junkie, but still… A title is part of your reader’s first impression. I love it when I”m reading and I stumble across a sentence or a passage that draws me back to the title. What’s better than that “Oh, this is where the title came from” moment, when you are caught up in the context of the story only to trip on the sidewalk crack of that realization. Sometimes, when I own the book, I actually underline the reference and note the page number on the inside cover. With that sort of a title connect, I feel as though the author has hidden a clue for particularly observant readers to discover.

    The High Side… I’m sorry, but immediately I thought of Sandra Bullock’s movie, The Blind Side. Maybe it’s just me, but I fear that in our pop culture driven society, I would not be the only one.

    The Land of the Giants or Land of the Giants… better, but I couldn’t help think of Gulliver’s Travels or Roald Dahl’s, The BFG. There’s also Ibsen’s, A Doll’s House (not sure why that came to mind, but it did) and Elizabeth McCraken’s, The Giant’s House. (A bit of an odd storyline, but I remember enjoying it several years ago.)

    You do pose a very interesting question on one of your blog responses. If the mansion\estate\whatever is a central part to the story line, it would be satisfying to come up with a home name that would also work well as the story’s title. You’ve actually inspired me to Google some of the famous Newport residences and see how their names would work as a novel title. (This is a great example as to the type of activity that I often find myself engaged in since I don’t watch television. Why would I want to watch “Monster Garage” when I could make a list of story titles or Google random facts that will one day help me win at trivia night?)

    Memorable titles that stuck out to me without having to scan my bookshelf: Russell Banks came to mind immediately. A colleague of mine introduced me to Rule of the Bone several years ago and I’ve been a Banks fan ever since. (However, his last few books haven’t impressed me quite as much.) Yet, getting back to the topic of “title impact” and textual connection, Banks works for me. The Sweet Hereafter, Affliction, Continental Drift. Ah yes, I say.

    Note: Along with my growing list of eccentricities, I am also a bit of a font and paper snob. If those two pieces are not “aligned”, forget it. It won the Pulitzer Prize, you say? That’s nice, but perhaps the publisher could have printed it on something that didn’t resemble industrial paper towel or tracing paper.

    Ok, I think I’ll save my stationary store story (say that five times fast) for another day.

  3. Mike Land writes:

    If the book is as engaging as your discussion of it, this is going to be a winner.

    I’ll just contribute that “Land of the Giants” was the name of a 1960s TV series in which a supersonic jet somehow landed in, yes, a land of Giants. Back when I was 10, I was really worried about those guys — and still am, since I’m sure the series was cancelled before they could make it back.

  4. Donnaldson writes:

    i may be overlapping too many characters, not tallying them quite right (just had two margueritas on this Friday night), but how about “Cronus’s Quartet.” Sound too much like angry chamber music…? I was thinking about standing on the shoulders of giants and all, even the very flawed ones we so often have to contend with or are born to – like one of your characters…

    Anyway, i went away for two weeks and so much has happened on the blog scene! You guys are inspiring, you know that, right? finishing novels and memoirs, making the horrors of writing them, naming them and encapsulating them funny. And, I got to say it, out there with your binoculars, patiently staring at trees, waiting for The Giant Warbler, you’re adorable, too. (Don’t mean to be patronizing… remember the two margueritas…)

    Rock on, Billy and Dave…

  5. Michael Kitson writes:

    Whatever this monkey ends up, I don’t care, call it whatever you like, Land of Giants seems kind of stuck there with velcro and gum and a little wire and tape right now, and I say, that’ll do, cos’ I’m jus’ looking forward to another book from Bill. It’s been way too long since Temple Stream – which I loved and hey, sorry but I also loved all the stuff about the Beavers and wanted more (damn editors) and although I live in Australia – nope, no Beavers here – thanks to Bill and Temple Stream, I have this weird trace memory as if I actually handled one of their paws.
    Good writing that can do that.
    So this novel, LOG, with its four years of hard slog, I say, may it be as good as The Smallest Colour (I live in Australia we spell things English here!), cos’ that was a rip snorter. Bring on Land of Giants!! My wallet is already out of my back pocket, the cash is in my hand, it’s yours for a copy, jus’ where do I send it?

  6. Tommy Taylor writes:

    Cool. So, now, not only do we get to assist in influencing the content of a video blog, but we’re given the chance to offer the title to a new book of fiction. Wow. Maybe Steven King’s website will soon be so progressive!

    Okay. So “Land of Giants” can be free-associated with “Land of the Giants,” the ’60s TV show starring Gary Conway in living color. Or, “World of Giants” from 1959 starring Marshall Thompson, in stark black and white. Mind you, these are BIG names in the lexicon of modern, pre-HD, pre-solid state, vacuum tube sci-fi TV and are not to be toyed with on the cover of a 2010 sex-filled coming-of-age novel from Holden Caulfield’s uncle. Dontcha think?

    No, no, no. LOG, LOTG, and WOG are not good titles for your new book, sir!

    Give us a sec to think of something better…

  7. Dave writes:

    Maybe you should just go with “Cocktail Hour.” It’s a little like “The High Side.” (If you know what I’m sayin’.)

  8. Steven Stafford writes:

    They’re both pretty good titles. I do agree that Land of Giants sounds more epic and therefore is a little more exciting. I guess I’d lean toward that, then.

    • Bill writes:

      Remember that Paris Review interview with John Steinbeck? Because he died it wasn’t really an interview but a pastiche of great quotes from letters and etc., mostly about writing. In one, he’s telling his editor about his idea for a title for the book that became East of Eden. “I have never been a title man. I don’t give a damn what it’s called. I would call it Valley to the Sea, which is a quotation from absolutely nowhere but has two great words and a direction.”

      • Steven Stafford writes:

        Yes, I’m a bit annoyed with the allusive-title rule too. Fuck ’em.

  9. Lia Eastep writes:

    Actually, I rather like “The High Side.” It sounds hip and is sure to deliver on the promise of a cool, thoughtful story. I’d totally pick it up even if didn’t know you, Bill.

  10. John Jack writes:

    Just some free association . . .
    World Tree Manor? Plantation? Yggdrasil, the world tree, a giant ash tree from Norse mythology.

    • John Jack writes:

      Wait a sec’. Isn’t The High Side biker slang for the handlebars, as in flying over the high side because of an abrupt stop or a wreck?

      • Bill writes:

        Whoa–you’re right… I’ll have to put a motorcycle in the book… Yygdrasil would be a great nickname for David, my main character, by the way… Not Gessner, the one in the book… Yygdrasil Hockmeyer… He’s almost seven feet tall, after all… Or for the mansion next door–the dancer’s Norwegian, after all… Fy Faen!

  11. Nina writes:


    But I like Land of Giants. Also, ILB. (that’s my acronym for I Love Bill)

  12. While I admit to offering no help in the quest for a title, I would like to take a second to say thanks for posting this piece. I think there should be more celebrations for the completion of manuscripts, for the completions of quality short stories, for poems, for any and all writing endeavors to which we have sacrificed so many a dark hour.

    Party on, Wayne.

    Party on, Garth.

    (Regarding the title though, Land of Giants is better than The High Side. The High Side sounds like a Burt Reynolds movie from the 70s or 80s. Which is not to bash classic Burt Reynolds movies, only to say that, well, I see Burt when I hear that title.

    For what it’s worth…which may not be much.)

    • Bill writes:

      It’s worth a lot…. It’s probably going out as The High Side for now… That’s the name of the vast mansion and estate in the book–If I could think of a great name for a vast mansion and estate that would also be a great novel title, I’d happily make all the changes–any ideas out there?

      • John Jack writes:

        You’re welcome, and I’m sorry about that. Does creation ever come to an end?

        The Big Shred theory supposes escalating hyperinflation of the universe will cause dissassociation of all matter and energy, leaving a uniform grayish, steelwool-like sponge universe comprising the time-space continuum. It might then collapse and incite a new Big Bang. Sort of like shampoo directions, lather, rinse, and repeat.

        • John Jack writes:

          Sorry again. My reply was intended for the Fy faen reply. I lost my place.

      • Roseann Fitzgerald writes:

        First congratulations, Bill on finishing you novel! I like the title, “Land of Giants” but did think of the TV show of the family trapped back in time trying to survive without being eaten by a T-Rex.

        I read a LOT of Romance novels in my teenage years (e.g. Susan Howatch’s Cashelmara and Penmarric) and all the books on King Arthur by Mary Stewart. Both of these are names for the mansions where the novel’s action takes place. And of course, there’s “Wuthering Heights” you can riff off. And if it’s near the sea, don’t forget the name of the mansion for the TV Show Dark Shadows, “Collinswood”.

        Amazing what you can find on google. Here’s a Mansion Name Generator… I entered “Giants” and it spit out: “Seven Brook Hall” (??).

        Try it yourself and good luck w/the search:

  13. John Jack writes:

    Land of Giants as a novel title evoked a flood of speculation of the good kind from me and enticement for me. I study titles of freshman breakout and blockbuster novels for insight into what makes good titles good. Their relevance to the narratives they label being number one on the hint parade, of course.

    Let’s see, Land of Giants, hint of theme and thematic unity, hint of insuperable dilemma, setting and antagonism hints, central character(s) hint, idea hint. No overt hint of a central event or message, per se. The title pretty well covers the keystones of title purposes. It begins the tortuously difficult-to-come-up-with necessary introductions of an opening.

    In terms of audience rapport, the umbrella-like top level architecture of a narrative, the title has high resonance potential from conscious and nonconscious familiarity with the literal and figurative contexts of a land of giants. A traditional science and fantasy fictional and Magical Realism underpinning in giants. Giants, as comparatively fantastical as they are, are societal paradigms, part of the cultural zeitgeist symbolizing assorted larger-than-life archetypes. From David’s Goliath to Gulliver’s Brobdingnag, basketball celebrities to visible leaders head-and-shoulders above the mob, malevolent to benevolent, self-idealized surrogate personas to freakishly discomfitting towering overlords.

    Giants symbolizing larger-than-life obstacles, boundaries, setbacks, letdowns, thresholds have good empathy-worth potential for us motes in God’s eye who suffer insuperable dilemmas from the challenges real or figurative giants pose. That’s resonance and empathy-worthy potentials, leaving only suspense questions for building audience rapport. The generic central suspense question of narratives, what will happen: in a land of giants? seems readymade to engage tension’s emotional disequilibrium.

    Twenty-eight million search engine hits on “Land+of+Giants”. The boolean operator quote marks and plus signs limiting results to phrases with the three search terms in the exact sequence and string. A few pesky “Land of the Giants” hits intruded on the sample, a late ’60s science fiction television series, a comic book series.

    A jazz album titled Land of Giants by McCoy Turner accounts for a fair portion of the hits. Turner and other performers on the album, according to Wikipedia, are “masters of the straight-ahead modern jazz idiom.”

    Many search engine hits confirms that a land of giants is in the collective subconscious mind.

    Like War and Peace, a land of giants suggests a grand scale, sweeping vistas, and multiple viewpoint characters. Five hundred and forty manuscript pages for the sake of a wide scope seem a necessity, according to Percy Lubbock, author of The Craft of Fiction, a poetics tome from 1921 discussing narrative point of view. However, buzz on the publishing grapevine is publishers are doubly cautious of long novels in these uncertain marketplace times. There wouldn’t be any uncertainty if they didn’t overthink the commercialization of art.

    The title also suggests to me a Realism centered narrative, the sort of self-enlightened Modernism that explores coping mechanisms for dealing with the harsher realities and proxy realities of contemporary neoexistentialism. The battle between Predestination and Free Will rages on! There be giants here, saith the map, mighty unconquerable giants who nevertheless must be dealt with in order to win through to the other side of emotional equilibrium.

    Surely a novel with some meat on the bones.

    (James Wood’s How Fiction Works is wending its way toward me.)