Saturday, April 11, 2009


Over on PubRants, Kristin is blogging about her client Janice Hardy's YA book, The Shifter, and the rigmarole surrounding its title changes. I don't know if my book will get a title change (it hasn't been mentioned yet) but everyone I've met either mispronounces it or asks how it's pronounced. I'm not saying there's a right or wrong way to pronounce it, there's just the way *I* pronounce it (sca-ra-BAY-us). At a guess I'd say many don't know how to spell, i.e. google, it, either. Which means my title was probably a bad idea.

The book started life as Proximity Rho, which at the time was the name of the planet involved. This sounded science-fictiony but not at all interesting. The idea for the name Scarabaeus came from a beetle that makes a brief appearance in chapter 1. I changed the name of the planet and hence the title.

Always a good idea to google invented words, because there's nothing new under the sun. I did not take this advice. I now find that Scarabaeus is the genus name of the dung beetle. My biology degree let me down badly. Wikipedia: "The genus Scarabaeus consists of a number of Old World dung beetle species, including the 'sacred scarab beetle', Scarabaeus sacer. These beetles feed exclusively on dung". Okaaaaay...

Not that there's anything wrong with eating dung exclusively (if you're a beetle).

Scarabaeus is also a computer game "released for the Commodore 64 in 1985... The storyline features an astronaut and his dog [his dog??!] who become trapped in an Egyptian tomb..." Now this makes me all warm and fuzzy with nostalgia. Around 1984 my brother, sister and I bought a C64 (our dad paid for half). We never had an Atari or played Pong, but now we had a real personal computer! With a cassette tape to load up programs! I wrote a Basic program that played cricket (sort of) - my programming skills never progressed beyond that.

During one of my last rewrites of Scarabaeus, I decided to change the title to Song of Scarabaeus. The idea came from the main character Edie's experience of the datastream that she jacks into as part of her job. I knew when I started writing that I needed an analogy to describe this experience. For example, in The Matrix, Neo sees the code as vertical lines of glowing green numbers. In the novel Night Sky Mine by Melissa Scott, code is represented with holographic animals (hard to explain but it makes sense if you read the book).

I knew I didn't want a visual analogy so I went with an aural one. Edie "hears" the datastream as melodies and harmonies. When things are out of tune, she knows something is wrong. Every program has its own tune, or "song" - hence the title change, because the planet Scarabaeus is run by a sort of program, too.

When it comes to the names of characters and various other words I made up... that's a whole other post.

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