Welcome to the first installment of what I hope can become an occasional series here: You pose a question, and I answer it.
Today's question came unprompted from a Facebook friend, and the answer illuminates an interesting little side story to the Edward series of books. Let's dig in:
Q: I started reading 600 Hours of Edward yesterday, and in one edition I have he mentions the Billings Gazette, but in another it's the Billings Herald-Gleaner. Since this is a rare occasion when I can ask an author a question I have about a book when I have it, why is that?
I don't know that I've ever addressed this in a wide-open public forum before.
To grasp what happened here, we must go back to the writing of 600 Hours of Edward. That's a long time ago (late 2008) and far, far away. (OK, not really. I wrote that book about five miles from where I sit right now.)
In late 2008, when I was writing the first draft of 600 Hours, I was working nights at the Billings Gazette as a copy editor. I saw no problem with using the actual name of the paper in the manuscript. The paper was a small part of the story, and the invocation of the paper's name was benign. Nobody got impugned.
Also, at that point, I had no way of knowing that this one story I was sort of writing on a lark would ever be published. The idea that it might someday grow into what it became, spawning two subsequent novels, would have been preposterous to allow into my head.
So ... let's fast-forward to 2012 ...
600 Hours has been out for a few years, and quite unexpectedly, it has become a little underground success story. It hasn't sold many copies, but it has received a couple of nice awards and some good press. The original publisher, a small press here in Montana, has decided to sell the publication rights to a much larger publisher with an international footprint. This larger concern acquires those rights with the idea that it will release a brand-new version of the book in August 2012, followed by the sequel, Edward Adrift, in 2013.
Edward Adrift, as I don't have to tell anyone who's read it, features the Billings newspaper as a much bigger plot player. And the references are far less complimentary. My problem: At this point, I still work at the Billings newspaper. Not good. Not comfortable.
So I reach out to my new publisher with a suggestion: How about we change the name of the newspaper in the original story to something entirely fictitious (that right there is what we call plausible deniability!) and carry that new name through the sequel? Thus was born the Billings Herald-Gleaner (because if you're going to put a fake name on your newspaper, make it a funny one).
I did realize we would leave some readers confused, but frankly, it's a pretty small number. I think the original version of 600 Hours of Edward sold fewer than 1,000 copies, and the 2012 re-release has sold upward of 200,000 across all of the languages in which it appears. For the vast preponderance of readers of the Edward books, the newspaper is and has always been the Billings Herald-Gleaner, not the Billings Gazette.
Meanwhile, changing the newspaper's name meant I could continue to go to work without fear of having insulted my employer in a way that would have harmed either of us.
A couple of final takeaways: My career at that newspaper ended just a few months after Edward Adrift was released, so I don't think changing the name of the paper in the book had any real effect, other than making me feel better about things. But there's a larger lesson here, one I've applied in the writing of subsequent books: It's fiction, so why not be fictitious? Business names, particularly, tend to be transient anyway. In an odd way, a piece of fiction can remain a lot more timely with invented references than it can with references to real-life things that might not survive a shift in fortunes or consumer habits.
Craig Lancaster is an author, an editor, a publication designer, a layabout, a largely frustrated Dallas Mavericks fan, an eater of breakfast, a dreamer of dreams, a husband, a brother, a son, an uncle. And most of all, a man who values a T-shirt.