Guest Post: Brandon Witt on “Under a Sky of Ash”

Witt-0025Brock finished reading my latest release Under a Sky of Ash, which arrives into the world on March 21st. He asked me where I came up with the title. Titles are a huge, important thing to me. So, I jumped at the chance to open up the twisted places of my soul and show you how I come up with my titles.

I’ve written nine books, and only two of them had titles before I typed the first word of the book. Under a Sky of Ash was one of them. And though it’s one of my more angst ridden books, it was the easiest book I’ve ever written. In part, I fully believe, due to the title. Fair warning: this book is hard to explain without giving the plot away—there’s lots of potential spoilers with this one. Let’s see if I can pull this off. As I thought about Isaiah and Ben, the MCs of this book, I saw them silhouetted in my mind under an orangish pink sunset that was barely visible behind a shroud of ash that covered the sky. This shroud left both Isaiah and Ben wandering in the dark alone, each feeling solitary and too wounded to be understood or loved. Then their silhouettes joined hands, pure accident. The sky caught on fire, the ash burnt away, and the beautiful sunset was revealed, illuminating their path. Showing them that they weren’t alone. That experience is the only time such a visual has ever happened to me, for either a book or title. But it drove every page of the writing.

When I have title, it just makes everything easier. I get a fuller sense of the story I’m trying to tell. The point of it all, if you will. Even if I have the point written down in a journal, it’s never crystal clear until I stumble on the correct title. Unfortunately, for me, most often the titles come about halfway to three quarters through the writing of a book. Sometimes at the end. When that happens, it then affects the editing process more than the original writing of the book. Often, I’ll have literally 20-50, or more, title options written down and just keep playing with them until one fits. Like I said, once in awhile, like with this one, I know the title the instant I find it. Most of the time, I think I’ve found it, tell my boyfriend, and he grimaces. Then I know I haven’t actually found it. He’s a good one to bounce titles off of, as he’s not afraid to say, “Oh, you’re trying to write a 1970’s harlequin?” or “Did you mean for it to sound like a soap opera?” or “You’re not writing a Lifetime movie of the week here.”

So, that’s my process, at least for when they don’t arrive in a bolt of lightning. I work on them for endless hours, rewriting the titles a billion different ways, until I get one that feels right in my soul and doesn’t make my boyfriend want to hurl.

In that vein, I thought it might be fun for those of you who’ve read my books to find out what my novels were almost called.

ShatteredDoor_postcard_frontMy first book: The Shattered Door had two titles I was certain were the right ones. The longest surviving one was simply A Story Yet Untold. What the hell was I thinking on that one? The next was Offspring of the Shattered, which I still think works, technically. This book was before my boyfriend, but luckily, my dear friend Christa read it and said, “There’s lots of references to doors, both figuratively and literally….” Thank God for Christa.ThenTheStarsFall_postcard_front_DSP

Then the Stars Fall was originally named Airport Road, as both Travis’s house and Wesley’s veterinarian practice was located on Airport Road. I didn’t need my boyfriend’s grimace to tell me that was dullsville. Later, when I changed it Shannon’s Husband, Stephen got his chance to give a thumbs down. It wasn’t until I finished writing their first kissing scene, where some stars fell, that I realized I’d just written the title. It made the rest of the book so much easier to write.

ImperfectionofSwans[The]_postcard_front_DSPThe Imperfection of Swans ate me up the entire time I was writing it. It wasn’t until the last two chapters, as I listened to Joy Williams sing “You Loved Me” on repeat that the title came. Before then it as Hidden Under Lace, Taking Inventory, Behind the Veil, Oppression of Gold, The Weight of Perfection, Perfection Among Swans. Truly horrid, right? Good lord. Thank goodness for Joy Williams and my boyfriend. I’m surprised he’d didn’t start hanging up on me, as I was constantly calling with the title I was sure was right, only to give him something heinous.

As a bonus, I’ll let you in on my release this summer. Son of Money. Honestly, I think it’s one of the least poetic titles, but I think it fits the story of a man who is the child of billionaires who is disinherited, though still under their thumbs, and turns to… a form of the oldest profession in the world, shall we say. I was 100% certain the title was Negotiable Affection or Tarnished Gold. It was one of the times Stephen pointed out that I might be trying just a bit too hard and sometimes simpler is better.

And there you have it, more than you ever wanted to know about titles and the insanity that goes on behind them—at least in this author’s damaged brain.

–Brandon Witt


Brandon Witt’s outlook on life is greatly impacted by his first eighteen years of growing up gay in a small town in the Ozarks, as well as fifteen years as a counselor and special education teacher for students with severe emotional disabilities. Add to that his obsession with corgis and mermaids, then factor in an unhealthy love affair with cheeseburgers, and you realize that with all those issues, he’s got plenty to write about….


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Under a Sky of Ash Blurb:

More than a decade after leaving Colorado to attend college and escape his past, Isaiah Greene moves back and builds a life in Denver as a special education teacher. When he meets Ben Woods, the mentor of one of his students, the attraction is immediate. The revelations that they’ve both suffered traumatic childhoods form a bond between them.

Raised by an abusive grandmother, Ben is a recovering addict who has made a family with his construction worker boss, Hershel, and Hershel’s husband, Daniel—drag queen ManDonna. Adding Isaiah to his life gives Ben a glimpse of a future he’d never dreamed possible for himself.

Both Isaiah and Ben are survivors, but when guilt drives a wedge between them, the past threatens to end their relationship.

Ben and Isaiah embark on journeys of self-discovery. Though their path will be difficult at times, humor and love find a way to bring light to the darkness.

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  1. Terrific article, Brandon — you’ve found a slew of gorgeous titles with the fierce help of your crew, but I think The Imperfection of Swans is the best of the lot. Pure genius.
    Yours in abject envy,


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