I'm into the final days of writing the Darger & Surplus novel and it still doesn't have a title!
This is a real problem because all the best novels (Neuromancer, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and A la recherche du temps perdu, to name but three) have titles, while untitled novels are quickly forgotten. (Quick! Name three!)
So I need a title and I'm asking for suggestion.
This is almost but not quite a contest. It's almost a contest because I'm offering prizes. It's not quite one because I can't guarantee that anybody entering will win. The ultimate title might come from me or from Marianne or from Sean and his friends or from my editor.
But if it comes from you, I'm prepared to offer some serious schwag.
So what am I offering?
First of all, bragging rights. I will not be shy about giving you credit. You will be mentioned not only online but in the novel's acknowledgements. When your grandchildren call your bluff, I'll be happy to email them with the truth.
Secondly, a copy of the novel itself, inscribed to you with genuine gratitude. It won't be the first autographed copy (that's already been promised) but it will be one of the first three.
Thirdly and bestly, a Big Box O' Books. I'll dig deep into the book closet and assemble a selection of novels, chapbooks, best-of-the-year collections, and anthologies. Enough to fill a large-size flat rate USPS box (mostly empty above). I'll do my best to fill it full of interesting stuff, and I'll check with you first to make sure I'm not sending you anything you already have. (Unless you'd like it inscribed to a friend.) Every book will be autographed. If you'd like them inscribed, that too.
Finally, I'll include the original signed typescript of a short-short story (aka a flash fiction) with either your name or the name of somebody you designate as a character. This is called a Tuckerization, after Wilson Tucker who liked to give shout outs to friends and colleagues in his fiction. To the best of my recollection, I've never Tuckerized anybody. So this will be a first (and probably last) for me. I met Wilson Tucker once and was appropriately awed.
So what's the novel about?
Here's what I can tell you about the plot:
Sometime in the Postutopian era, Darger and Surplus, two talented con men, come to Moscow, hoping to pull a very big scam on the Duke of Muscovy. This great man has dreams of resurrecting the Russian Empire and is, they discover, all but unapproachable. Meanwhile, other forces (including the exiled demons of the Internet) are conspiring against the duke's rule. Wolves are involved. Darger and Surplus soon learn exactly how mean and dangerous Moscow can be. But will they burn it down, as they did London?
That's a little cryptic, I confess, and terribly oversimplified. But if I tell you more, I'll have to just start at the beginning and give you the entire story.
Oh, what the heck. Here's the opening:
Deep in the heart of the Kremlin, the Duke of Muscovy dreamt of empire. Advisors and spies from every quarter of the shattered remnants of Old Russia came to whisper in his ear. Most he listened to impassively. But sometimes he would nod and mumble a few soft words. Then messengers would be sent flying to provision his navy, redeploy his armies, comfort his allies, humor those who thought they could deceive and mislead him. Other times he sent for the head of his secret police and with a few oblique but impossible to misunderstand sentences, launched a saboteur at an enemy’s industries or an assassin at an insufficiently stalwart friend.The great man’s mind never rested. In the liberal state of Greater St. Petersburg, he considered student radicals who dabbled in forbidden electronic wizardry, and in the Siberian polity of Yekaterinburg, he brooded over the forges where mighty cannons were being cast and fools blinded by greed strove to recover lost industrial processes. In Kiev and Novo Ruthenia and the principality of Suzdal, which were vassal states in all but name, he looked for ambitious men to encourage and suborn. In the low dives of Moscow itself, he tracked the shifting movements of monks, gangsters, dissidents, and prostitutes, and pondered the fluctuations in the prices of hashish and opium. Patient as a spider, he spun his webs. Passionless as a gargoyle, he did what needed to be done. His thoughts ranged from the merchant ports of the Baltic Sea to the pirate shipyards of the Pacific coast, from the shaman-haunted fringes of the Arctic to the radioactive wastes of the Mongolian Desert. Always he watched.But nobody’s thoughts can be everywhere. And so the mighty duke missed the single greatest threat to his ambitions as it slipped quietly across the border into his someday empire from the desolate territory which had once been known as Kazakhstan . . .
Give me your best, and tell your friends to do likewise. This is a terrific novel and it deserves a terrific title.