The Death of "Toby" the Mouse and Birth of "Theo" the Mouse
Updated: Aug 24, 2022
Big lesson #1 for me as a writer, as I prepared for the publication of my first book Theo the Mouse. A Christmas Story, was that changes to your story are inevitable and even necessary for it to live. It does not pay to marry yourself to any portion of your writing. That creates a natural resistance to any thoughts that might involve needed, significant changes.
For 8 months, the title of my first book was Toby the Mouse, A Christmas Story. Toby was the main character and the actions written into the book for him were all Toby-ish. They were daring, yet careless; heartfelt, yet bold. The name Toby, to me as the writer, fit the story perfectly. All of my discussions with the illustrator, Bekah Grace, were centered around our hero, Toby. He was a real mouse. He took on life and purpose. I don't know about Bekah but I was rooting for him to take on life ultimately in the minds of readers and listeners all over.. When the story was written and the illustrations completed, it was time for Toby to take center stage in the literary world.
Literally days before the book was ready to send to the printers I decided to check with Amazon to see if there were any other picture book mice named Toby. And, of course there were...too many! As I looked through the assembled pictures of other Tobys, my heart sank. Don't these other writers know that I have created the perfect Toby?, I thought with a good deal of indignation.
I mentioned my discovery to Bekah and Sam, her husband and publisher, and their advice was to rename him so that our book didn't get mixed up with the others. I wanted to dismiss that idea right from its first mention. Couldn't all the other writers rename their mice? Toby was my mouse! I had lived with him for months. I even polled my focus group who gave feedback on the book along the way. Some fought to keep the name. Others saw the writing on the wall, so to speak. More and more it looked as though I would have to detach . It was so hard to make the decision, but as you know now, Toby became Theo.
Thinking back, it was the right decision. And quite honestly, I think I had actually written a story that was more Theo-ish than Toby-ish. If you are a writer, you know what it is to enjoy the process of "birthing" a story or book. It is your "baby" and whether it is the name, the plot, the character, the ending, or anything else, they are all up for change or elimination. It is part of the process.
Welcome to the world, Theo!