What Over the Rhine Said When I Asked For Permission to Use Their Lyrics (or, Help Me Title My First Novel!)

Most of the work I’ve been doing on my novel has been between 10pm and midnight, when the four older kids are asleep and baby Leo is drifting off, either in his swing or his crib. The city is quiet then, and the fans are on, and the air coming through the screens feels like October.

Sunday night was one of those late nights when the stories were alive. I took a break from revising to think about the front matter of the book – what kind of quote or poem or lyrics would set the tone for the story? At that moment, the chorus from one of my favorite songs played on my writing playlist: Over the Rhine’s “Poughkeepsie.”

I’d ride on the backs of the angels tonight.
I’d take to the sky with all my might.
No more drowning in my sorrow,
no more drowning in my fright,
I’d just ride on the backs of the angels tonight.

That’s perfect, I thought to myself. Not only does it depict a major theme in the story, it almost illustrates one of the important scenes. I typed it out in the manuscript, centered on a blank page just before chapter one. Then I thought to myself, Wouldn’t that be nice?

I looked up Over the Rhine’s website and saw they have a licensing agent. I had wanted to write them directly, but instead I wrote the agent a short email explaining what I wanted to do.

I didn’t expect to hear back. I’ve written and co-written other books where we’ve wanted to use musician’s lyrics, and usually we never hear back, or if we do they want $1,000 in exchange for us to use their lyrics in the first 2,000 copies.

I went back to revising the novel. Then I went to bed.

The next day, around 11am, something strange happened. Over the Rhine liked one of my earlier Facebook statuses where I mentioned they would be headlining the playlist I listen to while I’m writing. Maybe you didn’t read that correctly.


That’s strange, I thought.

Then, a minute later, I heard the little !ding! that signifies an email magically flying through space and landing in my inbox. It was a name I recognized… Over the Rhine’s licensing agent. I felt sick to my stomach as soon as I saw his name – surely if he got back so quickly it was with some kind of a standard rejection email. I didn’t want to open the email. I sighed. I clicked it open.

I nearly fell out of my chair.

Dear Shawn, Thanks for your note.  Over The Rhine is granting you permission to use this song in the specific way you described below on a gratis basis. Kind Regards, Michael


Wait, what?

It may seem like such a small thing, but to me, in that moment, it felt like I had just received one of the kindest gifts possible. And, this may sound even stranger, but it felt like the tiniest of affirmations from the universe that I actually SHOULD go ahead and publish this book.

Thank you, Linford and Karin. Thank you.

(Support one of my favorite bands of all time by purchasing their albums HERE.)

* * * * *

Here is an update on the novel, and then a request for your feedback.

I’m planning on launching the Kickstarter at the end of September, and it will run for 30 days. I’m using that method to hopefully raise around $3,000 to pay for the editing, cover design, marketing, and the creation of the digital formats of the book.

For those of you not familiar with Kickstarter, you, the reader, will have the opportunity to purchase advance copies of the book as well as some other cool rewards/services (I’ll be offering some of my other books, some writing coaching, even one package where I’ll help you self-publish your very own book)…but none of the money that people donate comes to me unless I raise the entire amount. Stay tuned for more on the Kickstarter campaign.

* * * * *

Now for the question. I’d like to get your feedback on a few different titles I’m considering. I know this is kind of unfair because you don’t really know what the book is about, but maybe in a way that’s good because I’d like to know which title sounds the most intriguing to you, the title that would make you pick up a book and consider reading it. So here are a few titles I’m considering. Let me know in the comments which you prefer and why, or what your general thoughts are on the matter.

The Day the Angels Fell

Samuel Chambers and the Tree of Life

The Last Amarok

41 Replies to “What Over the Rhine Said When I Asked For Permission to Use Their Lyrics (or, Help Me Title My First Novel!)”

  1. Goodness this makes me excited . . . far more excited than the word “goodness” describes. Yay!!

    Okay, so title, I think I like Samuel Chambers and the Tree of Life myself. :)

  2. I like “The Day the Angels Fell” for your title. Any book with Angel – Angels always catches my eye.

  3. Can’t wait to read this book! Definitely will support it’s Kickstarter campaign.

    Love the “tree of life” title. “tree of life” has powerful connotations.

  4. The Day the Angels Fell would definitely capture my attention and make me want to read the book. Love to read your blog and all your writing.

  5. Definitely one of the first 2 titles, but I’m not sure which one. I think I’m leaning towards “Samuel Chambers and the Tree of Life”

  6. Regarding the titles, the last one is meaningless because we do not know what an Amarok is. The first title gives the sense that this is a supernatural history of an incredibly curious event that many people would like to imagine. The second title feels a bit like the first, except with a direct intersection with contemporary man–and we all like to read about ourselves! The question isn’t which we like the best, the question is which would make us curious enough to want to know more, and for me that’s the second one (though if it’s targeted properly, I think the first achieves that too).

  7. The Day the Angels Fell – makes me feel like no good can come of it. I don’t like go go into a story feeling hopeless.

    Samuel Chambers and the Tree of Life – the tree of life beings a lot of assumed back story. Makes me feel like I already know what’s going to happen and therefore don’t need to read it.

    The Last Amarok – this one makes me most curious. Especially with some banging cover art.

  8. You go, Shawn! This is awesome!

    As for the title, are you considering mixing it up at all? Like: Samuel Chambers and the Day the Angels Fell? If not, my vote is for The Day the Angels Fell.

  9. The Last Amarok – I’d pick this up in the bookstore as I don’t know what an Amaork is and, darn it, I’d want to find out.
    My second choice is Samuel Chambers and the Tree of Life as it speaks of adventure and obstacles overcome, and, maybe, even a little bit of whimsy.

  10. I’m not in love with any of the titles,but “Samuel Chambers and the (something)” has a lot of potential. I suspect browsers will think :anorak” instead of “amorak”, and fans of “Protector” will think Larry Niven has already said it all about tree-of-life. “Fallen angel” also sounds tiresome and overdone,

    “Samuel Chambers and,,,” is easy to recommend to a friend, and won’t be confused with something else. I’d be likely to look closely at “Samuel Cgambers and Abra;s Hope”.

  11. Shawn, for me The Day the Angels Fell. Samuel Chambers sounds to involved and I agree with comment above, I would have to check and see what Amarok was and by the time I did that I probably would have lost interest.

  12. Yet more proof why Over the Rhine is the BEST!!!! That’s so awesome, Shawn.

    I’m not sure about these title options. I would be most drawn toward the first two but probably with a healthy dose of skepticism. The second one makes me think of Indiana Jones, which may or may not be a good thing depending on what your book is about. The Tree of Life part is what really drew me in.

  13. For me, it is not about what I like the most personally but what title I think is easiest to remember so it sticks with me in conversations with friends. Because of this, I agree with what has already been said about the third title. You are creating a stumbling block for word of mouth marketing when you include something like “Amarok”. Because of this, I would go with #2. It is the easiest one to grow into a series (if you decide to do that) “Samuel Chambers and…” And it gives a great reference point for readers. “Have you read the Samuel Chambers book/series?” I think there are so many books with reference to angels, the first one would create difficulty in word of mouth marketing. Just type “Fallen Angel” into an amazon.com search. There’s alot.

  14. I like the titles in descending order. #1 is okay, but it sounds a little bit like a fairy tale or a children’s book. I like fairy tales and children’s books, but if those lyrics summarize a major theme so well, a title that’s a bit more active and aggressive would be more appropriate, maybe.

    I like the Tree of Life bit, but who is Samuel Chambers? As a prospective reader, I’d be wondering if I should already know.

    I’d pass on #3.

    I love Over the Rhine. And reading this reminds me of everything Madeleine L’Engle ever said about naming her books. (Take her advice, and pray your mom comes up with a good title!)

    Also, I just re-read Crossing to Safety. One of my very favorite titles, drawn from Robert Frost, with a few of his lines as front matter. So, so perfect.

  15. I love this story of generosity.

    I looked at all three titles and pictured myself at one of my many browsing times in book shops. I don’t think I would pick up the book with any of these titles. I would pick up any book that you wrote, but if I did not know your writing already … I think not.

    But choosing from just these three, I like #1 the best.


  16. Oh I shouldn’t have read everyone’s comments first! Initially I liked The Day the Angels Fell, but tend to agree with some of the comments above. And I like The Last Amarok but thought, gee, I don’t know what an Amarok is, so maybe that would be bad. But I really find myself most interested to find out what an Amarok is! So I guess I would place The Last Amarok first, and The Day the Angels Fell as second. Looking forward to finding out about the Kickstarter campaign!

  17. I’m a new reader to your blog, but I have enjoyed everything I’ve read so far. However, I’ve not read any of your books (sorry). I know I need to correct that because your writing is so engaging. Several of the commenters have made excellent points for their own reasons, and having read them, I may have changed my selection on the title. But I am going with my first reaction since that is what the potential reader will do.

    The first title grabbed me most. I want to know why the angels fell; how that frames a story has me curious. I don’t know Samuel Chambers and I wonder if I should. It also conjured up another book with Chambers in the title (sorry again). I don’t know what an Amarok is; it feels a bit Eskimo-related.

    Now, I guess I need to check out Over the Rhine.

  18. I like “The Day the Angels Fell.” It sounds intriguing, epic, dramatic, strange. Hopeless? Not at all. Myths and stories about fallen angels have a rich history in mythology and Scripture, so it brings a lot of powerful associations with it.

    “Shaun Chambers and the Tree of Life” sounds too much like an article about somebody discovering a Terrence Malick movie… and it’s structured too much like a Harry Potter title. There’s no danger, no risk, no “What happened?” in that title.

    The third title… well, for all I know, an “Amarok” is a monster, or a kind of fuzzy-hooded coat worn at the North Pole, or a kind of wooden boat once used by Native Americans, or… I don’t know. There are a million “The Last _______” titles. It wouldn’t get my attention.

    By the way… I’m delighted, but not at all surprised, about the kindness of Over the Rhine. They are an extraordinary band, and part of their greatness is their generosity of spirit.

  19. I know they say “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” but that is exactly what the cover is for. A great title on a terrible cover isn’t going appeal to me. A great cover with a mediocre title will still pique my interest.

    The first two titles would probably at least make me pick up the book to read the jacket on the back to see what the story is about.

    That said, without knowing anything about the book itself, the title that attracts me the most is “The Day the Angels Fell”, because that tells me what the story is about right away. “The Last Amarok” does that too, except I don’t know what an Amarok is, which could make it appeal to some, but not to others.

    Samuel Chambers and the Tree of Life sounds a bit “Christian Harry Potter Knockoff”-ish, and without a really interesting cover, I’d probably pass on it.

  20. I like “The Last Amarok” best, mainly because I want to find out if an Amarok is worth caring about. Unfortunately, the first two titles kick my mind into theological overdrive (as both fallen angels and the Tree of Life are very specific things in the Bible), which tends to make me feel skeptical and anxious.

  21. I had to look up what an Amarok is, so not really fond of that one. The other two are okay but nothing really sparks my interest. Based on our experience together, I believe you’ll know it when you hear it :-) Of the other two, I lean slightly toward The Day the Angels Fell but it feels like its been done before? Is there a message or theme you want people to take away from the novel? What is the big idea? Do any of these titles reflect that? I’m so excited for you and can’t wait to see how this journey plays out!

  22. We don’t really know what your novel is about (although it seems likely from the titled that there’s a strong element of fantasy), nor do we know who the intended reader is; obviously, it makes a difference if the audience is young adult, romance lover, hard-core fantasy fan. or religious, as opposed to run-of-the-mill general adult reader. So our suggestions are of very limited value – but I’m really enjoying the comments. It’s fairly rare that I see so many people expressing very strong conflicting opinions, and with such amity towards each other.

    The titles kinda surprised me. I now hope that you’re writing something along the line of “A Wrinkle in Time” with a strong spiritual subtext, having the potential to be a continuing series featuring Samuel Chambers as your Harry Potter. We could all benefit from your influence on a hundred million or more juveniles around the globe!

  23. I like the second title best. It has kind of a fantasy feel to it, and that is a plus in my mind. I’m not usually one who will grab a book if I feel like I can’t pronounce the title (I don’t want someone to ask what I’m reading and be unable to say it!), so the third one would be a pass for me as just a browsing around thing. The first is okay, but for some reason, it makes me think of some lousy 80’s satanic cult fiction. Not an automatic pass, but I’d definitely be most inclined to pick up the second.

  24. #2 or #3 would be titles I would pick up and read the back of at the store. I would pick up #2 and expect to like it. #3 I would pick up and wonder if I would like it.

    #1 sounds like it is for a young audience. It wouldn’t interest me, but if you’re that is your target audience then it is a great choice

  25. I vote for #1, if the criteria were only the title. I do kind of like the alternative title suggested in the comments which ties into the lyric. Regardless, I’m glad to see your fiction getting some attention. Can’t wait.

  26. Each of the titles have their own unique traits, but the one that stands out is Samuel Chambers and the Tree of LIfe. For me, it gives a character that can be followed and invested in, it gives a specific name. That personal attachment I think would be best. Keep the writing coaching option at a low $$ amount please ;-)

  27. So so love Over the Rhine. Cool story.

    About the titles: I was initially drawn to the first two, as well. I like The Day the Angels Fell, but I think I like Samuel Chambers and the Tree of Life better. I don’t know if you’re intending it for a Christian audience or not, but I wonder if “angels” would turn some people away. (I really have no idea.) I remember reading an article recently about book titles and how the entire Harry Potter series is so unique in its titles. I like the idea of the character’s name in the title, too, because it gives us a clue about who the book is about. And, like someone else said, would open the door for a series of Samuel Chambers books. It does sound more like a YA/children’s story than The Day the Angels Fell, so your target audience would be another factor.

    Sounds exciting, though! And good for you for going after a dream!

  28. The Day the Angels Fell sounds a bit like a Doctor Who episode to me. Which would definitely catch my attention. It also reminds me of Frank Perretti (This Present Darkness, Piercing The Darkness, etc.) Samuel Chambers and The Tree of Life doesn’t really do much for me since I don’t have any idea of who he really is. And The Last Amarok made me have to go look up the word Amarok. A lot of the results were about a VW. Unless you are writing for car buffs I don’t think many people would get that title.
    Hope this helps. Looking forward to the kickstarter opportunity too.

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