I almost always name my books once they’re finished. Thus, for most of the drafts of Cavern of Babel, I referred to it simply as Buttersby. I was first approached about writing an alpaca book back in the summer of 2005. Gwen Coltrin, one of the owners of Diamond Triple C Ranch, had come up with a couple of alpaca characters she hoped to use to promote alpacas: Buttersby and Meander. Buttersby was described to me as an adorable huacaya who would get into adventures, and Meander was her fun-loving sidekick. Ultimately, she wanted to have an open-ended series of books with them as the main characters. I brainstormed some various ideas about plots with her before we settled on a very rough outline. Then I went to work.
In all, I believe I went through six drafts of the book before it was finished. The first draft was written on a month-long trip to Slovakia with my wife. Originally, I had planned one short book that traced Buttersby’s journey from the ranch in Virginia, to Peru, and then back to Virginia again. However, once I had finally written the part when she arives back in the United States, I realized that it was far too long, and far too unfocused to stand as a book. If I were to split that one story into several parts, however, I could expand on themes that I had been glossing over before, and the individual pieces would (hopefully) be stronger than they were then as a whole. So I chopped the one book into thirds, and took the first third and went to work.
(As a side note, I still intend to use pieces of the second two thirds, although they might not appear exactly as I’ve written them. Many things changed while I was reworking Cavern of Babel, and so those changes need to be reflected in the later narrative. I still think Buttersby gets home to Virginia one day, but I’m not sure if she’ll take the exact same route she did in the first draft.)
The name of the cave where Buttersby gains the universal tongue also took a while to come into focus. In fact, in the first draft, I couldn’t come up with a suitably cool-sounding name for it, and so I just put it in as the Cave of XXXXX. (I will often do this, using a series of capital X’s as a substitution for something–that way, when I need to go back later and fix it, it shows up easily on the screen.) I sent that version to my writing group, and they helped me brainstorm some possible alternate names. Cavern of Tongues was one that was bandied around for a bit, but I thought it entirely too squishy-sounding. I’m honestly not sure who suggested Cavern of Babel, but somehow or another, it wound its way to the cover. Although the original draft hadn’t had nearly as many fantastical elements in it, the final draft (as you know) did. Thus, I felt that Cavern of Babel represented the ultimate goal of the novel, and when Shawn decided to pick that scene to use for the cover illustration, that title made even more sense.
Once there, another debate arose. I had been referring to the book as “The Cavern of Babel” (note the article at the beginning). When Isaac Stewart, the book designer, made the mock-up of the cover, he left out the “the.” He thought it sounded better without it, but I wasn’t sure. Once I get used to something, I usually like it to stay the same, and I was definitely accustomed to that “the.” However, I discussed the matter with Gwen, and after far more deliberation than was necessary, we decided to keep the “the” out. Talk about a lot of drama over something that probably isn’t important at all.