Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's in a name?

I'm six weeks away from the deadline for my third Julia book. This is my fourth novel for Tyndale House Publishing, my fifth completed manuscript, and my last CBA offering for a while... Yikes. Somehow this little tome feels important to me.

Can I just say I'm loving this book? It's so much fun to write, and I'm soaking up my final Julia moments. After this, her story is officially over. That makes me sad. And happy. It's bittersweet, I suppose.

Believe it or not, the hardest part of writing this book has been teasing a title out of the pages. Names are so important to me. I can't stand titles that are cheesy, obvious, self-important, or copycats. And I won't even pick up a book if the title is boring, predictable, or cliche. But give me a good title and I'll buy the book just to have it sit on my shelf. It's got to be gripping, evocative, or beautiful in some way. It has to surprise me, to make me stand up and pay attention.

Some titles I love are:

The Inheritance of Loss (Kiran Desai)
My Hands Came Away Red (Lisa McKay)
All Unquiet Things (Anna Jarzab)
The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)
Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)
Away (Amy Bloom)

You can use your imaginations to come up with titles I hate. My mom used to tell me that if I can't say anything nice, I shouldn't say anything at all. So this time I'll keep my opinions to myself. Shocking, I know.

Anyway, all of this title agony has got me thinking about names. Naming a child and naming a book are similar endeavors, you know. And just like my boys' names are rich with meaning, history, and family significance, I want my titles to be thick with layers--a riddle to be solved in their own right. So far, all of my titles have had several different meanings. Some of which were revealed to me by readers after the fact! How cool is that?

But I digress. I can't really ask y'all for help since you haven't read the book. Nor am I quite at the point where I can run sample titles by you. And yet, I do have some questions... Humor me--I'm going nuts here! ;)

What are some titles you love?
If you write, how do you come up with your titles?
Are titles even important to you? Or do I have an unusual name fixation???


  1. Niki-- Favorite titles for me usually hint at a story I'll love or show an ability to paint with language (for fun or in serious tones).
    "The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care", for instance!

    Finding a title for me is like finding the underlying chord of the piece. I think of the title as comparable to that initial strummed bass note/chord that anchors the piece. It may be nearly hidden thru much of the song/story, but it's the true base of all, the lowest pitch upon which all others are built. Since the first two of Julia's books are seasonal, could you find some outgrowth on the basis of this latest season for her?

    And yes, names are very important to me. I feel strongly that to name something or someone is to call out part of their identity. If called by name, in a voice that's known, _only_ an individual will answer. It amazes me that a whole life can be drawn with a few syllables in such a personal way -- even among 6 billion others.

    I appreciate for you that finding the _right_ title is more about finding the correct name for your literary offspring than it is to lure in the largest number of consumers. :)

  2. My favorite title ever is "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston. I also like "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe or "Cry the Beloved Country" by Alan Paton.

    I agree, titles of books go a long way in grabbing my attention and desire to read them. You do a GREAT job at titles!

    :) Angela Van Gelder

  3. Susan, I like your analogy. The title is the underlying chord. As for following tradition with another seasonal title, I think I don't have much of a choice--it must be done! But this is where things could get cheesy if not handled properly... I'm working on it.

    Angela, I love the titles you mentioned, too. And thanks for thinking mine don't suck! ;)

    Have a fabulous Tuesday!

  4. Yes, titles are very important. You're not weird. Some of my favorite book titles: Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon by Debbie Fuller Thomas, Airhead by Meg Cabot, Embrace Me by Lisa Samson.

    I still have a hard time coming up with titles for what I'm writing. For one manuscript, I brainstormed a list of different names and showed it to my family before they knew anything about the book's premise. I had each of them choose a favorite title, then give a short summary of what they thought a book with that name would be about, just to see what kind of impression the names gave. Some of the summaries were pretty close! I guess my family knows me.