January 24, 2018

What’s In a Title?

The Crane DanceThe Crane Dance finally arrived as the title for my new book. Like a savory soup, options simmered for a long time. I tasted it, smelled it, spiced it with new flavors, and sought opinions as trusted readers took a sip.

One of my favorite stories about titles comes from Doris Betts, the long-time teacher of creative writing at the University of North Carolina before she died in 2012. “I overheard someone in a store asking for one of my books,” Betts told her students during a class I was covering for a profile on her years ago. “Instead of The Gentleman’s Insurrection, the customer asked for The Gentleman’s Erection.” Before the slightly embarrassed students quit laughing, she pushed on, telling them about a television interview she was about to do after publication of her short-story collection, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Just before going on the air, her long-time colleague at UNC, Max Steele, “leaned over and said, ‘Doris, don’t call your book, breasts of the Southern wild,’ trying to make me do just that of course.”

Betts knew her audience – college students who loved a touch of her bawdy wisdom, mixed with her quirky and steel sweetness. And she knew how to tell a story. The students loved her and her anecdotes. But they needed to find their own voice, their own titles. [Read more…]