Thursday, July 03, 2008
By a name / I know not how to tell thee who I am. —Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Something I didn’t expect from the wedding: the amount of time I would spend talking about writing. I guess it’s natural: I knew half the people there, and after we said “Oh my gosh the service was beautiful and Jon looks so happy and Adrienne is so gorgeous and she’s getting married can you believe it!!!” they would ask about writing. And what really surprised me—though I don’t know why—was the amount of times I was asked about what my title would be.
Sigh. My title. I have no idea what the title of this book should be. It’s been a thorn in my writerly side for a long time now, as I have made lists of over a hundred possible titles, and all of them were rubbish. And since I mercilessly judge other books according to their titles, I know mine has to be good.
It’s not that I can’t write titles. I have a separate writing file that’s packed with titles I’ve created, for books or essays or poems that I haven’t written. They’re so fun to make, and they sound so intriguing. Actually, it’s one of my favorite things to play at: creating titles for unknown projects. There’s no pressure! And some of them tug at my brain especially, so maybe I’ll write stories to follow them someday, who knows? A few of my favorites:
The Carrion Bird’s Song
Abandoned to Coffee
The Merry Knives of Windsor
A Modern-Day Jester
The Midnight Psalmbook
The Headmaster’s Dog
Ooh, it gives me a nice writerly itch, just looking at them and wondering what characters will start talking, where they are sitting, what they’re drinking and thinking, and how they might lie to each other, or make each other laugh…
But as for my own, enormous novel, whose characters I know and whose places I’m very familiar with by now… no name suggests itself. I’ve tried every trick I can find to coax a label from it, but nothing comes. They all sound childish or dull, the names of books I wouldn’t care to meet.
I know it seems like a small thing. But if you’re browsing a bookstore, moving down the shelves, all you see is a bit of paper, eight inches tall by half an inch wide, with (I hope) a fantastic font and a few words.
And that’s what you have to go on: so, do you pull it out from among the others, and look at a few pages? Or pass it by in favor of The Phantom Tollbooth, Inkheart, The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Eyre Affair, or Out of the Silent Planet?—jl