Above my desk:
Writing is easy… just a matter of staring at blank page until your forehead bleeds-- Gene Fowler.
Gene Fowler was a screenwriter during the Golden Era of Hollywood. Today, we’d have to modify his quote to read “staring at a blank screen.” But the idea is the same. We struggle as writers. The screen stays blank. We wish for blood. Worse yet, we have no one else to commiserate with except other writers (thank goodness for she writes). We obsess. I obsessed about the title for my debut novel and even changed it after it was sold to St. Martin’s Press.
My novel was originally titled: L.I.E.
If you are from New York or familiar with the highway system in the New York City area, you read this title one way. You read it:
L --I--E saying each letter separately and usually with emphasis for the period (or pounding your voice down, sing the hours spent on America’s longest parking lot). When talking about the roadway, you usually add “the” before it, and as I discovered, do it unconsciously even if it is not written in the title.
So, my novel was named L.I.E. , which stands for the Long Island Expressway, Interstate 495, which runs from the Queens-Midtown Tunnel in New York City seventy-one miles east onto the end of Long Island.
The novel is set on Long Island, inspired by real events, and has as its central conflict the decision of the main character, 17 year-old Skylar Thompson, to tell the truth – or lie – about the murder of a young man of color by two white teens. The expressway is a central image and metaphor in the book (the characters are always trying to escape, except they are driving east, the end of the island). I thought I was being clever naming my novel L.I.E.
However, I have a pesky little brother. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Upon hearing the title, he said, “What are you doing? Nobody outside New York will know what the hell you mean. And even if they do know it stands for the expressway, they’ll ask you why you are writing about a highway. Lose it.” Little brothers can be good for some things. I took a step back and realized that he was right.
Yet, I still wanted that double meaning there for people who did know that this was a reference to Long Island. My compromise was LIE— always written in all caps.
I shared this late-minute re-thinking with my editor. As a first-time novelist, I had no contractual control to mandate “all caps” for the title of my book, which is not at all unusual. Alert: most writers published by established presses do not have any control over their cover, especially first-time writers. Luckily, she agreed— and the final title reads: LIE.
Titles are hard. You want to capture the essence of your book. You want, even more, to grab the reader’s attention. Maybe you think of it on the bestseller list and notice most titles are short, not long. However, one title I love: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” has always resonated with me. This seminal short story collection by Raymond Carver uses the unconventional “we” in the title, and yet, it makes me wonder if it’s about what I talk about when I talk about love. Most of all, when I read this collection, I love that it’s about we don’t talk as much as about what we do.
What do you think of titles? Hard? Easy? Do you have a favorite one? Do you have a work-in-progress title, which you’d like to share?
I’m looking forward to guest editing and blogging all week. Watch for a wide range of blog posts from – Astrology and the Writer: a special interview with Madame Lichtenstein, published author, and astrologist extraordinaire – to PR Punch -a mix of PR advice served up from a 20 year public relations veteran-- and more!
Caroline Bock is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novel, LIE, from St. Martin’s Press (September 2011). She is also an adjunct lecturer at The City College of New York in the English and Mass Communications department. Prior to teaching, she led the marketing and public relations departments at Bravo and The Independent Film Channel cable networks. And she had great fortune of studying creative writing with Raymond Carver at Syracuse University. More at www.carolinebock.com.