Titles: Wednesday Workshop



Wednesday’s Workshop
02 November 2016

I am currently thinking and re-thinking the titles to my books.

Clearly, the title is of the utmost importance. The title should draw the reader in while offering some information on the content. Alas, my earlier titles did not do this.

Monkey Temple, for example, really doesn’t say much about what the book contains. Nor does its subtitle: A narrative fable for modern times. Those who have read poems from the book or who have heard me read excerpts from it, know what it is about. However, deep down the title really says little about the life and times of Monkey, the protagonist who works and suffers in the corporate Monkey Temple.

In similar fashion, Though Lovers Be Lost is a wonderful title, taken from Dylan Thomas, and illustrating his theory that “though lovers be lost, love shall not, and death shall have no dominion.” If readers have these lines on the tip of their tongues, as most people from Wales do, then they will have a fair idea about the contents of the book. However, without that intimate knowledge of one of the great Welsh poets … many readers will be lost and the title will lack meaning, check my post on Intertextuality.

Bistro is a collection of flash fiction. I am not sure that the title suggests that instead of a standard and expected table of contents the book has a menu that refers to the 34 pieces of flash fiction are contained within its pages. The pieces are so varied, rather like a meal of sashimi or sushi, that it is difficult to describe the contents (or menu) in such a short thing as the title. Does the one word, Bistro, draw the reader in? The cover picture might and the combination of title and picture and cover may go further. However, I have my reservations.

Empress of Ireland, on the other hand, is a book of poems about a specific event: the sinking of the Empress of Ireland  in the St. Lawrence River in May, 1914. Here, title and event are closely linked and hopefully the title is rather more indicative of the contents. Even here, as in the cases of the books mentioned previously, a brief description of the book is necessary.

Sun and Moon is a great title, provided you have lived in Oaxaca, Mexico, and know that Sun and Moon are the official symbols of the state of Oaxaca. Without that knowledge, the sub-title, Poems from Oaxaca, Mexico, is essential. The cover photograph with the state symbol of Sun and Moon is intriguing, but it is still necessary to read the description to find out what the book is about. Are title and sub-title enough in themselves? I’m still not sure.

Obsidian’s Edge is a tricky title. I thought everybody knew that obsidian is the shiny black glassy stone produced in volcanic areas. Further, I thought most people knew that the edge of obsidian is used in weapons and knives that cut. By extension, obsidian knives were used by the Aztecs and others in their human sacrifices … so much knowledge that is clear to the writer but unclear to the reader who may not realize that we all live at Obsidian’s Edge with the sacrifice of our own lives hanging by a thin thread on a daily basis. Oh dear, I have been to workshops and readings recently where people knew nothing about obsidian and its properties … my title gives so little information.

Land of Rocks and Saints has yet to be revised and rewritten. Few English readers will associate it with the old Spanish saying, Ávila: tierra de cantos y santos / Avila, Land of Rocks and Saints. The tragedy of living a life in more than one language is that the cultural knowledge so easily understood in one does not necessarily transfer readily into a second or third language. Some of my readers write me to say that they Google all these terms and learn a tremendous amount from the books. Alas, I have to improve my titles. I need to sharpen them and use them to draw my future readers in.

Ávila: cantos y santos y ciudad de la santa, the Spanish translation of Land of Rocks and Saints that I have just put up on Amazon / Kindle, is a better title. Avila is both the province and the capital city of the province. The rocks and saints are clearly linked to the name and the city itself is the city of the saint, St. Teresa of Avila, of course. Hopefully, this title, in Spanish, will attract some Spanish readers. I can only hope.

The book on which I am currently working was originally called Iberian Interludes and had no sub-title. In my revision, I am selecting poems about Spain from various earlier collections and placing them together in one large compendium. I have selected poems from two collections Iberian Interludes and In the Art Gallery (oh dear, I never mentioned that it was the Prado and that all the paintings could be found there). To these I have added a selection of individual poems either published in reviews and literary magazines or taken from other collections.

I am still working on a title for this collection, hence today’s post. I have rejected Iberian Interludes as too vague (how many of my potential readers know that Spain is Iberia) and I am now looking at a bold assertion: Spain. If I do this, I will need a sub-title. The evolution of the subtitle looks like this: Bull’s Blood and Bottled Sunshine, ¡Olé!  >  Bull’s Blood and Bottled SunBottled Sun and Bull’s Blood. I wonder if Spain: Bottled Sun and Bull’s Blood will be catchy enough. Will it draw readers in and attract them? There’s still time for me to think and re-think and all observations will be gratefully accepted.

By all means, let me know what you think.

19 thoughts on “Titles: Wednesday Workshop

  1. regarding “Obsidian’s Edge”: i think that at some point basic common knowledge about world (like what obsidian is and what is used for) needs to be granted and the reader(s) need to take some responsibility. i spend a considerable amount of time researching words, phrases, etc that i encounter in other’s writings…especially with the internet at most reader’s fingertips. Personally I like the phrase “Obsidian’s Edge” (but then again I grew up as a kid with various colored chunks of obsidian on my shelves.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a very good point. If nothing new is offered we rarely step beyond nursery rhymes or the grade nine standards offered by the local newspapers. As writers, we maintain the language; as good writers, we advance it; as outstanding writers, we create new terms and norms while exploiting our knowledge to the best of our ability. This isn’t always true, but its a good model to aim for.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is a clash between the commercial market and mass sales and the artistic market with much more limited sales and a more specialized niche audience. I have taken the alternative route: self-publish and give my books to my friends and those who wish to read them. Money is not the concern, though I do get annoyed when I see books that I have given free sold to the second hand book stores for money and hen being re-sold … I do take the names of those who have done this … no more freebies for them …

        Liked by 1 person

      • no more freebies for them rightfully so…what is freely received, should be freely given 🙂

        i’m on the alternative route myself -don’t have care what some employee at a publishing house thinks of my work – the freedom to be “artistic” and push the envelope so to speak. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think I am writing better now that I am writing for myself rather than for a bearded man in jeans in Montreal or a bespectacled woman in a pantsuit in Toronto. My first two book was so heavily edited that I hesitate to call it my own. What I publish now is at least my own work. The blog helps, because I get feedback and I see what others are doing. I also double think my work when I know I am being read by an audience endowed with multiple views, not single vision.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Sol embotellado (Bottled Sun) is a Spanish term for wine, especially sherry … bottled sunshine; Sangre de Toro (Bull’s Blood) is a specific blend of red of wines, by Torres, I think. I don’t think I’d be keen on the real thing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I had a feeling the bottled sun was about wine. Should’ve realized the bull’s blood was, too. I’ve never had Spanish sherry, but I did recently get to try Spanish (actually Basque) cider (cidre) and I liked it very much. The sherry is very sweet, right?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sherry varies considerably from very dry (Tio Pepe, for example) through many finos, some drier than others, through mediums (Dry Sack, dry but sweeter than some), to sweet and very sweet (Bristol Milk and Bristol Cream). They all have specific names. I am not a sherry expert by any means, but I do appreciate a good sherry, especially coming from Bristol University — Harvey’s Bristol Sherries! Southern Spain is sherry country. My Spanish is more from the north, the Basque country originally, then Santander, and now Madrid and Avila.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Humbert and Williams Dry Sack is more a medium than a dry. They also have a brand called Pando, which is a fino / palomino, not as dry as Tio Pepe, but getting here. Looks like I’m going to have to mail myself down to your place and go out for a session of wine tasting … or you could come up here! We are still waiting to light our first log fire … and a glass around the stove … much better than telly …

        Liked by 1 person

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