Monday, November 5, 2012

What's in a Name?

by Frank Zafiro
For all you readers out important is a book's title to you? Do you grab it off the [virtual] shelf because of a cool title? Or are you more interested in the author, and if you like him/her, then the title really doesn't matter? See, I'm thinking that a title is hugely important, if you're dealing with an author you've never heard of, or never read before. A title is like the hook in a pop song -- it gets ya listening. Am I right? But if you already like a writer, my guess is the title could be Next Book, and you'd read it because you dig that author. Also right?

I think so, but hell, I've been wrong about other things.

For you writers out important is the book's title to you? Can you work on a project for a long time with it being called NEXT BOOK or some other generic title, or does having a title make it more real, and does it set the tone, and spark the creative juices? I think it does, at least for me. I love having a title as early as possible in a book idea. Hell, I have titles for books that I don't even have a plot outline for yet. For one, titles are fun. But having a title in place for a book I probably won't write until next year makes that title seem more...I don't know...inevitable, I guess. It's not whether I'm going to write another Sandy Banks novel to follow up The Last Horseman or not. It's that I am going to write Some Kind of Hell in 2013, and A Hard Favored Death in 2014. It's happening. It's on the schedule. Do I know the plots yet, though?


But I know they're going to be written. And that's a nice bit of knowledge.

Maybe it's a little bit like telling everyone in your family you're on a diet or a workout regime. Could be that, I suppose. Or maybe it is me telling myself "Hey, man, you're for real. You've got books in the hopper." I dunno. But I like doing it.

For you writers out there, when does your title make its appearance? Is it like what I just said -- way in advance, you know the title? Or during the first or second draft?  Or are you scrambling sometimes with a finished work called Next Book?

Jim Wilsky and I had a pretty easy time coming up with the title for Blood on Blood. It's about two half-brothers going after some stolen loot left behind by their convict father. Think Hardy Boys meets Cain and Abel in Chicago, and you're close. So since it's about brothers and family, I got to thinking about a Springsteen song (of course, I can do this about just about any topic, since the Boss is so prolific and I'm such a deep rooted, long time fan).  I told Jim about the song "Highway Patrolman," which is a brothers song, and how the chorus has a line about how "nothin' feels better than blood on blood." Jim replied that Springsteen was a liberal twit whom he despised. I asked him for something better, and so we had our title. Score one for the Italian.

The sequel to Blood on Blood takes place in Vegas, and prominently features a siren of a woman, so Jim took about seven seconds to come up with a poker reference that fit perfectly. Who was I to argue with that, so score one for the Texan.

The third and final in the series, which is in first draft stage right now, is currently called "#3". Nope, no title, and no clue from either of us yet. So a swing and miss for both. A far cry from the Sandy Banks trilogy, named two years out, huh?

But I'm not worried. As much as I like titles, as much as I jot them down when they occur to me, as much as I love to pick a title in advance of even writing page one, as much as all that...sometimes, titles come when they come. Just like every work seems to have its correct, natural length -- short story, novella, novel, or opus -- I think titles make themselves known when the time is right.  If that's up front, great. If not, oh well. It'll come.

It better, right? Because you are for real, man. You've got books in the hopper.


Thomas Pluck said...

A good title is the first line of the story.
A bad title feels like some crap an ad man came up with to sell bumwad.

Anonymous-9 said...

I love titles. Tom Wolfe had some of the best way back when. I don't think I ever got over "The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test."

Unknown said...

Well, it appears my writing partner has had his bit of fun here. I have no idea how a simple comment of me not being a big fan of Springsteen's music somehow turned into me calling him a 'liberal twit'. The political arena is not my bag - I could give a rats ass anymore about politics. Frank is just mad because I don't happen to care for the boss's music.