A bad title is like a bad name. A girl named Myrtle may be a party in chacha heels, but she’s going to have to battle that moniker every moment of her life to overcome the mental image it creates. At least she has a fighting chance, because it’s hard to overlook a vibrant person kicking up her heels on the dance floor. Books can’t be in your face. All they have is a title and cover art, and either one can turn the most exciting book into a wallflower.
The English title of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is compelling. The original Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women. While it did well in Sweden, I doubt Men Who Hate Women would have made the New York Times bestsellers list. So what makes a good title? It has to evoke a response in the reader. Hopefully that response isn’t, “That sounds dull.”
My best titles are usually lifted from the text of my stories.
She Comes Stars (Garden of the Perverse)
I want to worship at the feet of a Goddess.
The ad I posted was that direct.
Her reply was also to the point: “You may bow to Me.”
She stoops to conquer. To her, I’m not subhuman; I’m human. That’s low enough.
That’s not hyperbole. She’s a goddess. The title is from the climax, both for the characters and the story.
“Give me your cock,” she growls in the voice of gods, angels, demons, a chorus of deities. Her thighs imprison me.
I have no desire to refuse her. The slide in and out of her becomes my entire existence. I withdraw as far as she’ll allow so that the plunge back in will be that much more intense. The only sound I hear is my blood surging through my veins.
How to praise her? “I worship you. I adore you.”
Her sex throbs at my words.
“I pray to you, my Goddess.”
She comes stars. Planets trickle down the inside of her thigh.
The ship is gone. The sky is gone. The sea is gone. There is only the void and her pussy.
Red By Any Other Name (Sweetest Kiss)
With this subject, I couldn’t resist mentioning this title. Vampires lend themselves to power dynamics, but here it’s turned around. The domme is human and the vampire is the submissive.
I change from street clothes to my black latex cat suit in the bathroom. The impossible heels on my lace up boots change my posture. My copper buttocks thrust out.
According to the full length mirror on the back of the door, I look hot. Stalling for time, I lean close to my reflection and examine my teeth.
Water drips from a mineral-crusted faucet into the sink on the wall beside me. Hollow echoes sound as each drop falls into a small pool of water ringing the rusty drain.
Garnet, ruby, carnelian.
I know my vampire is close by. Over the phone his thoughts are faint in my mind. Now his voice reverberates along my spine. I look over my shoulder twice to make sure he isn’t standing behind me with his lips pressed to the nape of my neck.
All three bathroom stalls are empty.
Beet, tomato, raspberry.
This is his version of fidgeting, I realize. He rattles off his list of reds while he prepares for our session.
I pass the bar on the way to the dungeon I reserved for us. Empty barstools are set in a meandering line. One has a long gash across the black vinyl cushion. White stuffing puffs out.
Wheezing fans move air conditioning through the exposed ducts overhead.
Dungeon paraphernalia hangs limp in alcoves. I can see that the black walls of the club need a new coat of paint.
I should have met him at night. More people would have been here. Hesitating, I almost turn to the manager’s office.
Strawberry, cherry, candy-apple.
There is a tiny warble in his mental tone. The vampire’s nervous about meeting me?
Words Like Candy Conversation Hearts (Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades, Best Lesbian Fiction 2008)
For this one, the title came first. That’s unusual for me. For most readers, this is a ghost story, but to writers, it’s a nightmare.
Cara stared at the shoes of the people sitting in the front row, leaned forward, and without a rambling introduction, launched into her first poem.
Her words had physical energy. They flowed from that rosebud mouth and filled my mind with images as bright and ethereal as the northern lights. I’d heard the term “slam poet,” but had no idea what it meant until then. I’d never seen poetry performed. The words lifted off the two-dimensional page and took on depth beyond ink and paper.
Listening to Cara’s poem, something filled my heart, but it wasn’t wonder, and it wasn’t light.
While the audience enthusiastically applauded, dark jealousy rushed through me, poisoning my awe. How dare she taunt me such effortless art? It was as if she deliberately mocked my years of fruitless creative effort.
After the applause stopped, Cara stepped up to the mike again. She set her shoulders. A small dimple, unseen before, deepened in her cheek as she and the femme exchanged lover’s code in quick eye contact.
The next poem was a confection. It lacked the darkness of Cara’s other work, but even her sweet yearning had intense flavor. Furious, I oozed between Cara and the microphone. She took no notice of me, but gazed out at the audience. They were hers, and she was theirs.
Refusing to be the beggar outside the banquet window, I flicked my ethereal tongue against Cara’s mouth. Full, plump, ripe, like her breasts, but unbound and accessible, her lips were edible flowers. The spice of her dinner was still on them.
Cara paused for a moment. Her fingers touched her mouth, testing her lips for some trace of the sensation she thought she felt.
Not good enough. I didn’t simply want to kiss her. I meant to steal her art.
The crowd, in rapt attention for her words, ignored Cara’s hesitation, but the femme leaned forward, her smile fading.
Cara’s magnificent lips parted. I waited breathlessly to hear what might fall from her mouth like pearls before swine. Flustered, she shivered, but continued reciting her poem. I waited for just the right phrase, the right moment, the emotional peak. All those years, I’d tried to make ordinary words into art. Now I understood that what I’d lacked was a writer’s voice.
I forced my mouth over her lips and pressed my tongue against hers. Her aura I couldn’t absorb, but her poetry I could. Sucking it into my substance, I withdrew from her mouth.
Cara blinked at the audience, wondering just where her precious poetry had gone. She stared at her femme, wide-eyed and distraught, and then grabbed at the pile of books, sending some tumbling to the floor. She hastily flipped through pages in search of the tasty metaphor I’d stolen from the tip of her tongue. Disbelieving, she stared at the blank space at the end of the page. The words were gone – gone from the page, gone from her mind, gone from her mouth.
I passed through her, letting her feel the chill of my presence. I had her words in my teeth and I would never give them back. They were sweet and wintergreen, like candy conversation hearts.
Are they great titles? Only if they make you want to read more.