Wednesday, April 14, 2010

title blog stuff

In 1962, in a dank cold water flat in London, a nervous young man named Brian Jones was on the telephone making history. He was talking to a night club owner and after a year of failure and regrouping his band was about to land their very first job. The cigar chomping club boss on the other end of the phone asked him "So, wot's it called then eh?" He needed the group’s name to print on the billing posters. It had simply never occurred to anybody that none of them knew what the name of their band was. Jones grabbed up a Muddy Waters' record laying in a pile on the floor and glanced at the back. His favorite song on the record was "Rolling Stone Blues".

"We're the Rolling Stones, sir. That's us."

Titles are the great magic of writing, fiction or non-fiction. It’s the closest we get to being magicians and necromancers, invoking spirits with sounds. Titles can make the difference between anybody even giving you a chance. When I'm wandering the aisles of a bookstore or a library, and I spend a lot of time on those aisles, I'm always on the alert for the "Hello Sailor" title that won’t let me walk by. Words are beauty for a writer and a reader, and we all start out as readers. A good title is a pretty face, a curvy figure. It draws you in. You want to know.

Glancing through the Best American Short Stories anthologies, you come across this title by Karen Russell: "Saint Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves". The words pop out at you like a little bomb. For me, I can’t put that book down until I know if she really means that. Saint Lucy's etc is a wonderfully sad coming of age story, and yes it turns out it really is about a girl raised by wolves.

In my own writing I take titles seriously. Sometimes they're my favorite part of the story. Titles are the legerdemain, the magician's slight of hand and misdirection. The tall beautiful stage assistant in fishnet nylons that keeps the men's eyes on her while the magician quietly stuffs a rabbit in his hat to be pulled out later.

One of my literary heroes, Ray Bradbury, used titles to conjure with directly. The first short story he ever sold was called "The Lake". He wrote it by sitting at his typewriter one afternoon and just typing the words "The Lake" at the top of the page, and then waiting for the spirits to appear knocking on the table and rattling chains. They did. The title told him the story, not the other way around. He wrote many of his stories that way. While working his way through a novel called "The Fireman", which he wrote by feeding dimes into a public typewriter in the basement of the Los Angeles library, he knew he needed something better. It was his most passionate novel and needed a real title with soul. He called the fire department and spoke to the chief on the phone. "What is the temperature at which paper burns?"

The fire chief put down the phone and consulted a reference book. When he came back he said "Sir? Book paper ignites at four hundred fifty one degrees Fahrenheit." Bradbury had his title. "Fahrenheit 451". But it takes a poet's eye to see it in that dry debris of information. Seeing it is the trick. Sounding out the words so you can hear the magic buried inside.

As a general thing, not always, long titles are risky things to play with because of how easily they spill into absurdity. Such as my recent blog "Vampire Lesbian Girl Scout Nymphos From Venus In Bondage". It implies something silly or pretentious is coming. Anyone who read the piece, and you can still read it, knows that the first two thirds are as grimly, earnestly serious as anything can be. Then you get to the last part. If someone else had written it, and I had come across it, the title would be dangling in front of me throughout the first two acts of the piece. I'd just be wondering "Why in the world is it called that? Where's the nympho girl scouts? Are there nympho girls scouts?" and I'd keep reading until I found out. Turns out there are. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Sometimes titles are deliberately, artfully misleading. Two of my own come to mind. "How Paradise Comes to the Blind", published in the PHAZE anthology "Coming Into The Light". It is about paradise. It is about the blind. It really is about how paradise comes to a person who doesn’t see. But the story is entirely different from what you’re thinking. Like Vampire Lesbian etc, you’re reading partly just to find out what the crazy title means. In the anthology of my collected short stories from PHAZE this summer, is a novella titled "Miss Julia's Cake Club". Say it out loud.


What do you think of? 1950's suburban lawns. Betty Crocker ladies in pearls and aprons presenting a frosted cake to their men. Bored housewives gathering for Tupperware parties and wine, (which have lately turned to sex toy and lingerie parties. Maybe they always were, only the housewives know).

It ain't about that, folks.

But the title is not a cheat. It’s okay to be a tease or even a riddle, but it’s not okay to cheat the reader. The title "Miss Julia's Cake Club” is a poignant arrow pointing at the heart of the story, which is what a hard working title should do. As to Julia and her cake club, you'll just have to find that out.

I have other titles waiting for the stories to arrive and find them. Titles like:

"Kisses the Color of Thunder". That will be a love story between synethesiacs. That's all I know.

"The Frog and The Scorpion” That will be a vampire story of trust and betrayal. That’s all I know.

And there are others waiting in the womb to be named when they are ready to be born. I have faith their day will come.

C. Sanchez-Garcia


  1. Garce,

    Fascinating and eloquent as always.

    I can understand why you regard Bradbury so highly. His writing in itself is brilliant. But his dedicated work ethic is almost Herculean and that really is admirable.



  2. Hi Ashley!

    Bradbury was one of the writers I naturally grew up reading. His prose style was so unique I used to read his words just for the sound. I don;t know much about his work ethic. Can you describe it?


  3. Garce,

    I don't need to describe it. Bradbury can do it himself:



  4. Garce - I can't wait to see the stories that come with those titles.

  5. Hello, Garce,

    I love your points. The surprise factor is definitely critical. (And if anyone out there hasn't yet read the Venusian Nympho post--please do yourself a favor, as it's brilliant!)

    One thing, btw - Phaze is not publishing your Coming Together Presents. Alessia has basically set up her own imprint and will be distributing through All Romance Ebooks, who have agreed to take 0% commission!


  6. Ashley! I went to that URL. It was great hearing Bradbury give a pep talk. What's really good is when you click on the video it jumps you to YouTube and loads interviews with a pile of famous writers, so I'll be digging through that for a long time.


    The Hungry Apprentice

  7. Kathleen!

    Yeah, me too. I wish I knew what they were I'd write them right now.


  8. Hi Lisabet!

    I'm not yet on that level yet where I understand how a lot of this works. But I trust you and I trust Alessia. Thanks to both of you for giving me a chance.



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