Friday, August 28, 2015

ANATOMY OF A TITLE



I wrote From A to Zoe before I wrote Chainsaw Jane. Why it got out now, and not before CJ? I didn’t have a title. Or I had too many titles, take your pick. For years, I convinced myself the titling issue was the reason. Yup, for years—no kidding—I tortured my little mind with title possibilities. Made one list, then another. Threw them in the basket or forgot about them. Began a title list again. Abandoned it once more. For a long time the novel was called And So It Starts Again. After all, Zoe, the narrator, was making tabula rasa of her old life and beginning again. There was an irony in that title that I kinda liked: Zoe is convinced her new life will go smoothly, with no single bump on the road. And guess what? She falls on her ass at every turn.

I tried that title on people. No reaction.

At one point I considered No Mozzarella for Me. The title stood on the manuscript first page for longer than a few minutes. Months went by and it was still there. Was that the one? Once you read the novel, you will understand why this cheesy option was a serious candidate. There is a rat there who will only eat Swiss cheese. The only way he will bite into mozzarella is when he realizes the other alternative is starvation. And of course, the title also suggested that Zoe wanted a more flavorful bite of life—that life should be relished.

I tried that title on people. No reaction.

Some members in my writing group thought that just Zoe would be plenty of title. Zoe, after all, means life. Zoe and zoo have the same origin, and in this novel, animals actually play a major role. And the Brooklyn Zoo does play a role as well. I liked the concept. Still, I felt it was missing something. But what, exactly?

To an author, the choice of a title is a way to direct the reader toward her way of thinking. It is, from the very beginning, an invitation into her world. She’s getting her house ready for the guests. The title is the central bouquet at the banquet table. Without imposing a way of thinking to the reader (without imposing a topic of conversation to the guest), the author is setting a tone.

Well, I didn’t have my tone set, I didn’t have my bouquet, I didn’t have my title, dammit!

So I went back to cogitating on Zoe. I knew the central theme, of course. But I also knew it was a tragicomedy narrated by a sassy yet vulnerable woman; someone who fell, nearly collapsed, but found somewhere some indomitable courage to get up once more. Someone who used bite, humor, satire as surviving tools. I never had much trouble with a title before. With Chainsaw Jane, the reverse happened. I had a title; I needed to find a story to go with it.

Finally, I had a couple of serious contenders. That was during one of my trips to Denver, when I visited my daughter. One of them was From A to Zoe. This one seemed to be appealing to other people besides myself, including my daughters’s husband (at the time her fiancé).

Finally, a reaction, and a positive one at that.

Finally, the banquet’s bouquet.

Soon after, I was ready to let From A to Zoe go, meet the world. I kept asking myself why it took so long. But then it struck me and it struck me harder than before: Zoe is the story of a woman who starts all over again.

This past summer, I put my house for sale. I will sell all my furniture, take my husband and my pets with me, and leave. I will start all over again. Learn the basics again.

And, I suspect, fall on my ass again. But like Zoe, I’ve got expertise in that field as well.

Whoever started saying there was no coincidence might have been on to something.

http://www.amazon.com/Zoe-Novel-Marie-Jo-Fortis-ebook/dp/B012UQUWXQ

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