June 22nd, 2010

I do a lot of my writing in coffee shops, little independently owned places with punny names along the lines of The Daily Grind, The Supreme Bean, Brewed Awakening, Higher Grounds, Brew Ha Ha, Java the Hut. (I wonder if British writers repair for refreshment to tea shops… and would those have cute names too? Tempest in a Teapot? Nooks and Grannies, for the older clientele? CeleBriTea?) The punishment (ha!) continues inside with the tip jars: Support counter intelligence. Afraid of change? Leave yours here! Feeling tipsy? Change is good. Show us your tips.

Erotic book titles often reach for the puns, in a way that Booker prize winners, for example, do not. Some of my favorites (for titles; I haven’t necessarily even read all of these, but their titles caught my eye):

Bottoms Up: Spanking Good Stories (Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel)

Coming Attractions (S.L. Carpenter, Sahara Kelly)

Foreign Affairs: Erotic Travel Tales (Edited by Mitzi Szereto)

Good Cop, Bad Girl (Paige Tyler)

The Oy of Sex: Jewish Women Write Erotica (edited by Marcy Sheiner)

Rock My Socks Off (a novel in which rocking horses play a role) (Jeremy Edwards)

I don’t struggle so much with story titles; for one thing, it’s a shorter, more unified piece of writing to sum up. Thus, among mine, I have “Sales Pitch” for an encounter that takes place between a salesclerk and a customer; “Layover” for a meeting between flights in an airport; and “Schiphol” takes place in the Amsterdam airport, whose name is—surprise—Schiphol.

But naming a whole book is harder. Something too obscure doesn’t give the reader enough information; “Schiphol” for a whole book gives no indication as to what’s inside. And then, like smart sexy partners with no hang-ups, it seems like the good ones have already been taken. Foreign Affairs was gone, Wanderlust had been used (twice), and someone else had the simple Erotic Travel Tales.

Interestingly, titles of books cannot be copyrighted. So even if someone else has called her book Wanderlust, I am still free to do so. However, authors and publishers avoid this whenever possible, because it helps nobody to have your book confused with someone else’s. You look unoriginal, and your readers could be confused. If they buy someone else’s book instead of yours, you’ve lost your sale, and if they buy yours instead of the one they were really looking for, you’ve lost their good will.

I turned to my friends, thinking it might be easier to pick from a selection than to invent my own. Travel Sex? Too blunt. Jet Shagged? Too silly. Around the World in Eighty Ways? (“You could call your character Family Jules or Fellatio Fogg!” said the friend who suggested this one). And then finally…. Transported. It just felt right. It included travel, and it included sex without being too obvious. Definitions for transport range from “move something or somebody around; usually over long distances” to “ecstasy: a state of being carried away by overwhelming emotion” to “enchant: hold spellbound.”

Writers often use the metaphor of giving birth to explain how they feel about creating a book. I’d draw a parallel with names there, too. If you ask your friends what they think of your baby name before the child arrives, you might hear some negative opinions: “I worked with a Judy once; she was a total bitch.” “I had a cousin Judy—she died young.” But when you announce the birth of your child, everyone is supportive: “Oh, that’s a beautiful name.” “My favorite aunt was called Judy—a lovely, intelligent woman.”

Before its publication, I heard that Transported was too subtle a title, and also that it was too obvious. Once it came out, though, people just said that it was a nice catchy title. Thank you! It’s my baby, and I love her.

I have my next title already, actually. But I’m keeping it secret.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 at 5:37 pm and is filed under • Entitled. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Entitled”

a_bad_influence Says:

It’s a great name. I’ll even throw you a “book shower”! There will be cake and prizes. And I promise no silly games.

oatmeal girl Says:

I get a lot of flak from a certain member of my writers group for the way I shy away from naming my characters. He’s right. I do avoid it. names make me uncomfortable. As you point out, many of them come with connotations. Now I’m forcing myself to pick names, taking them from the Social Security Administration’s list of top 50 names for the year I’ve decided my character was born.

The interesting thing is that I have the same problem with people in my life. Some people I just can’t call by their name, while others I will address over and over. And for some reason, this is especially common for many of the men with whom I am and have been close. I am glad I never use my Master’s given name. It feels horribly inappropriate.

(I think “Transported” is a GREAT name!)

Shar Says:

Oh, yes, that’s another great issue! Naming characters… often I find I write in first/second person, so I don’t need to name anybody. But in 3rd person, it can get a bit awkward. I know when I read other people’s stories I can be distracted by very unusual names. Svetlana? Eurydice? and I begin wondering if it “means” something that I’m missing, or if it’s someone the author knew personally. It’s less distracting (for me) to read more common names. Some of my stories have my name in them (Shar); but some of the women are so far from my own personality I couldn’t really call them that.

I love your idea of looking at a list of names! And a restrained one, not like a whole baby name book–and correct for the time period, too.

Jeremy Edwards Says:

Transported is brilliant. (I also love “Layover.”)

And thanks for mentioning my “baby”!

Jeremy Edwards Says:

P.S. Meant to say, about character names: I have various subjective criteria, some story-specific and some general, ranging from a name’s “personality” to its cadence… but one technical factor I ignore at my peril concerns the dreaded “ends in an ‘s'” names! I wrote about that here:

http://ohgetagrip.blogspot.com/2009/10/but-i-bet-none-of-main-hobbits-have-s.html?zx=fa07d336fa19497c

Shar Says:

Thank you for pointing me towards yet another wonderful blog for writers (and readers). But I’m not sure I can agree with you entirely on names! When Shar herself appears as a character, her lover is James. I can’t remember ever struggling with his possessiveness — at least in terms of punctuation. 😉 What is wrong with simply saying James’ arm? In fact, that’s one less ~s than we get with Shar’s arm.

I think I shall have to do a post sometime on proper names of characters, though. Another fascinating area.

Your point reminded me though of one of my favorite David Sedaris pieces, “Go Carolina,” in his Me Talk Pretty One Day collection, on avoiding pronouncing the /s/ sound.

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