Have Title, Will Travel

Over the many lifetimes years I’ve been writing this book, it took ignoring it almost completely for the title to show up.  It felt a bit like walking in on a surprise party.  First, shock and disbelief.  Then letting loose enough to get in there and have some fun with it.

I’ve been working in my head, in my Moleskin notebook, and on the computer screen ever since.  Finding the title has helped me find my way.

This does not, however, mean I’m ready to reveal it.  Sorry folks.  I’ve learned too many times that, once I give up these kinds of prized details, said details slip off into an alien atmosphere and the faith is forever lost.  You’ll just have to trust me on this one.  For now.

I will say I found it in a poem.  Which reminds me that so many of my favorite books got their titles from the world of verse.  Here are just a few …


Wallace Stegner’s CROSSING TO SAFETY (from these lines by Robert Frost)

   I could give all to Time except — except

   What I myself have held.  But why declare

   The things forbidden that while the Customs slept

   I have crossed to Safety with?  For I am There

   And what I would not part with I have kept.


William Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY  (from Shakespeare’s MACBETH)

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,

    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

    To the last syllable of recorded time,

    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

    And then is heard no more: it is a tale

    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

    Signifying nothing.


Cormac McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN  (from Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium”)

   That is no country for old men. The young

   In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

   – Those dying generations – at their song,

   The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

   Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

   Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

   Caught in that sensual music all neglect

   Monuments of unageing intellect.


15 thoughts on “Have Title, Will Travel

  1. macdougalstreetbaby

    Oooooh. How exciting! I love that this has given you a new found direction. Can’t wait to hear what it is! Now the question is, will you insert the title somewhere in your manuscript?

  2. erikamarks

    Teri, we’re been in title-seeking-sisterhood! I too have been waiting on a new title for my WIP and just yesterday got the thumbs up on a final decision from my editor who I’d given a list to–and best of all, it’s one of the ones I’d REALLY liked. So I can imagine how good and excited you’re feeling with this news. (And I love the line: like walking in on a surprise party–perfect.) My husband and I are in the process of bottling our first batch of homemade wine tonight–I’ll sneak some sips in your honor–cheers!

    1. Teri

      Isn’t it funny how when the right one hits you, you just know it. I’ve been trying to pin a title on this thing for 3 years and all of them seem forced — forced or worse, ridiculous! I’m so relieved.

      1. erikamarks

        The forced part is so tough but you do feel frankly FORCED to get SOMETHING on there, dammit. You have to have a title, right? But you know when it doesn’t fit, you really do. It’s like a character name. Even if it’s a name you LOVE, it doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t work for the character, it’s awful. Conversely when that right one clicks, it’s magic.

        Can’t wait to hear your magic when the time is right!

    1. Teri

      My husband found the No Country For Old Men one some time ago, after we’d both read the book and seen the movie. It wasn’t pointed out anywhere obvious, it just seemed like it had to come from something.

    1. Teri

      Now if I come across the pond again, Downith, I’m thinking you should meet me in France. Gee, don’t we know someone in France??

  3. Lyra

    Yay you!
    I had this title for the longest time stuck in my head, Of Madness and Memory. It covered so much of what I had written. I sent it to one of my best friends, a reader not a writer. She loved it but said she thought my book was fiction…that one went in the trash heap. I still like it though, but there are certain words I am drawn to…madness, chaos, asylum. Hmmm, I sense a pattern here.

    1. Teri

      It’s funny the reactions you get to titles. My original title, the one I used to turn in my thesis was awful, but I tried like hell to make it work. In fact, I think I tried so hard I left stuff in the book to support the title — how ass-backwards is that?

  4. Averil Dean

    Wonderful! I know exactly what you mean (though you have so much more self-control than I do–I’m always seeking the posse’s stamp of approval). A good title, like a good premise, can help you steer the book and keep it between the lines.

    I’ve been meaning to tell you how good it is to hear how sharp your voice has become since you picked up that manuscript and fell in love with it again. You were amazing before; now you’re laser-sharp, and I couldn’t be more pleased for you.

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