Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How important are titles? (10/15/05)



Featured writer: Arlene L. Mandell



Contributors this month:
Arlene L. Mandell
James Scheller
Penelope La Montagne
Susan Bono


HOW IMPORTANT ARE TITLES?

by Arlene L. Mandell

Untitled—NO!

While a few abstract painters have gotten away with titles like "Untitled #23" (often all blue or all black paintings), most paintings have titles like "Whistler's Mother" or "Starry Night" that at least provide a way to list them in the catalog.

Most entertainers change their "titles" to make themselves more alluring. For example, Tony Bennett was born Anthony diBenedetto while his contemporary Tony Curtis was originally Bernard Schwartz. And most authors have the good sense to invent titles that might attract readers: Truman Capote called his bestseller In Cold Blood, not A Book about Some Murderers Combining Fact and Fiction.

With all the blather and babble, the torrents of words spilling from every computer, a writer must be exceedingly clever and lure readers with intriguing titles: Sex and the City, not Four Single Women Devoting Every Waking Moment to Finding Mister Right...which tells us too much, or that weak, lazy title of every third-rate poem: "Memories."

OR, HOW ABOUT THIS?

You want a title? I'm far too busy admiring my splendid self to bother giving this extraordinary spattering of random thoughts and brilliant verbiage something as pedestrian as a conventional title. Or, for that matter, to offer a setting. If you cannot figure these things out for yourself, lowly reader, then slink back to your scullery.

Alexandra Lee,
Daughter of Anastasia,
the last of the Romanov princesses
a/k/a Arlene L. Mandell

Arlene L. Mandell recently adopted a shelter kitten whom she named “Gatsby.” He's incredibly elegant and a bit of a scoundrel. (A perfect match, don't you think? Ed.)


HOW IMPORTANT ARE TITLES?

  by Arlene L. Mandell

Untitled—NO!

While a few abstract painters have gotten away with titles like "Untitled #23" (often all blue or all black paintings), most paintings have titles like "Whistler's Mother" or "Starry Night" that at least provide a way to list them in the catalog.

Most entertainers change their "titles" to make themselves more alluring. For example, Tony Bennett was born Anthony diBenedetto while his contemporary Tony Curtis was originally Bernard Schwartz. And most authors have the good sense to invent titles that might attract readers: Truman Capote called his bestseller In Cold Blood, not A Book about Some Murderers Combining Fact and Fiction.

With all the blather and babble, the torrents of words spilling from every computer, a writer must be exceedingly clever and lure readers with intriguing titles: Sex and the City, not Four Single Women Devoting Every Waking Moment to Finding Mister Right...which tells us too much, or that weak, lazy title of every third-rate poem: "Memories."

OR, HOW ABOUT THIS?

You want a title? I'm far too busy admiring my splendid self to bother giving this extraordinary spattering of random thoughts and brilliant verbiage something as pedestrian as a conventional title. Or, for that matter, to offer a setting. If you cannot figure these things out for yourself, lowly reader, then slink back to your scullery.

Alexandra Lee,
Daughter of Anastasia,
the last of the Romanov princesses
a/k/a Arlene L. Mandell

Arlene L. Mandell recently adopted a shelter kitten whom she named “Gatsby.” He's incredibly elegant and a bit of a scoundrel. (A perfect match, don't you think? Ed.)


James Scheller



I think titles are very important. That's what gets my attention to start reading any material. Then, hopefully, the first sentence or paragraph hooks me.

Re: Internal Critic. I just tell him that what I'm writing is the first draft and I know it is going to be awful, "Thank you very much. Get back in your corner and I'll let you know when I need your help." This generally works, since I'm a sporadic writer and my critic is usually hollering about some other aspect of my life.

James Scheller, mdscheller@earthlink.net


How Important are Titles?

  by Penelope La Montagne

I once heard Brenda Hillman give a craft lecture in which she described a title as a geographical site. I have never forgotten that. It made me review the titles of all of my poems, and change some of them. I now want the title to be something you can stand on. And something that stands by itself. The title has its own weather, which may be different but related to the body of the work. Sometimes the title is so important, that I start with only that and build. A book title, when it comes to me, tells me that the work is ready to be born, its completion, imminent.

Penelope La Montagne, Healdsburg,


You Name It

  by Susan Bono

What's in a name? At this moment, I couldn't really tell you, but all I have to do is glance up at the spines of the books winking seductively from my library shelves: Play it as it Lays, Reading Water, In Cold Blood. I tend to go for the phrase as opposed to the single blip, and I never saw the real point of using the main character's name: Robinson Crusoe, Daisy Miller, Huckleberry Finn. I only know I'm supposed to care about them, but their titles don't draw me in. Funny how many of my favorite books are named after their tragic heroes: The Great Gatsby, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure. But I wouldn't go so far as to praise their titles. I had to be convinced to read Seabiscuit.

I am sometimes tempted to go back through my old essay contest records to see some of the really terrible titles I've come across over the years. But I've been taught never to make fun of someone's name. It's too personal. Most of us just try to live with the mistakes parents make in these matters, and the same goes for a work of literature, be it essay, poem, or fiction. But we all know better than to type "Untitled" at the top of a poem, don't we? It would be like calling your baby "Who Knows?"

Susan Bono is still looking for the perfect title in Petaluma, CA.



Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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