Finding the best title for a book has always been a bit of a puzzle and most book authors I know have stories to tell about how their books were ultimately christened. So how do you come up with three or four words that somehow encapsulate what took some 70,000 to expound in the first place?
One of the first surprises I learned is that the title you begin with is often not the title that that winds up being published. There is the “working title” and then the final title that appears on the book cover. For example, the working title of A Tender Distance was originally This Caribou Season. I chose it because that Alaska fall hunt was an important ritual of my sons’ growing-up years. This was a memoir about their childhood and their “migration” from boyhood to men. To me it seemed perfect. But the editor, Sarah Juday at Alaska Northwest Books, suggested that I reconsider. The book wasn’t really about hunting and the title didn’t convey anything about my sons or our relationships.
It took months of scribbling on the backs of napkins, dozens of conversations with writer friends, and finally, a mentor friend, Richard Goodman, from Spalding University’s MFA in Writing read the book and said, “This is not a book about your sons. It is a book about you.”
My Lutheran, Lake Wobegon sensibilities chafed a little at any notion that I was trying to call attention to myself. This was about my children, not me … but deep down I knew Richard was right. The book was a memoir about motherhood. And then one evening, in that luminal space between sleep and wakefulness, the words “tender distance” perched in my thoughts. There it was. Those were the words that best conveyed that tension between a mother and her sons as they left their childhoods behind.
Sarah subsequently helped write a subtitle with “searchable” words for readers looking for a particular kind of book. Adventure. Sons. Alaska. The full title of the book grew into:
A Tender Distance: Adventures Raising My Sons in Alaska. I went through a similar exercise recently with my forthcoming book (Spring 2016) from the University of Alaska Press. This is a biography of Ray and Barbara Bane whose conservation work in Alaska helped draw the lines on the map of Alaska’s treasured public lands. The working title of the book was Gathering Echoes: The Life and Times of Ray and Barbara Bane. Ray and I talked at length about this title. It embraced his desire to collect the stories and preserve the old ways of the Native elders whose relationship with the land was reverent and resourceful.
Again the editor, James Englehardt at University of Alaska Press, asked us to reconsider. While the working title honored Native elders, it drew no attention to the stories of Ray and Barbara as a team or the formidable fight they undertook to save wild places in Alaska.
This time I was stumped. Ray and I came up with dozens of possibilities, narrowed them down to two or three and submitted them—only to hear that they still weren’t quite right. James suggested an exercise: Take some phrases in the book that reflect some of the book’s themes and see if they work; if not, mix them up and see what happens. Here was the list James offered to play with: A Boy’s Dream, A Man’s Soul A World Apart From West Virginia to Arctic Plain And A Heated Debate Ensued The Fate of the Wild North Furthest/Farthest North Park Ranger A Place Remote and Sacred Just Add Another Million Acres I Hate Your Guts The Feds Can Go To HellTo Save the FrontierLast Chance To Do Things Right the First TimeCaretakerIt Had Been PerfectRay, You Got ProblemsCitizens of the Natural WorldTo Thank the Land At first glance these phrases by themselves seemed strange. However, by playing with the words, much like playing with the letter tiles in a game of Scrabble, we came up with:
Our Perfect Wild: Ray and Barbara Bane’s Journeys in the Fate of the Far North The word “Our” holds the concept of Ray and Barbara as a couple; “Perfect” conveys an Eden quality (with the potential of a fall); and “Wild” reflects all that they cherished and tried to preserve.
It was an interesting exercise and I will use it again when the time comes to name a book. As in all revision, the exercise begins with a certain level of letting go—especially when the working title seemed ideal. But as often happens, writing will take on a life of its own and surprise you.
ATTENTION ARTISTS WHO SELL THEIR WORKS AT ART MARKETS & FAIRS!!! Do you need wall panels to display your paintings, graphics, prints, etc.? I have two complete display units for sale made by Graphic Display Systems, the original manufacturer of affordable wire mesh display panels, for Artists, Craftsman, Schools, etc., to display their work in a professional manner. The display unit is the most light weight, most durable, most used and easy to assemble display panel on the market. The system breaks down into three flat boxes that fit easily in the back of your station wagon, 4wd, or today’s BMW! My panel system are in excellent condition. I have one in Colorado which I have used only 4 in times in six years and I have one in Alaska of which I’ve only used this unit 2 times in the past 4 years, and because I am changing my business plan this year, it’s time to let them go!
The system in Pagosa Springs, Colorado is the basic panel system with additional panels to add 18″ more height. Included are additional bars and clips. This system is valued at $1600; I ask $1000.
The system that I have in Juneau, Alaska is the basic panel system shown on the website to fit a 10ft. x 10ft. booth. This system’s wall is 10 ft. wide and 5 ft deep with one horizontal bar at the top. Initial cost was $1000; I ask $800.
For more info on these fabulous systems, check out the company who manufactures these at: http://www.graphicdisplaysystems.com/accessories.htm And yes, my area code is 970 (colorado)…!
Hey folks, I’m co-hosting a poetry event next Tuesday to help drum up interest during this year’s call for submissions. Checkout out the Poems in Place Project and I hope you’ll join Emily and I for a night of poetry.
Poems in Place
February 24, 2015 – 06:30
A Conversation Between Alaskan Landscapes and Poetry hosted by Emily Wall and Jonas Lamb. Readers and writers of poetry! Please come to the library to help us discover nominees for this year’s Poems in Place project. The Poems in Place project places poems by Alaskan writers in outdoors in two of Alaska’s State parks each year. To begin, Emily Wall will present images and background about this year’s two Alaskan State Parks: Caines Head State Recreation Area and Fort Abercrombie State Historic Park. Then Jonas and Emily will guide participants through a structured poetic response exploring the relationship between place and poem. Participants will have an opportunity to read these or other poems. You’re welcome to bring your books to share.
The Juneau School District has concluded our investigation into allegations that on or about May 30-31 of this year a group of incoming senior boys hazed/initiated a group of incoming freshmen boys by paddling them multiple times.
These events were first brought to our attention in early June. At that time the district began an initial investigation, which, due to an active police investigation and summer vacation, was put on hold. When we were informed that the police had concluded their investigation we resumed our efforts.
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