Question of the Month: Title

by Susan Henderson on December 7, 2009

Tell me some of your favorite book titles. What do you think makes a good title? What catches your eye?


I’m asking this partly because, once again, I have to find a new title for my book. The marketing team thinks THE RUBY CUP sounds more like YA Fantasy than literary fiction, and I think they’re right. But how to find a title that fits?


I have a few links to share. First, when I announced a couple of months ago that I’d no longer be running interviews (because I need to knuckle down and devote my time to writing books), Meredith Resnick very graciously offered to take care of some of the folks I’d planned to talk with. You can read her interviews over at The Writers Inner Journey. And in particular, I’d love for you to read about author Tod Goldberg, and Gina Frangello, one of the best and most generous editors I know.


Second, if you’re not already a fan of The Nervous Breakdown, the site’s been completely and wildly improved. It’s getting tens of thousands of hits a month, and I hope you’ll read (and maybe even contribute) to the TNB community. I have a weekly column over there called The Evolution of the Book, which has been culled from my monthly wraps at LitPark. The goal of this column is not only to buoy the frustrated writer by letting off steam about things like rejection, close calls, and endless waiting, but also to show a road map of sorts as to how I got this book written and sold. Whether it’s a road map you want to follow or whether you want to learn from my mistakes and take a different path is up to you!

{ 78 comments… read them below or add one }

SusanHenderson December 7, 2009 at 8:00 am

Oh, and for any interested New Yorkers, my 8th grader will be playing a show at BB King Blues Club (237 West 42nd Street) December 28th, 7:30pm with the Paul Green School of Rock All-Stars.

Here he is practicing his Billy Joel piece. (You can skip to the 50 second mark to see where the piano playing starts to get a little crazy.)


naseem December 7, 2009 at 8:52 am

I have always loved the title The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I like its cadence, the two hard consonants, one at the end of ‘heart’, emphasizing the sharpness that lies in the word. And one in the middle of ‘hunter’ — emphasizing again the magnitude and danger hidden in the word. And then ‘lonely’ — a word that lingers on the lips, just like loneliness tends to do. The title is descriptive, it tells a story. It is poetry.


robinantalek December 7, 2009 at 9:48 am

Ahhh- I sympathize with you over a new title search! We (agent, editor, publisher, marketing) went through so many titles I had trouble remembering them all. THE SUMMER WE FELL APART came about thanks to an epiphany that Carrie Kania (the wonderful and amazing publisher at Harper Collins) had in the elevator! Something will come… I’d advise not thinking too hard about it – but If you’re anything like me, that’s next to impossible! Sending good thoughts, Susan!


SusanHenderson December 7, 2009 at 9:59 am

xo! I’ve been thinking so hard about it, and failing and failing, and then thinking I’ve struck gold and someone else tells me I’ve failed again. I like your idea of not thinking of it, or better yet, of having someone brilliant come up with the title in the elevator! For now I’m just trying to recover enough of a sense of confidence to finish these last edits.


SusanHenderson December 7, 2009 at 10:04 am

I love it, too, and your description of why you love it says we’re very similar in our love of language and sound!


robinantalek December 7, 2009 at 10:24 am

That’s the worst – when you think you’ve come up with something great and you’re greeted with a less than enthusiastic response. I know it made me begin to doubt the validity of anything I’d written up until that point – after all, if you can write the book but you can’t give it a decent title – well – isn’t that a little like leaving your kid un-named? ( I actually think naming my children WAS easier)! Take deep breaths. You DID write this wonderful book. Harper Collins BOUGHT the book. You are standing on the edge – I’m right there with you. It’s a heady feeling this dream come true stuff. You almost don’t know what to do with it. I know I don’t and right now I’m just hoping I don’t hyperventilate my way to publication day! Step back, do your edits. A title will come.


SusanHenderson December 7, 2009 at 10:57 am

Robin, you’re wonderful and just what I needed today.


Kelly December 7, 2009 at 11:45 am

Hmmm….A title can be tricky. How do you present something that represents the entire work without unnecessarily limiting the reader’s interpretation?

When I completed my book, Mastering the Dream, I decided to choose a line from within the work that represented the larger concepts or ideas being set forth. It seemed to work well, and I think in my case, the title potentially has multiple meanings.

I believe the title came to me as I was proofing and I came across one of the lines I really liked, and kept coming back to. Perhaps a skim of some of the more meaningful passages will reveal something to you…..? Something that’s already there?



billiehinton December 7, 2009 at 12:50 pm

I recently read Because A Fire Was in My Head. I love that.

Otherwise, my mind is blank, except that I love many of Tennessee Williams’ titles for his plays, as well as Eugene O’Neil’s.

Streetcar Named Desire, Sweet Bird of Youth, Moon for the Misbegotten, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, etc.

Your title will come.


SusanHenderson December 7, 2009 at 3:05 pm

All lovely titles, and I’m glad to be reminded of books that I love but have forgotten about. And thanks for the support.


SusanHenderson December 7, 2009 at 3:32 pm

So helpful, Kelly. And appreciate your understanding of how tricky it is!


robinslick December 7, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Oh, I love all of your cool news, and enjoy the BB King show! (Though I admit to being jaded on that front…I used to want to kill Paul for making me drive to NYC right after Christmas but at least you have a date on the 28th; he was famous for making it December 26 back in the day). I saw your son’s video – he’s an All-Star for sure!

I read the first draft of your book many years ago and I’m sure it’s totally morphed into something else, but I have a distinct memory of the brightly painted door so without knowing if it’s still even in the novel, my first reaction was “The Secret Door” … (don’t mind me, I love playing Let’s Name the Novel games)

But since you asked, my all time favorite titles: Well, d’oh, A Catcher in the Rye, Fear of Flying, Everything Matters! (Oh.My.God. – I just bought Ron Currie’s aforesaid book and for once am speechless as every page is one of those gasp He’s So Brilliant moments and I like the exclamation point at the end of the title, which I’ve seen debated by a few reviewers)..hmmm…continuing on, I adore the title of Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange…and Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone — but the question is, was Wally’s title a rip of the Guess Who lyric? It’s been so long since I read the book I am wondering that, because just what is the legality of using a famous song phrase as a book title? *Cough* no personal reason for asking or anything…

Ugh, and you just reminded me that I never got it together to transfer my essays from the old TNB to the new site…crap…hope it’s not too late but if so, my own slacker fault.

In any event…

Happy Holidays to all at Lit Park!



SusanHenderson December 7, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Robin! I’ve missed you. And yes, you read my very very first draft … in short story form. I hope you understand what a sign of trust that was because there’s nothing more vulnerable than writing in isolation in your little private room and then opening the door and saying, Here, do you think it’s any good? Your reaction to it meant so much to me, and I’m putting your title idea on this list I’m keeping.

Fantastic book titles! And yes, you can totally crib band lyrics, titles of poems, etc. Janet Fitch’s last book was called Paint it Black. Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon. I’d crib from something cool, too, if I could only find just the right thing.

And thanks for watching that video. He worked that whole song out by ear, which amazes me since I can’t even play a tambourine.

(Re: TNB… I’m certain Brad or Kimberly can help you with the transfer and that it’s not too late. And now I’m off to find my wallet so I can order your book!!!)


Meredith Resnick December 7, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Where to begin?!
Okay, I’ll start with your question – I love the title Black, White and Jewish (by Rebecca Walker). I’m also intrigued by the title of your soon-to-be-released book 🙂
Also, thank you for the kind words, Susan. I love all my interviews and the quirky way I get to do them.


Kirk Farber December 7, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Titles are so incredibly tough! An exercise I did was to just list every imaginable title I could think of, based on chapters or events or dialogue in the story, no matter how un-title-like they sounded. I think I had twenty working titles before I finally settled on one.

Some of my faves: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Welcome to the Monkey House. I Am Not Myself These Days. The Thief of Always.

Good luck!


SusanHenderson December 8, 2009 at 9:34 am

Your interviews are so original and I just love them!


SusanHenderson December 8, 2009 at 9:36 am

My brainstorm list is about 1,000 titles long. Maybe more. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT, besides being a great title, has one of the most memorable covers I know.


notmoro December 8, 2009 at 2:39 pm

I always thought Love in a Cold Climate was a cool-sounding title. I also like You Cannot Live as I Have Lived and Not End Up Like This, and How the Dead Live.

One of my grad school friends wrote a terrific short story called “Six Ways to Die in the Windy City!” I love the exclamation mark on the end– for some reason that elevates it from a functional title to a cool title. 🙂

Titles are hard! I’m lousy at titles. Like Kelly, I usually look for significant lines, especially ones that repeat. But even then I’m not always happy with the results. I always find naming a story a long process, and when do I settle on something, I’m usually wrong.


SusanHenderson December 8, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Ooh, How the Dead Live is brilliant.

Funny about the exclamation point. Robin (in this thread) mentioned a book we both love called EVERYTHING MATTERS! And the author got a lot of flack for that exclamation point, but it was kind of secret code for people like me that this was an author who was going to be bold and cheeky. Because, of course you don’t put an exclamation point in a title, and he did anyway, and that’s the kind of book I want to read.

I am listening real hard to everyone’s ideas here, and mostly feeling buoyed by the mutual struggle.


notmoro December 8, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Only mostly? 😉

The friend who wrote the story is that sort of writer: irreverant and funny. Her book is here.


jessicaK December 8, 2009 at 5:10 pm

I’ve had mega-strong reactions to titles as you’ll see here: –not sure that link will work here but in essence I didn’t read one of my favorite novels of all time because I disliked the title: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson The title still needles me because it plays with all my preconceptions and misconceptions and distorted perceptions about the word itself. Now that I’ve read the novel (20 years later), I like that the title plays with my discomfort.

But that’s not really an answer to your question, is it…

What I mean to say is that titles mean a lot to me but that first page and second page and onward pages might mean more. Much more. I may like a title or love it or adore it or covet it, but when I open the book and start reading, that’s when my heart takes over and whatever the title was or is, I won’t care.

Titles are like hats, I think. They capture your attention and maybe ask that you turn around and take a second look.

I’ve just started reading Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington. This book has been around a long, long time. It’s a classic, yes? Yet, I’ve never really stopped to think about the title and what it means. Now that I’m reading it, the title is taking on greater and larger meaning with each page. I like that aspect of this title. It has an irony to it that I didn’t intuit until I started reading the story.

Again, still not really answering your question.

I recall that someone I know was writing a novel called RISE–that is a title that I love! It’s loaded and complex.

I can’t wait to hear what your new title is. Whatever it is, it should feel right. When you say it out loud to others, you will know because you’ll say it without hesitation, with pride. You’ll feel quiet and settled inside.

So good to hear about all your good news over at TNB.


rachelkramerbussel December 8, 2009 at 6:39 pm

It’s also one of my favorite books of the year (and ever), but I like both the title and subtitle of Diana Joseph’s memoir in essays I’m Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog. I also was drawn to Hollis Gillespie’s Confessions of a Recovering Slut, the follow-up to her Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. What I loved most about Confessions of a Recovering Slut is how completely it didn’t live up to the title – yes, there is some of that, but there are essays about parenthood, and identifying with the flight attendants of 9/11, and so much more, that I think the reader comes back to the title with renewed respect. And no, it’s not a coincidence that both these books have S”slut” in their titles. I’ll pretty much read anything with that word in the title. I’m looking forward to The Last Living Slut by Roxana Shirazi just to see what it’s all about. And How I Became Hettie Jones is a very straightforward title, yet the book is actually complex – it’s about how she went from Hettie Cohen to Hettie Jones, and in the process left one world behind for another.

I’m a big fan of YA author Elizabeth Scott, and find it interesting that her original title Live! Nude! Mom was nixed for Something, Maybe – the latter is very vague, though the live nude mom in question is still a major player in the book.


Kelly December 8, 2009 at 7:21 pm

So glad to help~


eileen_rita December 9, 2009 at 1:42 am

I like titles that form images for me…the picture in my mind may or may not have anything to do with the actual story but I’m a visual gal and I like to be able to play with the words in my head.
My favorites that I can think of are – ‘The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman’ by Louis de Berniers; ‘Pure Drivel’ by Steve Martin; ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak (I always smile when I hear that title) and ‘Hannibal’ by Thomas Harris.
‘Hannibal’ is such a great example of how just one word, one name, can excite me as a reader. He’s such a delicious character (can use a word like that to describe someone so villainous?)that to see a story bearing his name is just spline tingling to me.
Did you have the title ‘THE RUBY CUP’ from the beginning or did it evolve with the story? Whatever you choose I’m sure it will hit the shelves with the perfect name 🙂


SusanHenderson December 9, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Me, too. I like a picture in my head even if it doesn’t fit with the book. I think it’s why THE LOVELY BONES is so great, also the two words (lovely and bones) don’t match so it creates a weird and wonderful buzz that makes you have to read the back cover.

And, no, I didn’t have TRC in mind from the beginning. It didn’t actually come from me at all. I’ve just drawn a blank on this whole process, but I know from buying books how much the title and the cover really matter to me so I want to take it seriously.


SusanHenderson December 9, 2009 at 1:25 pm

I love that the word slut is in most of your favorite titles! I’ll have to check out your list here. (BTW, Gina Frangello’s Slut Lullabies is coming out in 2010.)

I think you’re so right about a title having to grab you first, but then after you finish the book, you come back to that title with renewed respect.


SusanHenderson December 9, 2009 at 1:31 pm

I loved RISE for a million reasons (and I’m glad you do, too), but that one got nixed. Plus, now they worry about things like how google-able things are so they float to the top of search engines.

Let me know what you think of Booker T. I haven’t read it since high school, but it’s still on my shelf. His old house went on sale this summer:

And me, too, about Housekeeping – for the very same reason! I only read it last year and flat-out loved it. But yeah, the title. And you’re so right about being able to say it out loud without hesitation, that that’s when I’ll know.


SusanHenderson December 9, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Ha! Actually, what I meant by mostly is that, although I really appreciate everyone’s suggestions, I MOSTLY just appreciate being around all you writers who get it, how this is hard, and how titles matter, and how edits can suck, and how books are awesome.

Checking out your link right now…


SusanHenderson December 9, 2009 at 2:39 pm

If any of the poets here are interested:

Tupelo Press
Welcomes Your Submissions
for the 2009 Dorset Prize

The annual Dorset Prize is an open competition
for a poetry manuscript, with a $3,000 prize.
Prior winners include Ilya Kaminsky, G.C. Waldrep,
Amaud Jamaul Johnson, Davis McCombs,
Sandra Meek, Rachel Contreni Flynn,
and most recently Joshua Corey.

Submissions are accepted from anyone
writing in the English language,
whether living in the United States or abroad.
Translations are not eligible for this prize.

All entries must be postmarked,
or sent via the online submissions manager,
by December 31, 2009.
The final judge for this year’s contest
is Jane Hirshfield.

Read the Guidelines for the Dorset Prize
now at our website

Deadline for all Entries is
December 31, 2009


SusanHenderson December 9, 2009 at 2:42 pm

P.S. I know from my days as an editor and contest judge that when they’re asking for submissions this close to the the deadline, it means they haven’t found something yet that they want to declare the winner. Submit something wonderful, and your chances are good…


SusanHenderson December 10, 2009 at 2:03 pm

My high school and rowing pal, Eric Wickenheiser, thought some of you might be interested in this NY writing/teaching job. Looks pretty cool, and I know several of you who’d be great for it:

Teaching Artist

Education: Bachelor (BA, BS, etc.)
Location: New York, New York, 10018, United States
Posted by: The Striking Viking Story Pirates
Job Category: Education & Training
Sector: Nonprofit
Language(s): English
Job posted on: December 9, 2009
Area of Focus: Art, Architecture, Music, Children and Youth, Education and Academia
Type: Contract
Salary: $25 – $50 / hr
Last day to apply: January 5, 2010
Last updated: December 9, 2009

The Story Pirates ( is an arts education organization that uses drama and improv comedy as tools for teaching creative writing to kids. We are looking for new teaching artists this year to work in our in-classroom and after-school writing workshops in New York City schools. You should have at least 3 years of experience working with kids, either in a classroom or alternative educational setting, and you need to be VERY comfortable being dramatic, silly, and ready to think on your feet as you work with a team of teaching artists to engage kids using our curricula, which are packed full of Viking costumes, giant plush monster attacks, secretive extra-terrestrial organizations, and evil monarchs bent on taking over your classroom.

Spanish speakers (and other dual language speakers) are especially encouraged to apply.

If interested, please send a cover letter and resume to by January 5th 2010.
How to Apply:
If interested, please send a cover letter and resume to by January 5th 2010.

(Thanks, Eric!)


Aurelio December 13, 2009 at 9:45 am

Happy holidays, LitPark!

I’m not sure where I come down on this title discussion. As I adhere to “honesty is the best policy,” I think a book’s title needs to actually fit the book rather than be so all that bloody “clever.” Titles like “The Chronicles of (whatever)” may clue in a target audience that it is a genre book, and things like that, if desired, may be helpful, but it seems the author should know what’s the best title for their own work, no???

I worked on a film project that had a title we filmmakers gave it that the execs of the studio decided wasn’t hip or edgy enough, so they hired an advertising company to re-title it. They spent a sizable six-figure fortune and were eventually presented a slim folder of about a hundred alternate title options. As someone intimately involved in the film’s making, from soup to nuts, one glance at these told me the ad firm folks had never even screened the film – most were “clever” but disconnected nonsense and the kind of play-on-words jingo-y stuff you would expect on a GAP ad rather than a film.

The execs settled on wanting to re-title our film “Big & Loud.” I’m not making this up.

In the end the film went out with the title we gave it, the one that actually fit the movie.

Could a different title have made a difference in its success? Who knows. I have to believe writing, even more than film, is about substance rather than flash, so it is far more about the full text than what you call it. Sure, a catchy title will grab someone’s attention for a nanosecond, maybe, but if you look at a list of current best-sellers, most of the titles are simple ones like “The Lost Symbol,” “The Shack,” “The Piano Teacher,” The Associate” …


Aurelio December 13, 2009 at 12:44 pm

I also noticed Sue Grafton is running out of alphabetical titles soon. What comes next? Double letters, like “AA is for Alcoholics Anonymous”??? 😉


SusanHenderson December 14, 2009 at 8:25 am

Great point, but let’s not assume I had some really great, organically-discovered title that I was fighting for. I’ve basically drawn a blank.

I love your story about finding a title for your film – getting a peak behind the scenes into the absurdity of getting a six-figure ad team to come up with a slick jingo. It’s such an unnatural process when the private artist enters the big world of marketing; they’re two worlds that never quite fit together.


SusanHenderson December 14, 2009 at 8:25 am



kevinwatson December 14, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Susan, great question. As a publisher, I look for a title that will capture the reader’s imagination; a title that is both poetic (in a sense) and will capture the reader’s imagination. That’s the goal. Some titles I’ve published that I think accomplish this are “Women Up On Blocks,” “Somewhere During the Spin Cycle,” “Land of Amnesia,” and a forthcoming title “Where the Dog Star Never Glows.”

A couple of favorite titles that I think are perfect: “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.”

The cover art and design are just as important. The cover design has to catch the reader’s eye and demand that the reader pick up the book and hold it and then open it. It might be the cover art that first catches the reader’s eye, but then the title has to capture the reader’s attention. The best titles are often hidden somewhere in the story: “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Kevin Watson
Press 53


SusanHenderson December 15, 2009 at 9:28 am

Kevin, I’m glad you’re here. Your comments help a lot. And for those who aren’t familiar with Press 53, they’re putting out top notch books and worth checking out:

As far as the titles I’m drawn to, I think what I like best is if there’s something about them that is puzzling and makes me curious – words that aren’t normally together, images that work against my assumptions. Here’s my list of favorites:

the lovely bones
motherless brooklyn
bury me standing
the last green mile
no country for old men


kevinwatson December 15, 2009 at 9:36 am

I like all of those for the reasons you mention. Reminded me of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” Another great title. That’s a nice observation about a title that is puzzling and curious, working against assumptions. I’ll be keeping that in mind. And thanks for the plug.


djtuffpuppy December 15, 2009 at 3:23 pm

I like titles that strike me as funny. “Apathy and Other Small Victories” or “I Love Everybody (And Other Atrocious Lies)” draw me toward a book. While shorter titles like “”Adverbs” or “In Awe” don’t really tell me much about a book.


SusanHenderson December 16, 2009 at 8:36 am

I agree with you about Adverbs. A horrible title but a great book.


SusanHenderson December 16, 2009 at 8:37 am

I just re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn about a year ago, and loved it even more. (Although I couldn’t help but wonder if it could sell today, or certainly it would have been edited down to something very different.)


SusanHenderson December 16, 2009 at 11:56 am

More jobs– and thanks Eric for sending these along!

Community Engagement Coordinator (AmeriCorps Vista Position), Newark
Newark, New Jersey, United States
Salary: See Benefits section of job description

Marketing and Communications Manager
National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts;
New York, New York, United States
Salary: $60,000 minimum

Sponsorship Coordinator
Brooklyn Academy of Music;
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Salary: the mid $30k per year experience (plus a full benefit package)

Human Resources Assistant
Jazz At Lincoln Center;
New York, New York, United States

Manager, Center Charge
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.;
New York, New York, United States
Salary: DOE

The Studio Museum in Harlem;
New York, New York, United States

Development and Marketing Associate
Brooklyn Youth Chorus;
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Salary: Commensurate with experience

Business Development Manager
Acoustiguide, Inc.;
New York, New York, United States


mauryfeinsilber December 17, 2009 at 11:41 pm

If it’s any comfort, I know that Ernest Hemingway went through some of the same agonies in searching for a title, and I love the titles to most of his books. (Apparently Maxwell Perkins insisted on changing Hemingway’s choice from “The Sun Also Ariseth” to the title we know now). But Hemingway loved to consult the bible and the great poets for his titles. “The Sound and the Fury” ain’t bad at all, so maybe culling Shakespeare might be helpful. As for what you’d said about words that don’t normally go together, “Gravity’s Rainbow” is about as fantastic as you can get. “Call It Sleep” is both an evocative title and a magnificent book. Finally, I hope it’s not a hackneyed anecdote, but Joseph Heller had originally titled his book “Catch-18”, but the better known author, Leon Uris, had a book coming out at the same time, “Mila 18”, and their published didn’t think it would be a good idea to have the same number in the titles. I don’t know if Heller was upset about having to change his title, but of course, now it seems to fit like a glove.


SusanHenderson December 18, 2009 at 9:52 am

Absolutely inspiring, Maury! Thank you for this.


amywilentz December 18, 2009 at 11:08 am

For funny, how about Me of Little Faith? I love that title


amywilentz December 18, 2009 at 11:13 am

I heard from a friend in New York that any title with “daughter” in it anywhere, sells. Also a proper name. I wonder, can this rule be made to fit ANY book?
and what does it mean about readers.


mauryfeinsilber December 18, 2009 at 12:11 pm

I’m so glad the last post was inspirational, Sue! Another memory that just came back was, when I was looking for a title for my second (as yet unrevised and haunting me to do so) novel, I looked in the always wonderful “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”, with my criteria based, of course, on the salient aspects of the novel. Ultimately this lead me to my “eureka!” moment when paging through an enormous “Norton’s Anthology” of poetry, after Bartlett’s had lead me there. (And to the point of you’re mentioning liking the title “No Country for Old Men”, that title is, as you probably know (but I sure as hell didn’t until recently) part of a line from a poem by Yeats).

All in all, this is a very interesting exercise you’ve proposed, for in wracking my brain for titles of books that I like, it seems to me that the majority of books I’ve read were based solely on the criteria of the book itself; its reputation recommending it more than the title itself, and perhaps the best example is one from a previous post where she mentioned “Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson, which is by far one of my favorite novels of all time and perhaps least favorite titles. Hmm… As for more contemporary (or not so much) titles that resonate:

-you’ve got to really love (or really hate) “Sense and Sensibility and Zombies”
-“Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned”
-“I Was Told There’d Be Cake” (the title alone makes you (or me, at least) laugh).
-“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”
-“Steal This Book”

And going way back to the 1950’s, “In the Absence of Angels” by Hortense Calisher. (When I’m rich and famous, I want to do for the late Ms. Calisher what Franzen did for Paula Fox and Lethem did for Philip K. Dick. UNTIL THEN, though, I beseech all who are reading these words to check out Ms. Calisher’s short stories–she is, to use a fancy yet apt phrase, sui generis).


SusanHenderson December 18, 2009 at 3:57 pm

More jobs for all of my creative and unemployed friends:

Program Assistant
Brooklyn College Community Partnership for Research and Learning
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Salary: commensurate with experience

Production Manager
Baryshnikov Arts Center
New York, New York, United States

The Harlem School of the Arts
New York, New York, United States
Salary: TBA


SusanHenderson December 18, 2009 at 4:07 pm

I’m finding all of this fascinating– from housekeeping to zombies to Hemingway.

Did you know the original title for THE SUN ALSO RISES was FIESTA? I basically want a title as cool as Hemingway’s but with the word “daughter” in it somewhere (thanks, Amy!) so it’ll be an automatic bestseller. 🙂


SusanHenderson December 18, 2009 at 4:08 pm

I don’t know what it says about readers but I’m totally enjoying all the advice and historical context! So, Amy, what are you writing these days? (And does it have a title yet?)


SusanHenderson December 18, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Here, let me link the Lewis Black book for anyone interested:


amywilentz December 18, 2009 at 5:01 pm

I’m working on a novel about new money: What happens when a hugely successful but formerly not-so-impressive middle brother becomes, over a very short time, both the king and the finance minister of his family? We meet our hero, a hedge fund manager, just as the economy is poised on the brink of catastrophe. Right now, the book is provisionally called Our Beautiful Jennie. Of course, because it’s by me, the book is also about personal loss and the disasters of a lifetime. What do you think?
It was originally called Cornerstone, the name of his hedge fund….


amywilentz December 18, 2009 at 5:03 pm

When I tried to use a Biblical quote for the title of my book (which eventually became Martyrs’ Crossing), I cited Hemingway as having gone that route. And my edior said, “Yes, but there is one difference. You are not Hemingway.” Quite right. We cannot all use the Bible!


mauryfeinsilber December 18, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Yay–another Hemingway aficionado! The thing is so much has to do with taste, and man, I think Hemingway had great taste, although frankly, I ain’t nuts about the title “Fiesta” (although T.S.A.R. was and is still called that in Great Britain). As an aside, I always saw a somewhat slightly salacious pun in The Sun Also Rises (but, alas, our hero doesn’t/can’t. Maybe it’s my own, inner Lenny Bruce reading into things? But I digress…)


mauryfeinsilber December 18, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Hi Amy — I really like the title you wound up choosing, Hemingway/The Bible/your editor notwithstanding. I have a sneaking suspicion that your editor must sublet a small space in my mind, for God knows I often hear those very fateful words, “…You are not Hemingway” infinitely more often than I care to.


mauryfeinsilber December 18, 2009 at 10:39 pm

This whole title thing is making me wonder why short story collections have such fabulous titles (usually, of course, based on the title of a story in the collection). Conversely, the title of these collections doesn’t always/often pertain to the book as a whole. But when you consider:

-“Everything That Rises Must Converge”
-“Welding With Children”
-“The Interpreter of Maladies”
-“For the Relief of Unbearable Urges”
-“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”
-“The Things They Carried”
-“Overnight to Many Distant Cities”

there seems little doubt that these titles are, indeed, attention-getters.

I hope I’m not being hyper-loquacious in regard to your conundrum, Sue, but it is a fascinating (and agonizing) one. Maybe allowing this sort of free associating consideration might ignite the very synapse where surely your title is awaiting the spark of incarnation?


Lance Reynald December 19, 2009 at 12:21 am

I’ve always thought any title suggesting the agony of love snaps people to attention pretty damn quick…


amywallen December 19, 2009 at 11:08 am

I’m the worst at titles. My novel was retitled by my agents. But I’ll mull over the essence of the story and see if I can think of anything. The Nervous Breakdown and Meredith’s The Writer’s Inner Journey are both two of my favorite sites. Great connections to LitPark!


SusanHenderson December 19, 2009 at 9:32 pm

I think Amy’s editor has been subletting a corner of my mind, too, but I’m thinking of raising the rent so she’ll go on her merry way.

Let me link MARTYR’S CROSSING while I’m at it. I do like that title a lot, by the way:


SusanHenderson December 19, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Your book sounds so timely! Tell me why the title has to do with beautiful Jennie and not the mediocre king — I’m so curious. And I count on you to write about disasters and personal loss, so I’m very glad that’s in there. Jim Daniels said writers are always writing the same book over and over, which I think is true, and I think it’s also why we attach ourselves to those authors who, despite the particular plot or subject matter, keep hitting that theme that speaks to us.


SusanHenderson December 19, 2009 at 9:41 pm

I’m trying really hard to see the salacious pun and can’t find it…


SusanHenderson December 19, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Those are some great titles.

And most people already know this, but THE THINGS THEY CARRIED is my favorite book ever, and anytime someone brings it up, I’m going to plug it again:


SusanHenderson December 19, 2009 at 9:44 pm

I will always – always – read about the agony of love.


SusanHenderson December 19, 2009 at 9:47 pm

They’re two of my favorite sites, too.

When are you coming back to NY?


mauryfeinsilber December 19, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Just by virtue of this being your favorite book, I highly commend your taste. By the way, I sent you a Facebook message before mentioning a wonderful website with audio author interviews, and Tim O’Brien’s is great to hear, especially the circumstances of his going to Vietnam.


mauryfeinsilber December 19, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Again, it might just be the way my mind works, but the pun I was seeing was how EVEN the sun “rises”, but because of his injury, Jake Barnes cannot.


SusanHenderson December 19, 2009 at 10:29 pm

Ha! That’s a great glimpse into your mind, and it’s going to be hard not to think of your take on it from now on.


SusanHenderson December 19, 2009 at 10:30 pm

I’ll go check my messages right now…. or very soon, anyway. I have to finish a couple pages of edits first.


SusanHenderson December 19, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Well, I have to link the NY Times piece here since it’s about “the artist long overlooked by the market, and by history, who persevered because she had no choice.”

And a link to Wired for Books (thanks, Maury!):


SusanHenderson December 29, 2009 at 6:35 pm

More jobs for creative NYers:

Insider Writer & Editor
Environmental Defense Fund;
New York, New York, United States

Executive Assistant
DUP New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York;
New York, New York, United States

Program Director and Lawyer
Day One NY;
New York, New York, United States
Salary: DOE

Publicity Manager
Brooklyn Academy of Music;
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Salary: The salary for this position is commensurate with experience. You must include s

Web Content Developer/Manager
Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, Inc.;
New York, New York, United States

Major Gifts Manager
Free Arts NYC;
New York, New York, United States
Salary: Commensurate with experience.

PeaceWomen Project Associate
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom-UN Office;
New York, New York, United States
Salary: Commensurate with experience

Director of Development
South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. (Sobro);
Bronx, New York, United States


SusanHenderson December 31, 2009 at 9:23 am

Another job… I want all of you making money in the new year!

Manager, Regional Programs

Education: Bachelor (BA, BS, etc.)
Location: New York, New York, 10012, United States
Posted by: The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers
Job Category: Administration, Editing & Writing , Management , Public relations
Sector: Nonprofit
Last day to apply: January 15, 2010
Last updated: December 2, 2009
Type: Full time
Language(s): Russian
Job posted on: December 2, 2009
Area of Focus: Art, Architecture, Music, Children and Youth

The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a nonprofit organization, identifies teenagers with exceptional artistic and literary talent and brings their remarkable work to a national audience through our signature program, The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. The Awards are the longest-running, largest and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in the visual and literary arts. In the 2009/2010 school year, we expect more than 200,000 submissions of art and writing from students in grades 7 – 12 from across the country and around the globe. Each year, we hear thousands of stories of how The Awards changes young people’s lives by validating their creative abilities and voices. The quality of the work recognized in The Awards often matches or exceeds the level of established artists and authors.

The Awards are a multi-tiered juried competition. Ninety-five Regional Affiliate organizations, consisting of museums, galleries, libraries, universities, school districts, community centers, businesses and nonprofits, administer The Awards on a local level. National qualifying work is then forwarded to the Alliance in New York City for national level consideration.

Scholarships are made available through partnerships with arts institutes, colleges, and universities. On the local level, $3.5 million in scholarships is made available to qualifying regional award winners. An additional $3.9 million in scholarships is made available to national award-winning seniors.

Position Overview: The position is full-time reporting to the Senior Manager, National Programs and the Senior Manager, Affiliate Network and Partnerships. The Manager, Regional Programs will be the main point of contact for the Regional Affiliate Network. S/he will also be a key player in maintaining and creating opportunities for scholarships.

Reporting to the Senior Manager, National Programs
• Develop outreach strategies to increase student participation and diversity in The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
• Provide administrative support for the Region-at-Large program of The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards (for areas of the country without a Regional Affiliate)
• Collaborate with precolleges and colleges regarding admissions, scholarships and financial aid
• Manage expansion of high-achieving, low-income scholarships with Regional Affiliates
• Provide technical assistance to students and teachers applying for The Awards, grants and scholarships
• Manage Regional Affiliate participation during National Events

Reporting to the Senior Manager, Affiliate Network and Partnerships
• Serve as the primary contact and administrator for the Regional Affiliate Network. This involves:
o Providing day-to-day administrative and customer support via phone and email
o Providing strategy and initiatives for network structure and expansion
o Updating, managing and maintaining Affiliate records and data in electronic and hard copy files
o Distributing invoices for Affiliate payments and maintaining payment records
o Working with Affiliates to submit top regional-level work for national judging
o Managing annual Affiliate renewal, including contracts and tailored regional entry materials; process new Affiliate applications
o Writing and updating Affiliate program materials
• Support Senior staff in recruiting national and regional organizations to join the Affiliate Network
• Provide training for new Affiliate organizations and professional development training for organizations in the Network
• Manage annual Affiliate Leadership Conference and new Affiliate training seminar
Additional Qualifications:
• Bachelor’s degree and 3 or more years of related work experience
• Excellent technology skills, including proficiency in Excel, Word, Powerpoint and online social media
• Capacity to work in fast-paced, high activity environment while managing several projects simultaneously
• Proven ability to meet goals and deadlines, often within very tight timeframes
• Excellent interpersonal skills with a positive approach and patience
• Ability to think independently and troubleshoot problems
• Effectively communicate with students, parents, teachers, partner organizations (museums, galleries, libraries, universities, community centers and summer art programs)
• Broad knowledge or ability to learn about arts and education, nonprofit management, and university admissions
• Foreign language proficiency in Spanish is desirable

How to Apply:
To apply, please send resume and cover letter, to with subject line: Your Last Name, Manager, Regional Programs. Please no phone calls.


SusanHenderson December 31, 2009 at 9:27 am

Scroll down if you’re looking for job postings….


michaelmcintyre January 3, 2010 at 12:37 am

Here are a few of my favorite titles:

Breakfast of Champions
High Fidelity
American Gods
The October Country
Angry Candy
Sweet Thursday
The Lottery

I guess I like shorter titles. I also like titles that evoke emotions or bring up other associations. Angry Candy is one that sparks an emotional response, and High Fidelity usually brings to mind the Elvis Costello song.


SusanHenderson January 3, 2010 at 6:31 am

Great list, Michael!

Tell me about your photo… it’s like an early sketch for H.R. Huffnpuff.


SusanaMai January 16, 2010 at 11:32 am

I can’t get too excited about “Fiesta” either, though I think that’s because we have a certain idea of what a classic author like Hemmingway would title his books and, personally, Fiesta sounds like something more modern, like a memoir by a Spanish-American. I’m glad I know that that was his original title, though. I like surprises like that. I like the idea that something is not what you think it is.


SusanHenderson January 17, 2010 at 8:27 am

I like the surprise of that, too. It’s also a nice reminder that the greats had to edit and struggle and guess just like the rest of us.


Mikel K Poet April 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm

“Steal This Book,” by Abbie Hoffman has always fascinated me. I once put together a number of poems, and called the gathering, “Ban This Book.” I would print copies of the book out at Kinko’s when it was a penny a page to do so, and share the xeroxed copied books with friends. (Ru Paul taught me how to work a Kinko’s.) I actually gave a copy of “Ban This Book,” to the author of, “Steal This Book,” when he was in Atlanta one year, for an alternate Democratic convention. Sometimes, sadly, I wonder if the book was in his abode when he killed himself.

“Been Down So Long Looks Like Up To Me,” has always been a title that fascinated me. It spoke to me in volumes. I quote it frequently, now, during these times of recession, saying to all the people who are joining me in poverty, “Welcome…where have you been?!!” Sadly, it’s author, Richard Farina, died in a motorcycle wreck on his way to a party for the book. Not that it matters to the title, but Farina was Joan Baez’s brother in law.

I have to mention, “The Glass Castle,” since it is such a fascinating book, perhaps my favorite book of all time, 52 years of time, mind you. I did not know what the title meant, for a long time, and then when Ms. Walls explained it, I saw the beauty of it.

“The Catcher In The Rye,” “The Basketball Diaries,” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” have long fascinated me. I know what a basketball is, but what is a, “Basketball Diary?”
The use of the two words Fear and Loathing in relation to Vegas, a supposedly fun place, is genius, and The Catcher In the Rye, as depressing a book as it has turned out to be for me,
is a title that will live as long as The Beatles music.

Rock on.


SusanHenderson April 11, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Great titles, and I really like The Glass Castle as an image but have never read it. It’s definitely going on my to-read list.


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