Sunday, March 7, 2021

Awful at Titles


            I've always been awful at titles. I've even had trouble titling this blog. Awful at Titles will have to do, I guess, but I'm talking about the titles of my books. I've got a bunch of bad titles out there but I'll give you the worst example. My novel Red Helmet. If you saw a book with that title, what would you guess it was about? Combat? War? Porn? It's actually a love story set in a West Virginia mining town. There's this rich daddy's girl who is gifted a coal mine by her father, the very same coal mine headed up by her estranged husband. Her name is Song. His name is Cable. Maybe it should have been titled Cable and Song or Song and Cable or The Coal Miner's Wife . . . but Red Helmet? A red helmet is what a novice coal miner wears and Song has to wear a red helmet when she works in the mine to learn about it and then a lot of other stuff happens (including lots of romancey stuff) with her and Cable but that was no reason to name the novel after what's on her head, was it? No it wasn't, but you see, I started writing another novel about a novice coal miner, a young fellow, and got enamored with the title but then wrote an entirely different novel, sort of, and just kept the name. So wrong.


It's more about the woman than the helmet, honest!


            Another title problem I had was with the third novel in my Helium-3 series, the first being Crater, the second Crescent, and the third . . . you can see where I'm going there, right? Some alliteration referencing the moon. The first two titles aren't bad. Crater is about a boy who lives in a mining town on the moon and Crescent is about a girl who becomes his friend after trying to kill him, but then I got to the third and went . . . "Huh. Let's see, something moony that starts with Cr. Cruh. . . cruh. . ." I just couldn't come up with it so I just titled it Crater Trueblood and the Lunar Rescue Company which was OK although it took me a lot of words to justify it but . . . Cruh. . . cruh. . . And then after the book came out, I was talking about struggling to come up with that third book title with somebody who instantly said, "You could have named it Crust. You know, like the moon has a crust and that's what Crater and Crescent are mining." I hate that person.


Not too bad but...


            I could go on although I guess The Keeper's Son, The Ambassador's Son, and The Far Reaches weren't too bad in terms of titles for the Josh Thurlow trilogy although I clearly ran out of sons on that third one. The Dinosaur Hunter kind of worked although somebody pointed out to me that it was also the name of some sci-fi series by somebody else. Back to the Moon worked pretty well and gave Vice President Pence a nifty idea so it's OK so chalk one up for Homer!And my very first book, Torpedo Junction, wasn't too bad although somebody pointed out after the fact that there was a famous book written in the 40's with the same title. Luckily, titles can't be copyrighted and, anyway, I didn't know about it so there.

           Truth is I even had problems with the title of my most famous work, Rocket Boys. Well, of course, you might know it as October Sky but, hey, they're anagrams, right? The very first question from the very first interview about that memoir was, "So, Hiram, why did you want to write a book about John Glenn?" That's no lie, nor even an exaggeration. Hiram. Sigh. John Glenn. Bigger sigh. But Rocket Boys, John Glenn, I get it. Universal Studios loved the name so much they changed it to, well, you know. Amazon in its ratings files Rocket Boys, which essentially is the story of a coal mining town and how it rallied around some 1950's girl-crazy high school boys building rockets, under the following, no lie: Aeronautics and Astronautics, Scientist Biographies (note to the world: I am not a scientist and it's a memoir, not a biography), History of Physics (huh?), and History of Astronomy (ditto?).

            Then there is The Coalwood Way which is a story of the Rocket Boys (those crazy boys in a coal mining town, yeah?) that I wanted to call A Coalwood Christmas because it is sort of, more or less, a Christmas story about those boys but I got talked out of it by the publisher who said—stick with me now—that hardly anybody buys Christmas books (!) so now, every year near Christmas, I put up The Coalwood Way on my Facebook or Twitter page to remind one and all it has less "Way" in it than "Christmas" but I'm fighting against the title when I do that and I know it but I do it, anyway. Sometimes, I even claim that its real title actually is A Coalwood Christmas but nobody cares but me because they can see very clearly on Amazon or in the bookstores that it's not.


I keep trying.

             By the way, The Coalwood Way is listed on Amazon as Biographies of Scientists (we have already discussed this) and Human Geography (What is that?).  

             Sky of Stone, the third in the "Coalwood" or "Rocket Boys" trilogy, has a very nice title, thank you, one of my best so I can come up with a good one, sometimes. It's about a summer when I worked in the coal mines and fell in love with an older woman and got involved in an underground track laying contest and my dad was tried for the death of one of his miners. Amazon's file: Human Geography, Scientist Biographies.

            All this leads me to where I am today, trying to figure out what to title my latest, a memoir that I just handed in to my publisher. It spans forty years of my life and is about being a cadet at VPI and building its iconish cannon Skipper and then going into the Army and falling in love with a girl who wanted to sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir more than being with me and then being in Vietnam and getting shot at and blown up once and threatened with a court martial for doing the North Vietnamese's work for them by knocking down a bridge (that was bad, I'll confess) and then after coming home learning how to write and then diving on U-boat wrecks and finding a skeleton on one of them and then living in Germany and then hanging out in Israel and finding a skeleton in the Sinai (I don't know why I find these things, either) and then working for NASA and training astronauts in Japan and almost getting fired and then getting to see and touch Sputnik 1 in Moscow (yes, I know), and then writing a book somebody actually wanted to make a movie about. . . and . . . Amazon, probably: Human Geography, Biographies of Mad Scientists.

            I keep running bad titles through my head, all the while knowing it really, really matters while I also know it doesn't because you're going to want to read it anyway, right? But, for your edification, here are a few of the titles, all awful I'm sure, I'm thinking about right now:


Nothing But Trouble 

Who Do You Think You Are? 

Working My Way Back Home

You Don't Belong Here 

And Then There Was That Time . . .


Ease Your Busoms.


          I came up with that last one (a brand of coffee in Japan that kept me alive while I was over there) because I don't think even Amazon would put that under Scientist Biographies. Or would they? On the other hand Human Geography might just work.