A Rose By Any Other Name
Story titles: something we discuss as an editorial team often. Sometimes a title can make you love a story more, or a little bit less. The right title can lift a story up or even fill in the blanks about a question you have about what it means, or provide a clue to what happened. With this in mind, we were curious to ask our Issue 6 authors about their decision-making process in choosing a title, and if there are any they have loved.
Our questions: How important is a title? Does a title change how you feel about a story? What is your process for a choosing a title for your stories? Are there any that stand out for you from your own reading and previous writing?
Over to D. A. Hosek, author of ‘Our Lady of the Freeway’: D. A. Hosek has an MFA in fiction from the University of Tampa and lives near Chicago. His fiction has previously appeared in The Southampton Review, Monkeybicycle, The Journal of Microliterature and Every Day Fiction.
You can read D.A. Hosek’s story (we loved this story, and its title!) and more in Issue 6 of Headland.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Titles
Factions may disagree on whether Raymond Carver’s stories were better in their original versions as published in Beginners, or as edited by Gordon Lish in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, but it’s hard to dispute that one of the incontrovertibly good choices Lish made was to change the title of one of the stories (and the collection) from Beginners to What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
This title, pulled from a passing bit of dialogue in the story, has had a stunning resonance in culture. A quick Google search of “what we talk about when we talk about”-love gave 236,000 results and revealed titles that included, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Common Core”, “…Talk About Cancer”, “…Talk About Apple and Compelled Speech”, “…Gun Violence”, “… Torture”, “…the Common Core”, “…Books”, “…the Tube: The District Line”, “…God” and “…Demagogues”, and that’s just the first page of an endless stream of results.
Few, if any, of these actually engage with Carver’s original work (the most notable exception would be Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, which echoes not only the title but the structure of the story to good effect), which ultimately speaks to what a remarkably strong title Lish gave the story.
What makes the title Lish chose so good is that it works beyond the story-within-the-story which serves as the heart of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, but also manages to capture what happens in the rest of the story. This is what makes a perfect title: the ability to capture in a few words the essence of the entire text as well as provide something that becomes further illuminated upon reading the story. The ideal title is a three word poem, a text of its own which opens a gateway to new realms of meaning.