The Name of the Thing: Choosing the Right Title

Song at Twilight CoverI look at the date of my last post, and then the date of this one with bemusement and a touch of guilt. Certainly, I never intended to go this long before updating. Time flies when you’re writing to a deadline. (Except when it crawls.)

But tonight, with the book more than 80% complete, I feel I can break silence and share a few details. Like the cover. So, here’s a peek at my second book, A Song at Twilight, to be published sometime in 2013, more details–plot, characters, conflict, etc.–to follow.

Generally, authors don’t have much control over what ends up on the cover of their book. And I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of what are commonly called “mantitty” covers, especially when the situation doesn’t seem conducive to shirtlessness. But this one is growing on me, and I like enough of the other details–the couple’s pose, the setting, the colors, the plot-appropriate piano in the background–to be tolerant of  Bare Chested Guy.

Titles are another aspect over which authors don’t always have the final say. It’s probably a good idea not to get too attached to the first one you pick, especially if your editor is less enthusiastic about it. And to generate a few back-up titles you can live with, if that turns out to be the case.  And sometimes the back-up title may turn out to be better or more appropriate that your original pick.

My original title for this book was Unforgotten Song. Not a bad title, but I was asked to come up with something perhaps more evocative and romantic. I got to keep the title of my first book, Waltz with a Stranger, the general consensus being that it was a perfect fit for the story, so I didn’t grumble much, if at all. It was fun, in a way, to brainstorm alternate possibilities and see what I could come up with. I knew I wanted to retain a connection between music and love, as the heroine was a professional singer and the story set in the music world. So out came the poetry anthologies, the opera librettos, and my trusty copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

Ironically, none of those yielded the title I finally chose. That came along, unexpectedly, as I sat scribbling suggestions on a sheet of college rule and crooning tunelessly to myself, “Once in the dear, dead days beyond recall …”

The opening line from a popular Victorian parlor ballad, the kind of unabashedly sentimental song families warbled together as they gathered around the piano in the evening. Laura Ingalls’ Pa sang it one night as he played his fiddle in These Happy Golden Years. Christine Stuart sang it to Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Ingleside as Anne writhed with totally misplaced jealousy. The title “Love’s Old Sweet Song” was already on the list. On an impulse, I decided to check out the rest of the lyrics–and struck pay dirt with the chorus:

Just a song at twilight when the lights are low,

And the flickering shadows softly come and go,

Though the heart be weary, sad the day and long,

Still to us at twilight comes Love’s old song,

Comes Love’s old sweet song.

A Song at Twilight–dreamy, evocative, authentic to the period, and appropriate for the characters.  Who could ask for anything more? Fortunately, my editor loved it too, and gave it the green light.

I’d like to think the shades of Laura and Anne might also approve–as long as Christine Stuart wasn’t anywhere about!

So, readers, what titles have you found evocative or particularly well-suited? And writers, where do you find your inspiration for titles, and have you ever had to change one you were especially attached to?

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