Guest Sharon L. Dean joins us for a discussion about titles. She’s here in support of two of her books, Leaving Freedom, which will be rereleased in June and Finding Freedom, the new sequel, which will be published simultaneaously.
Sharon will be giving away one copy each of Leaving Freedom and Finding Freedom to one lucky commenter below.
Take it away, Sharon!
What’s in a title? A lot. A few titles of books I’ve read plunge me into the world I once felt a part of. The Scarlet Letter conjures an image of Hester Prynne, a scarlet A visible on her bosom, standing in front of a pillory with her child. Say Moby-Dick and I’m in a “damp, drizzly November” with Ismael calling to me along with Queequeq to join Captain Ahab on the Pequod.
The Great Gatsby sets me next to a man in a pink suit looking across his lawn at a sparkling party. Move me forward in time and I’m on The Road with Cormac McCarthy’s father and son, wandering among “charred and limbless trunks of trees,” looking for anything to help survive the apocalypse.
I recently picked up John Irving’s The Last Chairlift, despite its 800+ pages. I wanted to relive my days skiing in the mountains of northern New England. It rewarded me with mentions of Olympic skiers whose names I remember, with descriptions of the stem christie, and unexpectedly, with hilarious commentary on Moby-Dick. His protagonist, like Irving and like me, writes in longhand. They use semi-colons, a punctuation mark I abandoned when I abandoned writing books with footnotes.
A title alone returns me to books I’ve read and loved. But what title would cause me to pick up a new book? No cover art––though that’s as important as a title––no jacket blurb. I checked a few titles in the New York Times Book Review that interest me. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (Gabrielle Zevin) for its reference to Shakespeare; Murder Your Employer (Rupert Holmes), something tempting for many; The Writing Retreat (Julia Bartz), compelling for a writer like me; Mad Honey (Jodi Picoult), a toxic substance that figures in my novella Six Old Women. Likely I’ll never read any of these, but note the fun I just had with semi-colons.
How much do I struggle finding my own titles? My first novel, Tour de Trace, is set during a bicycle trip along Mississippi’s Natchez Trace, an easy echo of the Tour de France. Death of the Keynote Speaker seemed perfect. It describes exactly what happens early in my novel. My surprise came after it was published and I discovered another novel that came out at the same time, Death of a Keynote Speaker. I wonder if Sara Elliott Sommerville has sold more copies than I have. Now I always check titles before I decide on one.
I felt good about The Wicked Bible, the second in my Deborah Strong mystery series, until someone asked if the novel was anti-religious. Not at all, I assured her. There’s a Bible printed in 1631 dubbed The Wicked Bible because of a misprint that reads, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” My typos are never that bad.
Titles guide me as I write and usually they come early and easily. That was not the case with Leaving Freedom, scheduled to be re-issued in June by Encircle Publications. I was still struggling to find a title when the novel was fully drafted. I bantered around ideas with my critique group. Finally, we landed on Leaving Freedom, a title that captures what I wanted for the novel. My protagonist, Connie Lewis, leaves her hometown of Freedom, Massachusetts, a town whose name I also worked hard to find because I didn’t want to name it after a real town in that state. Only by leaving freedom does Connie find freedom from her past and a successful path to her future.
The sequel to Leaving Freedom, Finding Freedom, is also scheduled for a June publication by Encircle Publications. The title was a no-brainer as Connie, now eighty-years-old embarks on a last adventure by driving from Oregon where she’s lived for forty years back to Freedom, Massachusetts. She’s alone and free to decide where she will live out the remaining years of her life.
But there’s a duplicate title issue again. Finding Freedom is a New York Times best seller by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand about Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Fortunately, you can’t copyright titles. Maybe people googling the now not-so-royal couple will find my novel. Maybe the title will help sell a few copies.
Readers: Titles matter. What kind of title draws you in? One lucky commenter will receive Leaving Freedom and Finding Freedom.
About Finding Freedom
Leaving Freedom, reissued by Encircle Publications in June 2023, took Connie Lewis from her home in Freedom, Massachusetts, to Florida with her aging mother and then to Ashland, Oregon, where she found success as a writer and a place to call home. Now, in the sequel Finding Freedom, Connie is eighty years old and has exchanged the Volkswagen she called The Yellow Sub for a Honda Fit she’s nicknamed Last Chance. She’s ready for a last adventure and will use a drive across the United States to write a travel narrative she’ll call Travels with Connie. From gospel singers in the little town of Fossil, Oregon, to a famous painter in Glacier National Park, to turtle races in Perhem, Minnesota, to a twelve-year-old grandniece who teaches her about the lives of modern tweens, she finds more material for her book than she expected. Both going and coming back, she solved mysteries that help her to understand how the world changes even as it remains the same. Will she complete her journey in Massachusetts where she was born, the Oregon she has learned to call home, or somewhere she hasn’t expected?
You can pre-order Finding Freedom on the publisher’s website: https://encirclepub.com/product/finding-freedom/
Author website: https://sharonldean.com/
About Sharon L. Dean
Sharon L. Dean grew up in Massachusetts where she was immersed in the literature of New England. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of New Hampshire, a state she lived and taught in before moving to Oregon. Although she has given up writing scholarly books that require footnotes, she incorporates much of her academic research as background in her mysteries. She is the author of three Susan Warner mysteries , three Deborah Strong mysteries, and a collection of stories called Six Old Women and Other Stories, Her novel Leaving Freedom will be reissued on June 14, 2023 along with a sequel Finding Freedom. Dean continues to write about New England while she is discovering the beauty of the West.