About Reading & Writing

Book Titles

Or should I call that “Titles of Books”? I’ve finished the first draft of a new novel, and it’s time to come up with a name for it. Some titles spring forth as you’re writing and fit immediately. My novel The Aloha Spirit could never be called anything else, even in my head, for a story about growing up in Hawaii. Under the Almond Trees came fairly easily, too, as I thought of my ancestors’ almond orchards and the connection to the lone almond tree in my back yard growing up. For my very first book, a YA historical fantasy, I wanted a play on flying. On a Wing and a Dare fit perfectly. For the other two books in the trilogy, I wanted to stay with a prepositional phrase and keep the echo of ‘w’ and ‘d’. In the Winds of Danger came with a bit of a struggle, and I had to have a contest to name Under a Wild and Darkening Sky. (That one proved to be rather overthought.) Now it’s time to title another one.

While writing this one (Novel #6 is not even a good working title), no title occurred to me. Themes swirled in my head but never coalesced. So I’m going to share the bits I’ve considered and ask for advice.

The novel features three women in frontier Minnesota, when it isn’t even Minnesota yet. One is a white woman who comes west from Ohio fleeing an arranged marriage. One is the daughter of a Dakota chief with a child by a white Indian agent. One is a young Black slave woman. All three are women who actually existed at this place and time. While living on the Mississippi River, where it meets the Minnesota River (Confluences of Destiny?) these three women will encounter change in all three of their cultures as they discover their place in the world. Marriage, family, freedom, and responsibility affect all of them in different ways. The Mississippi River plays an important part in all their lives. (Rivers Home, Children of the River, The Mother River?).

The Mississippi River has long been considered the Father of Rivers. My novel explores its legacy as origin of many cultures and mixer of those cultures. (Mni Sota Mother Culture, Where Motherlands Meet?) The Dakota believe their people were created there at the confluence of the two rivers. Every action of their lives happens on or near the river. For the slave, the river takes her north into free territory. For the white settler, the river marks a turning point in her life as she considers her choices with regard to marriage and family. (Finding Motherland, Along the Mother River, Reflected in the River?)

The past isn’t rosy for any of these women, and the future isn’t guaranteed to be bright either. At one point the Dakota woman says, “Each mother’s tear that falls, of joy or despair, becomes part of the river’s love for her children. The river that flows today contains the last of all mother’s tears and the first of all daughter’s.” That sounds like a line that could explain a title. (River of Our Mother’s Tears, River of Tears, Tears of our Mothers?)

A title is the first impression of a book, often before the cover, so it must be great. It has to grab a reader’s attention, be short enough to be memorable, and not embarrassing or hard to say (so not Bdote Destiny). It has to give some idea of the era and theme of the book, although the cover helps a lot with that.

So it’s 1834. Indians, settlers, traders, soldiers, and slaves live at the spot where two rivers meet. Three women of different cultures try to take some control of their lives and influence their futures. Beneath all the action, the Mississippi River flows as it has since the beginning of time and will until the end of time. That’s it. Help me brainstorm titles for it!

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