You know how you walk into a crowded party, see a person across the room, and suddenly you know that’s it for you, forever and ever?
Yeah, me neither.
But it occasionally happens with book titles.
Sometimes it’s not even that shock of recognition, but a quiet and persistent sense of what is. For Blessings, I knew that was the name of the book before I’d written the first sentence. It was about a family who lived in a large house on a big piece of land known to everyone in town as Blessing’s. There was that pesky apostrophe, and three or four days when the grammarians who copyedit at Random House managed to convince me that the correct title was Blessings’. Just by looking at it you can tell that wasn’t going to stand.
But that’s just punctuation, not a title.
Sometimes the title occurs to you as you’re writing, as it did with my last novel when the protagonist uttered the words, “Every last one.”
Sometimes it doesn’t occur to you at all; it took me so long to find a title for my first novel, Object Lessons, that we were doing cover designs with “Title TK” where a title would go.
“A title is reductive,” I told my editor, and she patiently replied, “Yes, but every book has to have one.”
But the closest I’ve come to love at first sight for a title is with my new book. It’s a memoir about aging, and because it covers so much terrain—friendship, family, growing older, doing a headstand—it was difficult to come up with a title that covered it all. I only knew it was a book that was ultimately about being happy to be alive—gray hair, creaky knees, crow’s feet, and all. As George Burns once said, “Consider the alternative.”
One night I was walking across town to have dinner with a friend when it suddenly occurred to me that I might have lots of candles, but I've still got the cake. As I texted my agent and my editor, I felt a little bit like one of those cartoon characters with a light bulb over her head: Eureka!