WHAT’S IN A TITLE?

Sometimes, this writing gig ain’t all just wine, yachts, and sex with supermodels, you know.

During the week I submitted the first story I’ve completed this year. That alone is case for both celebration and concern: there was a time, not that long ago, when I sold ten stories a year, never mind submitted my first one in September. But life is a much different thing than it was a couple of years ago, and my aims are different, too. 2010 has been a year for other things. However, it’s been the first story I’ve ever submitted that’s contained an apology.

The reason for that is the title.

I may not be good at much, my little friends, but I do delude myself that I’m quite good at finding the right title for my work. No Phil Dick, perhaps, but I at least avoid stories called “The Vampire” or “The Ghoul” or… well, you get the drift. And once a title is right, it’s right. There is such a thing as a perfect title– one that encapsulates the theme of the story, gives the reader a glimpse into the events about to unfold without giving the game away, and jumps out of the Table of Contents with such force that the reader wants to turn to your story first.

The story I wrote is set in the 1920s, in a jazz club in Harlem. It deals with the US Civil War, with the differences between white and black magic, with the way music can be used to capture emotions and re-channel them as a source of power. It talks about slavery, indvidual freedom, the germination of the Civil Rights music. It’s rough, and nasty, and unpleasant things happen.

It’s called Nigger Music.

It’s a perfect title. There is no other title that encapsulates everything that happens within the story, that ties together the way we name things, the way white owners and their black slaves changed after the power relationship was destroyed, the roles that the three characters (white Le Mesurier, black Tobias Mancer, and the musician Robert Johnson) interact. It is the perfect title for the story.

But looking at the title bar of the email and seeing SUBMISSION: Nigger Music….. well, it’s the first time I’ve looked at it and thought, “You know, that’s going to need explaining.”

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