The Book Title: Doorway to the Story
Saw the Steven Spielberg film “Bridge of Spies,” this weekend, which vividly reproduced the paranoia of the post-WWII/Cold War era. The Soviets were hardliners, no doubt;, but we had many of our own hard cases, too. Both the U. S. and the Soviets had a long slug to victory over the Nazis. And, naturally, hardliners in both camps were in the ascendancy after VE Day. That’s the way it works.
As a writer, reflecting on “Bridge” got me thinking of the importance of titles, both of movies and books. That, of course, led me to thinking about the title of my own forthcoming novel, The Lies That Bind (TouchPoint Press, November 2015): a dark, ironic, and twisted tale of intrigue in the antebellum South.
I’ve been asked by other writers how I came up with the title, and I can honestly say it was a major headache–until it appeared in a flash of light. The challenge was how to encapsulate the story’s many elements, overall mood, themes, and time and place. Do you try to elicit mood or do you get specific?
That’s a lot to pack into a few words, and still try to entice a reader to wonder about its meaning and to pick the book off the shelf.
I haven’t yet read Strangers on a Train (the book by James B. Donovan the movie was based on), but I’m guessing the “Bridge” in the movie title relates not only to the physical Glienicke Bridge between East and West Berlin, but to the connection bridged between the mutually hostile East and West that brought about the story’s humanitarian Powers/Able/student prisoner exchange. On a human level, “Bridge” also alludes to the respect that developed between Able, the Soviet spy, and Donovan, the lawyer reluctantly representing him, as men of principle, without painting either as evil or enemies in the Cold War.
A good title focuses on a book’s central theme.
Hanks (as Donovan) argued artfully and logically not to put Abel to death so that he might be used a future pawn if an American were captured. Donovan was an insurance wheeler-dealer, a regular guy, not a political hardliner, and diplomacy won out over vengeance and death. Hey, we’re still trying to learn that lesson today, right?
My book title, The Lies That Bind, focuses the reader on the story’s central themes, too. But unlike the phrase “the ties that bind,” which has a positive connotation, Lies shows the dark side of life in Southern slave society, with people held together through deceit, bound by falsehoods: injustice, subterfuge, and outright intimidation. See synopsis.
Yet, though the novel’s characters must live lies and live with lies, oppression can never be omnipotent. The opposite is true, in fact. This story shows that the only way we can fulfill our highest aspirations is to find the truth deep in our own hearts. It’s a battle we never stop fighting within ourselves.
In a macro sense, too, The Lies That Bind shows that a society built on falsehood and injustice is fated for an upheaval that will bring it crashing down. If you doubt that, just look at the former Soviet Union and its puppet, East Germany, which “Bridge of Spies” presents so well. And, historically, regarding The Lies That Bind, what was the result of the slavery system? I think my novel dramatizes it pretty clearly.
See you next week. Good reading!