Let Me Clear Something Up or The Fascinating Phenomenon Whereby Nearly Everyone Gets the Title of My Book Wrong
Unlike the past two weeks on here, today is not technically a day of national importance, but it sorta is, as it’s my older bro Dustin’s birthday. Huzzah! He is a fantastic person and a wonderful brother and the voice of this guy in the Fables videogames and if you live in LA and pass him on the street this afternoon or evening, you should say especially nice things to him.
Today on the blog I’d like to clear something up/marvel at the mysteries of the human brain. So, I wrote a book, right? But, in the time since I sold it (one year and five days ago!), I’ve learned that about 70% of the people who read the title get it wrong. Even some people who have already read the whole book seem to get the title wrong, which is astonishing to me. The first couple of times this happened were frustrating (“Um, learn to READ, people.”), but as it’s continued to happen, I’ve started to find it fascinating and delightful; I seem to have written a title that has some kind of magical optical illusion effect on the people who read it.
The book, about a 17-year-old named Denton Little, is entitled Denton Little’s Deathdate. Seems simple enough, right?
But here’s how about 70% of people read that title:
Denton’s Little Deathdate.
Ten points if you can spot the difference.
Apparently, the word little is so ingrained in our vocabulary as an adjective that the brain rebels when reading my title, somehow flipping the apostrophe over a word earlier.It’s like one of those forwards people used to send around way too much, where the letters in words are all mixed up, but your mind is able to autocorrect and read the sentence anyway.
“We might have to come up with a new last name,” my lovely editor Nancy Siscoe said a couple months after we started working together. I knew she had a valid point. Even the initial contract Knopf sent me had the wrong title.
So I reluctantly opened myself up to the possibility that Denton Little, this protagonist I’d grown to love so much over the past few years—who’d actually had that name for a couple years longer, even, as the idea had been bouncing around my head since at least 2009—would be called something else.
“He’ll always be Denton Little to you no matter what we decide,” Nancy said, “but your readers won’t know the difference.”
I knew this was true, of course, but I also knew that changing the name wouldn’t be worth it if I had to feel a deep sense of longing and melancholy every time I said or heard the new title of my book (which would be a lot of times).
Nevertheless, I was game to brainstorm some other options.
Denton Silver’s Deathdate.
Denton Fox’s Deathdate.
Denton Bixby’s Deathdate.
It was a bizarre experience. Denton Little is a made-up character–he does not exist–and yet it felt wrong, like I was attempting to rename a close friend I’d known for years.
And when I did stumble upon a name I kinda liked, it usually had some powerful association with something else. Denton Foster’s Deathdate, I thought. That could work! Then, not two seconds later, I thought, FOSTER’S: AUSTRALIAN FOR BEER. (Maybe that ad campaign is old enough that it wouldn’t even occur to people, but it occurs to me!) DISQUALIFIED.
“Denton Lovett’s Deathdate?” Nancy suggested.
“Yeah, I like the rhythm of that,” I said. “But Denton’s dad is named Lyle, so then…” Not to mention the strange associations waiting to be made with Sweeney Todd.
There’s something about the rhythm of the words Denton Little’s Deathdate that I love so much and couldn’t quite recreate with another name. The Li part seemed essential, which led me to Denton Linder’s Deathdate and Denton Lillard’s Deathdate, both of which I could almost-but-not-quite get onboard.
I didn’t end up changing the title (obviously). I started to realize that no other last names were going to cut it, because maybe the same thing that was making people misread my title–that Denton’s last name is an adjective–was also what made me love his name so much. Little gives Denton instant underdog status. Which seems fitting, as he’s going to die tomorrow.
And if keeping Little in the title made me an underdog, too, facing off against thousands of auto-correcting brains, then so be it! I’ve made peace with that. I’ve even started to think of Denton’s Little Deathdate as sort of an alternate title. It doesn’t really make sense and sounds kind of patronizing toward Denton, but maybe it almost works? As Denton himself mentions in one scene, a “little death” in French (petite mort) is an orgasm. So, not sure what to do with that, but I guess that makes for a more titillating title or something.
Either way, this has all been a good reminder that sometimes, in spite of one’s intentions, art gets consumed in ways that are entirely beyond the artist’s control. It’s simultaneously thrilling and awful and, if this has happened with my three-word title, I can’t imagine what it’s gonna be like when people read the whole book.
But hopefully, after reading this, you will now know that book’s actual title. Maybe once it’s out in April, if you hear your friends calling it the wrong title, you can impress them by being all, “You know, it’s not actually called that.” You can hold up the cover like some cool party trick, pointing at the word Little’s, and they will be so in awe of how all knowing you are.
Or, maybe you’ll ignore everything I’ve just written and keep referring to my title the way your brain wants you to. That’s fine, too.