Working Titles

Published October 10, 2012 by A.J.B. Johnston

The titles that books end up with are rarely those they start out with, unless they’re academic books. In the latter case, academic presses rarely get involved because attracting a target audience or broad market interest is not a major concern for an academic press.

In the case of my first published novel, Thomas, A Secret Life, that title showed up only a month or so before the book was sent to the printers. My original working title for the story — when I conceived it three decades ago — was “La nuit /Thomas”. At the time I wanted the novel to be an alternation between an elderly Thomas recalling his life during the course of a single night and flashbacks of those many scenes. My vision was that it would be a single book and his complete story would be told within its four hundred or so pages. That is no longer the plan. The story is too big for a single book. So there will be several, most likely four.

Parts of what was “La nuit / Thomas” survive in Thomas, A Secret Life, especially in the opening chapter. But most of the rest was written in the past three years. For most of that stretch I was calling it “Down the Dark Wind”, after a line of poetry that Thomas came up with and particularly likes. When the manuscript reached Cape Breton University Press, however, Mike Hunter was not convinced my suggested title was the best. So for a few months it flipped between “The Dark Wind”, “A Dark Wind” and simply “Dark Wind” with no article at all. None of us who were mulling this over — editor Kate Kennedy was a third voice — was crazy over that title. It might sound to some readers like the book was about vampires or other supernatural stuff like that. In the end it was Mike Hunter who proposed Thomas, A Secret Life, and Kate and I thought it was the best title yet. So that’s what it is.

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