On Titles


My first book, Alter Road, was originally going to be titled Battle of Detroit, and then, later, Fall of Detroit.

These were working titles.

As the initial ideas of the book were being formed, Battle of Detroit emerged as the title that seemed to capture the developing plot. Eventually, however, Battle became too narrow. There was much more than a 'battle' going on: Economic decline, budgetary crises, failing infrastructure, social unrest, a refugee crisis. Fall of Detroit was much more appropriate, and that became the working title of the book right up to its completion.

But who outside of Detroit would be interested in reading it? I had to take a step back and think about what the book was really about.

At its core, it is about urban geography and political economy. The title that captured that the most comes right from the story itself: Alter Road. Alter Road is the eastern most street in Detroit and marks the boundary between Detroit and the leafy suburb of Grosse Point Park. The differences in household income, demographic characteristics, and other factors between these two communities are stark. Even on Google Earth, you can visually see Alter Road. East of it is a leafy and compact, vibrant neighborhood in Grosse Point Park. West of it is bereft of housing, but what is there is either abandoned and crumbling, or in disrepair.

My follow up to Alter Road has been titled Red Glare since before I ever started writing it. Red Glare is taken, of course, from the lyric 'And the rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air' from the Star-Spangled Banner, America's national anthem. It is a working title that captured, in a general way, what the book is about: a US war with Iran.

Once again, however, a war is not actually what the book is about. It is about geopolitics, world systems theory, political legitimacy, world orders, the nature of states, and so on. Red Glare no longer captures what the book is really about.

I am about two-thirds of the way through my second novel, but I am now working with a new title that comes, like Alter Road, right out of the story itself as it has developed. The new title is Friendship Games. I'm afraid that I can't tell you why that title without divulging too much, but it is central to the story and was staring me in the face as the obvious title.

Besides, it may change again.

For me, working titles are important. They keep me focused on what I am trying to accomplish. But I don't fret if the story starts to change, or if the title no longer seems to fit or excite me.

I've learned to let the story tell you its title.