Thursday, October 29, 2015

Oncewhere Walked the Whale: Title

Oncewhere Walked the Whale is the title of my first self-published book.

This has caused some controversy round here.

I wrote the first draft of the novel in 2005, when Little One was just a baby. Took me seven months. The working title, which eventually became the unofficial official title in my mind’s eye, was The Whale of Cortary.

Now, the Whale in this story is not the massive ocean-dwelling mammals that the word “whale” conjures up in your mind. It’s the English translation or transliteration of the name Whale’s mother gives him from the original Cortarian. Oh, Cortary is another planet.

Whale is a malformed semi-human being who develops mystical powers as the novel progresses.

The whole point in this is that the title Whale of Cortary is somewhat misleading. If you saw it in a list of twenty book titles, you’d think it was about a boy and his pet whale living somewhere down in the South Pacific.

I decided a few months ago that this would not do.

But I could not think of a unique title.

One day down in Hilton Head during the annual vacation to the in-laws, I sequestered myself in their town library with laptop and brainstormed almost thirty titles. Some stupid, some bland, some neat but not quite descriptive of the novel. Then, scanning the manuscript for weird words, I came upon


It’s a word a peripheral character thinks about two-thirds through the book. The character is one of my stranger ones and thus one of my favorites: prissy, poetic, and very, very powerful. I like the word “oncewhere,” a word linking time and place, kind of an abbreviated mishmash of “once upon a time in a land far, far away.”

Plus it has an alliteration I dig. I like alliteration and consonance, and it sort of naturally occurs when I write. I take a lot of it out during re-writes, but, for better or worse, I leave a lot of it in.

And this character, sipping fine spirits on a balcony overlooking a maroon desert, muses the phrase: Oncewhere walked the whale …

An odd feeling came over me. It felt good, natural, different in a right way. But it also felt very risky to settle on it as the title. It took a couple of weeks for me to convince myself to use it.

So that’s the origin of my book’s title.

People seem to either love it or hate it. I’ve received feedback from both ends of the spectrum.

I’ve also been convinced over the past few months that there is no such thing as bad publicity. A title that’s hated can be just as valuable as one that’s loved. All that really is important is that it is remembered. Going back to that list of twenty book titles, what would stick more in your mind: The Whale of Cortary or Oncewhere Walked the Whale? If you skimmed that list, would your finger not linger a little more on the latter choice, intrigued, perhaps, by that “oncewhere” and that alliteration?

That ultimately decided it for me.

But I am not married to it. Should the book not sell at all, or should I get overwhelming negative feedback about it, or should I get respected professional advice, I’ll change it.

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