What’s in a Title?

One of the hardest decisions I had to make in writing the Ashmore’s Folly Trilogy was one of the most important:

What in the heck was I going to call this thing? Or things, once I broke it into three?

Ashmore’s Folly

The Ashmore’s Folly part was easy. It had been Brandon’s Folly to me for a long time, and indeed, that was a title on the shortlist when it was still all one long story. (Why Brandon? Because Richard was Richard Brandon for years and years, until someone pointed out that it was one letter off Richard Branson, who couldn’t be more different from my Richard). Not only is Richard’s folly with Francie a prime mover in this story, but I had in mind a grand architectural folly as well. So Ashmore’s Folly came naturally.

Here are some of the titles I assigned to the one long story over the years, in no particular order:

  • To Lay a Ghost (from a comment Richard makes to Laura after their first night together). I liked the double meaning, as she thought of herself as a “ghost of a girl” and you get rid of a ghost by laying it…Need I explain?
  • Cat Seen by Candlelight (long ago title, from a scene that no longer exists). Now that I think about it, Richard gazing at Laura through a window as she brushes her hair was too reminiscent of the Highlander that Frank sees watching Claire in the beginning of Outlander, which I hadn’t even read at the time. Also, it seems stalkerish, even though Laura was in Richard’s bedroom as he watched her through the window. Stupid title anyway!
  • Bring My Sister Home (also long ago). As someone said, it sounded like a child abuse survivor novel.
  • My Sister’s Husband. Descriptive and to the point, but no. Just no.
  • Blood Between Us, Love. I really liked this one, a phrase from Christina Rossetti. It survives as a chapter title. However, I didn’t think it quite captured the emotions in the story, and it could just as easily fit a vampire novel.
  • Across the Years. This is actually an old title. It did not, however, really convey everything I needed it to convey. It does survive as part of a recurrent phrase about time and tide and years, which could not destroy the bond between these two people who met as children.
  • Woe to You, Sister. This one, a phrase from a folk song, survives as a chapter title in the third book. It fits the chapter perfectly. Book title? It would have been a disaster.
  • Remnants of a Late Afternoon. Another title I really liked, but too long, and it mires them in the past. It does survive as the title for Part III in the first book.
  • Dominic’s Daughters. I came close to using this one, as the dynamic among the sisters is core to the story. But I felt that it sidelined Richard, who is half of the story.
  • Brandon’s Folly. I changed Richard’s last name anyway, for the reason detailed above. Why not call the story that? Because this is a story about both Laura and Richard, and not just the mistake Richard made as a much younger man.
  • Laughed Among the Ashes. This survives as a phrase in a pivotal scene in the first book.

Once I decided to split the story into its three natural sections (I will discuss how I made the split in another post), I then had to come up with not one but three titles. The trend for trilogies is to tie the titles together with a word or phrase (think of Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed). So I started playing with ideas. Since this trilogy is really one long story in which the hero comes out of stasis and the heroine journeys to become the woman she was always meant to be, I explored words that suggested the hero’s journey. “The Journey Home” was already a chapter title in the first book, and it fit that chapter so well that I did not think it belonged on the entire book. And then, for some reason, the word “all” came into mind.

One of my favorite songs from a musical is from Kismet: “And This is My Beloved.” The lyrics, “All that can stir, all that can stun, all that’s for the heart’s lifting” kept running through my mind, as if the universe were saying, “Listen up here!” I could imagine Laura singing that song with all the love she had felt across the years for Richard. So I listened. And I decided that “All” should be the unifying word in the trilogy titles.

All Who Are Lost

I wanted the theme of loss. Some of the characters are living half-lives, unable to move beyond self-inflicted losses. Ironically, as well, the character who is the most successful in worldly terms thinks of herself as a “loser” and has come to accept that as her fate.

I also wanted to convey the idea of wandering, as I felt that more than one character was wandering aimlessly through life. And then — even though I really don’t care for Tolkien — it put me in mind of his phrase: Not all who wander are lost.

But, in the first part of my story, those who wander through their lives are lost. Richard loses his parents in Chapter 1 and now stands alone, the last of his blood. Laura loses her father in Chapter 2, she lost her mother soon after birth, and she has long since lost the sister closest to her. Chapter 3 brings a shocking loss. Then there are the lost souls: Julie, certainly, and Diana as well. Francie is long since lost. Meg loses her identity, her sense of her place in her family.

Richard and Laura are lost as well, both trapped in static existences, successful in their public lives but unable to move beyond the terrible mistakes each made when they were young.

In fact, of the major characters, the only one who is not lost is Lucy Maitland.

All That Lies Broken

This was the easiest. In an important scene, Lucy says that “something always gets broken.” A lot breaks in this book — loyalties, family, property. By the end of Book 2, an entire artificial existence, carefully constructed by a master strategist who could not escape his own destiny, breaks wide open.

All That Burns the Dark

As this title is still tentative, I will add to this discussion later. Suffice it to say that “fire” and “burning” are thematic, as Laura goes through a trial by fire (a crucible, so to speak). The Catholic idea of purgatory lies very much beneath the surface.