Posted May 12, 2011
Some titles are born great. Some titles achieve greatness, usually through the hard work of an editor, agent, or author (who probably ripped out chunks of her own hair in the process). And some titles will never come closer to greatness than possibly containing some of the same letters.
That’s partly because when it comes to titles, “great” is entirely a matter of perspective.
An author might want a title that captures the essence of her
story. I’ve known writers who agonize for days over the philosophical differences between leading with “A” or “The”. I’ve known others who submit manuscripts with “Title Goes Here” on the front page.
Marketing departments have a different set of needs,
entirely. Should a title be serious or funny? Poetic or straightforward? To pun or not to pun?* Basically, they want a title that will capture readers’ attention.
Like, say, How to Flirt With a Naked Werewolf, by Molly Harper.
How to Flirt With a Naked Werewolf is the story of Mo Wenstein, who has just moved to Alaska from Mississippi. In the town of Grundy, she finds work in a restaurant kitchen, and meets a surly hunting guide named Cooper Graham. She’s trying to escape the smothering attention of her hippie parents, and figure out what she really wants from life. He’s a werewolf.
Though it takes time for Mo to figure out exactly what makes Cooper so different. That’s one of the book’s main strengths: its slow and careful set-up. Harper takes her time with her story. She doesn’t rush anything: not Mo’s assimilation, nor her emotional growth; not the relationship that will change her understanding of the world. The style is humourous and easy, but it’s not silly. Mo, whose real
name is Moonflower, really does have to come to terms with her past, and deal not just her parents’ behaviour, but also her own. Cooper needs to get past the trauma he suffered while protecting his Pack. There’s a blistering attraction between them, but their past damage and current choices means it takes them quite some time to figure out just how to deal with it.
I really liked that, the hesitation, the slow and careful
build-up. In fact, despite the striking title, there’s very little flirting going on between the main characters. Flirt is a coy word, a teasing word. What develops between Mo and Cooper is not without moments of humour, but it’s too
serious to be trifled with.
I also liked the matter-of-fact supernatural elements. These days, paranormal is the new normal on the Romance shelves. Writers fill
their worlds with all manner of supernatural mayhem. Harper’s lycanthropy reads almost like more of a cultural issue. Like any other woman involved with a man from a different culture, Mo has to learn some new habits and traditions. I get that: my in-laws are Austrian. That Cooper is a werewolf complicates their relationship, but honestly, it’s not the most pressing of the problems between them.
Which is not to say that Harper doesn’t handle the supernatural stuff quite well. She cut her chops with a paranormal series about a children’s librarian who is turned into a vampire only because an idiot hunter mistook her for a deer and shot her. So Harper is familiar with the tropes of the paranormal, and knows both how to use them and when to bend them to her will.
Molly Harper is the author of four previous novels. A former print journalist and current church secretary, she is also married and the mother of two small children. She began How to Flirt during an ice storm in Kentucky. Since her husband is a police captain, he worked pretty much constantly throughout the crisis. For her part, Molly made it through almost a week at her in-laws, with two very young kids, in a house with no power. So although she has never been to Alaska, she certainly writes with authority when it comes to tough living. Since the episode produced not just How to Flirt but also a sequel (The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf, which is next on my TBR pile). I, for one, think her suffering was worth it.
But back to the title. It both lived up to and surpassed my expectations. Most of all, it drew me in. “Wait…what?” was my thought when I first saw the book. I had to go in for a closer look. The title made me pick the novel up, and read the first few pages. The writing inside made me by the book.
Note to the Marketing Department: job well done.
Chris Szego would like to go to Alaska (though less for the werewolves than for the whales).