What IS in a Name, Anyway?

Because what I do for a living often seems like magic—I come up with an idea and *POOF* you have the book in your hand—I thought I might do a series of blog posts about the actual process. (Though rest assured—it’s still pretty magical.)

How do we writers name our babies? The ones on the page, that is, not the ones in diapers. How do I get to a title?

Looking back at this book’s history—I tend to email myself every day’s work, which means I have the record at hand—it started under the enticing title of:

Russell 18

That was during the first part of 2022, when the story was little more than notes and ideas that would either bounce around my brain for a while and then lose their momentum and quietly roll into the corner, or that would bounce around and hit another idea with a spark, and they’d join up like a pair of soap bubbles (a terrible mix of metaphors here, but you get the idea) and wait for another idea to bounce up and join them. By the time I actually began writing, in early December (the process I talked about last week in The Beginning) I knew some key things about it—which I’m not really going to talk about until we get a little closer to the book’s actual date, but I did know enough to give it a working title:

The Image Lamp

I’d thought of Zoetrope, since one of those is central to the book, but 1) since “zoetrope” is pretty firmly associated with Francis Ford Coppola, and 2) I’m not convinced everyone knows exactly what it is, Image Lamp would do. But I went back and forth over the word “lamp” (even though, strictly, it is more accurate than “lantern”) because if felt, er, lumpy, and a little nasal. By the end of January, I was calling it:

The Image Lantern

Bugles and fireworks, right? Well, my editor wasn’t convinced.

Here are some exchanges that took place between mid-December and the first of February, when I was told they absolutely HAD to have a title to put into the catalogue. The HER below is my editor at Penguin Random House:

(12/12/22) HER:  As for title, I do like the idea of using the zoetrope for inspiration, but THE IMAGE LAMP doesn’t feel very dynamic

(1/27)  ME: Since the whole story is constructed around the zoetrope that Russell finds, I really haven’t been able to come up with a better title than Image Lamp or Lantern. Sorry.

You want to have a conversation and see what we can brainstorm?

(1/31/23) HER:



            I like LANTERN better than LAMP, I think

(1/31) ME:  …except the title makes no sense, because there’s no lady in the lantern.

Also I’m not keen on “lady”.

(2/1) HER:



(2/1) ME: What do you think of the word flickering?



            …Though the Art Dept would have to take care with the font on the cover so it didn’t look like a Fucking Lantern.

(2/2) She and I decide to have a conversation, for brainstorming the title. From that, we come up with a list:

I decide I like the idea of a dance.

I tell her I could tweak the description a little to play it up.

Then comes the question: with or without the THE?

            We agree we prefer it with the article.

(2/2) HER: We’re going to float THE LANTERN’S DANCE to the team.

(2/2) HER: Big thumbs up for The Lantern’s Dance!

Simple as that, right? Which just leaves me the minor matter of finishing the book…


Next episode in the saga of Lantern’s Dance: Feeling the Draft(s)


You can pre-order the end product of all these debates, The Lantern’s Dance, from: Bookshop Santa Cruz (signed); Poisoned Pen Books (signed); Bookshop.org (supporting Indie booksellers); Barnes & Noble; or Amazon.


  1. Robbin Stull on August 20, 2023 at 3:55 pm

    I love the brainstorming process

    • Laurie King on August 21, 2023 at 2:43 pm

      It’s occasionally fun, sometimes frustrating, but nearly always helpful!

  2. Chris on August 21, 2023 at 1:30 pm

    And there we all are, thinking it all starts so simply with a title…! These insights are glorious. Thank you.

    • Laurie King on August 21, 2023 at 2:44 pm

      Well, sometime it does. Sometimes the book starts with the title and the title stick all the way to publication. Other times…

      • Chris on August 22, 2023 at 2:26 pm

        We definitely need you on a panel at Harrogate next summer, I feel, although I’m sure there’s just a tad more than title shenanigans to hold the audience’s attention….

        • Laurie King on August 22, 2023 at 3:39 pm

          Next year is going to be so busy, but I would love to do Harrogate one year!

          • Chris Sagar on August 24, 2023 at 8:17 am

            Please, do! It’s such a buzz! I was talking about Back to the Garden with a publicist this year, she was away to track it down. It’s such a great place to rub shoulders …

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