A Dog by Any Other Name
In my last post, I mentioned the idea of reading one’s work out loud at an open-mic style event. I recently read the first chapter of my novel – still in the works after nearly 11 years – aloud at a reading event hosted by the Arizona Authors Association. Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World is about a guy who packs up his dog, his car, and too many belongings to set off on a trip around the world. It depicts the life of a Wall Street investment banker and his female friend, a New York City artist, and also deals with social issues like homelessness and international poverty.
This was the first time I’d ever read it out loud, and boy was it a stumblefest! I highly recommend the process to every writer, whether you will ever actually schedule a formal reading of your book or not – because in the process of reading aloud, you catch things you just don’t see or hear when you’re reading to yourself.
One audience member at the reading asked a question I’d never even considered.
“Did you write this before all the stuff started up in the Middle East? Because I couldn’t really get past it as I was listening to you read.” Stan, the main character, has a Jack Russell terrier by the name of Isis. Yep – same name as the Egyptian goddess AND the jihadist/terror group. There’s a whole segment in the novel about how the little dog got her name – and even though I’ve done a considerable amount of work on the book in the last year, I never gave even one thought to the fact that the dog’s name is the same as a group of terrorist radicals. The book is set in the very recent past – beginning in the spring of 2011 and ending in the fall of 2012 – before ISIS had become a household word. So mentioning the shared name in the text of the book would be anachronistic.
As far as I understand it, the idea of giving a reading such as the one in which I participated is to elicit constructive feedback from the audience. While Toastmasters has a built-in mechanism for delivering and receiving such feedback, audience members at this reading event were much more forgiving – most of them heaping praise, even on (in my opinion) undeserving work. I was the only reader who received any negative feedback at all – and it wasn’t so much intended as negative as it was one woman simply raising an issue I had not considered. Another woman in the audience commented that she’d not thought about ISIS, the terror group, at all – she had gone immediately to picturing Isis, the Egyptian goddess.
Nevertheless, this one woman’s question and strong, visceral reaction have caused me to question whether I should change the dog’s name or leave it as it is. At present, I am leaning very much toward leaving Isis’ name as it is. If you have any sort of feedback on this issue, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Controversy can sell … so maybe the question has already answered itself. In the meantime, the marketing ideas continue to percolate. Blog posts upcoming, contests unfurling, crowdfunding unfolding. And, of course, social media strategies applied to all.
Here’s to naming your characters well!
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