Changing a Book Title

Why do anything?  Is it the pain?  Does the struggle to breathe in those first few newborn seconds set the tone for the rest of our lives?  I think so.  Pain, either felt or avoided, is what moves us along toward our ultimate end.  Once I was on a bad bus and composed this line:  “When you can no longer tell the difference between time and pain, you have truly arrived.”  That is the best thought I have ever had, just beating out “I’m sorry,” but now that I think about it, they are strongly related to each other.

The title of this book is Living and Dying with Dogs: Turbo Edition.  I got an email from Ken, my old Booktrope publisher, last week.  He recommended that I change the title of the new edition of Living and Dying with Dogs to something more marketable.  He always disliked the title.  “You are misleading the reader with that title.  Your book is about refugees, war, and death, not dogs. It’s a great book, but nobody read it then and they probably won’t read it now.  If you want to sell more than bupkis, change the title!”  The definition of bupkis, for the untutored, is “nothing” or “goat dung”.  I’m sure Ken meant the more ethnic understanding of the word since the book only sold a couple hundred copies the first go round, which in the world of book marketing is pure goat dung.

Bestselling books are compounds, like seawater.  First there’s the sensory life, mixing the ideas and emotions inside a human body.  Afterward, comes the writing.  Then the publishing and last, the selling and reading.  To get some stranger to buy and read a book is like Jesus making a sandwich for Mary Magdalena, it’s a rare event.  Writers write because they want to be relevant to themselves, others, or some conception of history.  How do I know these things?  Because my dog told me and if you don’t believe me, I am sorry for you.  You must have faith, it is required if you are going to continue reading. Just think about Jesus spreading goat butter over matzo and turn the page.

I thought and felt my unusual life and then I wrote a book.  You are reading it now.  My new publisher, John’s Motorcycle Storage and Rare Book Disposal, in the guise of Juanito (All Hail Juanito!), told me to go with my gut on the title.  I have tried to write a new title for this mostly unread book.  In my heart, I know Ken is probably right, but long nights of listening to the owls produced nothing worthwhile.  The new titles didn’t feel right.  During the Rwanda genocide, the UN troops were prohibited from shooting the Hutu Interahamwe while they were hacking the Tutsi to death. However, the soldiers were allowed to shoot the dogs that showed up later to feed upon the bodies.  A BBC movie about the genocide came out with the title “Shooting Dogs,” but for the US release, the marketing people demanded a name change to “Beyond the Gates”.  In a limited release the movie did a lifetime US gross of $67, 433.  The new title did little for sales.

There was no famine, genocide, or epidemic that I ever went to that didn’t have dogs along the edges feeding upon bodies. These were not golden retrievers or sleek hounds, but rather dogs that were coming out of the mist of primordial survival: feral, wild, and wary of men with spears or guns.  I love dogs and have never held it against them when they ate decaying human flesh.  I am Zoroastrian in this sense.  Let the vultures fly to the Tower of Silence and strip the human flesh from the bones or at least allow the dogs to eat their fill.  I can think of far worse things in life.

I wrote this somewhere in the book: “The moon is rising and along the periphery I notice a dog chewing on a hand. The sight has almost no impact on me. Dogs eating the carrion flesh of human beings are minor visions and totally understandable. Excited birds, insects, cats, feral dogs, pissing microbes—all things feast like Christ. The stench is a bonus.”

So I have decided to reissue the book using the title Living and Dying with Dogs: Turbo Edition.   Those words mean something to me.  The Turbo indicates that I have rewritten large parts of the book and added new sections.  I am hoping those changes will lift the book off the floor and into the sky.  I’m a sky watcher and a believer in turbocharged rocket ships moving through space toward a universal revelation, some indication about who we are and why we are here.

What will happen to us?  How will all of this work out?  I don’t know, but what I do know is pain and dogs are important to me.  Love is right in there and so are a good fire, a good friend, and a kind word.

If you have made it this far in life, you might as well keep going…doing things that matter to you.  Rising everyday with the stars and the moon and then the sun; everything turbo driven across the sky.



7 thoughts on “Changing a Book Title

  1. I haven’t kept count of the many coincidences that litter the path of our friendship, but I must say that today’s posting-at-the-exact-same-instant, two-pieces-that-are-thematically-similar, might just take the cake…so far.

    I am very grateful for having met you, Duke.
    The best guides, never wanted to be guides.

    And this is another trenchant piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I do think a new title is in order, but you’ve made a strong case for keeping dogs in it. Or perhaps the same title, but with a picture of a dog and a woman walking off toward the horizon, each with a human hand clutched in their jaws? Ok, maybe the woman doesn’t need a human hand in her jaws. But for the “turbo,” they could be riding in a sidecar motorcycle, with the dog grinning into the breeze with the blood from the severed hand trailing from his jowls. I’m just thinking out loud…

    Liked by 1 person

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