The working title for The Four Ms. Bradwells was "The Ms. Bradwells," which comes from an 1873 Supreme Court case, Bradwell v. Illinois, in which one of the nine white male justices deny Ms. Myra Bradwell the write to practice law. (Okay, they call her "Mrs. Bradwell," not "Ms.") One of the justices writes as explanation, "The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life.… The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator."
So ... it's a story about four women who first meet on the first day of law school at my alma mater, Michigan Law.
But even if you went to law school, you probably don't know that. So when the book was close to finished, my editor started talking about titles.
One of the things a good publisher does is use it's resources. Caitlin tells me it used to be that the editor and the author had to come up with a title, and if marketing didn't like it, the editor and author had to come up with another one. And repeat the process until marketing liked the title, or tired of saying "yuck." But at Ballantine, at least ... or at Random House? (I'm never quite sure where the dividing line on the two is) ... an editor can actually toss the titling out to a broader group. I think what happens is the editor describes the book and asks in a meeting or by email for title ideas.
At any rate, after a few days Caitlin had a whole bunch of titles to choose from, all of which were better than the three I sent her.
"The Four Ms. Bradwells" was on the list. I thought someone was being polite, making me feel like something like my title was still under consideration, even if it wasn't. Because like so many writers, once someone question any writing choice I make, I start to think it sucks.
So here's the thing about titles. You stick the best thing you can come up with on a book, and you figure you'll change it later. But after a while, renaming it starts to feel like renaming your teenaged son. For better or worse, he is who he is, right?
So when Caitlin called me to say they had a new title and it was ... (drumroll, please) ... "The FOUR Ms. Bradwells," we both laughed. But even as I was laughing I was thinking, "Oh goody!"
The title had been the suggestion of Libby McGuire, the publisher at Ballantine. I love Libby - she is delightful and smart and incredibly savvy; I bless the day my agent put me in her hands - but I thought, hmmm... who is going to vote against the boss's choice? Did they do secret ballot, or show of hands?
"The FOUR Ms. Bradwells." It seemed like a lot of agony to go through to insert one word into the original title. That was February 29th, I think.
I went walking with my long-time lover (and, okay, husband of 22 years as of this coming Saturday), and told him the new title. And laughed.
But Mac didn't laugh. He said it was a much better title, and proceeded to articulate why the addition of the word "Four" adds a lot: it tells you it's a book about a group of women working in a common cause of some sort, and subtly evokes The Three Musketeers, among other things. "Ms." suggests the cause they're working for has something to do with women's place in the world.
As I said, Libby is smart and savvy.
My journal entry the next morning opens, "Loving the new title this morning!"
The last addition to the title: the period after "Ms." But that's a story I'll save for another time, along with descriptions and author photos. - Meg