Meridian is a literary journal published by the University of Virginia — one of the top MFA programs in the country, so the staff take their work pretty seriously over there. The editors patiently suffered through a title crisis, during which I conjured up about 30 alternate titles for my story Miracle Girl Grows Up, which was recently published in Meridian 24.
Titles are funny little things. They are disproportionately important relative to all the other words you will put down on paper that make up the story; they can ruin the whole thing. I always think of shoes as the “interpreter” of an outfit — you can put on a jeans and a tank, for example, and the outfit will look considerably different with stilettos versus moccasins — and the shoes tell the viewer what kind of outfit the wearer wants the outfit to be. The clothes are the same, but the shoes tell you I want this to be dressy, I want this to be casual. This is a dumb analogy, I admit. But the title of a story can change everything. And for me, when a title isn’t working, I have trouble articulating why I’m rejecting all the other titles. It usually goes something like “that’s too 80s,” “that’s too 90s,” “that’s too Ann Beattie,” “that’s too Lorrie Moore,” “that’s too basic,” “that’s trying too hard,” “that’s pretentious,” “that’s cheesy,” “that’s great but doesn’t go with the story.”
Thankfully, the right title is usually there right from the beginning, or I’d drive myself crazy with this stuff. Someone once told me that title trouble is an indicator that your story isn’t really done, that you don’t know what it’s really about. I have no idea if this is true. It’s one of those things that sounds like it could be true.
The cover art of this issue of Meridian is charming. The artist is Aimee Sicuro. Literary journals can have such SCARY cover art; it’s always a relief to get a journal and see that you won’t be embarrassed to give it to a friend.