What’s Up With That Title?

431px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-C1015-0001-012,_Tokio,_XVIII._Olympiade,_Ingrid_KrämerSometimes a book, like a character, will name itself. You’ll be chugging along on the first draft and the perfect name or title pops into your head and nothing, no matter how long you brainstorm, poll your friends, read the baby-naming books, or draft pro-con lists, will ever work as well.

Drawing Breath was like that.

In a way, Sliding Past Vertical was as well.

The title came from a term used in diving competitions. I’m a huge fan. Obsessed, you could call it. When the Summer Olympics air, I will troll the cable channels and Internet footage for all of the qualifying rounds, not just the finals. Mainly I watch because it’s so beautiful. These daredevils leap and spin and twirl and land perfectly, knifing through water with such quick precision that they become negative space, leaving a tiny hole where they cut through. I want to know why. I want to know how they position their hands and feet to create barely a teaspoon of splash. I want to know what’s going through their heads as their toes leave the board. I want to know what those little towels they dry their hair off are made from. I want one. I want to know why someone would think of jumping off such a ginormously high platform in the first place.

I’m also fascinated because I have always been terrified of diving. No matter how much my father egged me on, no matter how many times he offered me a quarter to simply put my arms out and roll head first off the edge of the pool, I couldn’t make myself do it. I still can’t, and I’m okay with that, so I live vicariously through Olympic diving.

I forget which Olympic games I was watching while I worked on the first draft of this novel. During the commentary, one of the announcers, a former champion herself, kept talking about one competitor’s unfortunate habit of “sliding past vertical” during her dives. In the ideal dive, no matter how many times you spin and flip and twirl, you need to straighten out your body at a certain point so that you break the water as perpendicular to the surface as possible. That’s part of what results in the tiny splash, which is the last impression a diver leaves with the judges. The Chinese divers seem particularly good at it. Slide past that vertical ideal, however, and it’s not the prettiest of pictures. If you don’t get a good jump, or if your spins go out of control, often you don’t have enough time to get your body in the right position for the entry. Hence, that sliding thing.

Even before I started writing the book, I knew that Sarah, my female lead, had been a diver. I knew she was having problems with getting her life on track, especially when it came to certain ill-considered decisions going terribly awry. Learning about “sliding past vertical” brought it all together for me. I knew that had to be my title, because the affliction not only ended Sarah’s diving aspirations, but also had bled into her everyday life and the lives of the other characters.

What are some of your favorite “odd” book titles? Do you think they fit the stories?

4 thoughts on “What’s Up With That Title?

  1. acflory says:

    I’d never heard of the term ‘sliding past vertical’ before reading your book, but I admit I fell in love with the title anyway. There’s something incredibly .. tactile about it. Drawing Breath had more of an emotional impact, but it too had that ‘couldn’t be anything else’ feel to it.

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