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Sunday, May 30, 2010

FAQs on Annie’s Ghosts (Part #1)

A few weeks ago, at one of my book talks, I handed the microphone to a woman in the audience, who began by saying, “You’ve probably been asked this before, but…”

She was right – and I didn’t mind a bit. (Authors who do mind shouldn’t engage in Q&A with the audience.) She hadn’t attended any of my other events, and she hadn’t heard my answer.

“Has a photo of Annie turned up yet?” she wanted to know.

It’s one of the most frequently asked questions that come my way. “Not yet,” I said. “But I hope people keep asking. Maybe some day I’ll be able to say yes.”

Her question lingered with me, and spawned this idea: Over the next several weeks, I will post several FAQs (and answers) that I’ve been asked about Annie’s Ghosts. If you have another one that you would like me to answer, send it along to steve@steveluxenberg.com for consideration. (Book clubs might be interested in the Discussion Guide list of suggested questions on my website.)

Today’s FAQ involves three variations of the same query:

Q. What’s up with the title? Why is it Annie’s Ghosts, plural, and not Annie’s Ghost, singular? Why isn’t it Beth’s Ghosts, given the book’s focus on your mother Beth and your search to understand her reasons for hiding her sister Annie’s existence?

A. Book titles can say a lot or they can say too little – or they can mislead. Annie’s Ghost, singular, sounded to my ear as if Annie might be haunting my mom. That seemed too narrow to describe the story I was telling. I wanted a title that suggested a universal story, a broader story of the many ghosts and secrets that haunt us all.

My mom is any woman whose sister has physical and mental disabilities. Annie is any woman who finds herself being pushed into a mental institution in the first half of the 20th century, a time when patients had few rights and large asylums dominated the mental health system in the United States. For me, Annie’s Ghosts, plural, signals immediately that this book has broader ambitions.

The title did present one problem at first: During radio interviews, I would take extra care to emphasize the plural, and I feared that I sounded like a hissing snake – “Ghostsssss.”

The snake is under control, and the title has taken on the attributes of a good suit: It fits.

Next: “Looking back, do you see…”

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