The Dead Chicken, the Bush Devil, the Lighting Man, and the Bad Dog

Gbarnga, Liberia where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1965-67. The photo was taken at that time.

Gbarnga, Liberia where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1965-67. The photo was taken at that time.

A dead chicken, a bush devil, a lightning man, and a bad dog walk into a bar… Just kidding.

Last week I asked for help from my blog followers, Facebook friends, and members of my book club to help choose a title for the book on my Africa Peace Corps experience. The choices were:

  • The Dead Chicken Dance
  • The Bush Devil Ate Sam
  • The Lightning Man Strikes Again
  • How Boy the Bad Dog Ended Up in Soup

Each title also included a subtitle connecting the book to Africa and the Peace Corps.

The input was great and there were many thoughtful comments on the various choices. There were also more general suggestions such as put the titles in the active voice and make them shorter. An example of the former is The Dead Chicken Dance might become The Dead Chicken Dances or Dead Chicken Dancing. In the latter, How Boy the Bad Dog Ended Up in Soup might be retitled Bad Dog Soup.

Here’s a pie chart that shows how people responded:

Book titles

What seems clear here is that the Bad Dog was not good. But let me note, Boy did have some strong support. Alison and Don felt the title had a “good hook to it.” And Kocart said, “Boy the Bad Dog. Of Course.” Naturally. Linda at Shoreacres, who lived in Liberia, made the interesting comment, “Boy the Bad Dog certainly evokes all of the collections of African folk tales that are out there.” On the con side, The Writing Waters Blog observed that the title might be “too much for this dog loving country.”

Pull Boy out of the pie and what we have left is close to a dead heat. The titles are running nose-to-nose. The dead chicken garnered 30% of the vote, the Bush Devil 33% and the Lightning Man 28%. It isn’t what I would call a clear mandate. (Grin) So how about the very thoughtful comments? Maybe they are too thoughtful! Strong arguments were made for each title. I found myself nodding, ‘that’s right’ over and over as first one title and then another worked its way to the top.

Some of the comments:

“The Dead Chicken Dance hands down. I would pick it up and look at it. That’s as good of a title as “Getting Stoned With Savages…” which was a damn good book!”

“The Dead Chicken Dance is my favorite…. A touch grisly plus touch of the familiar plus invitation to dance equals enigmatic… Strong short and sure of itself like The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, The Joy Luck Club, The Kite Runner.”

I would use the Dead Chicken Dance, but I’d change it from “The Dead Chicken Dance” to “Watching a Dead Chicken Dance.”

Personally, I like The Dead Chicken Dance best. They’re all catchy, but for some reason, this one jumped out at me most. My second choice would be The Bush Devil Ate Sam. In fact, now that I see them both side-by-side, I like them equally. Oh, boy, that wasn’t much of a help, was it? 🙂

“The Bush Devil Ate Sam” is definitely my favorite; short, catchy, intriguing, and feels more encompassing of a collection of African stories than the others…

“I am leaning toward the Bush Devil Ate Sam as I have met Sam, a doctor trained in the American University system, highly educated, yet “marked” by his right of passage to manhood.”

“ (The Bush Devil Ate Sam) is the most cogent, the most compelling.”

“Curt, these titles are all great and we love the stories behind them. We’re voting for The Bush Devil Ate Sam because we feel it embraces the mystery that is Africa…”

“Personally, the one that would make me pick up the book first would be “The Bush Devil Ate Sam.”  It has three things: something exotic (the bush devil), something familiar (the name Sam being a sedate, western-sounding name makes it more familiar and less threatening), and the mystery of how the two came together – you can be pretty sure something called a bush devil didn’t literally eat Sam, so what is this really about?  Of all of your proposed titles, it was the one that made me most want to find out the story behind it.”

“ …the one that was most immediately appealing was the Lightning Man Strikes Again and the most intriguing was The Bush Devil Ate Sam.”

“I read all of the stories to the boys and there was a unanimous vote for The Lightning Man Strikes Again. Very catchy and a fun story!” (The grandkids check in.)

“I loved all the stories but my favorite title is The Lightning Man Strikes Again. I usually choose books by the title and I’d pick that one up just because of the sound of it. Lightning is fascinating anyway and the title sounds interesting and humorous, which goes perfectly with those stories. I’ve always wanted to join the Peace Corps and can’t wait to read this now.”

“The Lightning Man Strikes Again: I like it because it has a double entendre..Is it about someone else or are you the lightning man helping to bring change to Africa… 
Can’t wait to read your follow up post!”

“Love The Lightning Man Strikes Again – can just feel the dread the Lightning Man induced. Do let us know when you make your choice.”

“The problem is that ALL the titles are intriguing; they all entice the reader to want to read the stories.  But, if forced to choose, I would go with the lightning man.  I’m not quite sure, maybe because it relates so directly with superstition and myth.”

Life's about choices, right. It may be about the title of a book or it may be about which piece of monkey meat you are going to buy.

Life’s about choices, right. It may be about the title of a book or it may be about which piece of monkey meat you are going to buy. The lady selling the meat held up a little head and said, “Very tasty.”

So… these are some of the thoughts you have shared. They represent views from people with widely varying backgrounds… including writers, the under ten crowd, and folks who have lived in Africa. Do you see my dilemma? Thanks so much for taking the time to participate. It means a lot.

NEXT BLOG: My choice and the reasons behind it. (Yes folks, I am going to drag this out for one more blog.)

27 thoughts on “The Dead Chicken, the Bush Devil, the Lighting Man, and the Bad Dog

  1. I guess you’re going to have to go with your gut on this one. So often we bat things around endlessly in our brain when in truth, our gut is trying to tell us the answer all along. 🙂

  2. When I worked in a Unit specialising in experimental research I tried a survey of book titles for my novel. I handed out the blurb and twenty-four titles. Result – chaos. Sure, there were some non-starters and sure there were some with high votes, but many hated the ones others loved and vice-versa. There were a lot of interesting reasons for this – which I can’t start on here. It sort of boils down to: identify your market; the demographic of your likely readers; THEN find a title that fits their perception. Best of luck!

    • Thanks Hilary. I appreciate your input. Luck is a key word. I’ve had some success with writing. I once wrote an article on Hollywood and the tobacco industry for the Tobacco Control Journal. It was picked up by over a thousand media sources world wide. Even BBC was calling me in the middle of the night. Timing and luck. 🙂 My 15 minutes of fame. Then I wrote a simple book using quotes by actors on tobacco. I wrote it as a way to make kids more aware of tobacco in movies. Suddenly CNN was interviewing me on Entertainment Tonight. I had something they wanted when they needed it. Timing and luck. I am excited about the marketing aspect of the book, but not worried. I think of it as a game. If it works, it works. My next book will be on Burning Man. Talk about a target market! Always enjoy your thoughts. –Curt

  3. Ah decisions, decisions.. I think naming a book is difficult.. you have some great choices so I agree with the others, go with your gut instinct..
    A book on Burning Man, with insider views, tips? That is a great idea as I’m not sure if that has been written about..

    Now we sit on pins & needles for your next post! 😉

    • Burning Man has been written about but I think i can find a different angle. I’ve had over 50,000 hits on my Burning Man blog so there is definitely an audience.

      I am thinking Friday or Saturday for my blog on the name. And would you believe, I am still debating with myself. 🙂 –Curt

  4. When you think of the title, what does your heart tell you? I would suppose, nay expect that you being the author, would have the best feel of what a particular title would look like with your story.


    • Thanks Shakti,and you are right ultimately. At least I know where the buck stops. 🙂 But I always appreciate input and I have some very sharp people who follow my blog. It definitely helps me to clarify my thinking and at least avoid any major errors. –Curt

  5. Pingback: A Devilishly Hard Decision… The Title to My Peace Corps Africa Book | Wandering through Time and Place

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