Thursday, 24 May 2012

Der Duft des Regens

I received the advance copy of the German edition of Shelter in the mail today. The cover is quite different from the other editions. And the title translates as Scent of Rain. Interesting, because the original, working title of the novel was Hard Rain. Yeah, it came from the Bob Dylan song and yeah it's a bad title; that's why I came up with another one. Titles are hard. I like multi-word titles, like  the title of my friend Sean Johnston's book of poetry, The Ditch was Lit Like This. That is a fantastic title, in my opinion. I also like By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.

But Shelter started to seem to me the only title for this novel as I wrote it. In fact, I hadn't quite realized what an obsession the theme of shelter is to me. It's true I have recurring dreams about dwellings, which should have been the clue. Usually I'm in a dilapidated dwelling, a house, an apartment or a makeshift camp in some abandoned building. I'm often trying to fix a leaky roof. Sometimes I'm hiding in an attic. It took me most of my adult life to recognize how important security is to me.

The headings in Shelter, which some reviewers have complained are obvious or unnecessary, (and I can't say they're wrong exactly) worked for me as guideposts as I wrote. Food, Water, Fire: the other three survival necessities, after shelter. But it was interesting to me as a writer that, without even thinking about it, the Food section was full of references to meals and eating. The water section, too, had rain and rivers and the most primal experience of water, the womb.

It's a strange experience to let go of your book and let someone else give it a title. And to not be able to read the translation. I did work with the translator, Claudia Feldmann, and the questions she asked me were so nuanced and meticulous that I felt confident in her work. (She asked me, for instance, about the expression "horseshoes up the whazoo" and what the "bodily function" reference was in "Ginger #2").

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