Historical Nonfiction Author

A new title, or learning to play well with the other children

2treeBefore History Press agreed to publish this story, they asked me to complete an 8-page application. One of the questions they asked was: are you capable of working with other people on a long-term project that requires a “high level of co-ordination.” In other words, do I play well with the other children?

I answered sure, that I was a former newspaper reporter who had worked with assigning editors, copy editors, managing editors, photographers, page designers and fellow reporters on stories that took months to complete. It was an honest answer, but now my breezy assurance is being tested. Other people are messing with my stuff.

The first change I’ve had to deal with is the title. I always liked the title that I gave this story: Death on Rattlesnake Mountain: Virginia’s Last Lynching. It was concise, as Strunk and White suggest. It was accurate and informative, as required of a good headline. And it was intriguing. As one of my former colleagues said, “Rattlesnake Mountain has such a mysterious appeal.”

But History Press has other standards. They have learned that if you put the subject locale in the title, the book sells better. The term “Rattlesnake Mountain” can’t carry this burden since there are Rattlesnake Mountains in New Hampshire and Washington state. They also argued that my title was repetitive, that “death” and “lynching” are the same thing. They wanted a subtitle that told the book buyer what my goal was in writing the book.

We went back and forth several times. They gave some, and I gave some. And so, as you may have noticed, this book has a new title: The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia: Searching for Truth at Rattlesnake Mountain. It’s not my first choice, but as I told them, I play well with other children.


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