A Novelist’s Journey – Episode 2


“Cease and desist or I will have my lawyer contact you!”

These are the words that froze my heart and sucked the breath from my lungs.

Moments later, when I regained composure, I read the rest of an email that was curt, poorly composed and just plain stupid. Legally speaking.

My first book was a work of non-fiction. Being a jazzophile and because I have the heart of a journalist, I decided to interview all the cool musicians in my community (there are famous cats here) and put their stories into my first book. The result, “The Poconos In B Flat,” has met with moderate commercial success. Even more so, it was a personal milestone for me.

Seeing your first book in print is empowering. It spurs you on to better work.

The hitch mentioned above – that one of my interviewees would threaten legal action – had no substance. It became my first lesson in intellectual property.

The complainant (who is also a household-name megastar) had published a book years earlier that had two words in common with my title: “In” (stop the madness!) and “Flat” (how dare I!).

First off, my legal contacts assured me you cannot copyright or protect the title of a book or song. Secondly, the titles were worlds apart and weren’t even about the same subject. Third, and this is just incidental, the title had a personal meaning for me, which is why I chose it. It was unique to my sensibilities and was not chosen with anybody, especially my accuser, in mind.

Middle B flat is a very cool “blue” note in jazz that, on the alto sax, is highly and pleasantly bendable. I had learned alto sax at The New School for Social Research in the 1980s and loved to play with the sounds I could get on that sweet note.

“If I ever write a book about music,” I told nobody in particular, “it will have a title with my favorite note in it.”

Novelists, take note (pun intended): Create a title that fits your work, period. Don’t compromise, don’t worry, be happy.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

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