Friends, I don’t know if you share this experience, but I have noticed that literary writers increasingly use the phrase “of it.” As in, “It was oppressive, the weight of it.” Or, “She thought of the camp, the dirt of it bringing her back to her youth.”
There are infinite ways to make magic with words, of course, and rules are made to be broken, but I’ve always been reluctant to use such phrases. “Of it.” What is “it?” Words such as “it” and “things” and “that” can be imprecise.
I read a forthcoming novel that just happens to have “of it” in the title and the author was kind enough to tell me why she made the choices she did. Wendy J. Fox is already part of Great Writers Steal history; she and I discussed her short story collection The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories. Her debut novel, The Pull of It, will be released by Underground Voices in late September. I asked her why she would use an imprecise phrase like “of it” in the title of her engaging book. What does The Pull of It do that The Pull of Freedom or The Pull of Leaving doesn’t?
Wendy J. Fox responds:
First, let me say here that titles are notoriously hard for me, and The Pull of It was no different. This book was at first called The Crescent, from the crescent on the Turkish flag (parts of the novel are set in Turkey), and then it was called Deals, because in the opening chapter, the protagonist, Laura, makes a “deal” with her husband. Yes, I know. Both of those titles stink.
It seems there is an increasing shift in colloquial English, where we use unspecific words like it or thing. I listen to a great deal of public radio, and I’ve started to hear folks use “sort of” as the go-to verbal filler. In writing, it plays out a little different. Think of social media comments when people enjoy an article or image, as in “This is all the things” or, if something is emotional, “This hit me in the feels.” Why not post, “This is why I became a writer,” or “This made me so sad I had to call my mom,”? Some of these choices are stylistic, and some are related to the fact that language is always shifting.
When I went to contract with Underground Voices, the editor rightly wanted a different title than Deals, and we went through several iterations, and iterations that were certainly more specific than it.
Pull pretty quickly became non-negotiable—the word appears many times, in many contexts, and the concept of pulling (pulling towards, pulling away, pulling back) is extremely central thematically in the novel.
Variations on just pull alone seemed too basic and non-descriptive, and trying to pin it down one item down felt too narrow.
We settled on it to open the door to the book—to find out what it actually is, and also to acknowledge that through the course of the novel, it changes.
Still, the title of a literary novel is not the same as composing a social media post, but the hope is that the title gets at a sense of expansiveness. And, of course, I hope it hits readers in the feels.
WENDY J. FOX was raised in rural Washington state, and lived in Turkey in the early 2000s. She holds an MFA from The Inland Northwest Center for Writers and is a frequent contributor to literary magazines and blogs. Her debut collection The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories won Press 53’s 2014 competition for short fiction. She currently resides in Denver, where she is at work on a second novel.