Crosses To Bear

I’d like to ask everyone here (and over at my Blog, where I’ll mirror this post) for a little help. I’ve been having a discussion with my wife about the novel I’m writing. More exactly, about the title of the book, “Crosses To Bear”. I’ve chosen the title because of the underlying theme of the story, which involves living with guilt and living with burdens. The phrase, I think, conveys that in a nicely poetic way. My wife objects (we are both firm atheists) because she thinks the phrase has a strong religous meaning and that the audience will expect the book to have some sort of religous content. It won’t.

So I guess my question is, what do you think when you hear the title? Do you think it sounds preachy, would you assume the book had religous content, or would you just assume the title was metaphor?

55 thoughts on “Crosses To Bear

  1. The title did not immediately conjure up religious associations for me. I see it more as a turn of phrase with a particular mythological origin. I’m known to use phrases such as “on a wing and a prayer” even though I don’t pray and I lack flying appendages, or “let the mountain come to Mohammed” even though I’m most decidedly not a Muslim.  smile

  2. I would on the other hand, draw the conclusion that it was of a religious nature, but I suspect my religious background is a bit different from Sadie’s.

  3. Despite my very religious background, I think the concept of one’s “cross to bear” has become a part of our culture.  The metaphor is not necessarily religious and for that matter, does not appear in the bible (as in; “X was his cross to bear).

  4. Being a Christian, I would not be surprised if every Christian that passed it on a Barnes and Noble shelf would assume that it had religious content.  Take it from me the sheeple will certainly assume it.

  5. Based on the title alone, I would have guessed that the book was an inspirational coming-of-age story about troubled teenagers, but I don’t trust titles as a rule.

  6. It depends on what section of the bookshop it was in.

    You could change ‘cross’ to ‘burden’ or ‘bear’ to ‘bare’.
    I know the fundies wouldn’t know the difference but some others might.
    You could even try and make-up a Max Headroom type thing using the load-bearing analogy or metaphor.

    Or mangle something from this one.

    Truly, man is always at enmity with himself – a secret, sly kind of hostility. Tares (tare is the weight of the vehicle without the cargo or passengers – so he means us without our baggage which doesn’t make sense – I think the translator meant to refer to our cargo or baggage – I may have it completely wrong.), scattered no matter where, will almost certainly take root. Whereas the smallest seed of good needs more than ordinary good fortune, prodigious luck, not to be stifled … Faith is not a thing one “loses” – we merely cease to shape our lives by it. (The Diary of a Country Priest – George Bernanos)

  7. When I hear the phrase myself my first thought is rarely religious because it’s usually used as a platitude when someone else is bitching about life’s little annoyances.

    Plus what DC said, the cover image will go a long way toward establishing the context. I also wouldn’t worry about it too much because once you do find a publisher you’ll probably find that the editor will have some suggestions on titles and covers. Go with it for now and be open to suggestions if someone comes up with a better idea.

  8. It’s a common enough idiom outside of religious circles and so is not too misleading. 

    As Distant Claws said, the cover art, publisher’s blurb, etc. will set the context and make it more obvious that the book is not meant to be religious.

    On the other hand, if you sell a few more copies to some religious people that will buy it only for a title, is that a Bad Thing?  wink

    Your novel is your expression.  Don’t compromise the title just cuz some people might take the wrong way.

  9. First image to me is a religious one and speaks of an underlying Christian culture. More importantly, it doesn’t draw much interest in the book, well at least for me. I immediately think of yet another inspirational Christian message/story. You know, the kind your mother sends you in a spam email.

    I guess it really would depend on your intended audience.

  10. I agree with the others that the cover image and subtitle (if any) and section of the store will have a lot of effect on the immediate reaction.

    I’d probably suspect it had at least some religious element to it, but I wouldn’t be surprised or offended if it didn’t.  Some folks would doubtless take offense at someone “stealing” the religious theme (a book title has more declarative impact than a passing metaphor), but I wouldn’t worry about it.

  11. I was thinking, people sometimes read books (fiction and fact) when it inspires thought that would help them study a situation, to work out what they would do or how things work, fiction has the ability to create imaginary scenarios, mainly for questions over dealing with people, factual on the other hand deals more with questions over the system you’re operating in such as how, why and what.

    How much the book would compliment someone’s current line of thought is assessed by assessing the context and how much that applies, so some of the more successful media are successful because they apply over a broad range of contexts, dealing with issues on many levels where it’s much more likely that at least one of those will help a particular buyer

    I think first impressions generally count more for books than people when there is more choice for reading a book than dealing with a person, the consequences of that impression are much more immediate and possibly terminal for something like a book where 1) the assessor has the choice and 2) where an immediate decision is asked of them (buying). “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” can’t be abided by when a quick decision is required. I guess it applies more to people in situations similar to that like job interviews or dating someone you don’t know well – an immediate decision is asked of the person making the assessment, making them rely on the first impression as the best they have.

    If (for whatever reason) you are dealing with a book or a person more long term though there are many oppertunities for your perspective on it to radically change, not many books and people seem to radically change in reasonable time, but it is entirely possible and if it does happen it makes you think more deeply about the book/person which can only be more engaging.

  12. I agree with what Dave and others have said, cover image, store location will do more to dictate.

    The other way to look at it: since it’s your book you should use the title you want to use.  Fuck everyone else.

  13. I thought “Religious” when I saw it. I also thought “Bear” as in Grizzly or Black, But that would not keep me from buying a book as long as it is not preachy.

    Why don’t you tell us a little about the book, and give us a shot at it’s name. You know…Just in case one of us has a major brainstorm.

  14. I have to admit I thought ‘beer’ at first
    Some kind of crossroad that would lead to the wonderfluid

  15. I am surprised at comments such as

    I also thought “Bear” as in Grizzly or Black

      I would have thought that it was a common enough phrase. Perhaps its more of an English idiom that you have picked up.

    Obviously it is biblical in origin, but I don’t think anyone on this side of the pond woul;d assume a user was making a direct comparison between the speaker and Jesus.  I would assume that the central character was burdened mentally by something(s). (Effectively what DoF said).

    ‘All the president’s men’- no one has though of it as repuplican retelling of Humpty Dumpty, nor do many president’s men appear.

    “Birdsong”- no one expects a tretise on avian sounds

    “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”- No circus, though apparently lots of yank think Monty Python was played by John Cleese.

    You could draw on that other great source of English Quotes and call the book “Who would fardels bear?”

  16. Sorry to double dip- but the ‘context sensitive’ GoogleAds- not overly clever are they!

    Called to be a monk, nun
    priest? Take Free Online test Now! Free vocational retreats too!
    vocationsplacement.org

    As long as you’re not trying to sell to the Google AI you should be ok KPG!

  17. Paul: Why don’t you tell us a little about the book, and give us a shot at it’s name. You know…Just in case one of us has a major brainstorm.

    It’s detective fiction. A private eye in a small town in Michigan, looking for a girl who may have run away or may have been kidnapped. The private eye is a former homicide detective from Baltimore, still dealing with the emotional fallout from his divorce.

    The basic theme of the book deals with the way that the past motivates the present and how each character deals with old guilt. One of the key scenes in the story has another character telling the protagonist that he needs to quit wallowing in his past, that we all have our crosses to bear. The phrase triggers the realization that everything in the case is happening because of past events and other characters’ burdens, thus leading to the solution.

    The other way to look at it: since it’s your book you should use the title you want to use.  Fuck everyone else.

    The problem there is that the idea is to actually sell the damn book. I don’t want potential readers to not pick up the book and give it a chance because they presume they’re going to be preached at.

  18. The problem there is that the idea is to actually sell the damn book. I don’t want potential readers to not pick up the book and give it a chance because they presume they’re going to be preached at.

    True true. 

    Another thing you might try is a focus group.  Probably something your publisher could set up; but this way you can get a good idea of what a broad range of people think about the title.  The problem with using the opinions from just this website (while it’s a good idea to hear what we have to say) is that we are not exactly representative of the population.

  19. The title strikes me as metaphorical but I would still expect some religious content or at least a reference. Many metaphorical titles have some kind of wordplay….something like a pun but not exactly (I can’t express what I mean very clearly).

    The phrase triggers the realization that everything in the case is happening because of past events and other characters’ burdens, thus leading to the solution.

    This would negate what I just said but only if the choice of phrase itself and not just it’s meaning is significant and another phrase that meant the same thing would not do. Just my opinion though.

    I don’t want potential readers to not pick up the book and give it a chance because they presume they’re going to be preached at.

    That’s certainly a valid point. Personally I can’t say that I find the title appealing. Again, that’s just my opinion.

  20. Shak: Who would fardels bear?

    I like that.

    Just a thought: I don’t buy books because of their title, however there are books I don’t give a second glance to for expressly that same reason.
    Shit I hope that makes some sorta sense.

    Anyway, on more reflection and with more comments to influence me, I’d insure against any possibility of irreligious people such as I NOT giving it a second glance, purely because of one word in the title which I really know rarely informs one of the contents, by picking something absolutely unrelated to the story – that catches the eye.

    Fardels in Baltimore. or
    Barely Bearable Fardels in Baltimore.

    That’ll do me … I’ll just shake it and put it away now.

  21. I don’t buy books because of their title, however there are books I don’t give a second glance to for expressly that same reason.

    Ditto.

  22. Actually LJ that does make sense (Quick another drink- he’s beginning to get lucid).

    The Title/Cover makes you pick up the book and read the blurb on the back. The blurb is what sells the book of an author you don’t know.

    Assuming it will get put in the ‘detective’ section people should know roughly what to expect- i.e. not a tract. They may pick it up assuming it will have a beckground/setting within the Christian Church, but I doubt they will expect Christian writing.

    We’d been tracking the guy for days, but the only crime we’d come across was handing out fish and bread.  Now we’d followed him to a seedy back street restaurant just off 5th and Gethsemanie, where he and his henchmen were having dinner.

    I found myself a corner booth, where I sat nursing a unleaven bread and bowl of olives.  I could hear but not see them.

    It appeared to be getting heated. From above the hub-bub I heard a voice cry our “Not I Lord I would never betray you!” The paperwork called him Tango-2, his mother called him Peter, every one on my shift just called him the whiney guy.

    “One of you will betray me this very day” That was numero uno. Shit, I thought, did he know we had turned one of his guys?

  23. That, my freinds, is a Last Hussar original. Came to half way through typing the post.  Just something I can do- parodies and skits. Soon as I hit return the following popped into my head.  Its from about 17 pages later.

    Some Pharasee from Judea had been charioted in to give the briefing.  It was nothing new, talkwise, he was just here to impress us on how seriously Command was taking the Preacher.  As I walked in he was already uttering the same nonsense the in-house scrolls gave us.
    “…and defensive forces freindly to the civil power will be on hand to assist”.
    I heard Levi snort a derisive laugh. The Romans didn’t like being called ‘Occupiers’, so we kept up the pretense that they did our dirty work, not the other way round.

  24. It’s from about 17 pages later.

    Are you saying 17 pages later in your head or are you saying you’ve written the book and that was from 17 pages later.
    If it’s A: Please write the book.
    If it’s B: Please send it to me for a read.

    I recall a similar ‘Mickey Spillaine’ parody done for radio in the 50s or early 60s about Julius Caesar, aka Big Julie.
    ‘Mickey’ is interviewing Calpurnia and she’s crying: I told him not to go. I told Big Julie not to go.

  25. “Cross to bear” is a reference to Jesus bearing (having to carry) his own cross. However, like most phrases, it is usually not used in a religious context. On the other hand, if I saw that in a bookstore, and didn’t read this post, and saw your name as the author, I would guess that your book was (anti) religious.

    On the other hand, Christians are even less likely than non-Christian sheep to return something that didn’t meet their expectations.

    -Bob

  26. Bob: “Cross to bear” is a reference to Jesus bearing (having to carry) his own cross.

    Thank you for that pearl of wisdom, Bob. I never would have guessed what that phrase meant without your spectacular definition. Your knowledge of scripture is inspiring.

    Jeez.

    On the other hand, if I saw that in a bookstore, and didn’t read this post, and saw your name as the author, I would guess that your book was (anti) religious.

    I would normally just be happy that you’d recognize my name on the book but I suspect that you believe that Les wrote the original post in this thread….

  27. LH you could really publish that!  If nothing else you should create a post here on SEB with all of your quotes in your signatures.  That way those of us that RSS can still see your ingenious creations.

  28. Looks like the comments are leaning towards the “The title’s fine” category.  Let me add weight to that.  Worrying about what people will think from the title is not very productive when the book will carry a short description everywhere it goes.  If it helps, look at it this way.  It is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the literal meaning of the phrase “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”  People need to be reminded of that so much these days.

    Oh and if that fails to convince, I’m afraid the only totally acceptable logical/PC title would be: “Burdens of a totally Athiestic Nature”  Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it.  Besides, your title will help sell the book.  It’s not like it’s going to bite anyone who picks it up under a false assumption. Then again…. you haven’t enlisted the help of any mad scientists… have you?

    It’s not that your wife is wrong.  It’s just that it doesn’t matter.  The only question you need to ask is “Will the title make sense AFTER one finishes the book?”  Personally, I like reading books who’s title is sort of an ‘in-joke’ that one only really gets after reading It get’s one thinking before one opens the book.  Yours doesn’t exactly qualify since it’s a common phrase, but it’s in that same vein.

    Yeah, I know… a lot of words for a small question, but I’m one of them writer critters too, and I usually have 4c or more when everyone’s only putting in 2c… you may have noticed smile

  29. I’m terrible about judging a book by its cover. Titles don’t really influence me either way, but there’s plenty of Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels I’ve never read because the cover art just turned me off.

    I know I’m not supposed to, but I do it anyway.

  30. Titles do matter to me, but they can be abstract and still work.  What else would you call Grapes Of Wrath?  “On the migration of displaced agricultural homesteaders”?

    Cross to bear is a culturally common metaphor with a religious origin.  If the story is about guilt and regret then how the protagonist handles it will have religious implications because religion is our society’s prescription for that ailment.  If the protagonist approaches the problem non-religiously, that is a conflict that will matter in the story.  Seems appropriate to use an ambiguous title.

    But if you like, call it a “working title”.  Something better may come up, a real forehead-slapper.

  31. You could just slash the original by saying “Something To Bear.” It’s marginally less pretentious as “Something To Bare” and doesn’t sound like a self-help book. Something also sort of sets the tone in a detective/mystery, because it arises a question – what thing? You get to evoke the imagery of “cross to bear” without explicitly directing the reader of the front blurb to any assumption that it has something to do with Christians or Christianity.

    If I saw a book titled “A Cross to Bear” or “Crosses to Bear” in the detective section I wouldn’t automatically assume that it had much to do with the author’s Christian leanings, but I might come to the conclusion that the killers/good guys/setting might have something to do with religious overtones like a church money, monastery murders, nuns, pedophile priests, religious serial killers, etc. Something though, that automatically means that the author would be getting rid of the original context. It couldn’t be a cross, because if it were then the proper thing would be to say that.

  32. Its interesting to watch the angle the USians come at this from- religeon is so prevalent that the assumption is that there will be religeon in any book with a religeon derived total. Interesting the same isn’t thought of Steinbeck, borrowing from Battle Hymn of the Republic.

    Nobody over here would assume religeon.

    Are you saying 17 pages later in your head or are you saying you’ve written the book and that was from 17 pages later.
    If it’s A: Please writethe book.
    If it’s B: Please send it to me for a read

    In my head, well not even there- as I said about the first bit came to me as I wrote the preceeding para’s. Writeit – oh bugger! Gonna have to read the Gospels and some Ed McBain to get the rhthym of the genre!

    what if the New Testament was written by Mickey Spillaine?

    I was thinking about it as I drove between calls today- It’s more the point of view of someone who is observing one of THE defining moments of civilisation, but because you never know until afterwards, just thinking of this as another trouble maker. I was quite proud of this idea

    “…and defensive forces freindly to the civil power will be on hand to assist”.
    … The Romans didn’t like being called ‘Occupiers’, so we kept up the pretense that they did our dirty work, not the other way round.

    Wonder how many Iraq paralells I could work in.

    Anyway- don’t want to steal KPG’s thunder- he wanted an opinion, and I’m usurping him. So to finish

    What MM said.  Perhaps if you could work in the central characters rejection of religeon because of the ‘crosses’ that would throw a contrast to it.

  33. The Onus Decipher

    Unraveling Burdens

    Resolution of Burdens

    Get a thesaurus and play around.

  34. With a title such as “Crosses To Bear”, I would assume that its plot was a religious one. That being said, this could be a positive marketing strategy. Nothing better than the next generation of book hungry, rabid, new-lifers who made the “Left Behind” series a success. I’m currently writing a book myself and I’m thinking of taking on a new title now that I think of it. Originially, it was going to be “The UAP Field Research Guide”, but maybe I can go with something like “Boobies Inside!”.

  35. “Inside This Book Is A Crisp 100 Dollar Bill” and it’s sequel “Reading This Book Makes Your Penis Larger”. Great book titles.

  36. Since a lot of you of commented that it would depend greatly on the cover, I’ve made a mock up for you to judge by. This isn’t the kind of cover I’d do, given free reign, but rather the kind of thing the publishers are likely to use, based on a study of current bookshelves in the mystery section. Also, it’s a quick mock up so obviously the fonts aren’t perfect or anything.

    Now, the big problem is figuring out how to code this in here. Wish me luck….

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

  37. Okay, that’s attractive enough to make me want to pick it, turn it over and see what it’s about.

  38. KPG- If I tread on your toes here please feel free to let me know.

    The opinion seems to be 50% USians think religeous over tones, the rest not. Non USians- no religeous overtones, apart from being a obvious quote that is used in every day context (eg about bunions).

    Given that all that can usefully be said has been said I claim the ancient right of Diverging the Thread (as agreed at Runnymead when the blog http://www.magnacarta.com was set up). 

    I have started to writesaid ‘Gospel Noir’ (hey I just invented a genre, when was that last done?!)(this bit may get a bit ‘Eddie Izzard’- 2 glasses of Amaretto, just on the 3rd) and emailed bits to LJ.

    Opening

    You cultists, you always ask the same question. Was I there? If you mean when he died, then no, I wasn’t there.  But I saw the rest of it.

    Ending

    I’ve seen enough crucifixions, so no, I wasn’t there.  But I know what it would have looked like.  The nails go through the wrists, not the hands.  The bones in the hands just are not stong enough to keep a man up there.  The ones on the feet are driven in from the side of the heel, so the whole weight can rest on them.  And if you survive that long, if the shock doesn’t kill you, then you go so crazy that you shout out any old crap, like a mad man.

    And now? I got my own farm, a wife and kids, and I see the rabbi once a week. What else does a man need. Hell, what more can he ask for?

    The first section sets the narrator up as some sort of undercover policeman/collaborator, and possibly not the sort of person who is the ‘hero’.

    Would this work? The way the first 500+ words have gone is more of a black comedy along the lines of Catch-22, rather than a Marlow pastiche, though the Dragnet parody is still bubbling under. I’m still using modern language to give that immediacy, even modern slang (‘Tango-2’ SAS speak for Target #2). 

    I have a scene in my head where the Narrator (provisionally called Joseph) is questioning someone (possibly Judas) He is being aided by another- for the purposes of this post Levi- who has already been described as bald with a beard.

      Levi had him over the counter, holding his wrists and pulling them up his spine. I leant on the counter next to him, my forearms in the stale vinegary wine. “Listen Judas, we can do this the hard way, or the easy way. Now I’m a humanitarian, I’d prefer the easy way, and I’m quite sure you would too.  Trouble here, is that Levi likes the hard way, and he really hopes that you give him the excuse to use it”
    “He’s a stupid evil bastard, arrrrg.” The last scream was because Levi had taken exception to the epithet, and applied an inch more of pressure.  I was impressed. Not every man with his wrists being forced towards his shoulder blades would have refused, let alone insulted his tormentors.
      I pulled the small leather pouch from my belt and dropped in onto the counter inches from his nose.  It made a soft ‘chink’ as it landed.  Levi took this as the signal to lessen the pressure. There were times I would have agreed with Judas’ description of him, but he knew that a man in pain tended not to negotiate honestly. 
      “How much?”
      “Thirty”
      “Gold?”
      I laughed derisively. “Silver.  Now, are we talking?”

  39. Shit bugger fuck. Sorry. Double dip. Well more of a Post Script. What I wanted to say is that the narrator doesn’t know that at the time he is witnessing one of the defining momets of modern civilisation.  As far as he is concerned, he is just arresting another trouble maker.

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