A Devilishly Hard Decision… The Title to My Peace Corps Africa Book

Pat hay stack and part voodoo nightmare, a Liberian Bush Devil shuffles through the dirt toward me.

A fading photo from 1967 captures a Liberian Bush Devil, part hay stack and part voodoo nightmare, as it shuffles toward me through the red laterite dirt.

So, I’ve been struggling with the title of the book about my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa. As part of the process, I asked for help from my fellow bloggers and friends.

Step one included developing four options and providing backstories. Step two involved reviewing and summarizing the input.

Now it’s my turn.

I have two objectives for my title. First, it needs to be catchy. Unless people are familiar with an author or have recommendations from a trusted source (friend, author they enjoy, media), the first thing that leads them to choose a book is its title.

Second, the title needs to reflect my Peace Corps Africa experience.

For example, on the one level, The Dead Chicken Dance is about cutting the head off a chicken and watching it dance– slightly unusual and a little macabre. As such, the title might gain attention. But there was more. Early Peace Corps was struggling with how to prepare people to jump into another culture that was totally foreign to them. Killing, gutting, and plucking a chicken was guaranteed to provide trainees with a challenging experience that few of them had ever had but might face as a Volunteer. It’s a long ways between buying a pasty white, pre-packaged chicken in the grocery store and picking up a hatchet to cut the head off a feathered, clucking Henny Penny.

The Bush Devil Ate Sam and The Lightning Man Strikes Again reflected two aspects of African culture that were quite real to tribal Liberians. Both of these titles were designed to capture attention, but they also represented the dramatically dissimilar world that tribal Liberians existed in. Understanding Liberia, in fact understanding much of Africa, depends upon recognizing these differences.

How Boy the Bad Dog Ended Up in Soup represents a sharp break from our Western dog-centric world… of which I am very much a part. Dogs were a legitimate food source in Liberia. Students would tease me by coming by and pinching my cat, Rasputin. “Sweet meat, Mr. Mekemson” they would say while smacking their lips. They were cautious, however. Rasputin could take care of himself: “Pinch me once and I’ll squawk a warning. Pinch me twice and I’ll take off your finger.” As with each of my other titles,  there was more to the story with Boy than a gastronomical challenge.  It went beyond scary that soldiers would show up at my house in the middle of the night solely because the dog had eaten a guinea fowl.  It was strange with a strangeness that I would think of more than once when Liberia fell into the tragedy of its civil wars.

As I noted when I summarized the responses on titles, each title received strong support but Boy received the fewest ‘votes.’ Part of this may because we are so dog centric. As one blogger observed, the title might turn people off. I get that.

Support for the other three titles was evenly split. For me, it finally came down to either the Bush Devil or the Lightning Man. The Dead Chicken relayed an insight into early Peace Corps and cross-cultural challenges, but the other two did more to capture the Africa experience. Tossing a mental coin, I’m going with the Bush Devil. As my blogging friends James and Terri Gallivance, who have lived in Africa, noted: “We’re voting for The Bush Devil Ate Sam because we feel it embraces the mystery that is Africa.” The mystery that is Africa seems like a good place to start.

On a more prosaic level, I am adding “And Other Peace Corps Tales of West Africa” as a subtitle because it is important to have both Peace Corps and Africa included. Next up: the cover. As soon as I develop examples, I’ll post them.

NEXT BLOGs: Peggy and I will soon be heading into Nevada where I have several posts I am thinking about including 1) an art hotel in Reno created by Burners from Burning Man, 2) the remote town of Hawthorn with its history of being America’s primary ordnance depot (bunkers fill the desert), 3) the Extraterrestrial Highway and Area 51– subject of more conspiracy theories than there are people in Nevada, 4) Death Valley in the spring, 4) the Valley of Fire, 5) Red Rock Canyon, and 6) Las Vegas being Las Vegas. BUT, IN THE MEANTIME, I will post on another of my favorite petroglyph sites, Painted Rocks out of Yuma Arizona. I think I will also revisit the actual Big Foot trap about three miles from my home and see if Bigfoot is hanging out there. (It sort of goes along with the ET Highway.)

32 comments on “A Devilishly Hard Decision… The Title to My Peace Corps Africa Book

  1. I think you got it right. Although The Lightning Man was also a lovely title, Bush Devil Ate Sam shouts Africa – and it’s that wave from the bookstand that you want. Good luck with the cover.

    • Certainly hope so Hilary, and thanks. I will probably end up having the cover professionally done, but first I want to play with the free cover software. Who knows. –Curt

  2. I also like that the title you chose has a hint of humor. In my opinion, you are making great decisions. I look forward to any and all of your proposed posts!

    • Thanks Patti. And you picked up on a very important aspect of my writing. The book deals with some fairly serious subjects but I also want it to be fun. In fact I mainly want it to be fun. It’s kind of how I deal with life. 🙂 –Curt

      • Your humor is the main reason I follow your blog. Did you see that Inion N. Mathair & I were sharing about your blog on FB?
        It is cool to see blog friends visiting our own favorites.
        P

      • Noticed Inion and Mathair. And thanks so much for the share, Patti. It means a lot. As for humor, I’ve believed all my life that it is important to have fun along the way– whatever I happen to be doing, and no matter how serious it is. –Curt

    • Thanks, Cindy. I recall that you are interested in petroglyphs. And we know what you think about deserts in spring. 🙂 I think the other blogs will be a lot of fun.–Curt

  3. Absolutely luv the title Curt!! & although I know you don’t want to remember and have probably pushed the memories down deep. Did Rasputin get some serious Kitty-therapy for his horrid time as dinner possibilities!! lol. Unbelievable!! I did not know that about dogs in Liberia! Truly shocked. But then I guess most things would shock a civilized culture as America when looking at different countries. Course we’re from the South, so there’s just about nothing that shocks us when it comes to food!!! Although we haven’t eaten them all, there are critters & animals that still blow our mind that Southerners eat on a regular basis & consider fine dining!!! 😉 Sharing now!! 😉

    • First, thanks for sharing guys. 🙂

      Those Rasputin encountered were usually the ones that needed therapy. (grin) As I mentioned, he was one tough cat. He absolutely terrorized the local dog population… with the exception of Boy the Bad Dog, who of course considered him as food.

      Had any armadillo lately?

      –Curt

  4. Curt, we love your book title, and the subtitle really completes it. Wonderful! Looking forward to the cover art and can’t wait to read the final product. 🙂 ~Terri & James

  5. I couldn’t decide between that one and the Lightning Man, but I’m sure The Bush Devil Ate Sam will make people wonder enough to pick up the book and investigate. I’m looking forward to those desert adventures – watch out for Big Foot and ET!

      • LOL!
        LOL!

        You’re too much, my friend. This is not what you had in mind but it surfaced from your comment. Last yr I had my hubby watch an awesome video presentation of a woman who talks about being invisible, as the wife-mother servant of her family. He assured me I was most certainly not invisible, but front and center in our home. What he meant was no one could ignore my roar. LOL!!!

        Can’t help the hug.
        HUG!

        (Good pick on your title! Glad you worked it out.)

  6. I’m glad you’re giving the (bush) devil his due, and I think your subtitle’s perfect. It adds that folktale-like aura to the title itself, and raises questions. Of course, we want people to have lots and lots of questions, and then buy your book so they can answer them!

    I like that you chose “West Africa” rather than “Liberia”. It’s a legitimate choice because of similarities in tale-telling from one country to another, and it supports the kind of moving beyond boundaries that’s important to you.

    • Thanks Linda. I thought a lot about the West Africa as opposed to just Liberia. The experience, the culture, and the problems are cross border, especially when you take tribalism into account. –Curt

  7. This is very interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger.
    I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your wonderful post.
    Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

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