I had a few inside jokes in my debut novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues. The former title, When the Dolls Leave the Dollhouse, was an inside joke — and a nod to the Model Minority Myth. But Counterpoint Press did a comparative title search, to make sure there were no other recently published books with the words doll or dollhouse in them – in competition. And it turns out, the Kardashians had published a novel with the word Dollhouse as its title so I had to think of something else.
I am a poet first, and I had placed a concrete poem – comprised entirely of of the word NO – in the shape of a Christmas tree at the start of one of the later chapters. That was an inside joke: Each NO corresponded to an incident when each of my kids came home with lice. That visualization didn’t survive the copyeditors’ chopping block.
But I’m still the proud owner of The Real Thing, the nickname of the narrator before she became Mother: I’m Bengali, and in my family we never addressed each other by our given names. Instead we all had relational titles and all the cousins in India had matching nicknames. Also, I’m the daughter of an academic. I had the great privilege of traveling with my family when I was young, to Europe and Asia. Everywhere we went people asked me where I was from, and I said America. Upon hearing my response, (during the 1970s) everyone’s immediate reaction was Oh, America, Land of Barbie Dolls and Coca-Cola. That’s how America was viewed from abroad, a place where everyone had tons of Barbie dolls and soda came out of the faucet in the kitchen. I definitely explored Barbie in the novel. Well, it turns out that if you say my nickname really fast five times it starts to sound like “real thing” and that was a popular slogan for Coke a while back. So, it was my nod toward a memory of childhood and it was also happened to be appropriate for the story of the narrator who feels out of place and invisible. An inside joke.
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