Notes on the story in a mail-dialogue
On the Fence
For your Challenge issue, I am submitting a short non-fiction piece--"But Be Honest, the Qur'an is a Piece of Shit". I hope you'll consider it for publication.
Short bio: Ron Riekki likes Coldplay, Radiohead, The Mummers, Kinderzimmer Productions, Loco Locass, The Graham Norton Show, and touring. He also published the novel U.P. (Ghost Road Press) and wishes that he could "let go."
To Ron Riekki:
thanks for sending your non-fiction pieces for the "challenge" issue.
i was stunned by "--"But Be Honest, the Qur'an is a Piece of Shit"
and would like to include it. the only suggestion i would have is to
maybe consider an alternative titel - i think the title works well in
context with the story, but when placed alone (like on the index page
or in announcements) it might feel provocative to some readers. let me
know if would be okay for you to let go of it.
To Dorothee Lang:
I'm glad you like the piece. I've been asking around to see what people think of the title and posted on facebook for suggestions. To only confuse me further, about half of the people are saying that I should definitely not change the title and about half are saying that I should definitely change the title. So I'm a bit on the fence. The half saying not to change it are sort of insisting that the very "provocative" nature of it is a necessity, and it would lose effectiveness to lessen the impact of it, which makes me wonder what the replacement would be and if it would turn it into another published piece so easily ignored. The half who says to change it are of the camp that it will offend taken out of context--like you said with an index page or in announcements. I've been trying to think of an alternative and the only one I can come up with at this point that I feel will do it justice is changing it to:
"But Be Honest, the Qur'an is a Piece of
Exactly like that. And then have the next lines of the story be:
He says those exact words.
This is supposed to be my teaching feedback session [. . .]
so that now we are into the story. This way the title would leave a question mark of wondering what the next word is going to be, e.g. "But be honest, the Qur'an is a piece of history" or something along those lines, but it turns out to be quite different from that assumption. By clicking on the title (or however it works with your site), the reader then would be confronted with "shit," but there's already a commitment to the piece and it would encourage them to keep reading; whereas, the title alone "But Be honest, the Qur'an is a Piece of Shit" might make it so that people would be angry enough at the title that they'd refuse to read the story and judge it without knowing what it was fully about, perhaps thinking the piece was anti-Muslim when in fact it's anti-anti-Muslim.
But to be honest, I'm on the fence still. I think this subject matter needs to be confronted in emotional, provocative, and honest ways and worry sometimes that a story with a title "But Be Honest, the Bible is a Piece of Shit" would get published without question; whereas, there is a carefulness with Islam that sometimes really leads to silencing the discussion further when it needs to be out in the open. What are your thoughts? I've put a lot of thought into it and really those are the two ideas I have--keep the title or else have that final word carry over as the first line. I also like that the title wouldn't have the closed quotes so it would be a strong implication of its continuation.
You know, you could even have these emails between us as an addendum to the piece, to talk about how serious of an issue this is. I've never had to change a title of anything I've written before. Why this one? What does it mean? What is the right choice?
Thank you again for publishing it. Very much so.
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