Every week (or so), we ask authors how they chose their book title. Today: Snowden Wright on his novel, Play Pretty Blues.
The title of my novel came about because of an annoying parent. Throughout the two years it took to write the novel, I usually referred to it as “the Robert Johnson book,” because it centers around that bluesman famous for supposedly selling his soul to the devil. I had no idea of anything better to call it until one day, while talking to my dad on the phone, he asked the same damn question he asks every time I talk to him.
“Dating anybody these days?”
“Not even a weekend play pretty?”
Turns out “play pretty” is a term of endearment used in the South years ago. Husbands and boyfriends would use it for their wives and girlfriends. “Could you bring me a beer, play pretty? . . . But I’m watching the game . . . What are you doing with that knife, play pretty?”
My novel is narrated in first-person plural by the six wives of Robert Johnson. On hearing the term from my dad, I added a few “play pretty” references to the novel, having Robert Johnson use it on his wives. He calls them that name whenever he can’t remember which one he’s talking to. In that way, it becomes a term of estrangement as well as endearment, a duality that is a key aspect of the entire novel.