Please Disregard Previous Suicide Note

When I was in Philadelphia one time my editor told me that she thought this would make a splendid title for a novel. Her words. Write it, she said.

But I could never conceive a story to go with it.

It’s an orphan title, one that wanders around as a scribble through the lined pages of my notebooks, or on a long list of titles I thought I might use one day:

(Landlord’s Lightning

Objects of Desire

In the Lonesome October

Where the Sun Don’t Shine

Something More Than Night

She’s Not There . . .)

but it never seems to find a place of its own on a blank screen or a page of typing bond, let alone on the spine of a book.

 

What makes it confounding is: Where do you go with that title? Please Disregard Previous Suicide Note.

Do you flash back to the putative earlier note? Or is the tale only about the current note? And does the implied suicidal narrator actually go through with the act? Or is it a hall of mirrors, like: forget all the others, this is the note! And then this one, and this one, and he’s/she’s some perfectionist who can’t pull the trigger till the note is just so? And, honestly, how long could you spin such a story out?

You could write a tale that ends with suicide, I guess. Tolstoy manages to pull us through 800 pages of Anna Karenina before the eponymous heroine throws herself under that St. Petersburg train. Malcolm Lowry does it through the booze-and-sweat-soaked Under the Volcano, and there’s that 1963 Louis Malle film Le Feu Follet, which you view with the same fascination as watching a snake charmer and a cobra, and doubtless there are other stories that concluded with the protagonist’s self-slaughter. Hell, I wrote one once (unpublished) called “Twofer” about a guy who manages to kill himself and a prominent fascist politician by jumping off a building onto the politician.

All that aside, though:

You might imagine that titles come easy, and sometimes they do, but not always. Or not to some writers, including some very big names. There’s one writer who died not long ago (by his own hand, now that I think of it). His books were good, but his titles would put you to sleep. I can’t believe his editors let him get away with them. Sales numbers, I guess.

So I think I’ll hang onto this one and maybe something’ll come along. Like I said, I’ve got a lot of them. You wouldn’t believe how many if I told you. Like:

Stage Door Johnny

The Leper File

Gris Gris

Dead Letter Office

The Chimney People

Tripsitter

Find Us on the Web

The Gold-Bug Variations

Moon in Scorpio

Hex

Kinda Sorta

The Cutoff Man

Peste

Et cetera.

 

If you see anything you like, help yourself. Or if you want more, get in touch; they’re free.

The thing with titles is they don’t automatically come to you, but they can. It’s like naming a bridge, or a building, or a child. But after that the heavy lifting follows. You’ve got to build the thing that goes with the name.

Hey, just thought of another: When I Was in Philadelphia One Time . . .

 


Epilogue:

When reviewing this blog before publication, the rest of us here at The Storyside could relate: we all had titles we’d jotted down over the years that never saw the light of day. Here’s our additions:

 

Ursula Wong: Harold in the Closet; House of Spirits

Vlad V.: The Whitaker Gulag; The Witching Stone; Maybe the Wind Will Stop Someday; Duo-Sex; The Strange Room 8

Stacey Longo: Where There’s Smoke, There’s You; Portrait of the Vegan as a Murderer

Rob Smales: Marzipan, Apologies, and Boy Hookers

 

David Daniel has published a dozen novels and 200 short stories. Among his books are Reunion, White Rabbit, and The Marble Kite.
Recent short fiction can be found in the anthology Insanity Tales II ;  in Sleet;  and in Zombie Logic Review .

 

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2 Comments

  1. Jerry Bisantz

    reminds me of the wonderful ramblings of Paul Auster… Mr Daniel has a great conversational way of sparking the mind of the reader

    Reply
  2. Joshua Shapiro

    Pretty incredible. It’s interesting that the editors of Storyside call it ‘blog post’; or could this be the author’s end note, its cleverness as disguised as the rest of the piece? In any event it’s plain to me that the story is an artful and hard won micro-meta-fiction whose style belies its ingenuity and careful craft.

    Reply

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