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:
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 Hell, I wrote one once (unpublished) called “Twofer” about a guy who manages to kill himself and a prominent fascist politician by jumping off a building onto the politician.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
Dead Letter Office
The Chimney People
Find Us on the Web
The Gold-Bug Variations
Moon in Scorpio
The Cutoff Man
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 . . .
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 .