Saturday, January 7, 2012

I am worse at titles than Carrie.

Like, a lot worse. I love how her post about the difficulty of choosing a title features like three excellent titles, none of which I could have possibly thought of (with the possible exception of "Riding in Cars with Boys," simply because it's pretty literal). The truth is that when it comes time to title a story or a novel or whatever, I have a pretty consistent strategy without which I am totally helpless, like a babe in the woods. I'm not sure if my first novel ever had a title, but if it did it was probably named after the protagonist, so then "Tom." (It was about a kid who shrinks until he disappears. It was awful. No copies, printed or electronic, survive, and I thank God for that every day.) The second novel had a stupid title and it sucked and I won't mention it here. (Also pretty much gone, although I had my gmail account by the time I finished it, which is the point at which nothing ever really disappears.) The third novel was called "ALASKA," with the caps, because it featured Alaska as a central imaginary location. The fourth novel was called "Goliath in Heaven," because the most important character was named Goliath and he was in a place called Heaven for most of the book. This one was briefly (and poorly) agented, but it's probably for the best that nothing came of that. My sixth novel is called "Fat Man and Little Boy" because those are the two main characters. Do you see a pattern here?

Basically, I have to name every story I write after the most important object, character, or location. Occasionally I go hog wild and name it after a concept instead. If this strategy isn't available to me, I'm hopeless. My fifth novel, which fell into the awkward transition between undergraduate and graduate school, never even got a title. It was about two detectives -- the Atlanta snuff film unit -- who found a video recording of a unicorn being shot to death with a shotgun. It was also about a third detective who found the corpse beneath a statue of the (fictionalized) father of Coca Cola, and what that did to him. It was also vaguely about Vietnam. Richard Nixon was an important character. The villains were an heir and (transexual) heiress to the Coca Cola fortune. There was no way to title this sucker that didn't feel totally ridiculous. What was I supposed to call it? "The Murdered Unicorn"? "Two Snuff Detectives"? "Coca Cola Killers"? I'm actually pretty fond of this story and a little sad it fell between the cracks, but I can't imagine going back and trying to revise it into shape now, so it remains untitled. But I really never have thought of a good one.

One of the best parts of my "Bodies" series is that I got to name them all by number, in the order I wrote them. It doesn't get any easier than that!

My most apparently abstract titles are usually the ones for my Google-based poems, like "A slave is." But actually these are very concrete! Generally I'm just telling you what I googled to find the language that generated the poem.

Right now I'm writing a novel about superheroes. I have no Earthly idea what I'm going to call it. Every title I think of is ridiculous (in a bad way). Most of the characters have sort of idiotic names that work in the context of the book I think but not at all as something that would make you want to pick up and read and maybe buy the book. There isn't really a clearly most important character anyway -- not in the same sense as there usually is, for me. There isn't any one central MacGuffin or concept. Instead there are a million-some MacGuffins and concepts. Practically every other page introduces a new one. So right now, you want to know what the file name is?


Because if nothing else, we can all agree that the dudes in this book are "super."

Gonna have to do better than that come publication time. Ayup.


  1. I get really attached to my document titles and sort of hate it when my books/projects get their "real" titles. When I think of the stories for the book I'm working on now, the first titles that come up are "rin.doc," "waltz.doc," and "fire.doc." ("fire.doc," by the way, began from our collective frustration with stories that start with "When my house burned down" and our discovery that "WHILE my house burned down" could actually start a story. I think the fire might still get cut!)

  2. The whole process of naming and organizing my .doc files is so involved for me... It could be it's own post. I'm slipping on my organizational strictness, but in its heyday, I had two different folders for each poem, and saved copies of each poem, going back to the first time it was composed on my computer. If I couldn't think of a title for a piece, it was always the first four words of the piece, which made it easier to find on my lappy with search. If the title of the work ever changed, the only thing I would change is the title of the folder, and any subsequent .doc files, the older copies never change. Each new version of the poem gets numbered. 2awkward.doc, 3awkward.doc, etc... and if the title changes, the numbers don't: 3awkward.doc, 4disposition.doc, 5disposition.doc, etc... If I ever revert back to an older copy, I copy pasted into the most recent file and from here it gets all crazy and shit that haven't figured out... There are all kinds of personal rules for the files... it's insane, the only semblance of organization in my life really is how I name and order my .doc files.