Wednesday, September 16, 2015


[Writing: Naming Works]

I'm horrible at titles.

Once in a blue moon, the clouds will part, the moon will shine, and—as if gifted by angels—the WHAT IF idea and the title will spark simultaneously.  Such was the case when I began worn on CAFÉ ELYSIUM and my short story in the upcoming UNDERWATER anthology, DILUVIUM.  As much as this makes my life a dream, divinity seldom manifests itself for the wicked.

I often find the naming process is like grabbing a handful of broken glass from the gutter and squeezing, especially for longer works.  Those who know me well have witnessed the madness that is editing, and titles are not excluded from the uncertainty, revision, and pain attached with the seemingly simple task of attributing a name to a work.

Originally, my fictitious play on the slasher genre based on controversial sex practices called CONVERSION PARTY was titled BUGCHASER, the project and name stemming from a 2003 ROLLING STONE article by Gregory Freeman entitled "Bug Chasers: The men who long to be HIV+" following several people belonging to a subculture deliberately attempting to contract and spread the virus.  From the moment I began creating the characters and plotting the outline, it seemed as if the title was a no-brainer.

Tony Viejo II, a longtime champion of the tale, discovered there was an independent film in California shooting under a similar title.  Although searching for bug chasing or gift giving propaganda in 2003-04 was a difficult task, I did some poking and found the trailer, as well as some mumblings about a documentary in the works.  I was crushed.  My piece was still in its second or third draft, and other projects, although different, had similar titles.

Over time, however, globalization worked its magic, and I began seeing more and more information rise to the surface.

A few years later when the screenplay was nearing completion, I was again perusing content about the subject when I discovered that conversion parties were what the underground called orgies featuring negative hopefuls expecting to contract the disease.  Since my story focused on the life of someone in the party scene, it was perfect.  Before the right title appeared, it took a little bit of research, time, and luck.

Unfortunately, lightning seldom strikes twice.

Settling on a title for SYNCHRONY was murder—it went from casually being referred to as THE ORPHEUS NOVEL or THE BAD APPLE BOOK to more polished possibilities like ORPHEUS UNBOUND and BAD APPLE BOLERO, the former titles springing from the project beginning as a November novel.  I assumed the proper moniker would present itself as I edited.  This was not the case.

Around the fourth or fifth revision, when the end of the tunnel was but a faint glimmer in the distance, I realized I was drawing blanks.   Once again, I turned to the internet and social media for help, on my knees begging everyone close to me and the novel for ideas.

The title needed to be cool—something snappy and flavorful that rolled off the tongue and popped on the lips.  For a brief moment, I called it ORPHEUS UNBOUND as a nod to Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, another novel rooted in Greek mythology, but when I suggested this title, I received more groans than applause.   Aaron Bearden came close to the mark with his suggestion, BAD APPLE BOLERO, and for over a year the title stuck.  My editor, Alisha Costanzo Chambers, even agreed that it fit.

But something was off.  Writing is about boiling down complicated thoughts to their ultimate essence, saying the most with the least.  BAD APPLE BOLERO, while engaging, seemed a little wordy, and although I liked it a lot, I wasn't sure if it was right. 

Early 2015 I had some down time at the bar on Bourbon Street where I work, and I was catching up with Conrad Young, another talented writer and musician.  We were discussing how many times in our lives we’ve experienced synchronous events: songs playing in barroom jukeboxes, books we were reading despite being hundreds of miles away, etc, when I realized that basing a novel around a Greek myth, formatting it more like an LP than a book, and then filling it with hidden (and not so hidden) lyrics and musical anecdotes was form of synchrony.  Like the deliberate blending of song on my turntables, I was mixing so many different notes and measures to form an entire whole, something new from many. 


So, if you're like me, and titles elude you, fear not.  They will come.  And if you're blessed with know what to call your work out the get, cheers!  Either way, I want to hear from you.  Sound off in the comments how you go about naming your stories.

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