I work on my novel(s) for exactly twenty minutes a day. On the train. The rest of my life is taken by my job and my family. For the past week, I feel like I’ve spent eighteen minutes of my daily allotted time to the Herculean task of figuring out a title for my next novel. I’m working on a sequel to my mystery novel, which was aptly named The Rabbit Skinners. The book’s sequel was first tentatively titled, for literally no good reason whatsover, The Five Torments. The idea, to the extent that one existed at all, that grew in support of the title, is that the protagonist, James Strait (mammoth, martially-skilled, ultraviolent ex-FBI agent with a heart o’ gold) is the target of revenge by…someone…which is manifested in five stages of increasingly terrible suffering. However, I couldn’t pin down five good torments to use. I narrowed down only two to my satisfaction, but what kind of book would it be if it were called The Two Torments?

I settled then upon a simpler title: The Torments. The lack of a number modifying torments provided the title with a bit of streamlined moxy that I perceived (probably inaccurately) as more “market friendly” than other variations of Torments I had run through (The Horrible Torments, The Torments of Slobbery Pigs, Really Suckie Torments, etc.).

Then one morning it cracked me in my brain like a gong. The title of a particular classic rock tune the protagonist likes, Fortunate Son, by Credence Clearwater Revival, was the perfect name for the book! The lyrics to this song have it all. They resonate with the planned themes of the book, the emphasis on the protagonist’s rejection and disgust of various military and institutional structures, his impecunious and emotionally damaged character that renders him insecure about ever becoming a father, the blighted fatherhood symbols related to several characters, and on and on. Then I looked up the title on Amazon. Other books already exist with the same title! Including John Fogarty’s autobiography! And one of those billions of romances featuring shirtless men with grotesquely developed abs!

For a day afterwards, in a moment of some mania, I planned to called the book Spanky’s Adventures with Mr. Beaver.

Now I have settled on a completely unrelated title, which might actually stick (and no one else has taken it…yet!): When Moths Burn.

A(nother) theme in the book is child abuse, which this title aligns with powerfully. It is derived from a Yeats poem I like a lot whose relevant section go like this:

Has no one said those daring
Kind eyes should be more learn’d?
Or warned you how despairing
the moths are when they are burned
I could have warned you, but you are young,
So we speak a different tongue

6 thoughts on “WHEN MOTHS BURN

  1. I would think that any title containing “Torment” would befit a breast-heaving soft-porn romance novel adorned with well-abbed men. My writing is much (much, much) shorter than novel length (although I once compiled several essays into a short memoir, so maybe a little experience). I find that the title comes after the writing is done, lest I try to force the story into the narrow confines of a title. However, I agree that “When Moths Burn” is a catchy name that I’d probably grab off the shelf at my local library.

    Liked by 1 person

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