Titles of novels are always difficult propositions. Books are often selected on their titles alone. The dream, for me at least, is to come up with a title that is so compelling it becomes a part of the lexicon: something like Catch-22. The reality for me is that I sometimes publish books with lame titles like Barney’s Crew. Somewhere in between those two is Train Wreck Girl.
The first thing Jennifer Joseph at Manic D Press told me when she accepted the novel for publication was, “You have to change the title.”
The title, at the time, was Red Bus Right.
I was out surfing when I came up with the title. I’d been listening to Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros’ last album and the song “Coma Girl” was stuck in my head. As I bobbed in the ocean between sets, I thought to myself, “Coma Girl” would be a great title for a book. I didn’t have any girls in the book who lapsed into a coma. I did have a girl who got hit by a train. Hence the title Train Wreck Girl.
I was hesitant to use that title because I hate when people call ordinary, everyday spectacles “train wrecks.” In particular, when the book came out, mainstream media frequently referred to pop stars or reality stars or movie stars with addictions as “train wrecks.” It bugged me because train wrecks are genuine spectacles. They almost never happen. I’ve never seen one and I don’t know of anyone who has. If I ever come across a train wreck, I’m going to gawk at that like no one’s business.
Well, first I’ll try to help people, then I’ll gawk.
The point being, train wrecks are very rare. Moderately famous people who flash their privates at paparazzi or get a DUI are very common. Gawking at them is more of a car wreck. That shit happens all the time and it’s not very interesting.
So I was hesitant to use a title that people might associate with Britney Spears or Lindsey Lohan. My wife loved the title, though, and insisted I send it to my publisher. I wrote a long list of titles and stuck Train Wreck Girl in the middle of the list. Jennifer said, “That’s the one.”
The title I was pushing for—I put it at the top of the list and even suggested it again when Jennifer selected Train Wreck Girl—was The End of Dude.
My wife said, “I wouldn’t read a book called that.”
Jennifer said the same thing. As did every woman I told the title to.
Sometimes, writers have to know when to compromise. In the end, I’m sure it was the right decision.