Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What's in a Name, or Title?

Before I began notes for my memoir more than year ago, I had felt discouraged by the idea considering what had inspired me to do so.   If yo regally read my blog since then, you may recall that I felt I was about to do something too similar, but that others convinced me I have a different story to tell.  The other day, I came across this blogpost:

Allegra Nation

The depression memoir “Prozac Nation” by Elizabeth Wurtzel was so much of a smash hit that Hollywood made a movie out of it. I suppose that should prompt me to write a memoir called “Risperdal Nation” since I’m legitimately schizophrenic. My life isn’t nearly as interesting as Elizabeth Wurtzel’s, so maybe I’ll have to hold off for a while. You know what else would make a weird memoir? “Allegra Nation”. Ever since having nasal surgery in 2006, I’ve been gagging on my own snot and blowing my nose like an elephant whenever I’m out in public. Allegra seems to be the only over-the-counter medication that works so far. If you managed to get this far in the blog post without falling asleep, kudos to you. The point I’m trying to make is Elizabeth Wurtzel is a one of a kind author with one of a kind skills. To try and duplicate her work would be next to impossible. You can’t just remove the word “Prozac” from the title of your memoir and replace it with another medication. Suppose you have chronic constipation and you tried to write a memoir called “Phillip’s Colon Health Nation”. Would that sell very many copies? “The diarrhea splatter looked like guts after the Vietnam war.” I’m sorry, but there’s simply no way to make diarrhea or constipation interesting. Same thing with “Yaz Nation”. I suppose a memoir about having lots of sex would prove to be spicy and hot, but we don’t need to hear that you constantly used Yaz as a birth control pill, especially now that women are having strokes because of it. Hehe! I said “strokes” in a sentence about sex. You know what else would make a weird memoir? “Pamprin Nation”. There’s simply no way to make periods sound readable. “After I bled all over the floor like a Saw character, I yelled at my boyfriend so loudly that he began bleeding out of his ears.” There’s simply no way a blogger with testicles can make that sound interesting without coming off as a sexist pig. I assure you I’m not a sexist. I’m merely trying to prove a point that if you try to write a memoir based on a random medication, you won’t get the results you want. Elizabeth Wurtzel is a Generation X icon with a lot to say, even after 1994, when Prozac Nation was published. Her memoir is more than just constant complaining about being sad. It’s social commentary. It’s psychology. It’s something you can’t write if you’re constantly ingesting Phillip’s Colon Health pills

I knew I could not use the same title since I was writing on a similar topic. Titles aren't copyrighted, but most people would not dare duplicate a highly distinctive one. A generic one, like "P.S. I Love You," has been used over and over, as a Beatles song title, a teen romance I once read  as well as other books, including the Cecelia Ahern novel that was made into a movie in 2007 (I saw the movie, not knowing about the book). No doubt someone else will try using this title in the future for either  a book, song or film title.   Confusion with other works with the same name is the main disadvantage to reusing such generic titles.

Despite what the quoted blogpost says, you can write a memoir on your experience with any medication as you will be doing so from your perspective, something I was told a year ago when I felt discouraged by my idea. I read that Wurtzel had wanted to title her memoir I Hate Myself and I Want to Die, but that her editor convinced her otherwise. The title that was chosen sounds less like one person's memoir and more like a look at the use of Prozac as a whole. If any other medication were written about in a memoir or in a nonfiction book looking at the use of the med in question as a whole, the person penning such a work will find a way to put his/her idea across and come up with a title that that fits. Even if their editor eventually convinces the writer otherwise on the title. I agree most of the fictional titles mentioned in the post quoted above seem a little weird, but there are ways to make the med in question work as a memoir. The person composing the story will have something to say about their individual experience with the medication, how they got onto it and things like that.  I just happen to have the same condition as Wurtzel (dysthymia) and get on the same antidepressant (Prozac), but it took me much longer to find out had this condition and that I needed Prozac.  It's been 30 years since the introduction of fluoxetine (known by the trade name Prozac) as an approved antidepressant and people are still using it today, as I have been doing. If I had been prescribed any other antidepressant, I certainly would not have thought to title my memoir "Paxil Nation," or "Zoloft Nation," but would have found a way to use the name of the medication in the title somehow as I have done with my work-in-progress, "Delays and Detours on the Road to Prozac: A Memoir of Depression and Anxiety." It took me a while to come up with this title, but not too long after I'd written my longhand rough draft more than year ago. 

Some side notes: I'm deciding whether to write an afterword to my memoir, with notes on Prozac and on names of places mentioned in my book that others may not know about (my hometown, for instance).  Also, as I've said on my blog, I've begun writing a journal-like story set in the 80s. No title yet, and only about 11 pages types as of yesterday.

How do you come up with your titles?


Elephant's Child said...

What an intriguing post. I am fascinated by people. I don't always like them, I certainly don't always approve of their behaviour, but I am fascinated. So memoirs, biographies, autobiographies and diaries are always high on my reading list. Truth is not only stranger, but infinitely more interesting than fiction to me.
And how right you are, your experinces with Prozac, and your road to diagnosis and treatment are going to be different. Unique. And valuable.

Jean Davis said...

I like the title you came up with. Titles can be difficult. So much to portray in a few words about your book. Something catchy yet descriptive.

Mine usually come to me after the first draft is done. On rare occasion I might start with one, but even that usually changes by the time that first draft is done. Its hard to put a name on something that doesn't fully exist until it does.
Discarded Darlings - Jean Davis, Speculative Fiction Writer, A to Z: Editing Fiction