Wayne Allen Sallee
I had thought about calling this month’s entry “Butcher’s Raindance.” Sounds like a good story title, right? Even though I have no idea what it might be about…yet. Is it a ritual done by a serial killer, the dance being the way he sanitizes his crime scenes? Is it a song by an emo band (or whatever kind of music genre my oldest niece listens to these days), which, now that I’ve typed that, I realize I’d give up that route right now.
Butcher’s Raindance is the name of the floor-cleaning product used by Cardinal Cleaning twice a week at the printing plant where I work. A splash of blue in the mop bucket. There’s a Sundance product, I assume more of a disinfectant, but I’m really not keen on writing Butcher Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Call my silly. But the other product gave me two words that are enigmatic when slapped together, and I have it set aside in my commonplace book to use one day. The title above it is “The Brides of Science.”
Back in the day, Mort Castle offered me a chance to write a chapter for the Writer’s Digest book ON WRITING HORROR. It was already titled “Mirror, Mirror” and the point of discussion was where does a writer NOT get his ideas? Mort, being the wandering sage he is, had chosen me because I could come up with anything from that day’s news to simple scenes of the different levels of hierarchy in the citizens of Chicago, chain smoking executives bumping past the accordion man wearing shorts in November, or the preacher talking about the evils of tobacco and trying to convert shoppers at Old Navy on Washington Boulevard. I also added to the images, taking the “mirror” to be the bus or elevated train window, or even one’s own mirror seen first thing in the morning or the last thing at night.
Well, I’ve got this thing about my story titles. Certainly some images such as I describe above get my mind thinking, but I always, always, need a title before I write a story. I might know the ending line, but I cannot truly squeeze out a good opening line unless I have that title. One of most well-received cop stories, “In The Shank Of The Night,” is an example of where I had the title in my journal. When asked about it, I refer people to an overlooked Dean Martin song, “In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening.” In the shank of the night, if the doin’s are right, you can tell them I’ll be there. Yet “The Brides of Science” has been around for longer than “Shank”, which was published in 2005 in SEX CRIMES. I wrote a story called “Bumpy Face,” after learning it was slang for a cheap of cheap booze in a beveled pint bottle sold in the Loop. It took me five years to realize what or who Bumpy Face was, at times I even sunk to the point of thinking it might be a mutated hamster. Instead it became a story about an alcoholic and his daughter and statements given to the police. Looks like I’m ready to beat that gap in time with “Brides.” Hell, even my novel, THE HOLY TERROR, was a short story, a nice polack phrase from my childhood was that a kid could be a real holy terror. Peggy Nadramia from GRUE magazine sent it back, telling me that the story had all the elements for a novel. “For You, The Living” by Roadkill Press. A line from “Monster Mash.”
I’m a big short fiction reader, I suspicion it is more because I commute by bus or train instead of the fact that I write short fiction. So, if I have a collection by various authors, I will choose by title than by author or page length. Next to me on my desk, I have a copy of HELL IN THE HEARTLAND, which has stories, including one by me with a title I truly dislike, all written by Illinois authors and set in our state of five month long winters. Looking at the table of contents, I’d likely read “Wet Dog Perfume” by Michael Penkas first. The title stands out. The next book I have here is HIGH COTTON, a collection by Joe R. Lansdale, his ownself. How the hell to choose, right? Mind you, I’ve read many of these stories over the past decade, but sometimes you gotta re-read something simply because you need a reminder of how screwed up the world is through another writer’s eyes. I’d choose “Not From Detroit” right off the bat, just for the quickness of the title, followed by “Tight Little Stitches On A Dead Man’s Back,” because that story could mean so many different things.
Do any of the collected authors here have similar problems with titles? I don’t always use a title that comes back to be a phrase in the story, such as I did with the Bumpy Face image. I have a story about a nice doctor in my old polack neighborhood of Humboldt Park who becomes a vampire, and he chooses to end the suffering of many of his patients by biting them in turn. Most were invalids, or in wheelchairs, and I played on their chronic pain being gone in their new lives, therefore keeping Chicago–or at least the Polish neighborhoods–free from a plague of vampires. The story is called “Skin of My Birthright,” and I simply despise it! I could think of nothing better, nothing that wouldn’t smack of yet another typical vampire story, and, frankly, I have no freaking idea what the title even means!
But where the hell does the title of my essay figure into things, you say? Well, recently someone was screwing around at my parents’ 49th anniversary party and was going to beknight my father. In doing so, he sniffed the familiar odor of my father’s hair, and there you have it, Sir Brylcreem.
I’ll eventually write something using that title, possibly a nonfiction piece for KENTUCKY EXPLORER, my father’s home state. Until that time, I need to figure out what “Butcher’s Raindance” will be about…