Titles are tricky. Sometimes they suggest themselves immediately. In fact, sometimes—though rarely—they can be in place before the story is even written (as was the case for “The Hocco Makes the Echo”).
It took me a very long time to come up with a satisfactory title for my story “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk,” though. For a long time this story was just called “Wolves and Stones,” which I was not a fan of, but couldn’t think of anything better. My writing mentor, Belinda Anderson, suggested I call it “Quentin Tarantino Vs. Jack London” because of the whole mobsters vs. canines angle. I liked this a lot, though I had to amend the suggestion to what I felt was a more accurate title: “Quentin Tarantino Fights Jack London (while Walter M. Miller, Jr. watches).” If you’ve read some Jack London, and Miller’s grand post-apocolyptic epic A Canticle for Leibowitz, and then watch Reservoir Dogs, and then squint really hard, you might be able to see what I’m talking about. Or maybe it’s just me.
While the above title might have been accurate, it still didn’t feel like a proper fit. The final title came when I was assembling this collection. I just sat down, stared at my screen, and refused to move until I could think of something better. “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk” popped in a few minutes later and it works for me. It’s a very Neil Gaimany-sounding title, which is always a good thing in my book.
The origin of the story, though, is a longer journey that also involves Belinda Anderson. One of the reasons she’s my writing mentor is because for many years she taught a twice-annually, eight-week writing workshop. The workshops would be one night a week, sometimes weekly, sometimes bi-weekly, and I took every one of them I could. Even after my wife and I moved an hour and a half away to Princeton, I still made the journey back. Eventually, though, schedules of the participants no longer meshed and the workshop came to an end. I was lamenting this to her on the phone one day. I told her my writing output had suffered because I work best with a deadline. Her classes guaranteed me at least one story per 8 week workshop.
“Okay,” she said. “I want 5,000 words by Tuesday.”
“Um, do what?”
“You heard me. Deadline, Tuesday, 5,000 words. Get to it.”
“Yeah, um…. Okay.”
This was on a Friday. I’ve produced more writing in less time, but usually only with a plan already in place. Coming up with a story from scratch in that time would be a stretch, so I decided to consult my Writer’s Notebook.
Like many writers (the good ones, I’m told) I keep a notebook for ideas, plots, characters, TITLES, and whatall. Okay, that’s sort of a lie. These days I keep an Evernote file in my phone. And rarely have my Writer’s Notebooks actually been physical notebooks. Usually the ideas would start as notes jotted on napkins, receipts and scratch paper from the library, gathered in a pile on my desk and eventually transferred into an IDEAS file in my computer. A number of my short stories have started this way, but I believe only two from A Consternation of Monsters qualify: “Nigh” and “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk.”
Once again, it is probably helpful if you’ve read this story before proceeding, as many spoilers will follow. However, you can hear the whole story for free by checking out the Consternation of Monsters podcast page, which features an audio adaptation of “Wolves…”
Go and listen to it now, then come back here for part 2. I’ll wait.