Daniel Magariel on the Trouble with Titles
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Daniel Magariel about his new novel, Walk the Darkness Down.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: Was “Walk the Darkness Down” something that you heard somewhere else and thought I want to use this in a book someday?
Daniel Magariel: So, titles are the hardest part for me. For both of my books, I’ve just had titles that just never worked. And this title came at the very last moment, and that passage was not in the book. And I was struggling to find a title for this one. And this was after it was sold, it was almost being done edited, we were getting ready to put the galleys together and I still didn’t have the title and I returned to some songs that I had been listening to when I was first generating ideas for the book. And there was one album I listened to specifically when I was out at sea, it put me to sleep every night, because the engines were roaring on this trawler, and the waves are crashing. You know you’re in your bunk and your stomach is rising in freefall. And I would put on Townes Van Zandt’s self-titled album, his first album, and there was a song called Lungs, where he sings, fingers walk the darkness down, mind is on the midnight. And I just always loved just the way all that sounded, I didn’t even know what it really meant. And then I took a moment, I just sort of walked the darkness down and lived with it and, then Josie [one of the characters] just started speaking. And I just wrote the monologue, and I immediately knew where it needed to go. And I restructured that scene, and then I was like, that’s the title. And it’s kind of amazing, it came that late. And it’s such a critical part of the book. But I found that way with my first book, too, with One of the Boys. You know, it was a mantra that was kind of explored by the father in a way to persuade his sons to follow him and to and to do what he asked, to be a part of the group of the boys is how he manipulated them. And I didn’t really realize that was the major motif of the novel until the book was basically done. And I was like, that’s the title, and then you just sort of back build. It’s just funny, because it’s just the slightest tweaks that really allow the titles to rise. And that’s exactly what happened with this one, too. It’s almost like, I’m so focused on the story itself, that I don’t really realize what the themes are. And then at the end, you sort of take this long view of it. And you recognize that yes, that’s what I was writing about. That’s what I was working through. That’s what I was interested in at that moment.
Daniel Magariel is an author from Kansas City. One of the Boys, his first novel, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and Amazon Best Book of 2017, was translated into eight languages and shortlisted for the Lucien Barrière Prize. He has a BA from Columbia University, as well as an MFA from Syracuse University. He teaches at Columbia University. Magariel lives in Cape May, New Jersey. His new novel is Walk the Darkness Down.