Did Time Stamp ever have another name, or did you call it that from the start?
—Marjorie Horwitz, Scarsdale, New York
Like many of my short stories and all of my other books, Time Stamp had earlier titles before I settled on the name. I’ve actually always found titles a particular challenge. You want them to sound right and be memorable. They need to establish a tone or provide information that sets the stage for the reader, and also to be the place the reader returns at the end of the book and finds a certain summing up. A title has to do a whole lot.
Until fairly recently, I thought Time Stamp would be published as The Christmas Bombing since Richard Nixon’s Christmas-time bombing of Hanoi in 1972 is the event the book points to that also acts as a sort of hinge for the narrative. However, a couple of things happened. First, there was the attempted Christmas airliner bombing by the underwear bomber. I didn’t want readers to be expecting that would be part of the story just as I hadn’t wanted the magician’s trunk that is important in The Second Magician’s Tale and was called a lockbox to be confused with the lockbox Al Gore was going to use for Social Security. In both cases, I opted for a different name.
The other thing that happened that caused me to change the title to Time Stamp was that a couple of people who read the manuscript told me that The Christmas Bombing as a title had created expectations for them as readers that weren’t met. In effect, they were expecting but didn’t find something like an explosion the characters were physically involved in. When I got this reaction from two peopIe, I started hunting for another title that I thought could do its work better—in effect, adding value instead of subtracting it.
I can expand on what that process was a little. A friend actually helped me come up with this title. She read the book and said it had struck her as being so much about time that that might might work well in the title. I tried various combinations. Then I thought about the lettering that’s a time and date stamp sometimes found on film and, since Maddie in the book is a photographer, it clicked for me. That’s closer than I usually come to constructing a title. Usually one arrives unbidden—eventually—that seems to fit.