I’d like you to meet my sister-in-law, Gail Lafreniere. She is the genius who gave me the title for my novel, The Toll Road North.
Book titles are tricky. This novel was originally titled Lost Worlds. I know, I know. It sounds like a science fiction novel, or maybe a fantasy that involves time travel. For the longest time, I couldn’t let it go. For me, the novel immersed me in my neighborhood as a child and my actual life there was so pleasant, I wanted to recreate it in this novel. But guess what? That’s called a memoir, and I was writing Dee’s fictional story, set in a real place. So I had to kiss my happy memories goodbye and focus on the task at hand: find a good title.
My list of potential titles is very pathetic:
Then there are notes showing EVERY synonym for the word name. The word mask with a circle of question marks. On one of my many printed manuscripts, a tiny checkmark next to the scene when Dee reminisces about the turnpike collection booth. Somewhere else, a long list of synonyms for road. I was finally on to something.
The real truth is I kept thinking about my beloved father, who passed away nearly 30 years ago. There was something about roads and my father that kept coming to me just before I fell asleep.
One evening, I call my brother, John. John is best known for remembering the most inane details of our childhood existence. He can tell you who lived two streets over in the white house with the lilac bushes AND exactly what that person’s second cousin does for work now. I decide to give it a shot. If anyone will remember the vague memory that keeps teasing me, he will.
I ask, “What did Dad always say about the turnpike?”
“He always had a lot to say about the turnpike,” John laughs, and I hear Gail in the background laughing, too.
“I know, but what did he call it? There was a term he used, he never called it the turnpike,” I urge.
Without a beat, Gail calls out, “The toll road. He always called it the toll road. Almost everybody called it that back in the day.”
Rejoice, rejoice, this is a great title. Homage to my father, reflective of Dee’s journey, puts it in a very specific time and place, the great literal/figurative play of the word toll.
And this is where the story really gets good. Enter the Medium. And yes, I mean a person who communicates with the dead.
Just recently, Gail reminded me of an evening we spent at her house about ten years ago. Some of her family, some of our family, some friends, and a Medium. The woman was unbelievable in her ability to channel messages from our dead family members, but I won’t digress. Gail clearly remembers her daughter, Ally, sitting on the floor at my feet, and the Medium (with my father’s cadence and physical posture) points in our direction and says, “You’re going to write a book.” Ally insists it won’t be her, and I get that weird feeling of heat moving through my body. Gail tells the Medium it can’t be Ally that will write the book, but the Medium turns to Gail and says, “And you’re going to help her.”
That part of our evening never made sense until now. Gail did help me tremendously, and I will be forever grateful.