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The Name in the Title

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Maureen Faulkner thought she'd done all of the heavy lifting.

She'd spent three years recounting the complete story of her life, the murder of her police officer husband Danny, the trial of the man charged with the killing and the aftermath as the case became the highest profile death-penalty case in the nation.

Still, she faced a dilemma. What to call her book?

As her scribe, the person to whom she had revealed the most personal details, I had a working title: "Sequel: Maureen Faulkner is ready for her close-up!" My idea was to cast her battle as the second in a movie series, her answer to the support Hollywood celebrities had long offered to her husband's killer. At last, it was her time to take center stage.

But the publisher thought it a bit convoluted. I finally agreed. Back to the drawing board.

I knew there was no method to book naming. After a long but fruitless process, the title of my second book, "Muzzled," was the suggestion of a friend, lawyer Tom Kline, during a walk on the beach in Loveladies. I went back to him. Despite being in Australia, he responded to my e-mail within 20 minutes: "Deadly Truth." Simple and catchy, I thought.

The folks at Lyons Press liked (but didn't love) it. Then Robert Draper published Dead Certain, the account of the Bush White House written with the president's cooperation. A good sign, or a potential source of confusion? We weren't sure.

On the west coast, Maureen asked for suggestions. A friend offered "Doing Time Together."

Maureen envisioned a book cover torn down the middle, Danny's friends and family on one side, Abu-Jamal supporters on the other. Her significant other, Paul Palkovic, had a thought: "Life Without Parole."

From Connecticut, the publisher weighed in. "The Murder of Danny Faulkner: How Mumia Abu-Jamal Killed My Husband."

The Rubicon was crossed - the murderer's name was being suggested for the title of the widow's book, something that had occurred to me, but which I was loath to pitch to Maureen. I knew she'd be uncomfortable using Mumia's name or likeness on the cover, despite the potential marketing advantage.

For committing murder, he'd become more famous than the man he killed. If we were to go in that direction, I already had an alternative: "Mumia Murdered My Husband." Maureen was initially against both.

"For years, I have intentionally avoided even saying his name in many of the speeches I have given and articles I have written because I didn't want to tie myself to him or bring him any more notoriety to him than he has already. I don't know that I am ready to change that now."

Even thinking of using Mumia's name meant recognizing the way he'd monopolized the playing field for more than two decades, which made his own name better known than Officer Danny Faulkner's. From jail, Abu-Jamal had written books, offered radio commentaries, spoken at college commencements, become an honorary citizen of Paris and the subject of a teach-in in Oakland public schools.

He was the beneficiary of a sold-out Rage Against the Machine concert, and earned the support of celebrities like Ed Asner, Mike Farrell and Whoopi Goldberg, who linked their names to his in a full-page New York Times ad.

All that was why Maureen had written the book. She wanted to provide a permanent response to those and any future efforts on Mumia's behalf. But did it have to include his name in the title?

While she deliberated, yet another variant came from the publisher: "Murdered by Mumia."

Maureen was still troubled.

"The use of his name . . . may draw attention away from the real intent of the book, which is to show how messed up the legal system is and how hard we have all had to struggle to keep a killer in prison," Maureen told me.

"I still have grave concerns about having to constantly refer to Jamal first, then talk about my struggle and Danny's murder. Having his name in the title opens the door for Jamal's supporters to tell everyone that we, in particular me, couldn't make it without exploiting Jamal and using 'his' fame to sell our book."

I responded that everyone would know that, in fact, she was not accepting a dime for this project, nor am I, despite our three years of labor. All proceeds benefit a not-for-profit she established for the education of Philadelphia children who've lost a parent to murder.

In the end, Maureen Faulkner recognized that there are some people whose heinous acts are forever synonymous with their names. Mark David Chapman. John Wilkes Booth. John Wayne Gacy. Mumia Abu-Jamal.

By using the name as a means of identifying the subject - a murder - she wasn't furthering the myth that surrounds him, but dispelling it in a few short words on a book cover. The case would be immediately recognizable - both to the media and to those searching online. The book would "pop" with the mention of that name.

And it would be read, which is, most of all, what she wants.