Sunday, February 13, 2011

“A” is for The Case of the Burglar Prey

This week our Sunday guest blogger is my friend Jill Edmondston, author of the Sasha Jackson mysteries set in Toronto.

I admit this blog posting has a rather unwieldy title, but most mystery fans will likely zero in on where I’m headed. Anyone who has read a fair share of whodunits over the years should recognize that:

• “A is for Alibi” is a reference to Sue Grafton, and her alphabet sleuth series featuring Kinsey Milhone
• “The Case of the… (Velvet Claws, Curious Bride, etc.)” harkens back to Erle Stanley Gardner and the Perry Mason mysteries
• “The Burglar Who… (Painted like Mondrian, Quoted Spinoza, etc.)” should bring to mind Lawrence Block and his Bernie Rhodenbarr series
• “Prey” refers, of course, to John Sandford and any of the twenty-one murder mysteries with that word in the title, such as Night Prey or Rules of Prey.

Moving away from sequences, and repeated or key terms in a title, we also have thematic titles, such as Diane Mott Davidson and her novels featuring Goldy the Caterer. Given Goldy’s occupation, it’s not surprising that her books feature food in the titles, in addition to being clever puns, such as The Cereal Murders and Sticks and Scones.

Then there are the knitting mysteries by Maggie Sefton, which include such titles as Knit One, Kill Two and Skein of the Crime.

I would be remiss here if I didn’t throw out a few titles by James Patterson, whose Alex Cross mysteries take their names from lines in nursery rhymes and children’s ditties: Jack and Jill, Along Came a Spider, or Pop Goes the Weasel.

So, where am I going with all of this? Titles and series, of course.

Coming up with a title for even one book can be a challenge. In just a few words, or a short phrase, you need to come up with something that indicates what’s between the covers, that piques a reader’s interest, that encourages people to buy the book, and that they’ll remember. Packing all of those responsibilities into three or four words (or even one or two) is asking a lot.

Coming up with a title is, perhaps, even more of a challenge when you write a series. Suppose Sue Grafton had given up on the alphabet after the letter D? Would “Solid Evidence” or “Trail of Evidence” have worked as well?

What if Erle Stanley Gardner had steered away from “The Case of the…” after a half dozen Perry Mason novels?

As writers (aspiring or published), we’d all love to know from the outset that our first book was the launching pad for a dozen more (or 26 in the case of Grafton’s alphabet books). But such assurances are rare, or nonexistent. However, if the author’s intention from the start is to write a series, I would argue that thematic titles are good to have and might even be necessary.

I think the reason this is so has more to do with marketing and branding than with anything literary. You could walk into almost any bookstore and forget the actual title of a Kinsey book, and even blank out on the name of the author, but the sales clerk would know exactly who and what you mean if you asked for the latest mystery by “that author whose titles are M is for something and R is for…”

Although I have no empirical evidence, I think that the likelihood of readers drawing a complete blank on a thematic title is slim. I guess that’s the whole point of thematic titles in the first place.

I wonder, then, if authors of (hoped for) series are doing themselves a wee bit of a disservice should they choose titles that don’t have the ring to them that One for the Money or Two for the Dough have.

But... there’s always a but. As an author, could this or would this start to feel constrained? Might it start to feel tired or corny?

My first Sasha Jackson mystery, is centered around weddings, is called Blood and Groom. The second Sasha Jackson whodunit, which will be out in March 2011, is called Dead Light District. You should be able to guess from the title what the back-story is.

The manuscript for Sasha Jackson book #3 is done, but I’m not convinced I like the title. I feel as though I ought to continue with the plays on words, but it ain’t easy to come up with something clever and witty, and, well, ‘punny’ but still related to the plot. For now, it’s called The Lies Have It, which is supposed to be a play on “they ‘ayes’ have it” … as in voting. The other possibility was (and still is) Tied and True. Another title I’ve considered was (is?) X Marks the Plot. The background for this story has to do with politics/elections, and the fetish (S &M) world.

So here’s a challenge to readers and bloggers out there:
Do you have any suggestions for a title for the third Sasha Jackson mystery?

Synopsis for the 3rd Sasha Jackson Mystery

It’s election time in Toronto, and this year’s mayoral race is hotly contested. However, private investigator Sasha Jackson is more focused on bondage than ballots. After a wild night at a fetish party, a man Sasha had briefly met is found murdered near Cherry Beach, the whip marks on his back punctuated by two bullet holes. It initially seems like naughty sex that went a bit too far, but Sasha soon discovers that politicos like to play rough too, and might be hiding more than just their handcuffs.

I’d love to hear back from you!

Jill Edmondson’s first Sasha Jackson novel was Blood and Groom. Aside from writing, she has worked in a number of different fields, including pharmaceutical R&D, advertising and bartending. Jill has also studied a range of disciplines, including History, Microbiology, Tourism and Cultural Studies. She currently teaches postsecondary English and Communications in Toronto.

For more information about Jill and her writing, visit: or follow on Twitter @JillEdmondson


D.A. Confidential said...

Just fir fun...

Lash and Burn
Spanks for the Memories
Cuff Me Tender
Strung Up, Strung Out

Wow, this is harder than I thought...!

Good luck!

hannah Dennison said...

Welcome to Type M! Great post Jill. I hadn't given much thought to thematic titles until today. You're right. I think readers do look for them. Fortunately, mine have just one word e.g. Scoop! or Thieves! but even thinking up one word that says it all is a challenge. Good luck with your title hunt!

Jill said...

@ D.A. Confidential - Mark: I will take those suggestions into account. I especially like "Lash and Burn" and "Spanks for the Memories"!!!

@ Hannah Dennison: There's much to be said for one word titles - readers can remember them!

Anonymous said...

- Spanked and Murdered or Strapped and Murdered

- Politics Is Murder

- The Politics of Punishment or Punishment Politics

That's all I can think of....Mark is right, this isn't easy.
Liz Rose

Jill said...

@anotherliz Thanks! It is hard to come up with them :)

Laura said...

Sticks and Stones
(may break my bones but whips and chains excite me)

Vicki Delany said...

I like Cuff Me Tender.

Donis Casey said...

I had a great title for my first book, but now I feel pressure to come up with titles just as great for all my subsequent books. Can't do it.
I like Cuff Me Tender, too.

Jill said...

Thanks for the feedback Laura, Vicki and Donis. Yes, "Cuff me Tender" does have a nice ring to it... Hmmm.

I was also kind of thinking of Spank Me, Shank Me... but am unsure if that may yield the wrong kinds of readers! ;-)

Vicki Delany said...

Jill, I think I'd forget about that one.

Jill said...