Sunday, November 06, 2011

The -ies have it! A tale of book titles – by Ann Parker

It is our very great pleasure to welcome guest blogger Ann Parker today. Ann’s wonderful historical mystery series is set in the boom town of Leadville, Colorado, in the 1880s. Her new Inez Stannert mystery, Mercury’s Rise, is just out. Check out the end of this entry to discover how to be eligible to win a Silver Rush mystery prize.

First, I’d like to thank the Type M for Murder gang (especially Donis Casey) for hosting me on my virtual tour for Mercury’s Rise, the latest of my Silver Rush historical mysteries.

Second, I want to thank Frankie Bailey for a great post about series titles last week... The stars must have been in alignment, because that is exactly the topic I had in mind for my guest post here. You could use me as a cautionary tale along with Frankie’s well-considered advice. If I had had Frankie’s post when I started my series, I might not have become bound by two-word titles composed of a metal (silver, iron, lead, mercury) followed by a word ending with -ies (lies, ties, skies, rise).

When I started writing the series, I was pretty much handed Silver Lies as a title. My first title attempt for the book was Dead in Leadville. (Made sense to me: The book was a mystery. People died. It was set in Leadville, Colorado, in 1880, during the silver rush.) My then-agent nixed that and asked for alternates. I threw out a dozen or so, among them: Silver Lies in Leadville. He said, “Shorten it to Silver Lies, and you’ve got it.” The agent, as it turned out, wasn’t a keeper, but the title was.

Came time for the second book, which focuses on the coming of the railroad to Leadville as well as the long-term repercussions of the U.S. Civil War on those who fought in it. The title Iron Ties came to me in a flash of inspiration. It was perfect: not only did it “tie” into the railroad subject, it also complemented another theme I had in mind for the book: How the ties of the past can bind as tight as iron over time. However... Iron Ties. Silver Lies. Uh-oh. Trouble ahead. I was setting up a dangerous metals/rhyming precedent. What would I do about the third book? I promised myself that I’d break the pattern then.

At least, I tried.

My working title for the third book was Lead into Temptation. (I still like it. I love wordplay, and, in addition, it works for the subject matter and the mystery.) My publisher at first went along with it, but then decided the first word could cause confusion: was it supposed to be pronounced “led” or “leed?” I was told to generate other possible titles. And quickly.


This request pretty much arrived at the eleventh hour (cover images for book three with the now-verboten title were even rumbling around the internet). I was fixated on Lead into Temptation, and the synapses were having trouble firing. But, ever obedient, I threw out a bunch of other “Lead-ish” titles for consideration. My suggestions (some pretty pathetic) included:
Lead AstrayLeaden Dreams
Leaden HopesLead Desires
Leaden Skies (well, it does rain a lot in this one)
Mis-Lead (okay, I was pretty desperate)
Fire and Lead
Leaden Despairs (from the John Keats quote:
“Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
and leaden eyed despairs”)
Lead Ambitions

As you can see, I was trying to break the rhyming schema, but Leaden Skies won the editor’s vote, and I am not one to naysay the editor!

So, I’d learned my lesson. I bought a rhyming dictionary and tried (at last) to think ahead. Even so, it wasn’t easy. For book four, the editor and I wrestled with Deadly Prize, Deadly Guise, Consuming Prize, Wasting Lies (oops, there’s that “lies” again), etc., etc. I created lists of words ending with -ies and consulted a periodic table of the elements. We finally agreed (maybe out of exhaustion and a sense of impending deadlines) on Mercury’s Rise. I’m happy. It works. The heart of the story involves the scourge of tuberculosis in the 1880s and the rise of the medical field during that time. Mercury (the Greco-Roman god, aka Hermes) is a symbol in the medical field, and the element mercury was a favorite compound of tonics, medicines, and palliatives of legitimate physicians as well as quacks in the mid-1800s.

The editor and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. She then added, “You probably can't do minerals and rhyming words forever.”

She’s probably right. But I only have to deal with this one book at a time. I have a couple more promising metals up my sleeve (gold and tin, for instance). Plus, I’ve got my rhyming book and readers who come up with interesting suggestions!

Ann Parker is a California-based science/corporate writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver-mining boomtown of Leadville. The latest in her series, MERCURY’S RISE, was released November 1. Publisher’s Weekly says, “Parker smoothly mixes the personal dramas and the detection in an installment that’s an easy jumping-on point for newcomers.” Library Journal adds, “Parker’s depth of knowledge coupled with an all-too-human cast leaves us eager to see what Inez will do next. Encore!” Learn more about Ann and her series at

MERCURY’S RISE and the other Silver Rush mysteries are available from independent booksellers,, and Barnes and Noble.

Leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win a Silver Rush mystery prize! To see the rest of Ann’s blog tour schedule, check out her News page.


hannah Dennison said...

Welcome to Type M Ann! I didn't know there was a rhyming dictionary. I shall put it on my Christmas list. I've changed the working title of my new book a gazillion times. Knowing I'm not alone makes me feel better.

Ann Parker said...

Hi Hannah!
Thank you... it's nice to be here! :-)
The dictionary I have is "Random House Webster's Pocket Rhyming Dictionary." I like it because it has sections on one-syllable rhymes, and two-syllable rhymes. Hmm. I thought I had another dictionary up on my shelves, but I'm not seeing it. Probably wandered off, somewhere...
Hope Santa gives you one for Christmas! :-)

Donis Casey said...

After Leaden Skies I was kind of hoping for Pumpkin Pies, but it didn't fit into your metals theme. Any preliminary thoughts on the next title in the series?

Anonymous said...

I guess it's a toss-up between "eye-catching and familiar," and "stuck with it even though it doesn't really fit any more" isn't it? Thank goodness it isn't something *I* have to worry about!

I spent a year studying at the Bronx Municipal Hospital center; one of the older buildings was originally a tuberculosis hospital.


Rick Blechta said...

You can get rhyming dictionaries online if you won't need one very often. And they're pretty good. Do you really need another book, Hannah? ;)

Liz said...

Having read an earlier post was going to suggest Whisky/Whiskey's Demise for a pre-Prohibition clash, but doesn't fit with metals either.

Patty said...

Just started Mercury's Rise and can't wait to really get into it. I like the "theme" titles, helps me to remember the series better. However, I'm terrible at coming up with them. A rhyming dictionary sounds like fun, might have to consider that for myself. Not that I write books but we do a movie series every year and they have a "theme". Something to ponder.

Ann Parker said...

Pumpkin Pies?? Ha! Guess Thanksgiving must be on your mind, Donis... ;-)
No thoughts yet on the next one. Usually I have to be "into" the story a bit before title ideas start popping.

Ann Parker said...

Hello Sandra!
Yep, unless I want to make a leap out of the series or to the side, I think I'm stuck with metals and -ies for the duration.
BTW, I think you won a prize for commenting on my post at Silver Rush Mysteries blog... was that you? Go and check...

Ann Parker said...

Rhyming dictionaries online?? Point me in their direction! Oh wait, I can do that myself, I guess. ;-)
Here's one:

Ann Parker said...

Hi Liz!
HA! You should win a prize for that! ;-)

Ann Parker said...

Hello Patty!
Sure hope you enjoy Inez's latest adventure (or latest developments, if you're following her personal life...).
So you watch movies that involve a "theme?" Sounds like fun!

Bev Myers said...

Titles shouldn't be so hard. I mean, after we've written 80,000 words, what's 2 or 3 more? But they are the very worst to come up with. Good luck with gold and tin.

Mark Stevens said...

Interesting process and evaluation! I enjoyed the piece. What I know for sure is that your books are prominently displayed at The Book Mine in Leadville...I stopped there for a book signing late last month, shortly after you were there. I think everyone in Leadville should be required to read your series, don't you?

Charlotte Hinger said...

Ann--hope to see you and Beth at Firehouse Books. Best of luck to you both.

Ann Parker said...

Hi Bev!
Thank you! I love your titles... The Iron Tongue of Midnight, Cruel Music, Painted Veil... very evocative, and they seem very different, yet connected. Are they all music-related? :-)

Ann Parker said...

Hello Mark!
Well, this is music to this writer's ears... thank you! Yep, I believe I can say truthfully that I'm a best-seller in Leadville! The Book Mine is a great little bookstore, hope you had a good signing there.
I'll actually be up in Leadville on November 18. I haven't been there in over a year, so I'm overdue for my "Leadville fix." Plus, I need to do some research for Golden... Tin... Sodium... well, not sure yet what it'll be! ;-)

Ann Parker said...

Hi Charlotte!
Hope you can make it! It will be great to see you and catch up a bit... :-)

Ann Parker said...

... And the winner picked by my random winner generator for this stop is ...


Charlotte: I'll get in touch with you soon.
Everyone: Thanks for dropping in and commenting! :-)

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