Saturday, December 03, 2011

Folksy Titles

Yesterday I more or less finished the original draft of my sixth Alafair book. Whew! I have worked on this particular book longer than any of my previous books. I can only hope that the end product will justify all the time spent on it. Not that it's actually finished, of course. It needs a going-over before I send it to my editor, who will have many suggestions. Then comes the rewrite, which we hope will not take more than a couple weeks, and if I am able to rise to the occasion, the book will be accepted, put on the publishing schedule, and hit the shelves in about eight months.

I'm calling this book The Wrong Hill To Die On. The idea was given me by an Illinois mystery author, Denisa Hanania. People are always giving me ideas for book titles. Seems every person living has heard her grandmother reel off a folksy saying that would fit right into the world of my early 20th Century Oklahoma family. I use them, too. I may not use it for a title, but I often have a character say it.
For the first book in my Alafair Tucker series, I went through several titles before I landed on The Old Buzzard Had It Coming. Since the book takes place in Oklahoma in the dead of the winter of 1912, I first tried to find a title with the word “cold” in it, as in “cold blooded murder”. For a long time, the working title was Blood Run Cold, but in the end, I decided that wasn’t ethnic enough, and changed it to He Had It Coming, since the murder victim is quite a horrible person. Then, one day my mother described a man who lived in her apartment complex as an “old buzzard”. Aha!

Now, I admit that The Old Buzzard Had It Coming is not the most melliflous title, nor does it flow trippingly off the tongue. But it is eye-catching, and that’s the point. In fact, someone described it to me as “like a kick in the gut.” I’ve grown quite fond of it.

Early on, my sister-in-law Dolores couldn’t quite remember how the title went and called it The Old Coot Deserved What He Got, which is pretty good, too. In fact, we considered an entire series with similar titles: The Miserable Son-of-a-Gun Got What Was Coming to Him, The Skunk Couldn’t Have Died Soon Enough, and the like.
Does a fabulous title actually makes one want to buy a book? I’m trying to think of books that I actually wanted to read because of the title. The only one that comes immediately to mind was Bad Luck and Trouble, by Lee Child. In truth, Tom Wolfe titles catch my eye, but which of his books have I actually read? Did I read Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers? No, I did not. I read The Right Stuff, Hooking Up, and I Am Charlotte Simmons. (Okay, I also read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but I was young and it was the ‘60s.)


Eve Kotyk said...

I'm glad someone helps you with titles and I like the ones you've chosen. I paint. I have no trouble naming my paintings, but my novels, there I have a real problem. I finally settled on The Luckless Winner for my YA Mystery. Will it stick? I'm not sure yet.

jenny milchman said...

I *love* THE WRONG HILL TO DIE ON! So evocative. I want instantly to ask, Is there a right hill? And amy particular reason why this one is so wrong?

Donis Casey said...

That's the idea behind a good title, I think, Jenny. I don't care if the potential reader knows what it means. I want her to want to know what it means!