Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Perfect Word

 Donis here, at last. I missed my last Thursday slot because I've been having lots of trouble with my eyes, but today is a pretty good day, so I'm writing while the writing is good. 

First of all, I extend my dearest sympathy to those of you who live in blizzard-land. I hesitate to point out that the temperature here in the Phoenix area has been around 70ºF for the past few weeks lest you think I'm gloating, but remember that this is our reward for living through our Southern Arizona summers. Check back with me in July. You can gloat then.

I've been enjoying my blogmates' entries on titles. Titles are important. You want to convey something of the spirit of the story, catch the reader’s eye, intrigue her enough that she wants to read that book. 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!

That title has served me well, even if early on, my late 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.

I decided to go for something short for the second book, and agonized for a long time before my husband actually dreamed the title Hornswoggled. Since that book, I’ve more or less given up on short titles. The production manager at my press used to tease me for using such long titles that she couldn’t fit them on the spine. But what can you do? 

I sometimes have a title before I have a story in mind. That’s what happened with my sixth book, The Wrong Hill To Die On. The idea for that title 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.

Most of the time I don’t have a title in mind. I just wait until one of the characters says something that sums it all up in one eye-catching phrase. Often for me, good title is like pornography. I can’t really define it, but I know it when I see it. That’s what happened with Hell With the Lid Blown Off. One of the characters was surveying the devastation following a tornado that rolled over Muskogee County Oklahoma. It looked like hell with the lid blown off, says he. 

I'm working on a new Alafair manuscript right now. I have no title in mind. I've always been lucky enough to choose my own titles - at least until my second series, the Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse, was acquired by a different publisher. They chose the title for first book in the series, The Wrong Girl, which was also something one of the characters said (One of these days, you're going to pick the wrong girl).

It made sense, but to my ear, it just didn't have quite the cachet...

They let me pick my own title for book two, Valentino Will Die, since it's about, what else, the death of Rudolph Valentino. I like that better. The third book, which has yet to be picked up, is called The Beasts of Hollywood. I feel like I'm hitting my stride.

And last but not least, my guest on my own website for this month's Tell Me Your Story is the fabulous Mary Miley, who tells us how she got into the historical mystery business. If you missed her guest entry here at Type M, you missed a treat. Check it out here.

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