Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Heartbreak, Silliness, Bamboo

by Nina Wright, author of the
Whiskey Mattimoe mysteries

Writers are list makers and note-takers. Many of us won't leave the house without a micro-cassette recorder and camera, or higher-tech equivalent, in case we have a whim or inspiration that might lead to a best-selling novel. Or a solution to the messed-up draft we're writing right now.

We eavesdrop shamelessly, surf the net endlessly, and mutely "what-if?" every situation or comment that captures our attention in the course of our mundane lives. My own copious lists fill several very fat three-ring binders and include names, notions, quotations, and possible titles.

Although choosing a title is generally one of the last details of the book-writing process, more often done by editors than authors, several of my novels were born from phrases that sounded like future titles and became my working titles.

My favorite current inspiration is a three-word phrase I found while surfing the net for something entirely unrelated. Heartbreak, Silliness, Bamboo leapt out at me as the perfect title for...well, my life. Not that I'll ever write nonfiction or even fiction that looks like my daily grind. Still, I love that non sequitur perhaps because once upon a time, in the midst of a crisis, I moved to the tropics hoping for a ridiculously cinematic fresh start. It was a fiasco but great fiction fodder.

Here's what I propose: Share one or two of your current possible titles and tell us what inspired them or where they're leading you or, at the very least, what genre they suggest to you. Alternatively, pick one of mine and tell us what you think a novel by this title might be about.

There's a small chance, of course, that your ideas will inspire someone to write something commercially viable. But you can steal from this post, too. Let's have fun.

My Short List:

Deep Regards from the Dark Side of the Moon
The Width of Oblivion
P.S. You Were Right
The Virgin Widower
Spumoni Days
I Am My Own Twin
Hoosier Triangle
The Inverters
Welcome to UNFISH BAY
Now Read Clouds
Dead Men’s Ties
This Is Not the Middle-Aged Ladies Club
The Great Unslept

In stores now: Whiskey and Tonic

by Nina Wright


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Titles are my favorite thing. From your list my favorites were Deep Regards from the Dark Side of the Moon (which sounds incredibly literary) and Dead Men's Ties (which I would instantly pick up in a bookstore).

Titles are like shoes, if they don't fit properly, they can be uncomfortable and even painful. My 3rd Odelia Grey novel comes out in Feb. 2008, but not without having gone through several title changes. It's first working title was Remedial Murder, then it was Mother Mayhem. A few weeks ago I saw the screen name "thugsnkisses" and knew instantly that book 3 just HAD to be renamed that. Fortunately, Midnight Ink thought so too, so Thugs & Kisses, it is!

My 4th book has gone from Fifty Can Be Fatal to Epitaph Envy (which it hopefully will remain), with Fifty Can Be Fatal moving on to book 5.

Planned non-mysteries I'm currently working on: God's Apology and Confessions of a Fat Call Girl.

Before starting a book I like to tag it with a great working title. For me, it's sets the mood and personality of the work in progress.

I also have a short list of favorite, yet unused, titles:

Strangers Have The Best Candy
The 10th Child
Another Man's Moccasins
You, Me and the Lamp Post
Friends, Lovers and Other Fatal Relationships

Joe Moore said...

When Lynn Sholes and I decided to collaborate on our first book, we used CORPUS CHRISTI for the working title during the three years it took to write. Since it was a thriller about cloning Christ, we thought using Latin for Body of Christ was so cleaver. But when we sent it off to our agent, she pointed out the error of our ways. Could be a travel guide to a city in Texas. Could be a novelization of a Broadway play running at the time. So we changed it to THE ENOCHIAN PROPHECY, a brilliant title that no one could pronounce or spell. Midnight Ink wisely changed it to THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY which has stuck in 21 translations except German.

Book 2 had the working title of THE THIRD SECRET. Steve Berry released a thriller by the same name so our agent changed the title to THE LAST SECRET. So far, it’s worked for the 14 foreign publishers that are translating it, although we haven’t seen the German version yet.

Book 3 had a working title of INDIGO RUBY for the year it took to write. The title had a great deal of meaning for two people: Lynn and myself. Again, Midnight Ink stepped in and wisely renamed it THE HADES PROJECT which is exactly what the books about. Clever. Seven other publishers have bought the foreign rights. I hope they keep the title.

Our working title for book 4 in the series is BLACK NEEDLES. Maybe we got this one right from the start. Who knows?

So why are titles important? Paul McCartney’s working title of the Beatles classic “Yesterday” was “Scrambled Eggs.”

Mark Combes said...

Cool post Nina!

I've been kicking around ideas for my next book and these are some of the working titles:

99 and a Half Won't Do
-As sung by Mavis Staples
-Trying to get to 100....
Clowns and Chameleons
-We all wear the make-up,
we all change our skin...
Eat the Lie
-A line from a David Gray song
-Can you ever make a lie go away?

Mark Terry said...

I'm probably lucky with titles. Anyway, the first three Derek Stillwater novels are:

The Devil's Pitchfork
The Serpent's Kiss
Angels Falling

I'm working on the fourth, which is:
The Valley of Shadows

That's all I'm contracted for at the moment and it's always possible they'll change the 4th title. I've got a couple ideas for future Derek's, including the one that's highest on my list:

The Hand of the Wicked

We're currently shopping a kids' fantasy novel titled:

Peter Namaka & The Battle for Atlantis

Should it actually sell, I've got many titles in mind, but they (oddly enough) all start with:

Peter Namaka &

I've two dabbling novels in the works. That is to say, I'm dabbling with them, but I don't really have time to mess with them. One is:

Dragon Fire. I'm afraid this one, which is espionage/action might come off as a sword & sorcery novel.

The other is:

The Fixer. That's a real dabbler, since I've only done about 10 pages, but I like it. I think it probably should be titled something referring to money, like:

Cold, Hard Cash
Hot Money

On the other hand, since the character is a political fixer, the kind of spin doctor who not only knows where the bodies are buried, but helps bury them, I like the title. If it were a series, I could see it going something like:

The Fix
The Spin
The Shift

Etc. Or not. The Fixer doesn't work well for me, but as something to stick on the front of the manuscript, for the moment I suppose it works.

Candy Calvert said...

I like your The Great Unslept (intriguing) and Spumoni Days (fun).

I'm nuts about titles too, and have made unbelievable (nah, not to you) lists of nautical terms to toy with for my cruise mysteries.
It's a challenge to get a play on words, something cruise-y AND a reference to death all in one short, ship-shape title.

MI agreed with my first three titles: DRESSED TO KEEL, AYE DO OR DIE (wedding cruise) and MAI TAI TO MURDER (Caribbean, with a play on "my tie to murder").

Some others I considered were:
Murder Underway, Dinghy & Dead, Pier Pressure, Scull Duggery, Murder & Moor, Knot Guilty, and Drown the Hatch.

I gave Dressed to Keel two other titles before I settled: Whatever Floats Your Boat and Port Mortem.

Great post, Nina!