Monday, February 12, 2018

Finally, A Title -- or Two

For more information about Susan Calder's books, or to purchase visit her Books We Love Author Page. 

For the titles of my mystery novels, I inadvertently backed myself into a corner. My novels are series books. While the titles of individual books in a series don't have to follow a pattern, this helps connect the books in readers minds.

Mystery author Sue Grafton hit on a brilliant idea with her Kinsey Millhone 'alphabet mysteries.' Her plan was to write 26 books in the series, titled with each letter of the alphabet. She started with 'A' is for Alibi and continued to 'Y' is for Yesterday until illness stopped her one book short of completing the series. 

Sue Grafton, 1940-2017
A big plus for this particular pattern is the obvious order of the books in the series. Many mystery readers like to read series books in order, to follow the character and overall story arc developments. With Grafton's books they instantly know which novel comes next and next and next. For her titles Grafton managed to find a fitting word for some challenging letters --'Q' is for Quarry -- but modified the pattern for one book. Series novel # 24 is simply called 'X.' Her website notes X: The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.

I'd be curious to know how much the letter/word in each title influenced the particular story.

I didn't start with a plan of writing a four-book series set in Calgary's seasons. The working title for my first novel was In Remembrance of Me.  I felt the title suited the story, but it didn't identify the book as a murder mystery novel. While revising the story, I pondered what aspects of it might work in a title.

I didn't have this handy chart at the time, but settled loosely on #10 When Your Story Takes Place. In my novel's case, this was the season of fall, with its many resonant meanings, including the fall of (wo)man. Then I asked myself what popular mystery title word might go with it? How about DeadlyDeadly Fall. I checked Amazon and library listings to see if the title was overused. To my surprise, it wasn't. 

The title for my series book # 2 didn't come right away, but it was easier. I knew the story would be set during The Calgary Stampede, my home city's annual 10-day rodeo and exhibition, which takes place each July. To continue the pattern, I wanted the word 'summer' in the title along with a reference to the Stampede. Titles like Summer Stampede and Stampede Into Summer didn't quite do it. Ten Days in July would have been great for a series incorporating months of the year in the title. Months rather than seasons would have also given me scope for more books in the series.

Then it hit me: Ten Days in Summer. Calgarians use the phrase interchangeably with Ten Days in July when talking about our Stampede. I set myself the challenge of framing the story with the Stampede's 10 day time period. Okay, I cheated a little by setting the first two chapters on the evening before Parade Day, the Stampede's official start. But events do begin on Stampede-eve with Sneak-a-Peak night at the exhibition grounds.    

And now I am working on Book # 3, set in Calgary winter. The case involves a hit and run car accident, which killed a woman under suspicious circumstances. Almost immediately, I thought of a great mystery book title, Dead of Winter. But a search on revealed a couple of dozen mystery novels with this name. Titles aren't copyrighted, but I'd prefer one that won't be confused with numerous other books.

Back to my Book Title Chart, I considered # 13, Where Your Story Takes Place. I decided that the hit and run would take place on a street named Wintergreen Close, which became my working title. I wasn't satisfied with it, but figured it could be okay.

During the Christmas holidays I was listening to music CDs while preparing dinner. A stanza from the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas" jumped out. 
                                                     Mark my footsteps my good page,
                                                     tread thou in them boldly:
                                                     Thou shalt find the winter's rage
                                                      freeze thy blood less coldly.

Winter's Rage. That's it! What is murder about if not rage and my story in particular features characters who can't get past their rage at what happened to them.  

Now as I write the book, I think of how to emphasize rage in the work. Except, the street, Wintergreen Close, has a large focus in the story and sometimes I like the subdued Wintergreen Close better. So I've gone from thinking that the perfect winter title is out of reach to having two titles I like. Who knows which one will win in the end? It's a work in progress.


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