The new baby doesn’t have a name. Yet. I’m still thinking “it” and “the book” and sometimes “the albatross” when I should have a perfect name already typed onto the title page. Before too many more days have passed, I will place its fate in other hands, but it won’t leave me until it has a title.
The titles for The Heat of the Moon and Disturbing the Dead popped out of the text at me, screaming, “I’m the title, I’m the title!” The only screaming this time around has come from my end.
Part of the problem, of course, is that all the great titles have been snatched up by those greedy bestselling authors. A title can’t be copyrighted, but when it has graced a NY Times bestseller, it can’t be reused anytime soon, if ever. Otherwise, my new book might be called Tell No One.
For many mystery writers, titles don’t seem to be a major headache. If they write cozies that focus on cooking or crafts or some other specialized interest, titles are always drawn from those subjects. Puns abound, and they must be fun to come up with. Not too many dark suspense novels have funny puns for titles, though, so I won’t even look in that direction.
Should I go with something that screams THRILLER or SUSPENSE? The problem there is how to devise a title that won’t sound like everything else on the shelf and, possibly, lead to confusion with another book. Do a simple title check on Amazon and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of available books with titles containing Killer, Kill, Murder, Death, Blood, Dark/Darkness. Not all are crime novels, but a hefty percentage are.
Should I go literary? Everybody tells me The Heat of the Moon is a “literary” title, and some find fault with it because it doesn’t immediately bring to mind psychological suspense, which is what the book is. Yet they admit it is intriguing, and after reading the book they agree the title fits. A surprising number of crime novels do have so-called literary titles, and this makes no difference whatever to readers if the author is well-known. What James Lee Burke fan would pass over A Morning for Flamingos or A Stained White Radiance because they don’t have obvious mystery titles? (On the other hand, maybe In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead “sounds like a mystery” because it has dead in it.)
Poetry is usually a good source of titles, but so far my search through Eliot, Plath, Auden, Yeats, Roethke, Merwin and other favorites has turned up few possibilities – again, the best have already been used, often more than once. The Bible is also filled with the titles of other people’s books, and I have spent more than a little time lately cursing at holy scripture.
So I continue with the final tweaks as the day of decision approaches. I try to put aside frustration and trust that the book knows its name. One day soon, it will share that information with me.