Titles are important to me, as a reader and a writer. An intriguing title makes me look at a book even if I know nothing else about it.
Readers aren’t likely to come across my books while browsing in Barnes & Noble or Borders – most small press mysteries aren’t stocked by the big chains – but they might see them in independent stores and libraries. I want my titles to trigger the “Hmm. What’s this about?” reaction.
I came up with titles I love for my first three books: The Heat of the Moon (metaphor), Disturbing the Dead (literal; skeletal remains are uncovered in the first chapter), and Broken Places (metaphor again). I’m not so crazy about the title of the book I have to turn in by the end of the year for publication next September 1. Unless I come up with something I love very soon, the book will be called Under the Dog Star.
I don’t actually hate it, and it fits the story. Veterinarian Rachel Goddard is trying to save a pack of feral dogs who were abandoned in the countryside by their owners, while Captain Tom Bridger, a sheriff’s deputy, is trying to break up a dog-fighting operation. When a prominent citizen with a wildly dysfunctional family is killed by a dog... Let’s just say that things get complicated, as they should in any mystery. Lily Barker, a local woman who claims to have “the sight” (Tom scoffs at such notions, but Rachel isn't so quick to judge), warns that evil took root in the county “under the dog star” and now flourishes in hidden places.
I’ve never liked titles that begin with prepositions: In the..., Below a..., Under the... But here I am, putting one on my new book. Unless I experience a stroke of genius in the next four weeks.
This is the first of my titles that I haven’t truly loved. What do you think? Am I worrying for no reason?
Here are the opening paragraphs, to give you a taste of the story and tone.
In the silver moonlight, the dogs appeared as a dark mass moving down the hill and across the pasture. They headed straight toward three dozen sheep huddled on a carpet of autumn leaves under an oak tree.
Tom Bridger aimed his shotgun at the sky and fired.
The blast stopped the dogs for a second. The startled sheep jerked apart, turned and ran.
A single dog broke from the pack and streaked after the sheep. The rest of the dogs followed, yelping and baying.
Tom fired into the air again, and again. The dogs didn’t stop until his fourth shot. They milled about in the pasture as if trying to make up their minds whether to stay or go.
Another shotgun blast decided the issue for them. They wheeled around and took off in the direction they’d come from.
Lying in the dark, with Tom’s space in the bed growing cold beside her, Rachel tensed at the sound of gunshots in the distance. She clutched the blanket, bunching it in both fists. She knew Tom wouldn’t shoot to kill, but she also knew he was losing patience after going out night after night to protect his sheep from the feral dog pack. (c) 2010 Sandra Parshall
(Murder coming right up!)