Saturday, February 14, 2009

Naming "Baby Book Harris"

by Rosemary Harris, guest blogger

When Pushing Up Daisies was released last year I found myself fielding lots of questions and comments about a certain television show with a similarly catchy title. Frighteningly enough, an early version of my book cover even looked a bit like the show’s ads which haunted me at every bus stop in New York City.

I think I was gracious about it. My favorite “no, that’s not me” experience was with a gentleman at a library talk in Connecticut who refused to believe I was not connected with the program. After five full minutes of denying that I
had a Hollywood deal, I simply thanked him and agreed that, yes, my mother was very proud of me.

There’s also a story behind the title of my second book, The Big Dirt Nap, which hits stores this week. (I love saying and writing that – hits stores – as if they’re being flung out of moving vehicles and miraculously land on bookshelves in stores.) There was some drama concerning the title. The working title was Corpse Flower, which everyone agreed didn’t exactly roll off the tongue. I hadn’t said it out loud much (just typed it) and when I did, for some reason, I was reminded of Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond saying “Ethel Thayer” over and over again. It had to go.

Much to the dismay of my editor, I rejected most other botanical titles as either too cutesy, too obvious or too excruciatingly nonsensical, e.g. Stalking the Corpse Flower – but it was getting late in the day. I remembered working with a man who told me that the name on his birth certificate was Baby Boy Johnson, because his mother couldn’t decide what to name him. (It’s still his nickname and far more colorful than the name she eventually gave him.) I started to think of my book as Baby Book Harris.

Weeks passed. The natives were getting restless. I finally came up with Dirt Nap. Some people loved it; others went “hunh?” Some thought it was too angry, too edgy, too obscure. (I’m eternally grateful to Julia Spencer-Fleming for being one of those who got the joke.) Still, people in-house were not 100% convinced.

Enter Hec
tor DeJean, publicist extraordinaire, film buff, and quite coincidentally having the same name as the ambitious hotel bouncer/security guard in my book, who saved the day by saying five words. (Hector’s a man of few words.) “How about adding The Big?”

Eureka! The Big Dirt Nap. It knocked off some of the hard edges without making it totally wussy, and quietly paid homage to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep -- always nice to acknowledge the masters. I liked it. Sales and marketing liked it. For all I know, people in the mailroom were polled too. And on February 17, I hope that you like it.

Rosemary Harris is the author of the Dirty Business Mystery series. The first title, Pushing Up Daisies, was a Mystery Guild Selection and was named to Library Journal's Best First Fiction List for 2008. Please visit for more information.


Hallie Ephron said...

Hey, Ro --

Congratulations on the new book!

Love this story about how your book got its name, and I well remember the paroxysms around "Dirt Nap" which I confess I got but I didn't GET. Somehow adding "the big" is like adding "my big fat" to Greek Wedding. But with the edginess of "The Big Sleep" or "The Big Chill." Yay Hector!

Anonymous said...

The Big Dirt Nap works because it's unusual, and it sounds like something we should recognize (even if we don't).

Titles are so frustrating! So far I've managed to name exactly one of mine--the rest are brainstorming creations, although I do get input.

But I think Berkley Prime Crime is doing something right, because every time I give a talk and mention my titles, they get laughs. And I hope that means that people will remember the titles when they go to a bookstore.

PS. My sister was Baby Girl Connolly for years. Nothing like having decisive parents.

Sandra Parshall said...

Omigosh, Sheila -- it took years for your parents to name your sister? An infant is too young to have an identity crisis!

As for titles (and thank you, Rosemary, for visiting us this weekend), I'm always worried if I have trouble coming up with one, because it usually means I don't know what the story is really about. The title of the book I'm writing now came to me quickly and easily, and that makes me confident the book will turn out well. I don't envy cozy/humorous mystery writers because your titles must have a special ring to them. PUSHING UP DAISIES and THE BIG DIRT NAP are both memorable. Rosemary, best of luck with DIRT! (Hmm. Not sure that came out right.)

Rosemary Harris said...

I forgot to mention that in my Malice-Go-Round last year, I polled people about which title they liked. was all I did for a few months. I was like the Walter Brennan character in To Have or Have Not..."wuz you ever stung by a dead bee?" (Hopefully someone here is old enough to get that reference. Otherwise I'm going to go shoot myself..)

Baby Girl Connolly?? That's got to be in a book. So what did they finally name her?

I love One Bad Apple. It's a great title. Says it all.

Lesa said...

Hi Rosemary!

Just started The Big Dirt Nap last night while sitting at The Poisoned Pen. Perfect place to start, since I met you there last year. It caught me right away.

Hoping we have a terrific turnout at the library for you on Friday. I publicized it with 70 volunteers & 20 Master Gardeners, as well as our Friends of the Garden. See you Friday!

Rosemary Harris said...

Hi Lesa,
Many thanks! My pal Rhys Bowen said something about mentioning it on a local SINC/MWA list, too. I hope that happens. That would be awesome.

Sofie Kelly said...

I love the title. It's an expression my elderly neighbor uses a lot. (Yes I'm getting her a copy of the book.)

Deb Baker said...

It was such fun to get a SIGNED copy at Love Is Murder. I'm starting it now.

Rosemary Harris said...

Thanks for having me, guys!

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