Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Author in Search of a Title

You may have noticed that recently I've been absent from this blog. The answer is easy to explain: I've had a lot of deadlines as well as editing for my work in progress (WIP).  Those problems have taken up every nook and cranny of my brain. Seriously.
          For the last three weeks I have been thinking about titles. I am terrible at figuring out titles. An author needs to have a title she can live with...forever. She also needs a title that could be the beginning of a series so it must have continuing possibilities.
          This has been a terrible question in my mind, disturbing my sleep and interfering with my brain during every minute of my waking hours...and sleeping hours...for weeks.
          I played bridge and thought of titles (I think it improved my bridge.) I paced the kitchen floor and thought about titles. I watched the presidential returns--and thought about titles. I talked to my children across the country and thought about titles. Nada.
          I played word games and wrote down dozens of words that might remind me of possible phrases for titles. Nothing.

          You get the picture.

          When Daylight Savings Time occurred I couldn't quite adjust for the first time ever. At first I thought it was because I'm now officially a senior citizen. Now I wonder if it was simply my fixation on titles, even in my dreams.


          The working title for my book is A Silent Place to Die. It is a phrase I used in the prologue to the book. It's perfect, I thought. However, my traditional mystery isn't quite as gruesome as this title. Even one of my former students questioned why my title was so gruesome. It didn't sound like the Me he knew. That, of course, made that Me start thinking. 
          Other writers have titles in a series that have a theme. For example, Julia Spencer-Fleming uses titles that are religious in nature like I Shall Not Want or In the Bleak Midwinter. Her main character, Clare, is an Episcopal priest. Makes sense. Wow, what a great thing she has going. Since many writers use Christian symbolism in their stories figuring their readers will "get it," Spencer-Fleming has a whole layer of reader understanding working for her. She also has endless possibilities for titles.
          So is there some kind of "teacher culture" that readers will know about that I could use since my Grace is a teacher?
          Sheila Connolly's Orchard series uses apples in every title. Her main character owns an apple orchard and all the stories revolve around the small town, her house, and the orchard. Julie Hyzy's manor house mysteries--with a main character named "Grace"--have "Grace" in every title. Grace Under Pressure or Grace Among Thieves. My main character is a Grace and it would be so easy to connect her name with various ideas for my titles. Too bad Hyzy got there first.

          So I looked through many, many pieces of literature by American writers. After all, "my" Grace taught American Literature for twenty-five years and her story does have literary allusions. The books in her library are by her old favs: Fitzgerald, Poe, Thoreau, Emerson, Longfellow, and others.

          And then I remembered.

          Ben Franklin. He was an American original, discussed in many American Literature classes, and broadly taught across the country. Like Spencer-Fleming's layer of Christianity, Ben Franklin's aphorisms are part of American culture. Here, you finish his thoughts:

"A penny saved is..."
"God helps those..."
"Early to bed and early to rise..."

          See, I'm still giving quizzes.

          Of course people know these sayings. If I write the first part, readers can finish the second part.
          Ah ha! I may be on to something.

          How about one saying that's a little more obscure? 

          "Three May Keep a Secret..."?

Would you automatically finish that with "if two of them are dead?"
          If so, I think I have a title.


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