BY ANY OTHER NAME

by Gar Anthony Haywood

Quick: What do the following upcoming films and television shows all have in common?

 

If you said they all feature poster art suitable for the Louvre, you’re wrong.  And you’re blind.

If you said they all feature A-list talent whose work you never miss, well . . .  I don’t quite know what to say about that.  Though the expression “get a life” does spring to mind.  (Taylor Lautner??)

If, however, you said all four are burdened by an incredibly unimaginative and dumb-as-a-stick title, you nailed it.  And therein lies the tale of this Murderati post.

Several months ago on my own blog, I wrote a post describing how much it mystifies me when creative people consciously decide to attach a one-word, generic title to something they’ve spent months, sometimes years to produce.  This is what I wrote in part:

“Now, I know not every writer cares to spend a thousand sleepless nights trying to come up with a title for their book or film that’s as fresh and original as it is memorable.  It’s a pain in the ass process and, sometimes, it hardly seems worth the effort. . .

“But here’s where I’m coming from with all this:  A writer busts his ass for months, maybe even years, to write a novel or a screenplay.  He puts his heart and soul into the work, trying with all he’s got to make it something special, something different, something he and he alone could have written.

“After all that, why on earth would he want to give the work a generic, overused, blatantly obvious title that anybody with a fifth-grade education could have come up with?

“I don’t get it.”

I was careful to point out in that post that this sort of thing happens far more often in the realms of film and television because the creative process in Hollywood, as Alex and Stephen know far better than I, is almost designed to produce something ridiculously simplistic at every turn, so as not to confuse our feeble minds when it comes time to turn on our TV or buy a ticket at the box office:

“Hollywood has a long tradition of treating the movie-going public like a herd of mindless cows that would forget how to chew cud if you gave them anything other than grass to think about.  And its penchant for dumbing down titles to their most obvious and uninspiring form is only getting worse.”

And every published novelist knows that the title his book winds up with is not always the one he chose for it, because publishers make the final call on such things.  So my gripe is not with authors in any medium who are forced to live with a Dumb-Ass-Title (hereafter referred to as a DAT) by forces beyond their control.  Authors who go with a DAT by choice are the ones with whom I take issue.

What, in my opinion, constitutes a DAT in the literary world?  The following trifecta of death, “death” in this case being no interest from me whatsoever in reading the book so afflicted:

  • A length of one word (or two, if you include a preceding and pointless “the”).  Think about it — the entire scope and breadth of your novel can be reduced to ONE WORD?  What kind of message is that to be sending to potential readers?
  • Ubiquity.  If the word you choose for your title is as commonplace and ordinary as sliced bread, why should anyone expect your writing to be any different?

And most importantly:

  • Predictability.  “Detective” is a nice word, and it really comes in handy when you write crime fiction, but I think we can all agree that it’s rather lacking in multiple meanings, yes?  Chances are, if the title of a book is DETECTIVE, its storyline involves someone who could most accurately be described as. . . well, a detective!  Big surprise, huh?  Yet another way to appeal to potential readers — announce by way of your book’s title not to expect anything unexpected.

To really qualify as a DAT, a title has to meet all three of the criteria above.  For instance, BEAT may only be one word (yeah, Schwartz, I’m talking about you), but is that word particularly ubiquitous?  And does BOULEVARD immediately suggest what the book is about?  The answer in both cases is no, so these titles don’t make my DAT cut.  (Okay, Stephen, you can exhale now.)

In the comments to my original post, I engaged in a rather lively debate with a crime writer who objected to my assertion that he’d given his latest book a DAT.  He argued that the title he’d chosen was in fact an ingenious one because, as readers of the book would discover in the end, it had a secret meaning.  I won’t rehash all the ways I debunked that argument here, except to say that the cleverness of a title with a “secret” or double meaning is completely lost on somebody who hasn’t yet read the associated book — i.e., somebody cruising the shelves at their local book store looking for something great to read.  Like a duck, if it looks like a DAT, sounds like a DAT, and smells like a DAT, people are going to be inclined to assume that it is a DAT, and won’t grant you 389 pages to disabuse them of that notion.  The time to impress potential readers with your capacity to surprise is at the start of your book, not the end of it, and that start — even before page 1 — is your title.

If you’re beginning to get the idea I could go on and on about DATs if left to my own devices, you wouldn’t be far off the mark.  This phenomenon doesn’t just confound me, it saddens me a little, in the same way that all avoidable, self-destructive behaviors we humans sometimes engage in do.  However, as I’ve beaten this poor, dead horse into the ground online once already, and don’t particularly feel like being the negatron I usually am, what I’d like to do today is turn my old post on its head and devote the rest of this one to singling out some relatively recent crime novel titles that I think are the polar opposite of a DAT.  The following are Kick-Ass Titles (KATs), the kind a reader can’t help but notice and be drawn to, and in my estimation, all are no less exceptional and creative than the fine novels — and authors — they represent.

(As an added bonus, I’m including an Alternative DAT for each, just to demonstrate what might have been, had the gods not smiled upon us all.)

A BAD DAY FOR SORRYSophie Littlefiield

This title has blown me away since the moment I first heard it.  Its primary message is immediately and abundantly clear: Somebody in Littlefield’s terrific book is about to suffer the effects of a full can of whup-ass.  And seriously, what more should the title of a crime novel ever need to say?

Alternative DAT: PISSED

THE BARBED-WIRE KISSWallace Stroby

Shit.  This title ticks me the hell off, and always has, because I wish to God I’d thought of it first.  It makes all the jacket copy for Stroby’s debut noir thoroughly unnecessary, as everything you need to know about his story is right there: Love; pain; sex; betrayal.  No title in the tradition of Chandler and Ross Macdonald could be a more a fitting homage to the masters than this one.

Alternative DAT: THE FLAME

EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIELawrence Block

All of Block’s titles for his Matthew Scudder novels are memorable — A DANCE AT THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE, TIME TO MURDER AND CREATE, etc. — but this one, I think, is his best.  Some reference to death in the title of a mystery or crime novel is a no-brainer, but it’s hard as hell to work it in in a way that isn’t blatantly obvious or unoriginal.  Block managed that trick here.

Alternative DAT: MORTALITY

THE CONCRETE BLONDEMichael Connelly

Blondes are a fixture in classic crime fiction, and concrete is often used as a metaphor for the cold, hard city.  Put these two things together and you have a title that promises nothing but trouble for a beautiful woman — and by extension, Connelly’s homicide detective Harry Bosch.

Alternative DAT: BURIED

 

61 HOURSLee Child

One thing a great title does, even as it’s offering hints as to what kind of book it belongs to, is raise questions.  Note that Child didn’t title this Reacher novel 24 HOURS, or 48 HOURS — it’s 61 HOURS.  And what in the hell can happen in exactly 61 hours?  You have to read the book to find out, and Child is counting on you becoming curious enough to do just that.  Clever.  Very clever.

Alternative DAT: THE CLOCK

 

DARKNESS, TAKE MY HANDDennis Lehane

Lehane’s another author whose book titles all tend to stick in the mind — MYSTIC RIVER is a prime example — but this one, for his second Kenzie-Gennaro mystery, which deals with a serial killer who targets children, is my favorite.   It alludes to the temptation evil sometimes holds over us all, and what could be a more ominous intro to a crime novel than that?

Alternative DAT: TWISTED

THE BLADE ITSELFMarcus Sakey

Nothing conveys life-altering heartache quite like the expression “cut to the bone,” and Sakey’s title for his debut novel evokes this experience brilliantly.  Could there be any doubt that this is a noirish thriller with serious attitude?  None whatsoever.

Alternative DAT:  THE DEFENDER

FUN & GAMESDuane Swierczynski

Though Swierczynski is capable of dropping a DAT of his own every now and then — THE BLONDE?  Really? — more than a few of his titles hit the Kick-Ass Title sweetspot for me.  It’s a toss-up which title I like better — this one or POINT & SHOOT — but they both speak volumes about Swierczynski’s old school, pulp-era sensibilities, and the emphasis he places on entertainment above all else.

Alternative DAT: THE BRUNETTE

FEAR OF THE DARKWalter Mosley

Actually, my appreciation for this title to Mosley’s 2006 Fearless Jones/Paris Minton novel is entirely selfish, because it immediately reminds me of a debut novel near and dear to my heart that was published 19 years earlier:

Remember what I said earlier about THE BARBED-WIRE KISS being an homage to Chandler and Ross Macdonald?  Well, that’s got to be what this was, right?  An homage to me?  So I’m flattered.  Really.  I swear to God.

Alternative DAT: SPOOKED

One last word before I sign out: There’s another level to the moronic-title descent into hell that I call “Just Plain Stupid.”  JPSTs can be of any length, yet still manage to be even more obvious and devoid of originality than DATs, and the reason I chose this subject for today’s post is a JPST that’s been all over billboards lately that makes me want to tear my hair out, rather than shave it cleanly from my scalp:

Hmmm.  You think maybe this film has something to do with horrible bosses?  Talk about a title that requires zero brainpower to interpret.  The only mystery in it is just how long the geniuses behind it took to come up with it: four seconds or a whopping fourteen?

Pathetic.

Questions for the class:  How about you, my fellow ‘Ratis?  Do DATs make the top of your head come off the way they do mine?  If so, name a few that really bent you out of shape.  Or conversely, name some titles that you think qualify as KATs instead.

43 thoughts on “BY ANY OTHER NAME

  1. Richard Maguire

    A really great post, Gar. Those movie and tv titles you quote are dull as ditchwater. On the other hand, think of a great tv series with a one-word title – GUNSMOKE.

    Charles Willeford's NEW HOPE FOR THE DEAD is a real KAT. All the early Spenser books have KATs. (eg. PALE KINGS AND PRINCES; A SAVAGE PLACE) And your own, CEMETERY ROAD, which I very much enjoyed, sounds intriguing.

    Hemingway, of course. And Faulkner. Richard Matheson's Western, JOURNAL OF THE GUN YEARS, is, I think, a KAT. And most of Elmer Kelton's excellent Westerns set in Texas: eg. THE DAY THE COWBOYS QUIT, is a KAT – and based on fact.

  2. MJ

    I grew up in Detroit so I'm an Elmore Leonard fan by birth and city water – "Freaky Deaky." What the heck is THAT? And how could you possibly resist it???? Gotta read the book to find out… One of his many (but not all) fine titles.

  3. Angelina

    I didn't read past the first few paragraphs. There's a fine line between sarcastic and just plain bitchy, and you crossed it with the 'get a life' comment. I'm the last person to defend Taylor Lautner, but it's clear to me that you prefer sounding superior to the reader than actually relating to them.

    Skimming over the rest of the post, I can see you went really overboard with the examples as well. Yes, we get it, you're smart and everyone else is dumb. Good for you. You turned what could have been an interesting topic into an off-putting narcissistic ramble. I'll be avoiding your work in future.

  4. PK the Bookeemonster

    Good post. Power titles versus meh.
    I know we're mystery writers/readers here but my simple response is at least we don't suffer as much as the romance genre. Bad. Just plain bad. And even worse are the titles for the monthly quickies. They make you cringe and snicker at the same time.

  5. Eika

    While it wasn't mentioned, I always hate it when a novel or show is titled after the main character. Sure, they're important, but–DEXTER, the focus is on the situations as much as him. I don't pick up things with character names as titles unless they've been recommended, because I've usually found it means the other characters are cardboard cut-outs.

    For a good title, I'd put out Gathering Blue. It's a companion novel to The Giver, and they cram every bit of symbolic and literal meaning into those two words that they can. It's really excellent.

    -Alaina

  6. Gar Anthony Haywood

    Cornelia: Ironically, I think your titlles are great. A FIELD OF DARKNESS, in particular, is terrific.

    Richard: The reason GUNSMOKE fails the DAT stink test is, it's not a ubiquitous word (at least, we don't hear much of it around MY dinner table).

    MJ: I'm with you on Elmore Leonard, though I'm most partial to the titles of his early novels. One of my favorites is UNKNOWN MAN #89. Like, why number 89??

    Angelina: I won't apologize for my attitude, because it is rather snarky in general and I like it like that. But I think you're missing my point here, which is not that I'm smarter than anyone else, but that I (or, more accurately, the authors I cite here for coming up with some really great KATs) try harder than some. Because seriously, when you title a TV show about a woman seeking revenge on old enemies REVENGE, how hard are you really trying to be creative? It's a question of effort, not brain power.

  7. Louise Urr

    Great list, Gar. But only one female example? (yeah, it's a good one.) How about Kingdolver's The Poisonwood Bible? A juxtaposition of words that intrigues but is true to the story.

  8. Gar Anthony Haywood

    Louise: You're right, my list is a little male-heavy, and that bothered me, but I couldn't find a title by a female author that really knocked me out. However…

    I do think some of Laura Lippman's are quite good, EVERY SECRET THING in particular.

    And I've always been rather fond of Sarah Shankman's I STILL MISS MY MAN BUT MY AIM IS GETTING BETTER. It's a little too long to be a KAT, though.

    Suggestions, anyone?

  9. Richard Maguire

    Gar, could be you're right, and "gunsmoke" fails the DAT test. But as regards not hearing the word at your dinner table, it never occurred to me for a second that it would give offense. I'm currently enjoying the show, the longest-running tv Western, on DVD, so maybe that's why it came to mind.

  10. Fran

    I always thought Sharyn McCrumb's title "If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him" was fabulous, along with Joshilyn Jackson's "Backseat Saints".

    But I also always figured that, while titles SHOULD mean something, in modern culture they really don't. Most people don't remember titles. Cover art is more catching. Since titles can't be copyrighted, it's great when they're right, but with so many duplications, well, I smile at the good ones and move on.

  11. Allison Davis

    You people get up way too early on a Sunday (ok East Coast I get it). Gar, this is a perfect post for me as I am trying to think of a title for my manuscript that isn't soft (I give it some kind of title but one was a DAT for sure and the other was just plain boring) so this is actually pretty helpful and figuring something out and timely for me, so thanks. I liked Rex Stout titles (Fer De Lance, and lots of names with orchids) those were always good. I'm re-reading "Our Man in Havana" — a softer but apt title. But I also just finished Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter — about Buddy Bolden — that one had layers and layers of meaning. Julie Spencer Fleming has fun with her titles taking them from Biblical references…Ok, you got the juices flowing this morning.

  12. M. A. Scott

    KAT's: Ticket To The Boneyard, Down In The Zero, American Psycho and Red Dragon (fooled my wife into reading a book that was not about dragons)
    DAT's: It, The Partner, Killer and sorry, everything in the alphabet series. (A is for…really?)

  13. Allison Brennan

    Considering that I have six titles that are one word, and many others that are generic, I probably shouldn't comment, but I will anyway 🙂

    I'd love to have a great title that is totally about the book, but in genre fiction, generic titles are generally a good thing. The title plus cover art should give the reader the tone and genre of the book. And most of us don't have any say in our titles. For my upcoming three books, I wanted single word titles, but my new publisher didn't. But I didn't like anything that they came up with, so came back with some power words and a one-paragraph synopsis that fit the title. There's a double meaning with each title that becomes clear by the end of the book (at least I hope.)

    My first three Lucy books have great titles but, other than IF I SHOULD DIE, none of the titles really has anything to do with the story.

    In defense of one of the best one-word titles in Hollywood: INCEPTION. Brilliant title, IMO.

  14. Pari Noskin

    Oh, man, Gar …
    Thanks for nothing.
    The book I'm coming out with in a few weeks/months has a one-word title and I was so proud of it because of all the layered meanings. Now I don't know what to call it. Sheesh. I might still go with the title and I just won't tell you . . .

    I like Westlake's Dortumunder titles — especially my favorite book: What's the Worst that Can Happen?
    It begs so many questions and for Dortmunder fans, that title tells us we're in for a great ride.

  15. David Corbett

    Gar:

    First, I think you responded to Angelina well. I was a little stunned by her reaction, but she's entitled to it. I think this is a great post, and from the other comments, I'd say I'm not alone.

    And thanks for mentioning none of my titles. Punk.

    UNKNOWN MAN #89 was my first Leonard book, and I've been chasing the dragon ever since. Great read, I think maybe his most compelling, though maybe not his tightest. But I think it's a lousy title. Funny you think the opposite — which is what makes this topic so fascinating.

    I just went to my bookshelf and pulled down a bunch of one word titled books, and I think they're something to learn from the ones that work and the ones that don't:

    ABSURDISTAN, Gary Shteyngart
    GILEAD, Marilyn Robinson
    AK (as in AK-47), Peter Dickinson
    DOPE, Sara Gran
    TORCH, Cheryl Strayed
    WINTERWOOD. Patrick McCabe
    FORGETFULNESS, Howard Just
    THE COMEDIANS, Graham Greene
    THE AWAKENING, Kate Chopin
    THE CROSSING and THE ROAD, Cormac McCarthy

    I think each of these titles, especially in the context of the author's work (Greene, McCarthy, Robinson and Just, e.g.) is evocative enough to get a reader to lift the book off the shelf. JIm Harrison writing a novella titled REVENGE, for example, intrigues me where the TV show does not. I don't think the title works or fails on its own.

    Why these and not others? The words are uncommon enough and suggestive enough they don't prompt a ho-hum. I think. Maybe.

    Titles are the hardest part of a book, IMHO, and so I'm disinclined to say more. Except that I saw a film last night, and I can't get it out of my head, and I kinda wish I could. It's called IRREVERSIBLE (note one word title), it's French, won the Palmes D'Or at Cannes in 2002, stars Vincent Cassel, one of my favorite actors. I'm not giving too much away by saying the story's told in reverse order (though I didn't know this going in, I just caught on). Parts of it dragged, parts you turn away from the screen (like the rape scene and a brutal murder scene). But it's unlike anything else I've seen. I'm not sure whether I admire it or despise it. I don't want to read reviews because I don't want someone else making up my mind. But I feel like I saw Hell. And I'm going to be there for a while. Does IRREVERSIBLE work as a title? The theme is "Time destroys everything," and it moves in reverse to unlock the pretty logic of cause and effect. I dunno. Not really. So?

    Here's the IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0290673/

    Again, great post. You're a scholar and a gentleman. And a punk.

    Corbett

  16. Alan

    Well I can't think of any DATs off the top of my head, but I am really pleased that the remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy kept that title and didn't become something like The Spies!

  17. David Bishop

    Another intriguing post, Gar, amd some great tips for future reading. I totally agree that, having gone to all that effort writing the thing, why would you skimp on the title? Like spending hours cooking the perfect meal, and serving it on paper plates and polystyrene cups.

    There are too many DATs around that I won't add to the list. But, if we're talking KATs – one of my favourite authors is Derek Raymond, and in particular his 'Factory' series, each of which has a solid gold KAT attached to it. To wit:

    'He Died With His Eyes Open'
    'The Devil's Home on Leave'
    'How the Dead Live' [subsequently nicked by Will Self for another novel]
    'I Was Dora Suarez'
    'Dead Man Upright'

    All well worth a look, and soon to be re-issued by NYC's own Melville House

  18. kit

    read your last question and these words..just floated on by for a KAT
    Midnight in the Graden of Good and Evil

  19. Gar Anthony Haywood

    Allison: You offer a well-reasoned defense of one-word titles, and I don't completely disagree. But one thing I pointed out in my personal blog post that I didn't mention here was how easy it is for a book (and by extension, its author) to get lost in the shuffle when the book bears a one-word, often-used title. When readers do a Google search for one of my books, I want it to be damn near the only one to show up in the results, not one of a dozen or so. A book entitled "CROOK," for instance, is going to be in those search results somewhere, but where? Near the top or near the bottom? I'll take the top any day.

    That all of this is subjective should go without saying. Many readers don't give a rat's fanny about titles. The opinion I'm stating here is strictly my own, and it comes from the perspective of a reader who holds the people he reads to a pretty high standard. You want me to read you, you'd need to impress me with your inventiveness from the jump, and nothing about a one-word title that either makes a neon sign out of the plot or is as ordinary and everyday as a spoon is going to impress me. An extreme position to take, perhaps, but it's mine.

    David: I think you make a salient point when you say that an author's reputation can give a DAT gravitas that it wouldn't otherwise have. But that's something else I could have discussed here that I didn't — how a Lee Child or (to use your example) a Cormac McCarthy can pretty much get away with attaching any title he damn well pleases to his latest book because he's already an established commodity. Nobody who loves the work of either author is going to pass on their next release because the title sucks. But that's them. Me, I'm not a brand, so I feel compelled to use every tool in the box to sell my stuff to the uninitiated, including a memorable title.

    As for IRREVERSIBLE as a title, again, this doesn't meet my qualifications for a DAT because the word "irreversible" a) is not something you hear every day and b) could be describing ANYTHING. In fact, in and of itself, it poses the question: WHAT is irreversible? And to me, that's a good thing.

  20. Gar Anthony Haywood

    Alan: You are right on. THE SPIES is exactly the kind of DAT Hollywood might have given Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Look what they did to Chuck Hogan's novel PRINCE OF THIEVES: they renamed it THE TOWN. Makes you want to get up from the desk right now to go buy a ticket, doesn't it? THE TOWN??

    Kit: MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL is an awesome title. I was trying to keep my list of KATs here restricted to within genre, but if I were to broaden it, first up on my new list would be A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan. Doesn't matter what the book is about — that title is fantastic.

  21. CarlC

    Not that I ever need to see the title of a James Lee Burke novel to know that I want to read it, but it would be hard to point out any of them that don't bear a KAT. No need to list them all, but a great example is The Tin Roof Blowdown. 'Nuff said.

  22. Reine

    Cornelia's A FIELD OF DARKNESS is probably my all-time favorite title. And THE CRAZY SCHOOL – that one too. Just says so much. INVISIBLE BOY – another that grabbed me.

    Also love Allison's titles especially LOVE ME TO DEATH and KISS ME KILL ME. They are so uncomfortable they make you just have to find out what they're all about.

  23. PD Martin

    Great post.

    Titles can be tricky! But there's so much to what makes you pick a book off a shelf and look at it. I guess they're all important parts though – title, cover design, colours and the author's name if you're talking a best seller.

    Thanks for the post – and for making me paranoid about my titles 🙂

    Phillipa

  24. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Gar

    This is a very interesting post. What a shame none of your fellow 'Rati authors were deemed suitable as examples of good titles that you could DAT …?

  25. Reine

    Zoë, I think Brilliant author names should get extra points for remembering ability. You know . . . Like Zoë Sharp. That is just an absolutely hugely amazing author name. Sharp. Very sharp.

  26. Reine

    And, on further reflection, I realize that I didn't buy any of those books for their titles. I buy books because I look up mystery/crime fiction and read reviews, author pages, Murderati, Library blogs and such. If they sound interesting I buy them.

  27. KarinNH

    I rarely remember titles. And I started laughing after I read this because as soon as I started thinking about them, all I could come up with were one word titles: Beowulf (one of my all-time favorite books), Grendel (brilliantly titled), Siddhartha, Moby-Dick, Endurance, Inferno, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and so on.

    If a title is too long, I will often end up putting the book back on the shelf because experience has shown me that those authors are prone to over explaining everything! (I do give it a shot and read the book flap and the first page before rejecting them.) But the older I get, the less patience I have! Sheesh…readers!

  28. Zoë Sharp

    Thank you, Reine – now if only I could get people to stop putting an 'e' on the end of Sharp …

    Nice list, Karin – but on my copy MOBY DICK is two words ;-]

  29. Gar Haywood

    Karin: All the one-word titles you name are actually quite good because the word involved in each is relatively unusual — not found in everyday conversation like, say, "door." (DOOR IN THE FLOOR is a KAT; THE DOOR is a DAT.)

    Zoe: Here you go…

    BOULEVARD by Stephen Jay Schwartz – DAT: THE PERV

    WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE by J.T. Ellison – DAT: GRAVEYARD

    THE SILENT GIRL by Tess Gerritsen – DAT: DUMB

    ANGEL'S TIP by Alafair Burke – DAT: CLIPPED

    THE CRAZY SCHOOL by Cornelia Read – DAT: THE TEACHER

    DO THEY KNOW I'M RUNNING by David Corbett – DAT: THE ESCORT

    THE SPACE BETWEEN by Alexandra Sokoloff – DAT: DREAMER

    PRECIOUS BLOOD by Jonathan Hayes – DAT: THE ROOMMATE

    THE SOCORRO BLAST by Pari Noskin Taichert – DAT: KABOOM

    LIARS ANONYMOUS by Louise Ure – DAT: THE OPERATOR

    PLAYING DEAD by Allison Brennan – DAT: POSSUM

    and last but not least…

    ROAD KILL by Zoe Sharp – DAT: CRASH (because we've never seen that title before, right?)

    God, that was exhausting!

  30. KarinNH

    Zoe, the title is hyphenated on my copies–so I totally counted it as one word (which is probably cheating!)

    But one of the things I think is interesting is that what may be totally top of the list in importance for any one individual might not even make the list for others. For instance, blurbs. I don't even read them because I don't trust them at all. But for other readers, a blurb by an author they read might make someone new an automatic purchase.

    So, I guess the thing I am parsing out from this is if it matters to you, as the writer, then you are probably wise to focus on it. But maybe it doesn't matter so much if everyone does. Who knows? It is a wild world out there in publishing!

  31. Reine

    Geez, Zoë. I had to check my comment to be sure I spelled your name right. Glad to see it was all there and nothing weird like Sharpé. Zoë Sharpé? No. Too much.

    May I thank you again for getting those books out on e-format? Love Charlie Fox. Oh, and hugely easy to access and use the brilliant E-Sharp selection on your website. so convenient too, that your last name isn't Flat.

  32. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    This comment is very late, but I'll leave it anyway –
    Boulevard…is the street and the addiction as one. The boulevard cuts through Hayden's life, destroying everything. The boulevard is temptation.
    Beat…this title is even more appropriate. It represents the beat the cop walks in North Beach, it represents the tempo, the musical beat of the city and the prose of the novel, it represents San Francisco, which is the city of the Beat Generation writers (also referenced throughout the book), it also refers to what Hayden is throughout the story – beat, beaten, beat-up (he's pummeled right up to the very end), and, finally, it represents his addiction, as he tends to "beat off" to Internet porn.
    Before I came up with Beat I had one other title in mind – The House of Whispers – which is the secret name of the San Francisco Central Police Station. It was called that after the FBI wired it to find corruption in the 70s. I loved the title, but I thought it sounded like the title for a horror novel.
    I decided to change it and I asked my agent if he could think of a good title. He came up with "Streets of Fire." Right.
    I put my head into it and came up with Beat.
    Good blog, bud. I like what you have to say. It'll get me thinking more deeply in the future.

  33. Gar Haywood

    Stephen: This post is pretty much over and done with, but for what it's worth…

    I happen to think BEAT and BOULEVARD are pretty good titles, and your explanation for why you chose both sums up my reason for saying so, which is that both words offer plenty in the way of AMBIGUITY. Neither can immediately be interpreted only one way. But what really spares them a place in the DAT hall of shame is their relative uniqueness AS BOOK TITLES. Again, the Google test tells the tale: Do a search on both words and you aren't likely to find among the results any other crime novels using either as a single-word title.

    In a nutshell, coming at this discussion from the opposite angle, here's what I think a Kick-Ass Title should do that a DAT, in one way or another, doesn't:

    1 Suggest what kind of book you've written (thriller, mystery, cozy, romance, etc.)

    2. Grab the reader's attention.

    3. Make the reader WONDER what the title means in the context of your story.

    4. Demonstrate the emphasis you place on ORIGINALITY OF THOUGHT.

    (Damn, I wish I'd said all of that earlier. Oh, well…)

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