Yes, I’m Drunk, but Damn, You’re Ugly

by J.T. Ellison

Everyone stuffed and complacent today? Good. Let’s have some fun.

I. LOVE. TITLES.

There, I’ve said it. The confession everyone has been waiting with bated breath to hear.

I love looking past the words, wondering what people were thinking when they chose their title. I’ll admit a good title can entice me to buy a book, just as a bad title can influence me NOT to buy, read, or otherwise be predisposed to enjoy what’s within the covers. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, right?

That’s all well and good, but I do judge a book by its title. Someone, somewhere thought
this was the best possible title for this particular book, and I am fascinated by that decision. There are some titles that I look at and know immediately that the book is not for me. Some draw me in, make me wonder. Some have absolutely nothing to do with the book itself. Some are picked directly from a line in the novel. Some are in your face obvious, and others so delicate and subtle that I gasp in appreciation.

And I love coming up with titles. I can’t for the life of me write anything if it doesn’t have a title first.

In college I used to pick out quotations to open my papers, and I guess that’s led into this need for a fitting masthead. I’m a big fan of brainstorming, have lists of titles that I keep hidden a file that are probably terrible. I haven’t looked at them lately, because I’ve been (so far) fairly inspired in developing my work’s sobriquets.

Books and short story titles are two different beasts to me. Books have to have something weighty. What usually happens is I have a bolt of lightening, it catches my attention, and I write it down. I stare at it long and hard, trying to decide just how it will work. Does it mean what I want it to mean? How will it look on the page? How easy or difficult is it to understand at first glance? Is it literal or metaphorical? Does it trip off the tongue, or trip me up when I say it aloud? And, most importantly, has anyone else thought of it first? If I’m clear on all those points, I type it into Word and look at it in a ton of different fonts. If it still works for me, I allow myself to acknowledge that I have a story brewing that it will fit.

The first book’s title, ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, was one of those lightning bolts. Both literal and metaphorical, based in part on fairy tales and nursery rhymes, when I first came up with it, it gave me chills. Then came the frantic search through the Internet to see what other books held the title. When I saw that none did, and James Patterson hadn’t already snagged it for his Alex Cross series, I jumped. THIS was my title. I couldn’t bear to think of anything else. And luckily, my wonderful agent and editor agreed. Phew.

The second title, 14, is very literal. The third, JUDAS KISS, is purely metaphorical. Again, both accepted without a problem.

But short story and blog entries are where I have some fun. See the title of this blog post. That’s a line from a James McMurtry song. I find that I am incredibly inspired by the titles and lyrics of other artists, and commonly borrow their ideas for blog titles and short story titles. I have a lot of fun with the freedom this blog gives me, because I have to churn out a new title every week. And shorts are a great place to let my freak flag fly.

It happens all the time, too. I find myself driving along, listening to whatever I’m groovin’ on that day, and titles fairly leap out of the speakers and dance around my head. The title appears and the meat follows, and there I am, driving along… I know I’m supposed to keep a tape recorder or a pad of paper in the car to jot down these thoughts so I don’t lose them. What I do instead is call home and leave myself a message on the answering machine. Which makes for all kinds of fun if hubby gets home first.

I love that my fellow Murderati and crime fiction bloggers across the world spend time and effort to come up with catchy titles each and every day. I admit, I’m drawn to people’s topics based on the title of the piece. Look at Sarah Weinman — every Sunday she has a great new headline twist for her roundups. Declan Burke is a good at this too. Cornelia Read, The Lipstick Chroniclers, and Tasha Alexander are always good for a tempting title. To be honest, most of the crime fiction blogs do have exciting, relevant and catchy titles. I’m a sucker for them all.

Here’s a few of my obvious and not so obvious inspirations.

Blogs:

To Live and Die in Nashville (influence — Wang Chung — To Live and Die in L.A.)

Let’s Do It Like They Do On The Discovery Channel (influence — Bloodhound Gang song)

Money for Nothing and Your Books for Free (influence — Dire Straits song — and isn’t that the best band name ever?)

Changes in Latitude (influence — Jimmy Buffett)

Shorts:

Jacked-Up Charlie (Flashing in the Gutters — influence — an acquaintance with a coke problem)

Prodigal Me (Killer Year Anthology — influence — my thesaurus ; ))

If The Devil is Six (unpublished — influence — The Pixies)

Drive It Like It’s Stolen (Flashing in the Gutters — influence — Sterling Marlin, NASCAR)

Killing Carol Ann (Spinetingler — influence — Richard Stooksbury song)

Where’d You Get That Red Dress (Flashing in the Gutters — influence — James McMurtry song)

This chilly Black Friday, I give thanks for all the great titlists out there.

I’d love it if y’all chimed in with yours. What are your favorite titles, of yours or someone else’s?

Wine of the Week: 2006 Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils Beaujolais

We forsook the usual Beaujolais Nouveau in favor of this "remarkable" Beaujolais. Wonderfully paired with turkey this year, and it almost lived up to the praise from my wine store.

15 thoughts on “Yes, I’m Drunk, but Damn, You’re Ugly

  1. pari

    We’ve had some great ones here at the ‘Rati.

    I love coming up with the titles here. My favorites so far are:

    Repetitive virginityWhat to say to a loserCommas & sh*t

    I hope all y’all had a great holiday. I’m gearing up for the second dinner tomorrow. This time I’ll cook.

    Reply
  2. Louise Ure

    For great fun, check out Lulu’s “Title Scorer.” It give you the odds that the title you’ve selected will be a best seller.

    My first two books, Forcing Amaryllis and The Fault Tree only came in at about 50%. But I haven’t checked where something like The Sun Also Rises logs in.

    http://www.lulu.com/titlescorer/index.php

    (I had a little trouble getting the site to load this morning, so if at first you don’t succeed, go have a turkey sandwich and try, try again.)

    Reply
  3. Josephine Damian

    “I Heard the Owl Call My Name” by Margaret Craven is one of my favorite book titles.

    I live in a rural area and every evening I step outside and listen to the owls calling out to each other – and sometimes I pretend they’re calling my name.

    Reply
  4. Josephine Damian

    “I Heard the Owl Call My Name” by Margaret Craven is one of my favorite book titles.

    I live in a rural area and every evening I step outside and listen to the owls calling out to each other – and sometimes I pretend they’re calling my name.

    Reply
  5. Josephine Damian

    “I Heard the Owl Call My Name” by Margaret Craven is one of my favorite book titles.

    I live in a rural area and every evening I step outside and listen to the owls calling out to each other – and sometimes I pretend they’re calling my name.

    Reply
  6. a Paperback Writer

    Back in the 70s, my mother was into some of those self-help books for a while. I still remember the title of one of them:If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.I never read the book, but it’s a great title.A children’s book with a superb title is:Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth.I picked that one up just because of the title.I love “stolen” book titles, too — ones that come from quotes. I originally picked up my first Ian Rankin book, A Good Hanging, because the title came from Shakespeare (“many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage”). I did a whole blog post on this once, so I won’t go on and on here.But I do agree that a catchy title, like a great cover, can attract readers to a book.

    Reply
  7. JT Ellison

    Excellent entries, folks! Sorry I’ve been so quiet, I’ve been off doing the massive reorganization of my house today, which should have been titled I Know What You Didn’t Do Last Summer…

    And waiting on relatives.

    Hope everyone had a lovely Black Friday. Such a sweet name.

    Reply
  8. d.a.davenport

    A Confederacy Of Dunces, Forty Words For Sorrow, Sleepyhead, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, The Skull Mantra, Geek Love.

    Reply
  9. Fran

    Titles matter. And it’s that whole book-by-its-cover thing, but they do. There’s an urban fantasy series by Carrie Vaughn, and honestly, based on the titles I’d’ve never read them. I think the titles are fluffy and silly and vapid.

    The books are anything BUT that. They’re dark and noirish and justice is frequently not served, and people have to live with the consequences. But if you read the titles, you’re going to be decieved into thinking they’re, well, fluffy and vapid.

    Cover art and titles matter, and I’m so thrilled that folks here understand that. Thank you!

    Reply
  10. Bill Cameron

    I love great titles too, but they are definitely my Achilles heel. I think I’ve come up with some good ones here and there, but always after a struggle and, honestly, only with lotsa help from friends.

    Some great titles mentioned here. I agree with Patty about Garcia Marquez titles. So evocative, they’re almost poems in and of themselves.

    Reply

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