Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Titles, Titles Everywhere...

Paul's weekly mishegoss...

Seems like all the Naked Authors have been crushed on deadline the last couple weeks. I just sent off the manuscript of my fourth "Solomon vs. Lord" novel, entitled "_____________."

No, it's not a secret. It's just not yet titled. Hmmm. If you go onto the Random House website, you'll find "The Lawyer Who Couldn't Lie," due out next June. Same thing on the Amazon site, and several other on-line booksellers.

But if you look at the manuscript, the title is "Solomon's Rib."

The story involves an animal liberation raid (dolphins) that goes bad, resulting in a death. Steve Solomon defends a murder trial...and through a legal quirk, his lover Victoria Lord is the prosecutor. Yep, an homage to "Adam's Rib," the battle-of-the-sexes Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn picture from 1949. And who says I'm behind the times?

So what's the title to be? How about some help? Some titles that have been in and out of the hopper include "Shark Bait," "Court Date," "The Shark and the Mermaid," "Love Kills," "Nice Lawyers Finish Last," "And Justice for None," "Flirting with Contempt," "A Kiss Before Closing," "The Second Best Defense," "Solomon's Song," and "The Advocate's Devil."

Ordinarily, the writer chooses a title that is approved by the editor without much fuss. (That's my history, anyway. Fellow Naked Authors may have something to say here). If there's a problem, you're asked to come up with some alternatives. This is my 12th novel, and we've never come this close to publication (June 2007) without a title carved in stone.

I'll keep you posted and I'm open to suggestions, criticisms, and witticisms.


At a writers' conference last weekend, I was asked how to keep series' characters fresh.

GREAT question.

You'd think I'd have a ready answer. I've written seven books in the "Jake Lassiter" series and now four in the "Solomon vs. Lord" series. I struggled with the answer and came up with this.

Your characters must grow. Just as in real life, events must make a lasting impact. If your protagonist is wounded by a gunshot or dumped by a lover or loses a parent, that should carry forward to the next book.

This contrasts with the typical television series, particularly crime procedurals. Prosecutor Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) hasn't changed anything, including his hairstyle in the 179 years he's been playing hardball with criminals. (He also hasn't smiled). I guess there's something reassuring for the viewer, dozing in front of the TV, when characters say and do the same things week after week.

But isn't it more fun and challenging for the writer and the reader if the characters evolve over time? A great example is "White Sister," Stephen J. Cannell's fifth Shane Scully novel. The relationship between homicide detective Scully, his wife (fellow cop) Alexa, and their adopted son Chooch continues to grow, sometimes in dangerous directions.

(The Shane Scully series mixes authentic police lingo (think Joseph Wambaugh) with violent action (think Lee Child) and an unusual amount of introspection (think Michael Connelly).

I can't tell you what happens to one of the Scully family about 1/4 of the way into "White Sister" without spoiling the jolting impact. But...I usually see things coming, and I was so shocked, I stopped and re-read the chapter. It propelled me through the rest of the book, and it will forever change the series. Sorry for the vagueness, but I hate it when reviewers (or book jackets) give away too much.


I'll be at the Miami International Book Fair (Nov. 18-19) for both "Kill All the Lawyers" and "Miami Noir." More later.

By Paul


  1. Paul,
    You're in good company when it comes to thinking of titles. I have a hard time too, even with paintings, but some of the most historically memorable fiction went through some of the longest and wackiest title changes and the subject makes fascinating reading. :-D
    As for suggestions: well, I started out with the colourless 'Love and Justice' and then got goofy.
    Fishstyx Law
    A Porpoise Justified
    Pretty Fishstyx
    Lipstick Loopholes
    Lipstick Law
    Lipstick Justice
    If I think of anymore that are actually credible, I'll let you know. Meanwhile, good luck. :-D

  2. What a barrel to be over. Good luck.

    "We Murder to Dissect"?
    "The One with No Name"?

    Tom, T.O.

  3. Paul, I vote for Flirting With Contempt. Having read your other books in the series, it seems a perfect complement to the characters. And I love the legal implications!

  4. I kind of like "Flirting with Contempt," too, now that I've heard it. I was thinking, "Just Another Criminal Lawyer," which may not have anything to do with your book, but I kind of like it. Or maybe: "Courting Contempt."

    Thanks for the comments about keeping a character fresh. As I'm about to begin the 4th Derek Stillwater novel (what? The first one just came out!), I'm trying to get a grip on what's going on in the man's life, so your comments were worthwhile. So thanks.

    And gee, I like Cannell's cover art. Nice, um, art.

    Mark Terry

  5. I like 'Flirting With Contempt' too. Mind you, I liked 'Solomon's Rib' as well, even if it didn't fly. Then again, there's always 'Flouting Contempt'.
    No? Sorry, I'll just sneak back under my rock... :-D

  6. You guys are all good at this.

    Here's one more from a TV writer pal who spent years doing hard-boiled dialogue on "Law & Order" but is a sly wiseguy. (Remember, the book opens with animal rights extremists setting free trained dolphins.)

    "Habeas Porpoise."

  7. Hmmm, I like Habeus Porpoise.

    In Like Fin?

  8. Habeus Prrpoise is clearly *the* tile that needs to be there, but equally clearly is not the title that *will* be there.





  9. Good titles are soooo difficult. I still think Habeas Porpoise is hilarious, but your publisher will never go for it.

  10. If they won't go for Habeas Porpoise, you could always use HABEUS CORPSE.