Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Tale of Two Titles

By Paul

"Trial & Error," the fourth of the Solomon & Lord books, is just out, but I'm having trouble getting used to the title.

It wasn't my first choice.

Let me explain.

I've never before struggled with a title. Nearly 20 years ago, I was researching the work of medical examiners when I stumbled across the credo: "To protect the living, to speak for the dead." The second half of that phrase became the title of my first novel. More recently, "The Deep Blue Alibi" served a dual purpose. A key plot point involved an underwater murder. The title was also my way of paying tribute to John D. MacDonald's "The Deep Blue Good-Bye," the first of the Travis McGee novels. "Kill All the Lawyers" is a portion of the often misused quotation from Shakespeare's "Henry VI." It seemed right for a book about a villainous client's attempt to kill his lawyer.

Which brings us to "Trial & Error."

The book opens with the kidnapping of two highly trained and talkative dolphins at Miami's Cetacean Park. Are animal rights activists behind the heist or is something more sinister going on? The dolphins are at the heart of the mystery and a murder trial.

So I wanted to title the book -- get ready for this -- "Habeas Porpoise."

The powers-that-be determined that the title sounded frivolous. Well, I wasn't exactly hatching "War and Peace." I write dramedies about a lawyer who makes up his own laws and the woman he loves but drives crazy with his courtroom antics.

Example. In the first book of the series, Steve Solomon called a toucan to testify. Victoria Lord objected, and the bird crapped on the sleeve of her Armani suit. So, let me repeat, there are no Bezukhovs or Bolkonskys in my books. Tolstoy, I ain't. Nor would I want to be, if only because he's been dead for nearly 100 years.

The only other thing I'll say about "Trial & Error" is that Victoria ends up prosecuting a murder trial that Steve defends. Hijinks ensue.


"Trial & Error" is written in tribute to a woman with a piercing wit and sharp sense of humor. My friend, Margo Flanigan, of Fort Lauderdale, fought a brave battle against breast cancer, and died far too young. She leaves behind a terrific husband and father, Paul Flanigan, and three wonderful children, James, Paul B., and Madden. She also leaves a long trail of joyful memories and spirited laughter.

Paul and his family are supporters of the Children's Art Project of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center...and I am, too.


I'm turning the rest of today's blog over to a first grader. (No, not Jim Born). I'm talking about my pal Joey Paterno. Here he is with his favorite football player, former Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson, now with the San Francisco 49'ers.

I recently helped Joey with a class project, and in return, he sent me some photos with captions.

"Here are some pictures from where I live. This is Beaver Stadium. It is very loud. The players who play here actually go to school and graduate."

"This is Old Main. My Mom used to work here."

"Here is downtown State College. I eat there and go to the Arts Festival."

Thanks, Joey. I'll take over from here. Football fans probably picked up on the last name. Joey's grandfather is legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno, seen here emerging from a heavenly cloud.

And Joey's father is Penn State quarterback coach Jay Paterno.

In my book, however, it's Kelley Paterno, Joey's mother, who gets credit for the lad's precociousness.

As long as we're talking college football, I note that it's only 95 days until Penn State plays Notre Dame. Yes, of course I'll be there.



  1. Having grown up near State College, I see you chose a lovely photo of the town on a typical summer's day.

  2. David,
    That's nearly the truth. I remember several "Spring" football games with snow flurries. However, on my last trip to Happy Valley, I sat on the plane next to a professor of atmospheric physics who said that within our lifetimes, the climate of central PA would be similar to that of North Alabama now.

    I think I prefer the snow.

    As for live shots today on campus, the "Lion cam" is at http://php.scripts.psu.edu/dept/ur/cam.php

  3. I thought "Trial & Error" was fine (title; the book was great). "Trial & Errors" might have been better.

    "Habeus Porpoise" might have worked just fine. You know, it's a fine kettle of fish the trouble you get into with these titles, isn't it? A good title can be a real fluke. Some writers can't carry a tuna or come up with titles. Salmonchanted Evening. Don't blow a seal (I don't want to know about your sex life). Sleep with the fishes...

  4. There is usually nothing that will make me avoid a book more than a cute pun in the title, although I think that Trial & Error is awfully weak.

    On the other hand, my wife once threatened to write a book to be called The Origin of Feces, concerning American idiocies like Intelligent Design and the cult of celebrity assholes. I thought that was a pretty catchy title.

  5. James,
    I'm the last person you'll hear defend this title. Here are some of my MANY working titles:

    "The Mermaid's Wineglass" It's an underwater plant, but the effect seems a bit faux literary.

    "Solomon's Rib," which would be a fine name for a kosher barbecue restaurant.

    "In for a Fin." (Yeah, I know, James. You hate puns, so you probably don't like "Solomon's Minds" either.

    "See Solomon Run"

    "And Justice For None"

    "Legally Dead"

    Finally, "The Second Best Defense"

  6. We often joke about the Joe Paterno - Bobby Bowden silent rivalry to see who will die with the most wins.

    One thing Joe has won is the race to have children who contribute to football.

    I love Habeas Porpoise. Brilliant.

    Jim B

  7. Yeah, titles are tricky all right, but I like Trial & Error. The real hook (yuk yuk) is Paul's name on the cover.

    Cute picture of Joey. What was the project you did together?

  8. Patty,
    The project calls for each first grader to send a drawing of himself or herself to someone out of town who then writes a note back with photos and descriptions of the area. (I didn't have any pictures of coyotes). Then the student reciprocates with descriptions of his or her hometown.

  9. I really should find something else to occupy my time today. Here are some classic film titles you might have considered:

    Marlin Rouge
    Jurassic Carp
    The Blair Fish Project
    Pulp Fishin’
    Silence of the Lemmings
    The Codfather

    Courtesy of:


  10. Back to work! I promise!

    Porpoises in Florida were observed to "age" at a much greater rate than porpoises in Carolina. Biologists noticed that gulls seemed to be associated with the porpoises in Carolina, so they captured a few to send to Florida. These scientists were arrested for transporting gulls across a border for immortal porpoises. Readers' Digest

  11. Mark,
    I like The Codfather much better than the Readers Digest joke.

  12. I can think of a few jokes about "immoral porpoises" actually, but won't go into that.

  13. I prefer HABEAS PORPOISE to TRIAL & ERROR, but I ordered the book yesterday because it was Solomon vs. Lord.

    Once readers get to know Steve and Victoria, the titles will matter less, which is not to say I advocate titles as flat as Robert B. Parker's latest Spensers:


    Speaking of "advocate," was one of your working titles THE DOLPHIN'S ADVOCATE?