Monday, May 18, 2009

Hell Bent on Titles

Patricia Smiley here...

On Sunday, I came upon a list of memoirs recommended by Christopher Buckley (William F.’s progeny), all of which sounded worth reading. His choices included:

Home Before Night by Hugh Leonard, an Angela’s Ashes type memoir about the author's childhood near Dublin, Ireland

Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph
by T.E. Lawrence AKA Lawrence of Arabia

Goodbye to All That
by Robert Graves, about his experiences during World War I. (This book is tailor-made for Our J)

Miles Gone By by William F. Buckley

I kept the article because I’d like to read all of those books someday, but also because the titles make a promise to the reader. Some people have a gift for creating compelling titles that flow like poetry. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

Currently, I’m writing a novel featuring LAPD homicide detectives. Without a working title, I feel rudderless, but working with a bad title is almost as ruinous as no title at all. My working title isn’t optimal because an acquaintance published a book with that same name within the past couple of years. So the search continues for one that stands out in a crowd.

I’ve noticed some authors borrow from familiar clichés like hell bent, raw deal, or down and out (in Beverly Hills). Others use this trusty formula: The (something's) Apprentice or The (something else's) Daughter.

Places appear frequently in titles: Mystic River, Gorky Park, Angels Flight. The word "dragon" seems popular these days (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Some authors mix and match. Here’s one example, a book called The Dragon’s Apprentice. Sounds colorful.

I’m currently reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. The title suits the book admirably. These titles work for me, too: A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George; And the Sea Will Tell by Vincent Bugliosi; A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean; Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison; The Blue Religion, an anthology of police short stories edited by Michael Connelly.

Finding the perfect title is a balancing act.

So, what do you think about The Detective’s Apprentice? (just joking) The race for a title is still on.

What are some of your favorite titles?

Happy Monday!


  1. A SHORT HISTORY OF A SMALL PLACE by T.R. Pearson. A wonderful book by a most enjoyable writer.

  2. Oh, Debbie, I like that title and as a bonus I haven't read the book. Thanks for the recommendation. How about this: A Short Detective in a Big Place.

  3. Patty,
    I almost always agree with you about everything but I think "A Traitor to Memory" is a weak title.

    As for favorites, hands down, "I, the Jury," by Mickey Spillane.

    Sometimes, a title that tells all works for me: "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All" by Allan Gurganus comes to mind.

    Sometimes, simplicity nails it, as in "It," by Stephen King.

  4. Paulie, you're in dangerous territory "almost always" agreeing with me, because I'm wrong so much of the time (ha ha). I'm glad you drew a line in the printer's ink on Traitor to Memory, I'm not sure why it's a weak title.

  5. The Hell Bent Apprentice Detective's Daughter.....

    The Legend of Gorky Park's Dragon Lady's Raw Deal.....

    Down and out in Malibu [How I went from the 48 Hours, the movie, to 48 hours in lockup---the story of Nick Nolte]........


  6. One of my favorite titles is KISSING GAMES OF THE WORLD by my friend Sandi Kahn Shelton. It's perfect for the book, which is wonderful and I highly recommend it.

  7. Jon, thanks for making me laugh on a Monday morning. You rock!

  8. Intriguing title, Karen. Makes me wonder what the book is about. I'd definitely slide that one off the shelf.

  9. from Jacqueline

    I read Goodbye To All That when I was about twenty, and loved the book (as far as you can love a book about war).

    Here's a handful of "off the top of my head favorites":

    The Bells Of Hell Go Ting-A-Ling
    Vile Bodies
    The Irregulars

    and if I go on, I won't stop.

    I collect titles as I go along - someone will say something, or I will think of a series of words that hang together in a certain way, and I'll think, "That's a book!" So I tuck it away until I can use it - one day. That's what happened with An Incomplete Revenge - had the title before I had the book.

    Play with those words, Patty, hang them together in different ways, make little verses out of them, and see what you come up with. I think quotations are a good way to be inspired too. For Among The Mad I looked up quotations on madness, and came up with a quote from Lewis Carroll that inspired the title.

  10. hey Go-Lo, if your detective is Snoop Dog you could call it "The Shizzle on the Snizzle"

    actually one of my favourite titles is "Just So Stories"

    .....another title, a book I picked up while in Daytona Beach for spring fling,though I must admit I thought the book would be about nightlife: Where The Wild Things Are........who knew, it's a children's story !

  11. Our J, I have a better idea. Why don't you just come up with a title for me?

    Jon, The Shizzle on the Snizzle? Nice aliteration but methinks you're making up words again.

  12. Watership Down!


  13. Mims! hahahahahahha! What a hoot.

  14. NOONE WAVED GOODBYE is one of my favorite titles and some of erma bombecks, like THE GRAS IS ALWAYS GREENER OVER THE SEPTIC TANK.

    i like all of jackies titles, and THE DEVILS ALTERNATIVE and i love WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, book and title. whoopie goldbergs autobiography called BOOK is another one on my list.

    there are so many and i could think of a few german ones as well.........


  15. Off topic...I just took a third look at your first picture. I finally noticed the cat in the picture! Definitely time for the school year to end if I'm this oblivious to details.

  16. Sybille, great contributions. Our J's book titles are always wonderful, which is why she should think of a title for my next tome.

    Gayle, the cat must be Photoshopped but it's so hilarious next to the meercats. I chortled when I saw it.

  17. If I told you my favorite title, you would all be scanning the shelves...and it isn't there yet. So I guess I'd just better hold on to it a little longer. :)

    BAD titles are so much easier to come up with....

  18. We want bad titles, too, Jeff. Bring em on! I know the title of your book will be sensational.

  19. from Jacqueline

    Seriously, Patty, I love thinking up book titles, so if you want to tell me some more about the new book (offline, to protect your big surprise), I'll do a bit of brainstorming with you.

  20. OOOOOOHHHH, be careful what you wish for, my dear friend.

  21. yay, jackies' new dayjob: brainstorming for pattys' new book.

    and don't worry about us, you two. you can do this online - there are just a handful of us here and we won't tell.............


  22. James O. Born5/19/2009 6:30 AM

    Shadow of the Wind

    Black Echo

    One Second After

    Just like their tone


  23. Right on, Sybille. Let's let Our J show the world and our little community that she can multi-task!

    Thanks Jim. You've given me a couple of ideas.

    The One Second Detective
    Echos in the Wind
    The Shadow Detective

    This is fun.