Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Good Title Is Hard to Find

Titles are tricky things. I'm thinking about titles constantly lately because we are starting the next Louis book this week and we don't have a title. I think it was Laura Lippman who said some authors have "the title gene" and some don't. Authors fret about titles alot, because they know a bad one can doom a book. Well, unless you are in the rarified air of Patterson, Nora Roberts et al, where you could slap "RECYCLED PAPER" on the cover and it would still go directly to the bestseller list.

My sister Kelly and I work hard at finding evocative titles. We feel we get the key to unlock the book once that title is fixed. We start out with a really lame "working title" and as we get into the book, the title somehow emerges. Here's some history:

1. Dark of the Moon. Our first book was first called The Last Rose of Summer. Too romancy. I stumbled on a poem called "Silhouette" in a Langston Hughes anthology I had leftover from college. There it was in one line: "They just hung a black man in the dark of the moon."

2. Dead of Winter. This title came about halfway through the book. The book takes place in winter. People are dying. No brainer...

3. Paint It Black. There is no direct reference to the Stones song in the book. But the title emerged easily as the story unfolded. Although the lyrics to that great Stones's song really do echo the unlit corners of a serial killer's mind.

4. Thicker Than Water. This was our one misstep, in my opinion. The story is about what a family member will do for another, but the title stinks. Should have called it "The Cruelest Month" after the T.S. Eliot line.

5. Island of Bones. This story was inspired by my favorite J. Geils song, "Monkey Island." Great creepy lyrics about this abandoned house on a weird island from which they were "rowing the bodies back to shore." I called up Kelly and played her the song and said, "okay, what the hell happened on that island." 400 pages later, we had a book. The title came when we were sitting at a book signing in Fort Myers and the hordes were not exactly storming our card table. So we started tossing out words to go with island. Bones was perfect.

6. A Killing Rain. This book was untitled for a loooong time. We called it The Boar Book. Then I remembered hearing a newscaster interview a Florida farmer who talked about "killing frost." I fudged it and changed it to a killing rain. So we didn't steal it from Barry Eisler!

7. An Unquiet Grave. Whew. This one was a killer. We didn't have a title until we were almost done. We tossed out every permeation of "dark" and "stairs" and "madness" but nothing clicked. We were this close to calling it "A Cold Dark Place." Finally, I went to The Author's Friend, Bartleby.com where you can type in keywords and reams of quotes and poems come up. Sure enough, up popped an Arthur Quiller-Couch poem with these great lines:

The wind both blow today, my love,
And a few small drop of rain;
I never had but one true-love;
In cold grave she was lain.

I’ll do as much for my true-love
As any young man may;
I’ll sit and mourn all at her grave
For a twelvemonth and a day.

The twelvemonth and a day being up,
The dead began to speak:
Oh who sits weeping on my grave,
and will not let me sleep?

The poem is called An Unquiet Grave. I hope Arthur doesn't mind.

That brings us to the new project, Louis Kincaid No. 8, as it is known right now. Actually we are calling it The Panther Book. No title yet, but I promise it will not have "cat" in it. And if you have any good titles hanging around that you're not using, send them along.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Bob Morris said...

Sorry, I don't have any panther-related title suggestions, but thanks for the backstory on your titles.

All I know is this: I can't write the first word of the first chapter until I have the title. Then it falls in place from there. That's how it worked with BAHAMARAMA and JAMAICA ME DEAD. I've got the title for the third one -- BERMUDA SCHWARTZ. Now all I have to do is come up with the 80,000 words that go with it.

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