Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Then We Came to the End

by Chris F. Holm

Before I tackle this week's question, I have an announcement: this will be my last post on Criminal Minds as a regular blogger. I've had a wonderful time hanging out with y'all this past year and change (and yes, my fellow 'Minders are every bit as charming as they at first blush appear), but between the day job and my writing workload, it's getting tougher and tougher to find the time. That said, I hope to pop back on occasion if they'll have me, and no doubt you'll find me lurking in the comments section as well.

In the meantime, if you'd like to stay abreast of all things me, swing by my website. There, you'll find my schedule of appearances (current plans include Boothbay in July, Nashville in August, Albany in September, and Muskego in November), news, and my occasional bloggy ramblings.

Oh! And I also have a book out July 30. It's the third in my Collector series, THE BIG REAP.
If you dug my first two, kindly check it out. Early buzz has been pretty darn good. If you haven't read them, well, I hear they're mighty affordable right now, particularly for those of you with ereaders...

But enough blatant self-promotion. I have a ceremonial Last Criminal Minds Question to address, and it's on a topic near to my heart: titles.

I have strong feelings about titles, as a reader and a writer. Usually, a piece of writing doesn't click for me until it's titled. Reason being, the title suggests to me the through-line, the character, the flavor of the piece.

Take the title of this post. After all, I did. It's stolen from the Joshua Ferris novel of the same name, because I felt it had a nice resonance, given that this post about titles is also my last official post here. It's also a brilliant title for Ferris' novel, a workplace satire about an ad agency experiencing a downturn that's told in first-person plural. Read back that description. Now reread the title. It's amazing how much of his premise is captured in six simple words.

I try to do the same in my own writing. My series is a supernatural riff on classic detective fiction featuring an undead protagonist who collects the souls of the damned at hell's behest. Hence DEAD HARVEST, which plays off of Dashiell Hammett's classic hardboiled novel RED HARVEST, and THE BIG REAP, which of course references Chandler's THE BIG SLEEP. (The second in the series, THE WRONG GOODBYE, borrows from Chandler as well, and while my alteration of his title doesn't play up the supernatural aspects as well as my other two, I think it does successfully get across a bit of what the plot's about.)

Sometimes, for me, the title does more than just reflect the story, it influences how the story's told. I once wrote a short called "Green" in which I explored every meaning of the word I could think of: jealousy, inexperience, money, weed, nausea. The word itself is hardly poetry, but for one syllable, it sure does a lot of work.

Given that I'm drawn to titles that give you a glimpse of what's in store, it shouldn't surprise you to find out what sort of titles I hate. But first, let me preface such hatred by saying that a) I'm in no way impugning the works themselves, and b) this is just one picky person's peculiar preference, so if you're someone who's actually used this form in your own work, please don't take offense. That said...

I hate hate hate titles that consist of nothing more than the main character's name. Whether CARRIE or JANE EYRE, they tell you next to nothing. I mean, seriously, would you buy my books if they were called SAM THORNTON 1-3?

Exceptions, of course, abound: biographies, for one (Lincoln, Ali.) Universally known characters, for another (Sherlock, Hannibal.) And it's worth noting that many historical examples have been shortened from their original titles. DAVID COPPERFIELD sounds like a boring read, but its original title, THE PERSONAL HISTORY, ADVENTURES, EXPERIENCE AND OBSERVATION OF DAVID COPPERFIELD THE YOUNGER OF BLUNDERSTONE ROOKERY (WHICH HE NEVER MEANT TO PUBLISH ON ANY ACCOUNT), is as funny and evocative as it is longwinded.

Speaking of longwinded, I suspect I've gotten so because I don't want my time here to end. But all good things must, I suppose. Thanks for reading. And thanks to my fellow 'Minders for the memories.

13 comments:

Meredith Cole said...

We will miss you, Chris! So please do come back and visit often...

Rebecca Cantrell said...

It's tough, leaving the 7crims! I wish you all the best on your writing career, day job, and also finding books that are not named after the character. Seems like success on all three fronts is in your reach!

Hope to see you around!

Chris said...

Thanks, Meredith and Rebecca!

Robin Spano said...

Your titles really do rock. Sad to see you go when I just got here. Hey wait--do I smell? Good luck out there.

Robin Spano said...

And very good point about a story not gelling until it has a title. It's like an emotion without a word for it--lacks clarity somehow.

Chris said...

Yes! That exactly! (The emotion without a word for it bit, not the smelling.) And thanks!

Catriona McPherson said...

Leaving us wanting much much more there, Chris. Sniff.

Chris said...

Kind of you to say, Catriona! It's been a lot of fun. But fear not -- I'll pop by as often as you'll have me...

Alan Orloff said...

Don't be a stranger, now. At least not any stranger than usual.

Reece said...

It's been great fun, Chris! Knock 'em dead (so to speak) with the new book, and don't be a stranger.

Anthony Schiavino said...

Sad to see you go Chris. Like some of the other said I like the titles you chose and they do fit the books (along with the covers) which isn't an easy feat. (I'm a former book cover designer.)

That chapter is still in the works but here's the logline and title of what I'm playing with now.

----
During the early days of the Cold War, a man battling combat fatigue is haunted by a past of murder and romance he doesn’t remember.

SHOTGLASS MEMORIES
A Novel

Chris said...

Thanks, all! And Anthony, I think the title's catchy!

Anthony Schiavino said...

Thanks Chris. Going with it for now.