Thursday, February 22, 2018

Just Add Elvis.

"How do you come up with titles? Do they change during the writing process?'

By Catriona.

Like Cathy yesterday, I'm sticking to titles because the process of naming characters is so different from the process of naming books. A character name comes while I'm writing, like the fourth name of the cat, from profound meditation and rapt contemplation. (see T.S.  Eliot's "The naming of cats" here).

The name of a book, in contrast, comes once the book's written. And it comes in various ways.

A: from a message exchange between me and Terri Bischoff (Midnight Ink) that goes like this:

C: Hang My Hat okay?
Terri: Sales don't love it. What else you got?
C: Lexy, Last Ditch, Last Ditch for Lexy, Caledonia Dreamin', Lexy and The Last Ditch.
Terri: Nah.
C: I dunno. A pun?
Terri: Likes of plaid, tartan? Are you serious about the Jimmy Wig? Even with no hat in the title?  I like the woman floating in the pool.
C: I do love a drunk woman in a duct-taped inflatable. Oh! Oh! Oh! Loch Ness Monster inflatable!
T: LMAO. What's the title.
C: Oh yeah. Scot Free? Forget I said that.
T: YES!
C: No way. I was just thinking aloud.
T: I love it.
C: Oh God.


B. A short text exchange between me and Krystyna Green (Little,Brown) that goes like this:

K: House.Tree.Person is the worst title I've ever heard. It's just three random words. Can you give me something better in twenty minutes?
C: Ha!
C: (twenty minutes later) Angels Unaware, The Dance of Angels, The Weight of Angels.
K: Weight of Angels! Ta.

Coda:
C: (emails Terri Bischoff): London is calling HTP The Weight of Angels. Waddaya think?
T: Won't work in the US market. Buyers will think it's real angels.
C: Real angels?
T: Inspirational Christian fiction.
C: Oh, jeez. It's really not.
T: House.Tree.Person is a great title.




C: Phone call with Francine Toon (Hodder & Stoughton)

F: Dandy word, crimey word, plotty word.
C: Dandy word, crimey word, plotty word.
F: Dandy Gilver and a Dandy word . . .
C: And a crimey word . . .
F: Dandy Gilver and  . . . unseemly, appalling, dreadful, distressing.
C: fearful, frightful, rather.
F: corpse, death, body, murder, crime, clue. And a plotty word.
C: Nun, convent, orphan, habit.
F: Ooooh, habit!
C: Dandy Gilver and The Rather Unseemy Habit?
F: But church people with bad habits? And an orphanage?
C: OMG. No way. That's dreadful. So not unseemly, or distressing, appalling and all that if it's habit.
F: Mysterious.
C: Misleading.
F: DANDY GILVER AND A MOST MISLEADING HABIT!



(Note: this book has been called The Nuns in every email since that day. )

The only one I still pine for was my working title on a book that ended up being called Growing Up Again. It was a time-travel caper - think Forrest Gump joins Friends Reunited on Groundhog Day - and I called it SAVE ELVIS. which is job one for a time traveller. Well, the publisher wasn't having it. I tried. I even handed out questionnaires to the core demographic readership asking which title they preferred. (They preferred Save Elvis.) But the publisher thought Elvis was a forgotten and,  even if remembered, then a sad, old, dead man. No good for a caper.

When Growing Up Again was published there had just been a self-help book out called Growing Up Again: parenting our children, parenting ourselves. Deeply caper-free. And at the launch event, the bookshop staff - in all innocence - set me up in front of a display for a new Elvis biography. Oy. God bless my mum for her sense of humour too. She always bakes a book cake. Here's the cake for Growing Up Again:


I'm still glad it happened, though, because no title change since then has had the power to hurt me. Whether it's a skoosh like the upcoming Go To My Grave. which was my working title and is a go in the UK and US, or a struggle like Lexy Campbell Bk 2 (watch this space) it rolls off me like split mayo.





Scot Free: 8th April (US only) Midnight Ink
Go To My Grave: 23rd October Minotaur (US) Little,Brown (UK)
The new Dandy? We're still having Dandy word, crimey word, plotty word phone calls.


8 comments:

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks for that, Catriona. I love the email exchanges.

Lori Rader-Day said...

Love it. What is split mayo, though?

Catriona McPherson said...

Show off. Your mayo never splits? De-emulsified - aka curdled - mayonnaise.

kellye said...

First, your covers are all gorgeous. Thanks for sharing this because I don't think I ever thought about titles much before I had to deal with mine. I had three for my debut. My agent hated my first one. So we changed it. Then Midnight Ink changed it to Hollywood Homicide solely b/c of the cover image they chose.

They initially wanted to go with alliteration for the series titles but I couldn't think of any that I loved. I did LOVE calling the second book Hollywood Ending though just b/c of the play on words. So I sent it to Terri like "Hey, I know this isn't alliteration..."

Of course, now I have to think of a title for book three that fits.

RM Greenaway said...

Such a laugh, this post. And Save Elvis is a great caper title for sure. Elvis, forgotten??

Diane Vallere said...

Elvis being forgotten is the saddest perception that has crossed my desk in weeks.

Love the blog and the email exchanges!

Cynthia Kuhn said...

Love this post so much, Catriona!! Very inspirational.

(And every single title is fab.)

Paul D. Marks said...

Love your conversations with the editors, Catriona. Cracks me up!