Saturday, June 25, 2016

Stumbling Into a Title

I have a bad relationship with titles.

Of the nine books I’ve written since 2013, exactly two titles came during the writing of the novel itself. THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES, Gordon Gardner’s first book, was one. The other is my first western novel, ALWAYS BET ON RED, which I completed this past spring. Interestingly, I already have a nearly certain title for the sequel: DEAD MEN CAN’T CHEAT. For the rest of my stories, I’m title-less.

Which can be a bit of a problem. How can I include future books in my “Also by” list if I don’t have a title? Short answer: I can’t.

Right now, I’m readying two books for publication later this year. One is the second Gordon Gardner book, a direct sequel to THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES. The other book is the first to feature Lillian Saxton in the lead role. She’s the character who hired private investigator Benjamin Wade in WADING INTO WAR. I liked her so much that I created a whole series for her, and this first book is my favorite that I’ve written so far.

But what the heck to call it? If you check the excerpt I have on my website, you’ll see that I refer to it as “Lillian Saxton #1.” I even got a little mock-up cover.

I have the editor’s changes back and they are mostly integrated. The book is nearing its readiness for the world. And believe me: this is the book I want everyone to read. It’s got a little of everything: old flames, action, suspense, espionage, discussions of treason, and my favorite car chase sequence. It’s wonderful.

If I only knew what to title it. Well, this week, I believe I have stumbled into the title.

One of the themes is treason and loyalty. For the longest time, “treason” was a word I kept using in my potential title list. I didn’t mind it so much, but my very first novel is titled TREASON AT HANFORD and I didn’t want two books to compete. I made a list of synonyms of treason: betrayal; treachery; deception; seduction; forsaken; exploit and more. My antonym list was much shorter: trust, faith, and valor. Right now, you can put together a title using just those words and you’d have a perfectly acceptable thriller title. But not a truly unique one.

I was getting frustrated until I started thinking of other aspects of the book. My draft book description reads thusly:

Sergeant Lillian Saxton receives a cryptic message from an old flame: meet me in Belgium and I’ll not only give you the key to the Nazi codebooks but also information about the man who murdered your brother.
Lillian conducts her missions for the Army with panache and confidence, even when bullets start to fly and enemy agents zero in to kill her. She’s more uncertain of how she’ll react when she sees the man who broke her heart or how she’ll get out of Belgium when the Nazis launch their invasion.

Lillian does not reveal to her superior officers that her old friend has knowledge about her murdered brother. She doesn’t want to be told to stay in America. So, she has an ulterior motive.

Bingo! The phrase “Ulterior Motive” sounded pretty good. But it leaned a little too much to crime and mystery whereas this novel is a World War II thriller. So I kept banging around trying to figure out a word I could substitute for ‘motive.’ It didn’t take long before I had one.

So, with a high degree of certainty, the title of the first Lillian Saxton thriller will be ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES.

What do y'all think of the title? 

How are y’all at titles? Do you have them before you start, halfway through, or after the manuscript is completed?


Dana King said...

I like your process. Mine is less elaborate when I'm stuck for a title, which is about half the time. When I get to the end and still don't feel comfortable with a title (which happened with the two most recent Nick Forte books) I look for a short phrase that gets use in the book, either in the final climactic scene or in the denouement. That's where I got both "The Man in the Window" and "A Dangerous Lesson."

Al Tucher said...

I'm especially fond of bait-and-switch titles. A recent example appeared recently in SHOTGUN HONEY. I have a detective who is so obsessed with his case that he keeps wearing the same suit, which becomes more and more wrinkled. The title, of course, is WRINKLES.