Book Title Angst — Guest Susan Van Kirk

Welcome back, Susan Van Kirk. Life is interesting — since I met Susan a couple of years ago we found out that she taught one of my high school classmate’s children. I love small world connections.

Susan: I’m always intrigued by the cleverness of book titles because I go through torture and agony trying to come up with mine. Somehow it comforts me to remember that even F. Scott Fitzgerald had trouble naming The Great Gatsby.

I’m now the author of three Endurance mysteries and an e-book novella featuring Endurance detective, TJ Sweeney. Still, figuring out a title for the first mystery about the town of Endurance was an excruciating experience back in 2012. It disturbed my sleep and interfered with my brain during every minute of my waking and sleeping hours.

I played bridge and thought of titles (no answers, but I think it helped my bridge game to be distracted.) I paced the kitchen floor and thought of titles. I watched the presidential returns—and thought of titles. I talked to my children, who live two thousand miles away, and who wondered why I was so distracted.

You get the picture.

When I began writing A Silent Place to Die (my working title), I believed it would be a cozy mystery. One of my readers questioned why my title was so gruesome. On further thought, it sounded very un-cozy, even to me.

What to do? What to do?…

I explored titles from other book series. Maybe they would help me. Rescue animals are featured by Linda O. Johnston in Hounds Abound, The More the Terrier, or Beaglemania. The culinary titles of Diane Mott Davidson (Catering to Nobody, Dying for Chocolate, Chopping Spree) sound wonderful, but my main character doesn’t have a dog and is a terrible cook.

Sheila Connolly’s orchard series uses apples in her titles since her main character owns an apple orchard. Very nice. Julie Hyzy’s manor house mysteries—with a main character named “Grace”—have “Grace” in every title: Grace Under Pressure or Grace Among Thieves. My main character is also a “Grace,” and it would be so easy to connect her name with various ideas in my titles—you know, Amazing Grace.  But no, Hyzy got there first.

So, I put myself into Grace Kimball’s shoes, and I recalled pieces of literature by American writers that my fictional Grace would have taught at Endurance High School. The books in her library are by her old favs: Fitzgerald, Poe, Thoreau, Emerson, Longfellow, and others.

Then I remembered.

Ben Franklin. He was an original, discussed in many American Literature classes throughout the nation, and a favorite of my Grace. Like Julia Spencer-Fleming’s titles from Christianity, Ben Franklin’s aphorisms are part of American culture and thinking. Here, you finish his thoughts:

“A penny saved is…”

“God helps those…”

“Early to bed and early to rise…”

Maybe I was on to something.

How about “Three may keep a secret…”? Would you automatically finish that with “…if two of them are dead”? Oh, Ben Franklin, you are so clever! My town of Endurance hides dark secrets, and often they lead to murder. Three May Keep a Secret. I had my first title.

The second book in my series, Marry in Haste, was just published. Thank you again, Mr. Franklin. Marry in Haste is the story of two marriages, a century apart, both sharing a terrible secret. When Grace’s boyfriend, Jeff Maitlin, buys a huge mansion and borrows money from a bank, he sets off a chain of events that put Grace in danger. I based Jeff’s house on a Victorian I lived in when I first moved to Monmouth, Illinois. Built in 1885, it had over 4,400 square feet of living space. It became my fictional Lockwood House.

One of Grace’s former students, Emily Folger, is arrested for her banker husband’s murder, Grace cannot believe it. As she sets out to prove Emily’s innocence, Grace finds the 1893 diary of Olivia Lockwood hidden in Jeff’s house. Olivia, a naïve 17-year-old, marries the powerful Judge Lockwood. She is dazzled by his mansion, and despite the 26-year difference in their ages (as well as rumors about the death of Lockwood’s first wife), Olivia is sure they will be happy. However, as Ben Franklin wrote, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” Both Olivia and Emily should have listened to him.

Ben Franklin has not disappointed me. The last book in my series will be out in May, and its title is Death Takes No Bribes. Although she is retired, Grace Kimball goes back to her old school when the principal is murdered. Who would kill such a good man? Now she must face the possibility that one of her former colleagues is a murderer.

My e-book novella is titled The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney. I didn’t feel bad about leaving out Ben’s wisdom on this title since it features TJ Sweeney rather than Grace. However, its premise is like the other Endurance mysteries since Detective Sweeney investigates a murder from the 1940s when the big bands came through Endurance and played at the Roof Garden. Dancing in the moonlight … romance in the air … and murder in the shadows.

I still haven’t found a way to use Franklin’s “Lie down with dogs, Rise up with fleas,” or “A countryman between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.” Still thinking …

Readers: Do you have a favorite book title? Writers: Easy or hard to come up with titles?

Susan Van Kirk grew up in Galesburg, Illinois, and received degrees from Knox College and the University of Illinois. She taught high school English for thirty-four years, then spent an additional ten years teaching at Monmouth College. Her first Endurance mystery novel, Three May Keep a Secret, was published in 2014 by Five Star Publishing/Cengage.  In April, 2016, she published an Endurance e-book novella titled The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney. Her third Endurance novel, Death Takes No Bribes, will follow Marry in Haste. Contact Susan: Website and blog: Facebook: Twitter: GoodReads:




Share this:
Like this:Like Loading... Related