Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What to name the baby...

JR: Today's guest blogger is Gerrie Ferris Finger and she shares the story of how she got to her End Game.

Titles are almost as elusive as themes.
Experts say your titles should be unique to your work. Can't argue with that. A title has a purpose; it's tied to the story. So, right.
These experts also advise: If you're pulling your hair to tack a title onto your work, start with, of all debated things, the theme. To me a theme is something that becomes apparent after the story ends and you're thinking about heady things like themes. Like me, though, most writers want a title to anchor the story, or what's called a working title.
Of late, I've seen several "Name the Book" contests on social networks. It seems authors stuck for a title want to farm the thing out. The writer offers all kinds of goodies: a previously published book, a copy of the new book, or the winner's name attached to a minor character in the newly-titled tome.

I can relate here. Well, not exactly. I don't want anyone else titling my work, but darn, it's hard to come up with something that exactly fits the story and catches a readers attention. I've titled and re-titled so many manuscripts, Microsoft Word won't confer a title until the fifth try.

My soon-to-be-released mystery novel, THE END GAME, started out as Child Trace – not a zippy title to be sure, but it is the name of my heroine's company. When you think about it, Child Trace could be the name of a game with crayons. Because it did nothing for the story, even as a working title, it disappeared, although it hangs around early versions of the manuscript.

Next, I settled on The Rose Girls. It fits since the novel centers on two little girls who go missing after their foster parents' house burns down. Jessie and Dottie Rose are the focus of the hunt, and heroine Moriah Dru leads the pack, literally, of cops and dogs to reach her goal: finding the Rose girls alive. But a reader checking out the book cover wouldn't have a clue who the Rose girls are.

Then, when I named my fictional international ring of slavers after chess pieces, it clicked. The End Game. For non-chess players, the end game is the last few moves before either the black or white king falls. Checkmate.

In my slave ring scenario, the Bishop is the head of the ring. He matches buyer to seller. The Knight is the local guy. He secures the Pawns, those abducted for the trade (the Rose girls in this case). The Rooks are the transporters of the Pawns. The King is the buyer. If all goes according to plan, that ends the operation. The End Game in my novel also has a more terrible meaning.

I wrote the book a couple of years ago and I didn't hear the phrase, the end game, used much as currently from sports to commerce. A business exec says, "Our end game is to buy that company as cheaply as we can." My title now has a generic quality that I would have tried to avoid. But, here's the kicker, the title fits the book like the jacket.

Titles must be unique to the work, and to that end a book can title itself. I wrote an historic romance recently, set in the 1920s. I researched romance titles and concluded I needed "hot" in the title, although it's not erotica. It's set on a Georgia barrier island (Cumberland), so I came up with One Hot Island Night. How's that for generic? But about 10,ooo words into the story, I had an epiphany. The couple falls in love while dancing to "Whispering" – the Paul Whiteman song that sounds like the roaring twenties with its gramophones and tenor falsettos. I don't know if publishers will like the title, but it fits my story perfectly.

And, if publishers don't like it, they will change it. But that's another discussion.

Thank you Jungle Red for having me. It's been and honor and pleasure.


Gerrie Ferris Finger is a winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. She lives on the coast of Georgia with her husband and standard poodle, Bogey. The End Game will be released April 27, 2010 from Minotaur Books.


  1. You're lucky! My publisher usually turns the naming process over to the marketing department. After six books, only one carries a name I chose.

    But since they continue to sell the books, I won't complain.

    Looking forward to reading your book!

  2. Congratulations, Gerrie! And End Game is such a perfect title.

    I love thinking of book names. In fact, I've thought of lots of them. They just don't have the books to go with them.

  3. I'm really looking forward to reading THE END GAME. Sounds like the title is perfect and I love the cover. Best of luck to you!

  4. You mean I can't just leave my books as "Book 1," "Book 2", or, after I started forgetting which one I was working on, "Dalton's Book" or "Fozzie's Book?"

    I hate titles. And if you write connected books with similar titles, then the reader can get confused. I can't remember which of Barry Eisler's Rain books is which. And I know I'm going to have the same problem with my next release from Five Star. The first was When Danger Calls; the new one will be Where Danger Hides.

    I need the title fairy!

  5. Gerrie, this is so exciting! We're so pleased to have you visit us...Hank is right--the cover and title look perfect for the book you describe--the chess pieces are so clever. We hope it sells and sells!

    funny you should poke a little fun at hapless authors holding contests for their titles. I'm about at that desperate stage now:). Usually I'm all over a working title, but this a new book, different from anything I've tried before. Somehow "Key West Homeless Baby Thriller" doesn't quite get it...maybe one of Hank's extra titles will fit?

  6. You are all making me smile, and I need to, after the dentist. I go an extra few months and the hygenist is all over me. One out of six isn't bad from what I hear, Sheila, and I know what you mean, Terry. I think I checked out the same "Prey" book three times. Hank, one day you'll come up with the perfect book to go with that title and you'll come up with your working title, Roberta. Happy reading Kay. Thanks all. It's a lot of fun here.

  7. key West Homeless baby thriller is a little long..but it sounds very intriguing!

  8. Roberta..let's talk! Cant wait to hear about it..How about "The Key"?
    "The Key To_______."

    What's always haunted me about homeless people..they have no keys in their pockets.

    Just a thought.