I love, love, love Halloween. For the last couple of years, my Halloween tradition has been to dress Duffer up and walk around the village so revelers can play with him and tell him how cute he is (he likes that).
Alas, no trick or treating with the Duffer tonight for me. I’m leaving for the Delaware Book Festival. The panel tomorrow with Tess Gerritsen and Mary Jane Clark will more than make up for it, but what about the Duff? The husband refuses to dress him up in my absence. It’s a shame, because isn’t he a cutey pie in his Batman outfit?
At Bouchercon I sat on a panel with the always-hilarious Chris Grabenstein, who said he thought of his title Tilt-a-Whirl before he’d written a page of the book. I’m the opposite. With the exception of Missing Justice (about a missing judge: get it?), all of my book titles have come only after I’ve finished the manuscript, and then only after I’ve hemmed and hawed and polled all of my friends about the many possibilities.
Well, I’m at the same place again. I’m off and running on the next Ellie Hatcher book, with no titles in sight. It had me wondering about the significance of titles. From a commercial perspective, the most successful series titles are undoubtedly Sue Grafton’s “A is for…” etc. and Janet Evanovich’s “One for the Money…” etc. Early on, these titles helped readers recognize the books without remembering the author. Now they help readers keep track of where they are in the series.
But with those exceptions, what’s the value of a title? How closely does it need to relate to the subject matter of the book? I fret because I want the title to be perfect, evoking a certain feeling and also relating directly to something important about the book. Angel’s Tip, for example, is the name of the last drink Chelsea Hart orders before she’s killed, but it also refers to a father’s tip to the police after a dream about his murdered daughter has him wondering if his daughter’s cold case might be related to Chelsea (“He did not know anything at all about Chelsea Hart or her trip from Indiana, but he could not help but wonder if her murder had something to do with the dream that had pulled him from his bed so early that same morning, brushing his cheek like the tip of an angel’s wing.”).
In the end, though, is all my hand wringing for naught? My hunch is that the tone just needs to be right. Lee Child’s books, for example, all strike the same Reacheresque tone, but are for the large part interchangable. Bad Luck and Trouble and Nothing to Lose are both kick-butt titles and could probably be the titles for any books in the series.
I know that many bloggers use their blogs as a sort of public diary, sharing personal reflections and experiences. I haven’t spent much time contemplating my goals for this blog. I write about writing. I share my book news. I make you listen to my silly stories about life in NYC with the husband and the Duffer. But today I’m sharing with you the reason why I was laying low during the last week. Frances Benbow Burke, one of the fabulous grandmothers to whom I dedicated my third novel, passed away Tuesday morning in Houston, Texas. She was 101.
My grandmother was a real live wire. Many of you in Texas met her during her youthful 90’s at my early readings at Murder by the Book. At my first reading in 2003, I watched with nervousness as she made her way from the parking lot with her walker. I stopped worrying when she encountered an untrimmed hedge trespassing on the sidewalk; she lifted the walker over her head and continued on her way. Inside, she watched with such pride and a beaming smile as I read some pretty foul stuff from Chapter 1. I apologized later for the bad language and she said, “Oh, darling, I couldn’t hear a word you were saying, but you looked so happy.”
She and Sean bonded the first time they met. I was telling her a story and paused to make sure she knew what an email was. She said, “Of course I know what an email is. I’m old, not stupid. Now consider yourself reprimanded.” The last time I saw her in August, she complimented my new short haircut, but then couldn’t resist holding her fingers a half inch apart: “Maybe just a little shorter,” she strongly suggested.
I could go on, but the point of all my memories was that Polly, as she was known, truly was a force to be reckoned with and remembered, with a strong wit and sharper tongue and enough personality to fill a ballroom for her 100th birthday party. I’m proud to have her genes. Goodbye, Grandmother. I will miss our visits.
The Duffer has been sucking on his right foot all day, which he often does if he has one of his many delicate skin issues. I finally picked him up and flipped him over to get a better look. Turns out he stepped on chewing gum. I started out on a mere 1-2 on the grossout scale, using cotton pads and hydrogen peroxide to try to clean his paw. By the time I was done, my fingers were pulling what was apparently peppermint gum from his pads. I’ve washed my hands four times but soap’s just not cutting it. Boiling water? Acid? I’m pretty much ready to sacrifice future use of my hands if necessary.
Hey, Numbnuts out there: Stop spitting gum on the streets.
My professorial persona was profiled today on Crim Prof Blog, a blog for fellow crim law profs. Hofstra finally got a decent picture of me, so thank goodness for that. (One of my colleagues said about my previous photo that I looked like I was either crying or had just eaten something really sour. Not good.)
Author Jonathan Hayes, who graced my passenger seat on the way down to Bouchercon last weekend, has this to say about my driving: “Alafair is, to be frank, certifiably psychotic at the wheel, her need for speed almost carnal in its urgency. The combination of high speed daredevil manoeuvres (at one point, she drove under a semi just so she could slam us up the ramp of an empty car transporter trailer, shooting us up about 20 feet high, hurtling through the air to land squarely 8 inches in front of the black Tahoe that had irritated Alafair by dawdling in front of her for a good two minutes). (Seriously.).”
I’m big big big into birthdays, especially mine! To celebrate I watched this classic scene from my favorite eighties high school movie, Sixteen Candles. I wish I could stay home and watch the entire thing up to the moment that she gets cake on the table from that dreamy Jake Ryan (cue Thompson Twins), but I’ll be at Hofstra all day. And just so you can have the Birthday song in your head all day long, on behalf of moi, here’s the real thing. (Okay, sort of the real thing. Paul solo, but at least pre-Heather Mills.)