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What’s in a Name?

April 23, 2018

I’m excited to have my friend and Sister in Crime, Matty Dalrymple, as a guest today. Matty is the author of the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels, “The Sense of Death” and “The Sense of Reckoning,” and the Lizzy Ballard Thriller, “Rock Paper Scissors.” She lives with her husband, Wade Walton, and their dogs in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which is the setting for much of the action in “The Sense of Death” and “Rock Paper Scissors.” In the summer, they enjoy vacationing on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, where “The Sense of Reckoning” takes place. Matty also blogs, podcasts, and speaks about independent publishing as The Indy Author™. She is obviously a busy women. I can tell you from personal experience, she’s also a very nice person. So, from Matty:

Readers often ask me where I get the titles for my books and short stories, which include the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels The Sense of Death and The Sense of Reckoning and the Ann Kinnear Suspense Shorts Close These Eyes and May Violets Spring. (I have also authored the Lizzy Ballard Thrillers Rock Paper Scissors and, coming in June 2018, Snakes and Ladders.) In this post, I share the backstory of how my Ann Kinnear works found their titles.

Ann Kinnear is a woman who is able to sense spirits, and who has a consulting business based on this ability. When I was finishing the first novel, I turned my mind to possible titles. I wanted the title to represent the centrality of death to the plots, as well as to reflect Ann’s sensing ability.

I came up with The Sense of Death, and went to Google and Amazon to find out who else might be using that title. Book titles are considered “short slogans” and are therefore not eligible to be copyrighted, so finding another book with the same title wouldn’t necessarily have been a deal-breaker. However, I didn’t want my readers to have to contend with the confusion I faced when I downloaded a movie titled The Girl on the Train and was well into it before I realized it was not the movie version of the Paula Hawkins novel. (My advice is to make sure you’re getting the Paula Hawkins version.)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were no other books on Amazon with the title The Sense of Death, but my Google search reminded me that I was not the first person to think of that phrase—Shakespeare had beaten me to the punch in Measure for Measure.

Dar’st thou die?
The sense of death is most in apprehension;
And the poor beetle that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great
As when a giant dies.

I was so excited when I read this passage because it encapsulated many ideas I touched upon in the book—the apprehension of death, the suffering we anticipate will accompany death (but which might be no more than the instantaneous demise of the squashed beetle).

When I was working on Ann Kinnear Book 2, I thought that a continuation of the “sense of” theme would be interesting, and returned to Google to discover what else Shakespeare might have in store. I found this fantastic passage from Henry V:

O God of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts.
Possess them not with fear. Take from them now
The sense of reckoning ere th’ opposed numbers
Pluck their hearts from them.

Perfect! The second Ann Kinnear book was all about how Ann overcomes the fear resulting from the experiences related in the first book.

I was now enthusiastic about the idea of having the entire series based on Shakespearean quotes. I started out looking for other quotes that included the phrase “the sense of”:

  • “The tongues of mocking wenches are as keen as is the razor’s edge invisible, cutting a smaller hair than may be seen, above the sense of sense,” or “Sweet royalty, bestow on me the sense of hearing” from Love’s Labour’s Lost (“The sense of hearing” is obviously a non-starter, but there are lots of other title ideas in the “mocking wenches” quote!)
  • “More spongy to suck in the sense of fear. More ready to cry out ‘Who knows what follows?” from Troilus and Cressida (Anything with the word “spongy” in it sounds better for sci-fi or horror.)
  • “From the barge a strange invisible perfume hits the sense of the adjacent wharfs” from Anthony and Cleopatra (Uh … no.)
  • “The sense of all civility” from Othello (I’d be afraid it would get shelved next to Miss Manners.)
  • “Say that the sense of feeling were bereft me, and that I could not see, nor hear, nor touch, and nothing but the very smell were left me, yet would my love to thee be still as much” from Venus and Adonis (I’ll have to file that away in case I switch to Romance).

Undeterred, I decided to venture beyond “the sense of” options. My first Ann Kinnear Suspense Short involves revenge, and a search of “Shakespeare quotes revenge” uncovered this wonderful passage from Henry VI:

I’ll never pause again, never stand still,
Till either death hath closed these eyes of mine
Or fortune given me measure of revenge.

From that I pulled the story title, Close These Eyes.

When I completed my second Suspense Short, I started my search again. This was a completely non-traditional Easter story—not appropriate for those who object to violations of the Third Commandment—that was about faithfulness and forgiveness. Despite vigorous Googling, I found that these were much rarer topics for The Bard to address than death and revenge. A search for “Shakespeare quotes about faithfulness” usually brought back, “Women may fall when there’s no strength in men” from Romeo and Juliet, which wasn’t right for my story, and the quotes I found related to forgiveness dealt with much darker topics than I wanted to conjure up for my fairly light-hearted story.

Still casting about for a title, I sent the story to a few trusted beta readers for their input, one of whom turned out to be a Shakespeare scholar. He suggested I not focus so exclusively on the overarching themes of the story, but instead pick up a detail I had thrown in—the fact that violets reminded one character of a romantic episode with his wife many years before. Since, as with all Ann Kinnear stories, this one dealt with death, we came up with this quote from Hamlet:

Lay her i’ th’ earth,

And from her fair and unpolluted flesh

May violets spring!

And so my second Ann Kinnear Suspense Short became May Violets Spring.

Title problem solved. I suppose that considering the theme of death throughout my books, I shouldn’t have been surprised that my final challenge was convincing my book cover designer that the title was not May Violence Spring.

Good news: LIZZY BALLARD BOOK 1, ROCK PAPER SCISSORS has been named a Notable Indie of 2018 by Shelf Unbound Magazine. Book 2, SNAKES AND LADDERS will be launched in June of this year.

Matty’s novels and short stores are available on Amazon …

The Sense of Death

The Sense of Reckoning

Close These Eyes

May Violets Spring

Rock Paper Scissors

… and all major online book retailers.

Thanks, Matty, for sharing your process for naming your books. Good luck!


4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 23, 2018 8:35 PM

    Interesting way if coming up with titles. Matty, you must be one of the only people in America who could answer correctly today’s Jeopardy question on “Troilus and Cressida!”

    • April 24, 2018 7:04 AM

      Thanks for stopping by, Tony. I laughed when I read your comment about Jeopardy. I confess I didn’t get that one – one of those times when it took too long to dredge the answer from among all the garbage in my brain.

  2. April 24, 2018 5:53 AM

    Fascinating back story to finding inspiration from to Bard. The AK series is a capitvating read.

    • April 24, 2018 7:05 AM

      It is a great story, isn’t it? I loved the books, but had no idea how Matty came up with her titles. Thanks for adding your bit.

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