Saturday, December 24, 2016

Guest Post: Jeanne on "Fun with Series Titles"

Jeanne of the Bookblog of the Bristol Public Library recently was here with examples of authors writing under other names. That blog post ties well into this one from Jeanne today on series by various authors. 

Fun with Series Titles

For someone who enjoys word play and books in series, there are delights to be found in titles.  What follows are some random thoughts about how authors and/or publishers help readers follow their favorite characters.

When an author does a series of books, it often helps readers if there’s a way to distinguish series from non-series. Some authors have made this easier on readers by giving them a quick way to spot a series book by its title.  Some authors make it REALLY simple by using the main character’s name as part of the title, as did J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter and Nancy Atherton with Aunt Dimity.  Other authors repeat a particular word:

·         Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books all have the word “Dead” in the title, while the Lily Bard books repeat the word “Shakespeare’s” and Harper Connelly uses “Grave”.
·         Clea Simon uses the word “Grey” in the title of all her Dulcie Schwartz novels but uses animal alliteration for the Pru Marlow (Dogs Don’t Lie, Cats Can’t Shoot, etc.)
·         Nicci French uses the days of the week, starting with Monday, to show series order
·         G.M. Malliet started her Max Tudor series with seasons, beginning with Wicked Autumn but ran out of those fairly quickly. (The 2017 book will be Devil’s Breath.)
·         James Patterson now uses the word “Cross” in his Alex Cross books, but the early ones were lines from nursery rhymes or songs (Jack and Jill, Along Came a Spider, and so on).
·         After the first two books, Mike Lawson uses the word “House” in all of his Joe DeMarco titles.
·         With her Moonshine Mystery series, Carol Miller uses “Murder” in the titles but usually with an alcoholic tie in, i.e. A Nip of Murder.
·         Isis Crawford’s Mystery with Recipes series always uses the word “Catered” in the title.
·         John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books always have a color as some part of the title.
·         Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey  titles always begin with the word “Cat”.
·         And, of course, Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who series books always start with, well,  The Cat Who….

Others use naming patterns, such as the birds and puns for Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow or racing terms for Dick Francis’ books, though some are a stretch.  Kim Harrison likes to use altered versions of titles of Clint Eastwood movies for her Hollows novels.

Other authors kick it up a notch by giving series order in the title, such as James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series, in which the number of the book is always somewhere in the title as an ordinal (first, second, third, etc.) Janet Evanovich also gives the number in her Stephanie Plum books;  Darynda Jones ups the ante by reusing the word “Grave,” giving an ordinal, AND a direction (First Grave on the Right, Second Grave on the Left, and so forth).  In some libraries, mine included, this is a bit less successful in getting the books shelved in numerical order because we shelve alphabetically.  This means Fifth Horseman comes before 1st to Die.  (As for those wondering about shelving order, there have been many long discussions about how to do it with pros and cons for each.  I won’t go into it here, but if anyone is interested, just ask.)

The Queen of Series Naming and Shelving has to go to Sue Grafton, who not only gave her books alphabetical titles but who made certain they would be filed correctly by starting her series with a letter of the alphabet and proceeding accordingly.  The Princess Award goes to Mary Daheim, with her Emma Lord series:  all the books begin with “Alpine” and the second word follows the alphabet, so the list goes from Alpine Advocate to Alpine Zen.  Miss Congeniality goes to Carol Nelson Douglas and Midnight Louie: for the most part, the titles have colors in alphabetical order but since those occur at different places in the title, they aren’t necessarily shelved in series order. 

What are some of your favorite series naming patterns?


Susan Oleksiw said...

Fun post. I like the titles for the Inspector George Gentle series by Alan Hunter (now on TV), such as Gently Does It (1955), but he dropped the device in the last few books. Ellis Peters gives the number of the book in the Brother Cadfael series as part of the subtitle (she adopts this practice in the third book). I use a different Hindu deity in each title in my Anita Ray series, but you can't tell which book it is in the series. Titles are sometimes the trickiest part of a book, and I admire authors who figure out a system and use it well.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

The author doesn't always know that a book will morph into a series. When I wrote
The Inferno Collection which was published back in 2007, the reviews were very good and readers asked if there would be a series. That encouraged me to write a series based on Kim Reynolds, a psychic librarian/sleuth.