Monday, December 05, 2016

Guest Post: Judy Penz Sheluk on "What’s in a Name?"

Please welcome Judy back today. Her mystery, SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC, is on sale for less than a buck and is scheduled to be that way until the 15th. So, hit the link for Amazon below and pick up your copy after you read her thoughts on book titles….

Judy Penz Sheluk: What’s in a Name?

If you read mysteries and find a book with the title F is for Fugitive, you’re likely to make an instant connection: this is one of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. Ditto for Gathering Prey: has to be John’s Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series. Find a book with a pun-ny title, like Pillow Stalk, from Diane Vallere’s Doris Day-inspired Madison Night series, or Butter Off Dead by Leslie Budewitz, and even without reading the back cover, you know you’re looking at a cozy.

Of course, not all authors play by any particular rules. Consider Louise Penny. Her titles include Still Life, The Long Way Home and A Beautiful Mystery. No correlation there. Yet every author knows that a good title is important. Think In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and you know this is going to be a dark tale of grisly murder.

When I started writing The Hanged Man’s Noose, the first book in my Glass Dolphin mystery series, the working title was The Blue Dolphin, the original name of the antiques shop that features prominently in the book. I changed the store’s name to the Glass Dolphin when a Google search led me to an actual antiques shop called The Blue Dolphin. But I also knew that a book called The Glass Dolphin (or The Blue Dolphin) wasn’t about to stand out in the crowd.

A few chapters into the book, Arabella Carpenter, owner of the Glass Dolphin, goes into The Hanged Man’s Noose for a drink and a sympathetic ear. Named for the town’s namesake, Samuel Lount, a real life nineteenth century politician who was hanged for treason, as soon as I came up with the name of the bar, I knew I had the name of my book.

My latest mystery, Skeletons in the Attic, started life as Calamity Barnstable, the name of my protagonist. Once again, I knew that was never going to work in the long term. And once again, inspiration came from the story itself. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6:

“The attic was every bit as creepy as I expected, a windowless, claustrophobic space, the walls and ceiling filled with pink fiberglass insulation, the air smelling faintly of mothballs. Given the padlock, I had expected it to be stockpiled with valuables. It wasn’t. There was a large leather steamer trunk that looked like it might be vintage, a newer trunk, bright blue with brass trim, and what appeared to be a picture triple wrapped in bubble wrap.

There was also a coffin, full-sized from what I could gather. I took a deep breath, resisted the urge to bolt out the cubbyhole entry, and inched my way over.

Unlike the attic, there was no lock on the coffin. I almost wished there had been, if only to delay the inevitable. I took another deep breath, put on the yellow rubber kitchen gloves I’d brought with me—I’d watched enough episodes of CSI to know the importance of not leaving fingerprints—bent down, and gingerly lifted the lid. It was lighter than I expected, but that didn’t stop me from dropping it abruptly. The thump echoed in the room, scaring me more than I could have thought possible.

Because what I saw lying against the cream-colored satin wasn’t a dead, decaying body, but a skeleton. One that looked decidedly human.

I had been ready to uncover some skeletons in the closet. A skeleton in the attic was another matter entirely.”

A skeleton in the attic. As soon as I wrote the words, I knew that would be the title. Because I wanted to differentiate this work from my Glass Dolphin mysteries, I decided to go with “A Marketville Mystery,” Marketville being the name of the town where the story takes place.

So, what do you think? How important is a title in your decision to read a book?

Synopsis for Skeletons in the Attic

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

Judy Penz Sheluk ©2016

Amazon International bestselling author Judy Penz Sheluk’s crime fiction includes The Hanged Man’s Noose, Skeletons in the Attic, and several short stories. Find her at  and on Facebook:

Find Skeletons in the Attic in print at all the usual suspects, and on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited on Amazon:


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Judy,

I love your titles! They make me instantly curious. Provocative titles are really important. For instance, my YA novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER has continued to sell better than my other YA novels. My daughter-in-law insists it's because the title is an interesting one.

BPL Ref said...

Oh, I agree titles are VERY important! Not just to entice the reader-- though that is definitely important-- but to make a book findable. Certain title searches yield multiple books for that title, such as "Night" or "Twilight" or "Book of the Dead." There are times we haven't been able to help a patron very much because he or she doesn't know the author or what the book is about, just that a friend recommended it. It's a real trick to make a title memorable and unusual. Beth Harbison does a good job with titles such as "When in Doubt, Add Butter" and "Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger." Very interesting, Judy!

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Thank you Kevin, for posting this!
Jacqueline: I agree, a title will help sell a book. The Devil and Danna Webster IS a great title. Cover and title are so important.
BPL: Love those titles :-)

Caroline Clemmons said...

Judy, I bought this book after having you on my blog. I can hardly wait to read it, but am on deadline until December 9th. Best wishes for continued success!