I’m thrilled to welcome my New Orleans pal Greg Herren to what I hope will be the first of many Chicks posts. In addition to being incredibly fun and a great author, Greg is the Vice President of MWA – Mystery Writers of America. Go, Greg!
A Rose Is A Rose
Nothing makes me feel stranger than being on a panel of writers when the inevitable where do you get your ideas from question comes, from either the moderator or the audience. I generally sit there and listen to my co-panelists talk about all the wonderful and creative ways they find inspiration…and then it’s my turn, and I cringe a little because my honest answer is…well, it’s weird.
You see, I always start with a title. I know it sounds insane, but a title will come to mind, and once it’s there, my next thought after ooh, that would be a great title starts filling out the story from the title outwards.
My next book, which will be out this fall, began life as a short story called “Ruins”, that I wrote in college. It was based on a story my grandmother told me when I was a child—she told me many stories about the family history, and the history of the part of Alabama where I am from—and I always thought there was more there than a short story could do justice to. It was always in the back of my mind these past forty years or so (YIKES!); and I always knew I would turn it into a book. But I didn’t like “Ruins” as a title—besides, it’s already been used numerous times. So the idea continued floating around in my head, and every time I would be ready to start writing another book, I’d remember it, think, “Ruins is a bad title” and would file it away again somewhere in the back of my brain.
One day I was driving to work about three years ago and the song “If I Die Young” came on my car stereo and a lyric from the chorus resonated in my brain. As I continued on to the office, the story started forming in my head around that title—who the characters were, what all would happen, their relationships to each other—and even the opening sentence of the book: “Did you do this on purpose, or was it an accident?” When I got to work I opened a folder and started writing down notes as I remembered my thoughts and came up with new ones…but when I went to name the folder and typed out the new title…it still worked and I still liked it, but one of the words was wrong, so I changed it: Bury Me in Shadows. It was perfect; it set the tone and atmosphere the way I envisioned it, and other images came to me, inspirations from other sources—like a James Dickey poem about kudzu, and a line from The Haunting of Hill House. I added those to the folder so whenever I was stuck, I could remind myself of that precise feeling I was going for—even adding pictures of trees and forests covered in kudzu, creeks muddied with the red dirt of the region, towering pine forests, and even gravel country roads.
I know the title thing is weird—my colleagues inevitably look at me like I’ve grown a second head when I talk about it—and it even is evident in the two series I wrote. The Chanse MacLeod series titles were all Murder in the (insert location; over the years I used Rue Dauphine, Garden District, and Irish Channel to fill in the title) and the Scotty Bradley series titles were all alliterative, beginning with Bourbon Street Blues: Mardi Gras Mambo, Who Dat Whodunnit, Baton Rouge Bingo, and the most recent, Royal Street Reveillon.
I used to joke I would keep writing both series as long as I could come up titles for them—and I get Scotty title ideas all the time: Congo Square Conga, Redneck Riviera Rhumba, Cajun Country Canaille, Bayou State Boogie...I could literally go on for hours.
I also can’t write about characters unless I have the correct, fitting name for them—but that’s a story for a different blog post!
Readers, what kind of title draws you in? Do you have any favorites? Authors, what inspires your titles? And does a title ever inspire a book plot?
ABOUT GREG: GREG HERREN is the award winning author of over thirty novels and fifty short stories. He lives in New Orleans with his partner of 26 years.
ABOUT BURY ME IN SHADOWS: Bury Me in Shadows tells the story of Jake Chapman, who comes to rural Alabama after a bad break-up leads to an accidental overdose to stay with his dying grandmother–and starts uncovering family secrets that put his life in danger.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT GREG AT: