“Also Known As…” – 52 Pickup, #24

Question #24

Marlowe Churchill:
“How much thought goes into finding just the right title for your books? Do you and your wife confab over naming? Does your editor make suggestions? The title is super important, but sometimes it can be harder than writing the damned thing, right?”

Hi Marlowe,

In the words of a sheriff I know–boy howdy. Titles can be a real bugaboo. I don’t recall any particular controversies over the title of the first Walt Longmire novel, The Cold Dish (except in France where in translation a cold dish means leftovers, and so, the French title, Little Bird), but I do get some interesting revisions when people write me, i.e., The Cold Fish, The Cold Plate, etc… The second book, which is always the hardest because you take ten years to write the first and then they want another one in six months was originally titled An Embarrassment of Riches, but Viking/Penguin informed me that there was a book about Dutch history that was out and doing well and that if I named my novel that it’d never be found. I searched around in the book itself, which I’ve found to be the best way to discover titles in that they’re integrated into the text and found the Basque proverb—A life without friends means death without company, hence, Death Without Company.

It’s odd, because when I started out writing, most crime fiction had two-word titles and to be contrary, I just got into the habit of three-word titles for most of my books, which prompted interviewers to ask if I was trying to be literary… I do have a hard time getting away from Shakespeare in my titles, but generally I like using titles that will speak to more than one element of the story and I like using portions of quotes or proverbs because they sound familiar but work in layers. Take the latest book in the series, Depth Of Winter, where I knew I was throwing the readers a curveball in that with the seasonal format I use in writing the books and the title being what it was, everybody was pretty much getting themselves ready for an apocalyptic snowstorm instead of the over a hundred temperature that is in the book. What I was referring to, instead, was not the weather but the psycological ramifications of what Walt faced in his battle with Bidarte. In using the quote from Camus. I’d hoped to reassure the readers that Walt would not only survive physically but remain philosophically intact.

Judy always has input in the titles, and she had some strong feelings about the next one in that she thought that there were too many books with ‘wolf’ in the title or that it might be confused as being non-fiction. She may be right, but I settled on Land Of Wolves for the 2019 Longmire novel because it speaks to a number of issues within the book, namely Walt’s difficulties in reestablishing his life back in Wyoming after his experiences in Mexico.

Viking/Penguin doesn’t have too much say in the titles in that they don’t really get to see the books until I send in the first-draft and by then I’ve sent the title through the ringer and it’s pretty well set. The horses here at the ranch have input, however, but all they ever want to do is stick “horse” in the title, which is better than the dog who thinks every book should be titled Ham… Everybody’s a critic.

—Craig Johnson


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