Thursday, August 28, 2014

Does Every Book Needs a Little Mystery?

My guest blogger Carolyn Niethammer poses an interesting question. What do you think?

Every novel, and even some nonfiction books, are better for having some mysteries involved. This is the way that the writer keeps the reader turning the pages – even if the mystery is simply whether the girl will finally get wise and end up with the right guy.
 In true mysteries, like those my host here writes, the focus is on solving something unexplained: a murder, a disappearance, a theft. The mysteries that we love the best and want to follow as series also include enough about the main character to make them real and memorable for us. Once they have solved the problem of the day, we wonder what else might lie ahead for them and look for the next book.
 Frequently, mystery novels involve solving a murder, but not always. Janet Greger’s Ignore the Pain involved cocaine smuggling and the sabotage of an expensive research experiment. Another example is Alexander McCall Smith’s popular series set in Edinburg, Scotland, featuring  Isabel Dalhousie who edits a philosophy journal and lives a pretty quiet life. But somehow important works of art seem to disappear regularly and she manages to get involved and to sort it all out between putting out issues of her journal. 

In a biography I wrote about Navajo politician and activist Annie Dodge Wauneka called I’ll Go and Do More, I had to stick to the truth of her life. But I tried to end each chapter at a point where she had to make a difficult choice or something important either would or would not happen to affect her goals. Little mysteries.
My new novel, The Piano Player, is my tenth book but my first go at fiction. It was great fun making life difficult for my chararacters.
The Piano Player is set in the Old West just before and after the turn of the last century. It isn’t a mystery but there are plenty of questions to keep the reader wondering. Mary Rose, a well-brought up young woman, leaves her plush San Francisco home to seek her fortune in booming Tombstone, Arizona, after her father is murdered on the front porch.                                                                                                                                               
While the main question is whether Mary Rose can successfully transition to Frisco Rosie and make it as a saloon piano player, we also follow her quest to find out who killed her father and why. And also why her fiancé Bradley was seen running from the murder scene and never joined her in Tombstone. It takes Rosie seventeen years and a risky trip down the frozen Yukon River during the 1898 gold rush to find all the answers. In the intervening years she takes a lover who turns out to be an outlaw, plans a risky rescue trip for a friend jailed in Guaymas, Mexico, and beats a notorious gambler at his own card game. 

I agree with Carolyn all books need a little mystery.

Bio: Carolyn Niethammer grew up in the mountain town of Prescott, Arizona, and now resides in a 95-year-old house in Tucson. She has been writing books about the people and food of the Southwest for forty years. You can see her books at her website

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How do you find a title that resonates with readers?

Titles are important sales tools. Most editors agree on the following statements. 1) Titles should give a hint about the protagonist, the setting, the theme or the plot of the book. 2) Short titles are best. 3) Titles should catch the reader’s attention. 4) These rules are meant to be broken.

The net result is most writers waste hours ruminating over the title of their next novel. I’m no different. I always name a novel when I start working on a project. Then I rename it at least twice as I write and edit the novel. How about you? Maybe you’ll find my process of titling my last novel useful or amusing.

One of my medical suspense novel started out with the title Why Does It Hurt So Much? I chose the tile because I wanted the novel to address how individuals differ in their responses to physical and emotional pain. But that title was too long. I’d learned from my experience publicizing my second novel Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight that long titles even if they’re cute or funny are problematic. For example, it’s hard to fit the title on the spine of the book or in twitters.

The original title also gave no hint to the inner strength of my heroine – epidemiologist and world traveler Sara Almquist. Sara is a tough cookie. She knows being a public health consultant in Bolivia, where over 6% of the children before five years of age, won’t be a picnic when she accepts the assignment.

The original title also didn’t fit an adventure story with lots of action. Sara is chased through the Witches’ Market of La Paz and fights to avoid a trap in the silver mines of Potosí as she helps capture the drug czar Mazzone, who used to be her neighbor in New Mexico..

The next title I chose was Dull the Pain. It was short, established pain as recurring theme in the novel, and hinted the heroine was tough. Amazon listed no other book with that title.

I include tidbits of science in all of my novels and really strive to get the facts correct. Thus I had Sara learn that laborers in the silver mines of Potosí carry little food or water into the mines. In order to endure the pain caused by thirst, hunger, and heavy exertion at a high altitude (13,000 feet), they chew coca leaves. The active ingredients in coca leaves and its derivative cocaine are not analgesics; they do not dull pain. They are stimulants and help users ignore pain.

I changed the title from Dull the Pain to Ignore the Pain.

After all my explanations on the title, do you want to read Ignore the Pain? Or would you give it another name?  

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