”What’s in a name?” by Heather Haven

To complete the quote from the Bard’s Romeo and Juliet, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” For many of us writers it could be paraphrased, “What’s in a title? That which we call a book by any other other name would be as read.”

Of course, the answer to that is probably no. The title of a book, as with the cover, tends to draw in many a reader, especially if you’re not well-known. It took me a while to get that. Sometimes the obvious has to come over and kick me in the knee before I realize what’s going on. Death of a Clown, my docu-fiction noir about Ringling Brother Circus circa 1942, was on the market before I got feedback on just how many people fear and dislike clowns.

There are actually people who will not under any circumstances even touch a book with the word clown in the title. Even though it won a fairly prestigious award, some readers still hesitated to buy and read it. So after a few years, I bit the bullet and changed the title (and the cover) making it Murder un the Big Top. Not one word of the story was changed, just the title and cover. It took some doing, a lot of official documents, and buying yet another ISBN number. Murder under the Big Top still isn’t my biggest seller by a long shot, but at least people don’t send me the I-would-never-read-that-book hate mail. Well, not hate mail, exactly. Dislike mail.

The first book of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries is called Murder is a Family Business. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t call the book that. The title seems to indicate a more serious work to some, especially males, and has fooled many of them. They were expecting something more along the lines of “The Sopranos.” When they got a load of the family-oriented detective agency complete with a kitten and designer shoes, they were not happy. I didn’t change the title, but did create a cover that leaves no doubt this is a cozy. Between the title and cover, I think you can let a reader know that. But once again, if I had it to do over again, I would choose another title for the book.

I got better at it as I went along, but still had much to learn. Take the second book of the series, A Wedding to Die For. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have chosen that title, either. Now I would put the proposed title into Amazon and see what other books come up. If I had done that with Wedding, I would have seen three other books had the same title. But as that’s the book under development by a major streaming service and production company, I’m leaving it alone. But another lesson learned.

There are some very clever titles out there, especially in the cozy mystery field. Just this year we are offered: Penne Dreadful By Catherine Bruns, Wonton Terror By Vivien Chien, and Death Bee Comes Her By Nancy Coco. For my part, one of my favorite titles for my books is The CEO Came DOA. Although the latest book of the Alvarez Family Mysteries, The Drop-Dead Temple of Doom, is a very fun title. I don’t think any guy is going to buy it thinking it’s mob related. Although, gentlemen, never trust a protagonist who knows Karate and carries a Glock 19. Even if she does wear designer shoes.

On Reading Reviews by Heather Haven

Some authors never read their reviews. I am not one of those people. I don’t read reviews often, but I like to go in every now and then and see what’s going on. If I get several people giving the same criticism in their reviews, I check it out. Unless they’ve written I’m terrific. Then I leave it alone. But I have found when the same thing is said, like comments about editing or misspelling, it probably has validity. It doesn’t matter how many eyes have seen the manuscript, one or two things are bound to get by. And they are bound to catch the eye of a reader. Fortunately, these errors are easily correctable. And I correct them as soon as I can.

It’s the other stuff. The comments on research or incorrect details. This always sends me running to an encyclopedia, either online or from my bookshelf. I try to get things right, honestly. Nine times out of ten — and I have to say this — the reader is misinformed. For instance, in The Dagger Before Me, book one of the Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, I mention a small refrigerator. Mini-refrigerators have been around since the 1920’s, mostly for the rich, but there. So an affluent, Broadway producer having one in his office in 1942 is not out of line. There are a few other reviews where people simply cannot believe some things were invented way back when. Everything old is new again.

The criticism about the mini-fridge is one I came across only a few days ago and prompted this article. I had done my research at the time of writing the novel, but looked it up again to be sure I was right. I was. When the reader is wrong, I chalk it up to human nature. If they are right –which has happened upon occasion — I correct the error and silently thank the person for letting me know. Speaking of being wrong, one time in another book of the Percy Cole series, I mentioned the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade taking place in 1942. It didn’t. True, the parade has been around since 1924, but when the USA entered WWII, the parade was cancelled from 1942 to 1944. I had neglected to catch that. As it was only once sentence in the story, I simply eliminated the sentence altogether. And once again, silently thanked the reader for catching my error.

Recently, I got criticism in Casting Call for a Corpse, book seven of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, because I .had called a Scottish policewoman’s hat a bowler. I’m just going to say that in pictures of their uniforms, one of the hat styles looked like a bowler to me. And still does. But not being a hatter, I bow to the reader’s knowledge. And because I had written the word ‘bowler’, the reader gave me only 3 stars and stated that was the reason. As I used the word only one time in the entire novel, I went in and changed ‘bowler’ to ‘hat’. Why? Because it makes no different to the story. Really, truly. If it had been integral in any way, I would have left it alone.

I have my standards. They may be low, but I have them. Deciding what to change, what not to change, when to capitulate, when not to, becomes something most of us writers get used to. For me, it’s just part of the game.

The Joy Of It All by Heather Haven

Let’s face it, joy seems to be in short supply these days. The world is in trouble. Between global warming, hurricanes, floods,  fires, and the pandemic, if you want joy, you have to seek it out. It no longer springs up and dances in front of you.

For me, joy often comes in small ways. I feel joy watching birds bathe in the birdbath. They splash about with such utter abandon, I grin from ear to ear. I get joy from playing with my cat, Ellie, and in hearing her purr. Or in seeing yet another gardenia bloom in my small but yielding garden. It’s finding the perfect word for a wanting sentence. That brings me joy and gobs of relief, of course. And I take joy in spending time with my life partner, a man I truly admire.

Speaking of which, my husband is a performer — mainly a singer — but also plays the guitar, drums, and piano. He often performs alone, singing jazz standards while accompanying himself on the piano. He’s also been a member of a rock and roll band for over 13 years. The group has a pretty solid following, although they haven’t played many venues recently with the pandemic. However, whenever I go along with him to one of his gigs, whether he’s solo or part of the band, I am struck by the sense of joy the audience experiences while they listen. Pure joy is written all over their faces. Live, good music can do that.

That got me wondering. Do I, as a writer, give any joy to my readers the way my hubby does to his listeners? I sure hope so. Every now and then I do receive the random note or email from a reader who tells me she/he is reading my book to a hospitalized or sick loved one, relative, or friend. They write a certain story or novel has taken them away from their current problems or worries. I am so grateful they let me know. Because I’m not there, the way a performer is, I can’t see any of this for myself. This could be one of the bigger drawbacks to being a writer, the solitude of what we do.

It is my hope my stories offer my readers a certain amount of joy, especially the lighter, more humorous books. That would be mission accomplished. As far as I’m concerned joy — no matter how fleeting or how it comes to us — is always a welcomed addition to our lives.

Getting The Drop-Dead Temple of Doom Off and Running by Heather Haven

For about fifteen minutes after I finished the 8th book of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, I breathed a sigh of relief and took a break. Then I got back to work. First, I sent off the manuscript to my content editor, a master at letting a writer know what should be expanded, condensed, moved, clarified, or eliminated. That done, I conferred with the cover artist on the new cover. Then I conferred or rather listened to my publicists on marketing strategies i.e., the blurb, keywords, categories, stuff like that. Then began to implement them.

Once the cover and strategies were decided upon, and waiting for the return of the manuscript from the content editor, I went to Amazon Direct Publishing. I filled in the necessary information and uploaded what I could in order to get a URL for the new book. Once I had a URL, I set up the preorder and posted news of the new book wherever I could. Then I created and sent out my newsletter to my readers with all the information. I went online to Bowkers Identifier Services for new ISBN numbers. I registered the book with US Copywrite service. That took half a day, at least, but you gotta do all the legal stuff.

Within two weeks I received the manuscript back from the content editor and made 99% of the changes she suggested because, as I said, she is a master. When it was clean enough for jazz, I sent the manuscript out to my trusted, tried, and true Beta readers. They are just the best. They are terrific at telling me like it is, finding all kinds of typos, and making suggestions. After they gave me feedback, I sent the cleaner, corrected version –– a combo of content editor and Beta readers suggestions –– to the line editor. Meanwhile, I tweeted, blogged, and Facebooked. I had two months to let the world know (okay, not the world, just some of the people who know me in my small world) that The Drop-Dead Temple of Doom was coming out September 15th

I received the manuscript back from the line editor after about three weeks. She, too, is marvelous. Among the other things she found, did I know howler monkeys (and do not capitalize the name, she said) grow to be quite big? A grown howler monkey cannot sit on a man’s shoulder, as it does in my book, and have the man live to tell about it. Uh-oh! I neglected to put in it was an orphaned baby howler monkey. I set out to make the corrections she caught in the story, plus all the other things, like grammar, punctuation, and inaccuracies. I also collaborated with the woman who was writing the Afterword for the book. Once done with all that, the manuscript went off to the proofreader. He is married to and works with the line editor. They are quite a pair. He hasn’t sent the final version back yet, but I know when he gets done with it, it will be cleaner than I ever thought possible. And possibly as done as I’m ever going to get it.

The time came to set up a blog tour with Your Great Escapes Blog Tour. It goes from September 6th through the 19th. This means, of course, I will have to write character guest posts, Heather guest posts, answer interview questions, and convert the manuscript to MOBI, epub, and PDF files for bloggers and reviewers to read. Meanwhile, I continue to push the preorder button to as many reader as I can as often as I can without becoming totally obnoxious about it. And sometimes I walk a thin line.

I also created the print book cover, based on the cover the CA made for the eBook. Making the spine, back cover, not to mention (but I will) writing a shorter, more curt blurb for the back cover took me several days but it saved me 300 plus dollars. Doing a lot of these things myself saves money, but still getting the book out on the shelf, whether it’s a real shelf or an online one, usually costs a couple of thousand dollars. But when you are competing with the big boys, you gotta have a product that does just that.

September 15th is right around the corner and I’m not done yet. Busy, busy, busy. But right now you’ll have to excuse me. I need to take a nap.

Coming Into Its Own by Heather Haven

Back in 2007, I had been challenged by other writers to create a protagonist who wasn’t Barbie doll perfect. So I came up with The Persephone Cole Vintage Mystery Series. It takes place in 1942 Manhattan during the beginning of the country’s entrance into WWII. The stories revolve around one of the country’s first female detectives, a full-figured gal named Persephone (Percy) Cole. She is 5’11”, strong, able, and very secure living in a man’s world. At 35 years old, which was considered middle-aged for the times, she has a mouth on her, wears Marlene Dietrich pants suits, altered for her size, and her father’s fedora hat. She is also a single mother who moves back into her parents 4th floor walk-up on the lower east side, as much for her 8-year old son’s sake as that of her parents.

From the git-go I loved Percy. I had accidentally created my ideal protagonist, a woman who could go anywhere a man could go, do anything a man could do, and was smarter and sassier about it. I was surprised when the books didn’t leap off the shelves after publication. Or at least climb off. I thought for sure women would love to read about a woman who found her place in the sun, even with everything stacked against her, and did it with humor and guile. Didn’t happen. Meanwhile, the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries continued in their popularity, this sparkly, contemporary series about a Silicon Valley detective agency led by protagonist Lee Alvarez, who is, frankly gorgeous on every level. Make no mistake, I am forever grateful for that. But still.

I had a pang in my heart for my beloved Percy, her son, Oliver, Mother, Pop, and their 1940’s world. However, after the 3rd book of the series didn’t sell any more copies than the first two, I decided to stop writing them and move on. But still the pang lingered. The Alvarez Family grew in popularity, Percy Cole continued to languish.

But I see the world has changed. And a woman’s place in it. Women like being physically strong now. They like knowing they can defend themselves and not depend on a big strong man to do it for them. They appreciate – we appreciate – self-sufficiency. So I have decided to pull Percy out, dust her off, and see if this pistachio nut eating heroine will go. I am currently writing the 4th book of the series.

Wish me luck.