Mystery Mondays: Judy Penz Sheluk on Book Titles

Judy and I met thought blogging about books, and now we have a publisher in common. Imajin Books, of course. I read Judy’s novel, Hanged Man’s Noose, loved it, and reached out to connect with Judy online. So it is with great pleasure, I have Judy here today to share her knowledge.

Judy Penz Sheluk on Book Titles

If you read mysteries and find a book with the title G is for Gumshoe, you’re likely to make the connection: this is one of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. Ditto for Sudden Prey: has to be John’s Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series. Other authors, like Kristina Stanley, have found another winning “formula,” in Kristina’s case, one word titles: Descent, Blaze, Avalanche. Find a book with a pun-ny title, like Janet Bolin’s Night of the Living Thread 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

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00072]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 ShelukJudy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016.

Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Find Judy on her website/blog at, where she interviews other authors and blogs about her writing journey.

Find Skeletons in the Attic:








18 thoughts on “Mystery Mondays: Judy Penz Sheluk on Book Titles

  1. Thanks for commenting Darlene. It’s always a struggle for me, initially, even with short stories. And until I have the title, the story doesn’t seem “real” to me. It’s always a relief when I have the title!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The initial title for BLAZE was BURNT, but Imajin books thought BLAZE was a more active word and better suited to the novel. So I changed it long after I’d been referring to it at BURNT. Hard to do, but worth it.


  2. Very interesting post, Judy. I think distinctive titles are important. They tend to “grab” my attention more quickly and effectively than an obscure or bland title. In my mystery series someone (or someones) always die. I wanted a quick, snappy title, so two words were my limit. I decided on “Deadly” as the keyword common to all the books in the series. The second word would be a “teaser” that related in some way with the storyline, though not always obvious until well into the plot–sometimes sooner, sometimes later.

    Thanks again, Judy, and Kristina, thank you for featuring Judy on your blog!


    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting post. I too find that sometimes the perfect title appears in the text. I have a working title for the second book in my series that I like but it’s been used a million times. I’ll remember this post as I work on my next draft and look for those title gems.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sometimes beta readers can help too. If you ask a beta reader to look for a title, you might get some interesting suggestions. I asked for a title on a blog for the 4th in the Stone Mountain Mystery series and I think I have the title from one of the commenters. That was a cool experience. I just gave a short blurb of what the book was about, and voila – a host of ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kristin, I enjoyed this post. Thank you Judy for giving us insight into how writing one scene in your story can lead to a lightbulb moment in another aspect of the book. I’m definitely adding SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC to my TBR list 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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