Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Keeping it "Reel" by Robert Weibezahl

When I wrote my first mystery novel, The Wicked and the Dead, which Oak Tree Press has recently reissued in a new edition, I thought it would be fun to name my chapters titles, the way writers of an earlier age, such as Dickens or Melville, routinely did. Since the book—the first in a series that continues with The Dead Don’t Forget—is set in the film industry, with screenwriter Billy Winnetka as its amateur sleuth, I decided it would be fun to name the chapters after movies.

The trick was to find a movie title that somehow reflected the action in that chapter. Sounded simple enough, and the opening chapter, which takes place on a gorgeous Los Angeles day after a torrential rainstorm, all but named itself “Trouble in Paradise.” Other chapters, such as “D.O.A.,” wherein the first death is described, or “The Hospital,” where a character lands in intensive care, were no-brainers. I’ve loved old movies since I was a teenager, so some titles jumped immediately to mind: “The Letter,” “On the Beach,” “The Hustler.” But the manuscript had been written and revised numerous times and there were some chapters that didn’t yet have titles. 
 
I needed to stay true to my self-assigned task, and finding titles for those sections became a little like a criminal investigation itself. I scoured books like The Film Encyclopedia and Halliwell’s Film Guide (this was before IMDB.com) for movie titles that would strike me as to relevant to my story. Naming the chapters became a game in and of itself. My personal favorites may be the concurrent names of chapters twenty-four and twenty-five: “Fools Rush In” “Where Angels Fear to Tread.”
 
I hoped that readers might figure out what I was doing and have some fun with it themselves. Maybe even check out some of the films to see how they related to the action in my book. Only one or two readers, though, have personally commented to me that they’ve noticed my little game. 

Of course, when it came time to write The Dead Don’t Forget, I had committed myself to this idiosyncratic approach to chapter naming and there was no turning back. “All Fall Down,” “Fool for Love,” “The Night Visitor,” and “Take the Money and Run” would be some of my favorites in that second book. Of course, if I buckle down and write book three in the series, it might be chapter twenty-four’s title in The Dead Don’t Forget that proves the most prophetic: “Edge of Sanity.”





Robert Weibezahl is the author of two crime novels featuring screenwriter-sleuth Billy Winnetka, as well as co-editor of A Taste of Murder and A Second Helping of Murder. He has been a finalist for the Agatha, Macavity, and Derringer Awards. A long-time columnist for BookPage, his fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have also appeared in many national and regional publications. He lives in California.
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