I’m rewriting my fourth novel and I have a problem with the title. Or rather, others do.
My tentative title is Sausalypso Houseboat Wars Murder Mystery or maybe I leave off the last word and call it Sausalypso Houseboat Wars Murder.
I like it, but more than a few people, whose opinions I value, have questioned my use of “Sausalypso” instead of “Sausalito.” So far I’ve resisted listening to them. But I don’t want to be stubborn for the sake of being stubborn.
I’m writing fiction, but the story is loosely based on real events that happened in Sausalito in the late 1970s, where hippie squatters living in houseboats faced off against city leaders and developers, who wanted to remove them. When sheriff deputies attempted to evict houseboaters, they were met with protesters in their dinghies pushing away the police boats with oars. The conflict escalated when protesters sank a barge in the middle of the night to block construction equipment.
There was no murder, as far as I know. That part is 100 percent fictional.
In the book, there are a number of other instances where I have changed names, like swapping out Richardson Bay for “Rich Bay,” and I have a bar/restaurant called “The Bar Whose Name We Dare Not Speak,” which plays off the real No Name Bar on Bridgeway. I’ve also changed the name of former Sausalito Mayor Sally Stanford, who was a notorious brothel madam in San Francisco before she moved to Sausalito to open a restaurant and become mayor. I call her Sally Cal. Get it? Some people will.
My reason for these fictionalizing these names is to remind the reader that I’m not writing about the real Sausalito, but a parallel city I call Sausalypso. It gives me more creative license to make up whatever I want. Though I am careful to keep things set in the late 1970s. There are no cell phones or Teslas or lattes with oat milk.
Lots of fiction uses real place names. But plenty of authors make up names. One of my favorite writers, legal thriller author Scott Turow, sets most of his books in a fictional Kindle County, which is a thinly disguised Chicago/Cook County. Turow was born in Chicago and has lived and worked in the area most of his life. His fictionalized name for the Cubs baseball team is the Trappers.
I also like the whimsical sound of the word “Sausalypso.” I have also considered it by itself as a one-word title. Something like: Sausalypso: The Houseboat Wars Murder Mystery.
Of course, I can always come up with a title that does not have the city name in it, but I still need to use the name of the city in the novel. One idea is to call the book Gate 9: The Sausalypso Houseboat Wars Murder Mystery. There is no Gate 9, but there was and still is a Gate 5 and a Gate 6. (“The Gates” were the entrances to Marinship, the World War II ship factory on the Sausalito waterfront, where the houseboat harbors are today.)
I’d love to hear what you think — primarily about “Sausalypso” vs. “Sausalito,” as well as about the broader idea of fictionalizing real life names.
You can post a comment below or send me an email at [email protected].
P.S. I’m not promising this is some democratic exercise. I reserve the right to ignore what you say. However, if I’m the only person who thinks “Sausalypso” is a good idea, I might reconsider.
Shawn Greene says
Hi John. I think using something like “Sausalypso” is great! I also believe a tiny change in how it’s spelled will help. Consider using one of the suggestions below. They look better to me, and will probably make more sense to readers who don’t know how Sausalito is actually spelled.
Also want to say “mystery” in the title is not helpful and not needed at all. If I were queen of the decision I would not include “murder” in the title, either. I am attracted to:
Gate 9: The Sausilypso Houseboat Wars
Sausylypso: The Houseboat Wars
Marylee MacDonald says
Honest opinion? It’s a bad idea and will undercut the premise of your story. If Edward Abbey could write THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG using real place names, then so can you.
ph garrett says
Sorry, but I think it’s a forgettable title
Pauline Wiles says
I like the quirkiness of Sausalypso but in terms of marketing the book (and getting into local bookstores?) I’ve a feeling using Sausalito would be stronger. As long as you’re not worried about the real-place-lawsuits risk (and I’m sure you’ve done ample homework there)… then I’d vote for the real name.
Peter Ingle says
Shawn and Pauline raise solid points. In concurrence with them, I suggest some additional options:
• The Sausalito Houseboat Wars
• The Sausalito Houseboat Wars: when hippies in houseboats faced off against city leaders who wanted to oust them
Sandra V McGee says
For the title: THE SAUSALITO HOUSEBOAT WARS: A Murder Mystery
And I’d prefer mostly real names and places.
Mike Van Horn says
I would not use Sausalypso unless it was something integral to the story–more than a town name.
Sausalito is a known name, and is therefore a much better keyword. Think of all the ways somebody could misspell Sausalypso while searching for your book.
Also, “. . .alypso” sounds like calypso, which makes me think of the Caribbean, not California.
I’d vote for “Sausalito Houseboat Wars.”
Judy Juanita says
I agree. Sounds too close to Calypso. Why not use Sausalito…it’s built-in branding
Michael Beer says
As long as you’re collecting opinions and counting them, I’m opposed to Sausalypso for the reason that although the word calypso has a connection with the sea, it has a greater connection to a musical genre. Unless you story has reggae musicians in it, I would pass. Since the actual events are only the inspiration for a murder mystery, you could make up any name you want.
Is it the case that you see your audience as being from the Bay Area? But even so, many won’t know about those ‘wars” anyway. The story could take place in Nantucket.
I get the hippie, California, connection, but why not think up an enticing new name entirely?
John Byrne Barry says
Thank you all for your comments. I also received some responses via email and on the BAIPA Answers Forum.
The majority of people disagreed with my leaning toward a fictionalized title, that is, Sausalypso instead of Sausalito. The last two comments, from Mike Van Horn and Michael Beer, were especially useful because they noted that the “calypso” reference is more associated with the Caribbean or to the musical genre than to California.
Fortunately, I have many months of rewriting and editing ahead, so there’s time for me to percolate on this. Thank you all again, even though you didn’t give me the answer I wanted.