Every book needs a title. Pound for pound (or letter for letter), the words on the cover are probably more important than any of the words that appear on the pages inside.
I don’t remember exactly when I settled on the title for The First Assassin. It was years ago, for sure, but I’d been working on the manuscript for quite a while. I do remember thinking a lot about what to call it. The English professor in me once had the idea of alluding to a line from Shakespeare. I re-read Julius Caesar–a play about an assassination–with this objective in mind. Nothing really worked.
This brings to mind a game Salman Rushdie is said to have invented: Rename the plays of Shakespeare as if they were potboilers by Robert Ludlum. Hamlet becomes The Elsinore Vacillation, Macbeth turns into The Dunsinane Reforestation, and so on.
As it happens, Shakespeare was one of the first English writers to use the word “assassination.” That’s according to my Oxford English Dictionary. Yes, I’m such a geek that I often look up the etymologies of words, especially for words I’m thinking about putting in book titles. If you read the opening lines of the seventh scene of the first act of Macbeth, you’ll know how the idea of The Lincoln Surceasation came to me. If you have an ounce of common sense, you’ll know why it went away three seconds later.
At some point, The First Assassin just popped into my head. I don’t know why or how, but so often that’s the way writing works. I liked this title immediately. It’s simple. It conveys an important plot point. Perhaps best of all, it sounds like the title of a thriller. Since then, I haven’t thought about calling my book anything else.