Monday, July 21, 2008

Oh, to Be Entitled

Yswfrontsm200dpi I've spent a delightful week at Candice Hern's discussion board, talking with the Bluestockings about Your Scandalous Ways & my heroes & heroines, & sharing my addiction to crumbly old books. It made a nice finish to long workdays of trying to beat the WIP into submission.

However, since the battle involved some forays into crumbly old books and buying a couple, that was fun, too.

What isn’t fun is coming up very soon, I think: Titling the WIP.

Oh, sure, I have a working title: Gag Me With a Spoon. Betty_huttton_spoonThis is my reaction to most of the titles I come up with.

I have a fallback title but I’m not in love with it.

Strangely enough, the majority of my books carry the titles I originally gave them. Along with most of the traditional Regencies, the first three Carsington books have my original titles. But Not Quite a Lady, like other of my books, involved considerable discussion with publishing professionals. Likewise Your Scandalous Ways, which started out as Not Quite a Hero.

Chess_pieces The Lion’s Daughter started out as The Black Queen.
Captives of the Night started out as The Golden Prince.

Making titles isn’t easy. Sometimes you nail it the first time. Other times you end up with a title you don’t love but accept as the best you can do at the time.

Woman_with_knife We can’t just stick any title we want on a book. There are titles that might sound “too contemporary” or “too romantic suspense” or “too mystery” or “too historical fiction” or too Monty Python.

Then there are good words and bad words, and these change over time as well as from publisher to publisher.

Many of you can easily list the current popular title words: Scandal, Mistress, Secret...etc. Listing them is one of those entertaining book games, like Make Fun of the Cover.

Some publishers' titles are distinctive, even to me, a writer stupendously oblivious to publishing trends. At Harlequin, for instance, I noticed the interesting He/She titles: Virgin Slave, Barbarian King; Scandalous Lord, Rebellious Miss; Notorious Rake, Innocent Lady.

1805courtshipcaricature Thing is, I suspect that Innocent Slut, Lazy Duke is not going to go over really well with my publisher.

Sometimes authors are inspired. The perfect title comes as a bolt from the blue. Sometimes...not.

And sometimes readers (including me) think they can do better. Or at least funnier.

If you want to amuse yourself, here are some titles you can try renaming:

Frankenstein_1831_insidecoverwGone With the Wind
Sense and Sensibility
Moby Dick
Great Expectations

Originally posted at Word Wenches--and as you all know by now, the untitled WIP became Don't Tempt Me.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Francesca's Tattoo


Fourth of July. U.S. Independence Day. I always wonder, What if King George III and his ministers had handled things differently? What if, over here, the pro-England side had prevailed over the dump-England side? What would we call ourselves? Maybe the U.S. and Canada would all be the same country. We wouldn’t be the U.S. Would we be Canada?

But what I wonder most is, Would Regency-era historical romances be as popular?

Since a great many of our readers are not in the U.S., I’m going to skip the Independence Day blog. Besides, I want to talk about tattoos.

In the course of my cybertour for Your Scandalous Ways, I’ve been asked more than once about Francesca’s tattoo. Readers emailed me about it, as well.

Lautrec_the_tattooed_woman_1894 This was one of those topics I’d thought of addressing at some point in the story itself, but the right opportunity never appeared. This happens a lot. There are lots of little substories that don’t get told because it would disrupt the pacing to do so, and the topic doesn’t seem important enough for a detour...and I have only so much time to write a book as well as only so many pages.

So leaving out the story of Francesca’s tattoo was an artistic decision. It bothered me a little at first, but the more I thought about it, the less inclined I was to try to wedge it into the story. I figured this could be one of those “make up your own story” things. Like, “Make up your own story about what happens to Francesca and James after the end of the book.”

Mehndi_designs_4 Let me start out by saying that anyone who wants to imagine Francesca has one of those henna tattoos that wear off after a few weeks should feel free to go on seeing it that way. It’s a great concept.

Here’s what was in my mind: Tattoos were unheard of among the upper classes in Francesca's day. Edward VII got one when he was Prince of Wales--but that was almost half a century later. Tattoos in Francesca’s time were not respectable, absolutely not for ladies. They were for sailors and criminals and savages. So one element of Francesca’s tattoo is shock value--and that’s clear in the scene at the opera. Even James, who’s seen it all, is shocked to see it. After all, she may be a courtesan, but she’s a lady by birth.

Portsmouth_point_rowlandsonwk Where did she get it? By Francesca’s time there were professional tattoo artists in major ports, to accommodate the sailors. I imagined that by this time there must be at least one professional tattoo artist in big, cosmopolitan cities like London and Paris. I envisioned her getting her tattoo in Paris, as an act of defiance and a permanent symbol of her having turned her back on respectability.

I chose a serpent partly because of the Cleopatra-asp association. Both Byron and James Cordier associate Francesca's unusual looks with an Egyptian goddess or queen. I envisioned the kind of snakes one sees in Egyptian art and hieroglyphs. Too, given the tools available, a simpler tattoo, say, from a hieroglyph, seemed to make the most sense.
One reader suggested a Garden of Eden connection. That works well, too, given it’s her job to tempt men.
The_death_of_cleopatra_arthurwk Another thing I considered was the pain and the risk. They used sewing needles and rubbed in the ink. I have no doubt it was a great deal more painful than today’s tattoos and of course the risk of infection was much a time when there were no antibiotics. Again, this says something about Francesca’s character, her inner toughness, her daring--and the ferocity of her anger with the world that rejected her and which she, symbolically, rejects when she gets her tattoo.

Maori_tattoowk One reader asked why the tattoo doesn’t appear on the cover. Covers are painted long before the book is finished, and they're usually based on the story outline, rather than actual chapters. I did not mention the snake tattoo in the outline (one doesn't go into this much detail). The covers are meant to appeal to a broad audience, and Avon has done a great job, I think, in making my recent covers very beautiful and apt. I also suspect that, given the genre and the fact that not everyone likes tattoos, it would have been left out of the picture, even if I'd made prominent mention of it in the outline.

Originally posted at Word Wenches.