Five Titles In Search Of A Novel

I’ve been writing historical romance since I was 17, and since then I’ve never wanted to write any other kind of novel. I don’t get plot bunnies for them, either.

What I do get are titles.

Seriously, I have a whole list of titles for never-to-be-written novels in such genres as:

The Great American Novel: Meet Me in Sumner J. Calish Square.
The Great American Expatriate Novel: The Bushes in Paris Have Thorns.
The Great Jewish-American Novel: Envious Kishke (and its sequel, Kaddish Cheese).
The Great American Novel with a Southern Setting: A Jar Big Enough to Hold the Sky.

I have no desire to actually WRITE any of these books. I don’t know anything about their plots or characters, and anyway my talent is for writing an entirely different kind of book. But what I love about them is that you can tell from the title exactly what KIND of book they would be.

Obviously romance titles are often instantly recognizable too, and a lot of the time you can even guess subgenre: historical, paranormal, romantic suspense, comedy, &c. Which is something I love. I think it’s amazing how genres and subgenres develop their own style and culture and conventions that a community of writers and readers can play with and follow and subvert and love and laugh at and share and make their own.

I love fake books and book titles within novels, too, so long as it’s done with affection–for example, The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death in Ellen Kushner’s Riverside novels.

I also love when real period titles get a mention. In In for a Penny, my hero reads Chronicles of an Illustrious House; or the Peer, the Lawyer, and the Hunchback. That’s an actual book published by the Minerva Press in 1816, and it’s much funnier than anything I could have come up with on my own!

Of course, it’s not foolproof. For example, when I first saw the movie poster for “Immortal Beloved,” I was CONVINCED it was going to be a vampire movie. You’ve got the intense 19th century guy in a red cravat, the beautiful women with chokers, and of course, the name–“Immortal Beloved.” (Obviously, I knew nothing about the life of Beethoven.) I was completely stunned at being wrong. All the signs were there!

Does anyone else make up titles for books you’ll never write? And if so, what are your titles?

And was there ever a time you were fooled by a title?

I have not the heart to disfigure my heroes and heroines by costumes so hideous

One of my favorite artists is Kate Beaton. She draws whimsical, energetic, hilarious webcomics–and a lot of them have historical subjects! One of my favorite Regency-themed ones is this one about Prinny.

Anyway, when I was visiting New York a few months ago and went to meet my editor Leah, I wore my Napoleon-eating-cookies t-shirt. Alissa, an assistant editor at Dorchester, asked me about it, so I sent along a couple of comics with my contract. (Okay I need to take a moment. Typing “my contract” is still very exciting for me.)

So Leah went to the Museum of Comics and Comic Arts festival and MET her! I am so, so jealous. Kate even drew her a cute sketch of Jane Austen being long-suffering about the hot men in her head and their unreasonable demands. Check it out here in Leah’s blog!

One of the things I love about Kate Beaton is the way she draws historical clothing. She captures so much personality and period detail with a few simple lines. And this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but I love historical clothing. I’ll admit to a soft spot for Georgian fashion (powder and patch!), but I really, really adore Regency-era stuff too.

Guess who hated Regency fashion? Thackeray. His novel Vanity Fair takes place over about ten or fifteen years (not sure exactly) surrounding the Battle of Waterloo. The recent movie with Reese Witherspoon had FABULOUS costumes–Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ haircut in that movie is one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen, and I’m not even a big fan of his. But when Thackeray drew his illustrations, he used contemporary (late 1840s) clothing. Here’s his explanation:

“It was the author’s intention, faithful to history, to depict all the characters of this tale in their proper costume, as they wore them at the commencement of this century. But when I remember the appearance of people in those days, and that an officer and lady were actually habited like this–

Image credit: Vanity Fair (1848) by Thackeray via Google Books

I have not the heart to disfigure my heroes and heroines by costumes so hideous; and have, on the contrary, engaged a model of rank dressed according to the present fashion.”

I have always found this absolutely hilarious, because to me, 1840s clothes are SO much less attractive.

But remember how, until a couple of years ago, everyone was so hideously embarrassed by the eighties? It was impossible to look at eighties fashion and find it even remotely attractive. And now you see sort of modernized, sexy depictions of eighties fashion around sometimes, and the nineties are starting to seem a little embarrasing (oh dear God, the shoulderpads! the HAIR! Watch an episode of “Lois and Clark” sometime and you’ll see what I mean).

When I was in elementary school (early 90s) there was NOTHING more horrifying than bellbottoms. I remember watching some kind of educational film made in the seventies when I was about ten, and every time a pair of bellbottoms came on screen the entire class would start laughing. And then flared jeans and peasant blouses came back in style, and “That 70s Show” took 70s fashion and made it look pretty adorable, and pictures of the 70s don’t seem quite so appalling anymore. (They’re still a LITTLE appalling.)

Is there a ten-to-twenty-year rotation on this stuff? Was Regency fashion Thackeray’s equivalent of the eighties?

And how can the same outfit seem so great at the time, so awful a few years later, and kind of cute and nostalgic after a couple of decades?