I’ve been playing with piles of my books for a banner photo for FB–yes, I am preparing to put up a fan page on Facebook. What gorgeous covers. This photo doesn’t do them justice, but since I was writing about titles I thought it would be fun to include this.
My first published book began as a short story called “Managing.” It was about an apothecary’s wife who was trying to hide her husband’s illness from his guild master. Magazine and journal editors wrote encouraging rejections saying this wasn’t a short story but a tantalizing chapter. Why didn’t I write the novel in which it clearly belonged? So I tried. I called it The Apothecary Rose. The first draft wasn’t a mystery, but the story of how Lucie Wilton discovered the truth about her mother’s death while trying to hide her husband’s illness from the guild. I sent it off to an agent, who told me period novels didn’t sell (this was the late ’80s) unless they fit either the romance or mystery genres. I’d never considered writing either romances or mysteries, so I put Lucie’s story away and worked on other things–a short story collection set in a near future Appalachia, a medieval fantasy. But my heart wasn’t in those stories–Lucie Wilton and the apothecary in York were much more real to me. So I decided to write a crime novel. But I needed a detective. In the first draft there was a minor, nasty character I found strangely appealing, a one-eyed ex-soldier. It occurred to me that with a little rearranging he might fit the bill. But who was he? I began again, with a title that sounded more like a crime novel, Death Has No Remedy. That was the title when I found an agent, and it was the title under which it sold to St Martin’s Press. But as my editor reread it, he came upon the chapter titled “The Apothecary Rose” and called me to say that should be the book title. Hah!
I’ve just spent three years (well, Emma has, actually) writing a book about Joan of Kent, and with each draft (three) it had a different title. First it was The Hero’s Wife, but when I decided to split it in two I wanted to save that for the second book. So the second draft was Rebel Pawn. I had fun using chess terms for chapters. But neither my editor nor I liked the title very much. I thought it felt forced. Third draft was the charm, and with it a new title I love, A Triple Knot.
Last year I started plotting out the 11th Owen Archer. I chose for a working title A Woman’s Worth. But through the year, as I kept it simmering on the back burner, I completely changed the storyline and thought surely it needed a new title. This past month I’ve driven myself mad playing with titles, looking for lines in Shakespeare, in Chaucer, in Blake–I’ve read a great deal of wonderful poetry of late. And this week, as I fleshed out the characters, I realized Death Has No Remedy is just right for the story. A title that will finally have its day.
Updated 12 October 2013: Once again the title Death Has No Remedy is tossed aside, poor thing. The York Tavern’s resident master of conspiracy paranoia, Old Bede, inspired a title that truly sings for me, A Rumor of Wolves. Third time’s the charm, just as it was with A Triple Knot. Bless Old Bede (and don’t tell Bess Merchet I said that!).