For a long time, I’ve had this idea that maybe coming up with a really great title for a book could make it a bestseller. Or maybe coming up with a really great title could even somehow prime a great book out of an author. Almost like a magic spell.
I’ve always loved the classic titles that come from even-more classic works, like phrases from Renaissance poetry (Death be not Proud or For Whom the Bell Tolls, for example), from Shakespeare (Brave New World, The Sound and the Fury) or Biblical passages (The Grapes of Wrath — sort of). Or how about Shakespeare’s own titles? (As You Like It or Love’s Labor’s Lost…) Ha! It seems that my favorite titles tend to come from Shakespeare.
Unfortunately, I haven’t come up with a magic title yet myself — unless it’s the one for the book I’m working on (which I won’t mention yet, lest someone use it before me). Of my previous books, As You Wish has always been the bestselling, and I sometimes wonder if it’s because the title is similar to As You Like It. My husband speculates that maybe people tend to find the book because the title comes early in the alphabet. One person commented to me that the phrase reminds them of The Princess Bride.
I don’t know. It’s sort of (vaguely) like that John Wanamaker quote: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
In college, when I read Troilus and Cressida (known as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” because it’s neither comedy nor tragedy), I felt Cressida got a bad rap as the epitome of infidelity. To summarize the plot, with the Trojan War as backdrop, Troilus and Cressida declare their love and make love, but the next morning when the Trojans want to trade her to the Greeks for a prisoner of war, he doesn’t object. Later, when she hooks up with one of the Greeks, he’s floored.
The thing is, if you were Cressida in the midst of a war being fought over a woman (Helen), but your Trojan lover didn’t raise hell about you being traded to the enemy, how would you feel? Personally, I think I would have hooked up with a Greek, too.
In The Artful Miss Irvine, Maeve Irvine reads Troilus and Cressida after being dumped by a fortune hunter who cited duty to family as his reason for marrying a woman with more money. With that baggage, Maeve is indignant that Troilus accepts duty to Troy as a reason to trade Cressida for a POW. When Maeve moves from Boston to London, she meets Adrian, Duke of Ashton, and is attracted to him, but he’s her late cousin’s widower, and she learns that he left to go to war while her cousin was pregnant. To Maeve, it’s another case of a man choosing duty over a woman, and it’s not acceptable.
Of course, there’s more to Adrian’s story, but that has to work its way out. To read the first couple of chapters, click here and scroll down. To read Troilus and Cressida online, go to Project Gutenberg.