At a recent gathering, a woman I’d just met, joked – ‘I’m not decent enough to read A DECENT WOMAN.’ A couple of weeks later, another person said the same thing. While I understood they were joking, I started thinking about the importance of a great title and awesome book covers.
As a reader, I love asking authors how they came up with their titles and book covers. My recent experiences with the jokes prompted a conversation with my best friend who suggested I write a blog post about how I came up with the title of my historical novel, and why I selected an image of a bare-breasted black woman for the book cover. Thanks for the great suggestion, K!
During the writing and editing of a novel, a writer is very close to their story, so much so, they may forget readers are from every part of the world, speaking dozens of languages, and have entirely different life experiences to ours. Reader’s interpretation of book titles, book covers, and stories will be as varied as grains of sand on the ocean floor. Now, while an author can’t control how their title, book cover image, and their story are received and interpreted by a reader, she can write blog posts about how I came up with my title and book cover image!
The title, A DECENT WOMAN, and the image on my book cover are perfect for my historical novel.
BOOK COVER –
I chose to use a portion of an image of the painting, Portrait d’une Negresse by Marie-Guillemine Benoist because I fell in love with the painting during one of my many visits to Paris. Years after I finished my manuscript, I discovered the symbolism this painting inspired when it was exhibited at the Salon in Paris in 1880 – the emancipation of women, the abolishment of slavery, and the rights of black people. I was thrilled. The protagonist of A DECENT WOMAN, freed slave, Ana Belén, is a single midwife living in 1900 Puerto Rico who fights society and male medical doctors as they enter the birthing room. Perfect.
I sent my ideas along with a copy of the vintage-inspired font to the cover designer I’m working on for this project, Greg Simanson, and he put together the awesome cover. I’m sure Greg will do as great a job on the back cover, as well. I leave that to the cover designer pros!
The original manuscript of A DECENT WOMAN was called, ‘The House on Luna Street’. My Puerto Rican grandparents lived on Luna Street in Ponce, Puerto Rico before they moved from the city center to the suburbs. I later discovered Rosario Ferré’s novel, ‘The House on the Lagoon’ and the novel, ‘House on Mango Street’ by Sandra Cisneros. Too close for my comfort. After much deliberation, I scrapped the title and filed the photograph I’d taken of an old front door painted light aqua with a half-moon cut out for a future book. Now, I’m very happy I didn’t use that title– it no longer fits the novel that evolved after rewrites and a bit more research.
Through my research of turn of the century Puerto Rico, I realized the themes of my story were decency and indecency, and the dark side of our personality that often comes out when we are abused, lost, desperate, struggling, and poor. I explored how easily good people can fall into indecent situations that lead them to the dark side. I continued exploring themes and the word ‘decent’ kept popping up, but I still couldn’t come up with a title. Sometimes the simplest and amazing titles are the ones right under our noses!
The character of Ana Belén, a hard-working woman who struggles to lead a decent, honest life, is plagued by a crime she committed as a slave in Cuba. Her dark past must remain a secret if she is to continue working as a midwife in Puerto Rico. When a second crime is committed, this time on Ana’s behalf, the themes of light, forgiveness, and redemption enter the last half of the book. You will have to read my book to see what, why, where and how Ana deals with all that! The title fit and stuck.
A DECENT WOMAN is a story of betrayal and choices, sacrifice and love. The combustive backdrop of 1900 Puerto Rico after the United States invasion of the island offers a provocative look into the complex lives of women of that era.
A DECENT WOMAN, COMING OUT AUTUMN 2014 WITH BOOKTROPE.