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How Titles Form the Story
Hi! I’m so happy to be here at Amber’s. I’m Tara Lain and I’m celebrating the release of my new romance Cowboys Don’t Ride Unicorns. Among the things readers comment on and ask about a lot are my titles. For many authors, creating titles is a chore, an afterthought, or even a job they relegate to their publisher. Not for me. I find titles to be one of the most important drivers for my books. I usually create the title before I start writing and only occasionally change them. They actually help structure the story.
I think one reason I take so easily to title writing is my background in advertising as a creative director. It was (and still is) my job to create headlines for ads. Creating a headline is a process of focusing on the central message of an ad, finding a few words that capture that message, and then adding a twist if possible to make the headline more memorable. I remember a really old ad from IBM that said, “A Computer Isn’t Smart Enough to Make a Mistake.” I was a kid when I heard that and I never forgot it. That’s what I try to do with my books covers – central idea, few words, twist.
As an example, look at the titles for my Balls to the Wall series. The first book originally had a different title but I wasn’t happy with it. As I wrote, I got more into the volleyball aspect of the story but Volleyballs would be an odd title for a gay romance. I mulled on it and – bingo! The two words separated and became Volley Balls, which suggested a whole world of erotic possibilities. Volley Balls not only became the title, it set the naming convention for an entire series – Fire Balls, Beach Balls, FAST Balls, Snow Balls and two new books to be added – High Balls and Bleu Balls! Each title suggests something about the story as well as adding that bite of erotic, gay romance.
Even my titles that seem just your regular have a lot of thought behind them. Winter’s Wolf is a fairly ordinary title – until you read the book and realize the apostrophe was a clue to the book’s secret.
Knight of Ocean Avenue started out with a different title that I never liked. Then one hero called the other his knight and lights went on in my brain. The whole series follows the idea of a medieval title – Knight, Knave, Prince, Lord and coming up, Fool — associated with some aspect of the story – mostly actual geographic places.
That brings us to the Cowboys Don’t Series. I’m pretty sure I thought of the name Cowboys Don’t Come Out before I wrote the first book. I like the title. It tells the reader the story will be about cowboys and it will be a coming out story. But mostly I liked that it allowed me to create titles about things that cowboys don’t do. I knew the hero of my second book would be Danny, a secondary character from book 1 and I knew I wanted to make him a bull rider. Aside from that, I had no plot. In my brain I played with Cowboys Don’t and kept asking myself what they don’t do. The line Cowboys Don’t Ride Unicorns popped in my head. I loved it and so did everyone else I tried it on so I went with it. Interestingly, this choice of title actually molded the flow of the story. I asked myself what type of man would be as rare as a unicorn to an alpha-male cowboy? How about a flamboyant, femme hero who likes to top? That’s how my hero, Laurie, was born.
I hope you enjoy Cowboy’s Don’t Ride Unicorns. If you’d like to win an ecopy of Cowboys Don’t Come Out, please leave me a comment and I’ll select a winner by random number after a few days.
Excerpt: Cowboys Don’t Ride Unicorns by Tara Lain
Cowboy Danny Boone—a name he made up one drunken night and has regretted ever since—harbors a big past and yearns for a small future. A short, bright career as a champion bull rider almost ended in his death when his homophobic father discovered Danny was gay. Now Danny longs for a plot of land he can build a ranch house on and enough money to make up for some of the education he missed.
Danny also hides a preference for beautiful femmes who like to top—a combo rarer than a unicorn. Then onto the guest ranch where Danny works drives San Francisco decorator Laurie Belmont, a young man so gorgeous he makes horses gasp, and so ballsy he almost kills Danny’s attacker.
Laurie’s trying to find his way out from under the thumb of a domineering mother, helpless father, and rich, privileged boyfriend.
But no matter the attraction, their lives are worlds apart, and cowboys don’t ride unicorns.
Two hours later he’d drawn his bull—a huge sucker named Scorpion, and from the looks on Maury’s team’s faces, he must have the sting to go with the name. As they walked to the chutes, Maury clapped a hand on Danny’s shoulders. “Careful. Don’t underestimate Scorpion. He’s meaner than piss.”
“Sounds like not my luckiest draw.”
“Well, let’s just say he’ll earn a lot of points.”
Danny propped himself on the fence and slid onto the broad back, feeling the heat of the animal under him. He worked with the rope puller Maury had provided to get his bull rope in exactly the tautness and configuration he liked best. Scorpion shifted restlessly but didn’t try to slam Danny against the fence. Danny leaned down toward the twitching ear. “I’m your friend, Scorpion. I’ll make you look good if you return the favor.”
The cowboy closest to Danny chuckled.
The announcer called, “Next up, we got a new rider named Danny Boone. If you’ve been in California lately, you know Danny’s been doing his share of winning. So let’s see if he’s up to the great state of Nevada.”
Danny adjusted his vest, planted his hat, wrapped his hand tight enough to hold but not so tight he couldn’t let go—and nodded.
Fucking hell broke loose. The bull leaped out of the stall in a full breakaway—not a move bulls usually performed. Danny vaguely heard the crowd gasp over his own intake of breath. She-it. Just pretend he’s a bronc. Danny flapped his loose hand toward the sky and adjusted the roll of his hips and movement of his spine to accommodate the bull’s unique style. He spurred for a couple of extra points, but truth was he could barely stay on this sucker. Just try to look good. The hurt didn’t exist—until later.
Scorpion sunfished, throwing his legs to the side, and Danny rode the buck, trying like a son of a bitch to look in control. Wham! All four hooves hit the ground straight-legged, and the impact shot up Danny’s back in a bolt of pain. Much longer and that bell on the bull’s belly would be tolling for Danny. For an instant Laurie’s face flashed in his mind.
After what felt like an hour, the horn sounded.
He waited for old Scorpion to stop spinning, kicked to the side, and landed standing. Scorpion hadn’t taken kindly to Danny’s offer of friendship and took off after him like he’d been given a contract on his life. Danny leaped to the side and let Scorpion sail past. Two bullfighters jumped in front of Scorpion, but the damned bull was hard to distract. He swiped at Danny twice more, getting lots of reaction from the crowd, and finally stampeded after the bullfighters, who lured him into the exit chute.
Danny walked out of the arena too as the announcer said, “Looks like Danny Boone can take on the big dogs with the best of them. Good ride.”
A couple of guys slapped his shoulder, and he nodded. Don’t let ’em see you sweat.
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Tara Lain writes the Beautiful Boys of Romance in LGBT erotic romance novels that star her unique, charismatic heroes. Her first novel was published in January of 2011 and she’s now somewhere around book 36. Her best-selling novels have garnered awards for Best Series, Best Contemporary Romance, Best Paranormal Romance, Best Ménage, Best LGBT Romance, Best Gay Characters, and Tara has been named Best Writer of the Year in the LRC Awards. In her other job, Tara owns an advertising and public relations firm. She often does workshops on both author promotion and writing craft. She lives with her soul-mate husband and her soul-mate dog near the sea in California where she sets a lot of her books. Passionate about diversity, justice, and new experiences, Tara says on her tombstone it will say “Yes”!