Judith Ivory Answers Your Questions

(May 10, 2000)

 

The February Covers Covered by Carol garnered a great deal of reader response, in no small part because Judith herself dropped by often, after being invited by columnist Carol Irvin. Editor Sandi Morris poured over all the messages and synthesized it into what you'll find below.

If you've ever read a book by Judy Cuevas aka Judith Ivory, or thought about reading a book by her, you'll likely find this this give-and-take quite interesting. Be warned, however, that spoilers for some of the books are given.

Judith Ivory writes:

Let me take a moment to thank Carol publicly for a very well done article. She really tackled a lot of material and organized it so well, made it so readable and make her points clearly. More amazing still, she got the facts right. It is surprisingly rare that a journalist writes such a long article without getting some crazy thing or other backward, which she didn't. The old joke, just so long as they spell my name right. Of course, Carol did that two, for both names. Judith Ivory aka Judy Cuevas.

I always think there are two imaginations at play in reading a novel, the authors but also the readers. So no interpretation can be wrong exactly. If that's what someone gets, that's what they get.

I disagree more (though not a lot) on her conclusions regarding the covers themselves. I esthetically love many of her ideas, but in the marketplace I'm just not willing to be the experimental model. I'll take the good ol' romance cover any day. It is death, let me tell you, not to let romance readers know for sure - within seconds as they scan the books - that they are looking at a romance with all the elements they read romance for.

So as much as I would love esthetically to see an impressionist painting or such (I also covet the Pre-Raphaelites), the businesswoman in me says it is impractical at the present time. Romance readers would pass right over the book without even realizing they had. They're just not expecting to see that kind of cover on one of 'their' books.

Also, for the record, Beast was the first title by an unknown author, so the cover was really all anyone was buying on in the first few weeks. It went into two more printings within a very short time (and has gone into several more), so I have to assume the cover was really working for that book.

See, there are two things to consider for a cover: 1) esthetics, which frankly most publishers put in second position to 2) magnetism or whatever you want to call it, the sort of cover that just ends up in readers hands as they stand there, then ends up at the cash register. And to get to the cash register, it takes a whole package, not just a good cover. 'The back cover has to work, the quotes, the opening pages.' I am so glad I don't have to worry much about this. Avon is excellent partner in getting my books to the register *G*.

I've really enjoyed these posts. All of them. Even the negative comments are thoughtful. I see nothing mean-spirited here at all. Only genuine exchange and opinions, lots of thinking. Which I must say is my favorite thing of all. If I do one thing with my books besides entertain - which is my number one goal - I would love to make people think. My books make me think, so why not others. Thank you for this. For all these comments here. And, yes, I'll be happy to address what I have time to. I can keep popping back till your questions are answered.

"I usually find her characters to be so self-satisfied that they are amoral."

I think perhaps they might come across as smug, complacent, so happy in their little world they are unwilling to change. And I guess this is my message to myself and readers, to one degree or another in nearly all my books: Don't be. And oh oh oh isn't it easy to be? We are such creatures of habit. Change does not come to us easily. Especially changes of personality, growth. It is almost always thrust upon us. So I do frequently set up my characters as merrily going along when something happens that will no longer permit them to travel the easy path. And then they struggle against the change, trying to refind to their old comfort that really doesn't work anymore

"I’m always left edgy, irritated and wanting explanations. On the other hand they among my very favorites."

Which makes me grin. Not to irritate, no. I hope to entertain you. But thinking is great entertainment. And thinking about life and what it's all about is a good thing. In Black Silk (always be wary of people who quote themselves, but still it remains important to me) I used a double epigraph in front of one chapter: "An unexamined life in not worth living," which is from Socrates. Then "Socrates was suicidal," which was from the hero. And of course Socrates did drink the hemlock, so Graham is being amusing, because he is saying that he has been forced to examine his life, which is supposed to be good, but he hates it.

There is another quote I love from Daniel Martin by John Fowles, a fave of mine: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symtoms appears." (Antonia Gramsci, Prison Notebook). To my mind, Graham of Black Silk and Sebastien (two very different characters) share this situation. That they are about to make a huge change in themselves, but before that can happen they are in chaos, the new self struggling against the old to be born.

"Sebastien thinks his wife is beautiful, the perfect social asset, but he has no emotional attachment to her at all. He lives separately and sees her only for society gatherings or family birthdays, Christmas etc. There is a description in Bliss of him going to her home for a 6 year old daughter’s birthday, meeting wife upstairs for a quick coupling and leaving."

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And from his point of view. You get this impression, I hope, from him. For he suddenly sees, when he compares his marriage to the odd union of his brother and Hannah, that his 'perfect' match is indeed a 'cold, nasty arrangement.' It is the beginning of his growth. He fights this growth in Bliss and is a true villain, I think, because of the tenacity with which he clings to his old, destructive beliefs.

It was my intention to make life give him a horrible comeuppance in Bliss. He loses everything he cherishes. The chateau and all its treasures are destroyed. He sees he has no connection to his children and wife, then loses any hope of mending much when his wife goes. His brother 'betrays' him, leaves, and won't speak to him. His most loathsome business partner is injured horribly, and Sebastien is left to clean up the mess, becoming oddly the man's best friend.

Sebastien is left bewildered. Everything he believes seems to have turned out not to be true. Marie, that interlude on the wedding day, strikes him as insanity. Yet it is the beacon, the honest moment in a life rife with dishonesty with himself.

I loved him because my life, all our lives have bits of this. I could exaggerate this awful aspect of personality and find compassion for it in him. He had so much that was good, too. He wanted to do right, to be good. And he wanted to be loved, though he just couldn't figure out what he was doing wrong to get it. Marie showed him.

"One month later Margarite kills herself. Sebastion doesn’t feel any guilt, remorse or regret."

On this, I would defend Sebastien a tiny bit. She was a country away. He hadn't seen her in months. They weren't close. His self-discovery that he felt so little guilt pointed all this out - the emptiness of his life and probably hers (though how could he even know about hers)? I do believe it would have been even more neurotic of him to think he controlled in some way an event that happened at such remove - both physical and emotional. He had nothing to do with her life - sadly - so how could he have much to do with her death? Other than he ignored her. But it wasn't as if an adult woman couldn't go get what she needed elsewhere. Plenty of men ignore their wives, and they don't resort to morphine or kill themselves.

This marriage arrangement, btw, was not that uncommon among the upperclass in France at the time. People married almost as a business decision, and if they couldn't love one another, they (theoretically) treated each other respectfully, while very discreetly finding love elsewhere. Très French.

"He says his only remorse is that he doesn’t 'feel' properly, he is happy to have her gone."

An expression of how sad and empty his life is. He wished he cared, truly cared, for someone. He can't connect or establish emotional intimacy. And I agree with many readers here - he never does do brilliantly at it, even in Dance. But with Marie he does much much better, with the hope of maturing nicely in his later years.

"I can’t square Sebastien's complete lack of guilt"

But he didn't do anything to cause her death. What should he feel guilty over? Other than how convenient he finds it that she died - and he does express guilt over this. He doesn't like himself for it. This little zing propels him toward change, though in the end he lets go of that too. To move forward, one's energy must be directed forward, no? The past is unchangeable. I think this new awareness of himself makes him behave very differently with Marie. He sings to her. I can't imagine him getting to that stage without facing for a moment at least what a horrid man he was becoming - to have actually found his wife's death sad but ... convenient.

"I really really liked Sleeping Beauty. I did not find the characters there to be at all unsympathetic or confusing - quite the reverse, I found them original and interesting and admirable and believable human beings, quite memorable to me, and I also found their romance very romantic, and the book said some things about past treatment of women and about colonialism in Africa that I thought were worthwhile too. In fact, I voted for Sleeping Beauty as my favorite romance of 1998."

I'm glad you liked it. That was my first attempt to actually consider the characters' likability. Funny, but I guess I just like people of all sorts myself. I have no trouble liking people who are quite flawed. Only with much mail did I realize that a branch of romance readers want ... oh, I don't know how to put it - less neurotic? more wholesome? more admirable? maybe just more heoric? - characters. No problem, I thought. I like so many kinds of people, I can easily write about the noble of heart. Although I may be tired of it after two books. I notice the WIP has a pretty argumentative pair. Don't know what people will think of Sam and Lydia.

"I loved James Stoker in Sleeping Beauty (he was fabulous), but Coco is the only major character of Cuevas/Ivory's who was ever unconvincing to me. I never for even one minute believed that she'd been the courtesan of rulers because she never had any thoughts, feelings or recollections of these affairs, and how could she possibly not? I'm not saying she should have been dwelled on it endlessly, but rather that her character would have been formed by these experiences. She went into the profession as a teenager and spent most of her adult life in intimate company of complex, powerful men. She could have loved it, hated it, or treated the job like doing the dishes but whatever the case her attitude should have been conveyed, she should have had one, and this attitude would have been a clue to who the character was. Since I never found out what she felt about it, I didn't find her remotely believable as an ex-courtesan."

Interesting on Coco's thoughts about being a courtesan. I had several places where she referred to them, spoke about her past in the book, but the editor suggested I cut them, and I agreed after discussing the matter.

The thing is, Coco was a happy woman. She enjoyed what she'd done once she realized that this was what she had to do. My ed thought - and I agree - there would be readers who would cringe every time she mentioned liking her relationships to married men. I was dodging a moral judgment on her, which was tricky, given what she'd done for living.

In terms of the integrity of the book, I decided her comfort with herself and her continuing relationship with many of the man she'd slept with spoke enough about how she felt. She didn't blame herself for coping the best she could in a time when women had few choices. She took what pleasure there was to have from the situations life provided. Oh, if only I could do that. *G*

She did very boldly, if obliquely, defend her relationship with the Prince of Wales to James in an early chapter, saying where the Prince put his c__k was no one's business but his own. The fact that she goes to that dinner party late in the book, where many of the men were at one time her clients, is comfortable, and simply uses her charms in a limited way on James, I thought, spoke to this issue as well. Plus, for her, to have her charms now result in James truly loving her, chasing her down, wanting her physically, emotionally, and ultimately publicly without shame has to have been a very healing experience.

OTOH, Coco, someone told me (I didn't see it), took a beating even as she is, on some board or other. Romance readers cling to middle-American value, God bless them, and Coco was party to adultery in her youth. It made her a powerful woman.

I didn't find her reprehensible at all for it. She was too 'moral' about it, the way she conducted it, somehow, if that makes sense. But, then, that was fiction. Based on mores of a hundred years ago, where women didn't have much access to power. I think some readers judge her by today's standards.

Today, such behavior would be less forgiveable perhaps. But I like to think that today, Coco would have been . . . a senator or trial attorney. I don't know. My dad likes to say, "I'd have to walk a mile in his shoes." That's his way of not judging people.

Several people have asked me to respond to some readers' disappointment in the ending of The Proposition - i.e., that Mick 'is' a duke after all, not really a ratcatcher. First, let me say that many people love the ending and have said so. Me, for one, hahaha.

Here's my take. I thought I set up the ending so it was ambiguous. I'm big on ambiguity, since that is so ... real. I thought I left it that you could believe he was really the duke's grandson if you liked, or you could believe he wasn't. That, in either event, Mick was just doing what he always did so well: making the most of what life offered him.

At least in The Proposition you had the con men searching for a lookalike, dressing him right, and bringing him to his grandfather (I thought they deserved the reward money and should have gotten it since they did find the right guy after all). They were devious and brought what they thought perfectly well was a counterfeit. In fact, Mick in the end was all right with taking the title and lands because he thought Winnie should have them and because the duke wanted him to have them, but he wasn't at all sure he was anyone long lost grandson. He was just being accommodating.

I figured he was picked by the cons on the basis of his similarity to the painting in the duke's house, so it could be that they had accidentally found the duke's grandson, or it could be they simply searched till they found a man suitable, who would have to have the right eye color, height, etc.

After that, there are two explanations to everything that comes up - with the exception of Mick recognizing the old duke instantly, having never seen him, as 'Poppy' all is explainable. And even Mick says, well, it's what I called my grandfather, and he reminds me of him.

So was he? Or did he simply have a resemblance because they were picked to resemble each other for the con? As to the duke, there was a man who had no one, who was so self-involved the only person he had ever loved was a tiny child. He longed for that child, I would think, so much it would be a kind of relief to think he saw him in Mick. And who better to see a beloved lost grandchild in than a fine, handsome, rather polished now, man?

No, I love the end. It is ambiguous in just the right way and uplifting for me. Winnie loved him long before he was a duke - in fact, she held the title against him; it scared her. Mick was left to apply all he knew about ratcatching, now to trying to run an estate - and very much needed Winnie's help to bridge what was sure to be a long haul. It was hard and confusing for him. Not exactly happily ever after. He even lost his dog, which I thought was sad. (Jenny Crusie complained enormously over this. ) I thought it was just right. Ha, but then it was my book.

Obviously, if enough people didn't get it, I didn't convey my ideas well enough.

"I thought all the signs pointed in one direction. The fact that he reminded Winnie of her grandfather in mannerisms and personality as well as appearance, and the Cornish wet nurse, and the fact that he didn't look anything like the members of the family that raised him. Maybe Mick's internal thoughts would have made the ambiguity clearer. I just went back and reread it and I can see now that you never indicate Mick is convinced he is the heir, but I never noticed that before - I guess because I'm so used to seeing the hero turn out to be the long-lost heir."

Yes, I think I might have put it into someone's head more, that that was the opportunity I missed.

I think you gave the book the ending you secretly wanted. Why else would you see that? I can tell you that a number of readers did catch the ambuity and write, haha, asking, So was he? As if he were a real person and I were keeping it a secret. *G*

"Now I'm curious as to how many readers have picked up on that."

From the mail, it seems to be about even-stephen, 50/50. On Amazon - with 26 reviews to date - it seems the same. Go look. See what you think.

"BTW, I really liked that reverie about people's legs near the end (though it too made me think he was the heir). He was a child at one point, where he was lost in legs."

I think I put it there though to allow the heir theory. It is his only psychological complicity to my knowledge - and very oblique and, ha, ambiguous I hope - with the heir theory.

"...he might not be the heir after all must have been too subtle for me. Or the author got carried away with subtlety."

It's a hard balance, and one I am mostly happy with in myself. But I miss it, too. As I can only think I have done here, at least a little. Funny, sometimes one line, one sentence will turn a reader around. A paragraph at most. Anyway, it wasn't there for you. It's guessing game as to what exactly will work for readers. I think I do it fairly well, though not perfectly. My editor is a good reader, and the ending got by her, too.

"...was Mick always going to end up with a title?"

From the very first moment of conception, he was going to end up titled. I thought it was important for Winnie. See, I saw her as having enormous insecurities about her flashy, popular cousin Xavier. I wanted her to have to confront that in Mick, and the only way was for him to turn out larger-than-life, more than she could ever have dreamed. A duke. My only improvement would have been to make him King of England, ha. I just couldn't figure out how to make that plausible though. Ho.

I wanted her humbled by his social position, since that was the one thing she thought from the start, poor though hers was, she had over him.

I'm working with the same theme in the current WIP, the heroine's latent snobbism and the way it supports her self-esteem. Knock it out, and she is in pieces. But when she puts herself back together again, she is a more generous person and more solidly in possession of herself. So interesting to me.

Winnie really had no trouble with a disreputable man. She opened right up to that - slowly, because that was her style, but because she grew there, she was ready for the Big Challenge. Which, to my mind, was the reputable man - all she feared that her cousin, the duke personified.

I may have gone light on this aspect. I was having such a roller-coaster of a good time by the end of this book, it was hard to think. I was elated by the end.

"Regarding likable characters, I thought the ones in Beast and Dance were quite likable, but again I like dark, conflicted characters. I don't think they were inconsistent at all, except in the same way all human beings are. I loved that they contradicted themselves. My favorite character in the entire romance genre is Gaffney's Sebastian character in To Have and To Hold and he's incredibly morally ambiguous. It's a hard balance to strike, though; other dark heroes have just come across as jerks to me. I do need to like a character but what makes characters likeable to me is the sum of all their parts, not what lines they've crossed."

As a reader, I agree with you entirely. In fact, as a human being. I love people, flaws and all, and don't feel as if I know them until they allow their flaws to show in my presense. It is a form of intimacy to allow someone knowledge of your weaknesses, vulnerabilities, no? Certainly, I love my friends for both, their strengths and weaknesses.

People have their reasons for their flaws. Flaws are ultimately adaptions - sometimes the best adaptions available at the time. I like to remember that and find compassion for people who are likable for other reasons than their flaws. I think I write about compassion. I hope I do.

--Judith Ivory

Judith Ivory at AAR



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