THE INSIDE STORY

Someone mentioned Slightly Scandalous in a private message at my Facebook page last week and I wrote back with a brief account of the difficulty I had writing that book. It occurred to me that perhaps more people would enjoy reading the inside story behind the writing of certain books. My aim as a writer is always to make the finished book seem seamless and effortless, a smooth read that is difficult to put down once it is started. I want to give the impression that it was smooth and easy to write. Rarely is that so.  Sometimes a book can be a perfect beast to write! And one of the worst was Slightly Scandalous, Book 3 of the Bedwyn series, Freyja Bedwyn’s story.

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You will have to know a number of my books to appreciate this story. I had to choose a hero for the moody, haughty, fiery Freyja. Believe it or not, I decided to pair her up with Sydnam Butler, the tortured and horribly maimed younger brother of Kit Butler in A Summer to Remember. I thought the pairing would be an interesting challenge. Freyja had once been betrothed to the eldest brother. Then, after his death, she expected to marry Kit, the middle brother. Let her end up with Sydnam, then, I thought. I wrote one third of their story and got stuck. There is nothing too unusual about that. I thought long and hard about what was wrong, solved the problem with major changes, and started all over again. I wrote a third of the story and…got stuck. Irretrievably! I had invested a few months of time and energy but had to make the rare and painful decision to abandon the book. Freyja and Sydnam just did not belong together. I imagine that a number of you might have told me that from the start! After all, Sydnam’s future love was waiting to be created right in the middle of Freyja’s story, though I did not know it when she first appeared! Anne Jewell’s love story with Sydnam is told in Simply Love, a favorite with many readers.

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So…I needed to write a love story for poor Freyja, who was upset and humiliated (and very bad-tempered) over Kit’s marriage to Lauren Edgeworth and the birth of their first child. But I had no hero for her. Trust her to be such a problem! That was when Joshua Moore, Marquess of Hallmere, stepped into my imagination and offered to take Freyja on. Her story with Sydnam had been developing along angsty lines. Her story with Joshua was quite different–fire and brimstone and two strong wills pitted against each other–not to mention Wulfric putting in his two cents’ worth. Finally THAT story was relatively easy to write and oh, so much fun! Obviously those two belonged together.

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To one person who leaves a comment before the end of next Tuesday, August 6, I will send a signed copy of one of the two books mentioned above or THE PROPOSAL–winner’s choice. I would love to hear some personal experiences from the writers among you. And I always love reading all your comments. Last week’s winner was Cathy Stout.

 

THE TROUBLE WITH HEROINES

Creating heroines for historical romances is not an easy thing. I always compare it to a bit of a tightrope walk. On the one hand readers want heroines they can admire and identify with. They want a strong, assertive, independent woman who can stand alone and does not need to cling to her man for either support or protection. On the other hand, they want heroines who are historically believable. Women of Regency England were very different in almost every imaginable way from women of the 21st century. Legally they weren’t even persons. Almost invariably they belonged to some man as his possession. How on earth can they ever be seen as heroines to admire by readers today?

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Fortunately we have Jane Austen (Regency) and Charlotte Bronte (Victorian era) to show us the way. Austen and Bronte were writing contemporaries, not historicals. Yet they gave us Elizabeth Bennett and Jane Eyre, both of them heroines who drew power to themselves by daring to stand alone when they might have chosen to be safe and dependent. Elizabeth refused marriage offers she considered unacceptable from both Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy even though the alternative was a probable life of dreary spinsterhood and near-poverty. Jane refused to be Mr. Rochester’s mistress when it was discovered that he already had a wife and could not marry her–even though she knew he loved her deeply. She walked away and risked destitution instead.

I think a mistake many writers of historical romance make is in trying to suggest strength in their heroines by making them feisty (I hate that word!) in a contemporary sense. And so we have all sorts of Regency misses who defy all the rules of genteel society and stride off alone to take on the world, often to the accompaniment of foul language. They come across as unrealistic at best, shudderingly unattractive at worst. Swagger and a sewer mouth do not equal strength of character, especially in Regency England. When I read a Regency, I want to be swept off into that world, not back into my own. I want a hero who is a believable Regency gentleman and a heroine who is a believable Regency lady.

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My heroines run the gamut of human types. They can be quiet and dignified (Lauren Edgeworth in A Summer to Remember), talkative and klutzy (Cora Downes in The Famous Heroine), fierce and bold (Freyja Bedwyn in Slightly Scandalous) strait-laced and bookish (Mary Gregg in The Notorious Rake), widows determined to find love on their own terms (Hannah Reid in A Secret Affair),  prostitutes trying to find her way back to respectability (Viola Thornhill in More Than a Mistress) women deeply wounded by rape and a resulting single parenthood (Anne Jewell in Simply Love) and so on. But I try to do the same two things with all of them. First, I try to make them in the course of the book into strong women who can deal with their own lives and who can, if necessary, stand alone at the end of their book even though they are not called upon to do so, of course–these are love stories. But the love in which they share at the end is never a dependent thing. It is an equal love–the partners come to it from a position of equal strength. Secondly, I try very hard to make my heroines believable Regency types. I like to feel that they could find themselves in the pages of a Jane Austen novel without sticking out like sore thumbs. Whether I succeed or not is up to you to decide. Tightropes are not the easiest things to walk without toppling off at least once in a while.

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The picture is the inside, stepback cover of THE PROPOSAL.

To one person who leaves a comment before the end of next Tuesday, July 30, I will send an autographed copy of THE PROPOSAL or one of the books named above if you prefer and if I have a spare copy! Last week’s winner was Livia Quinn. Congratulations to her, and my thanks to everyone else who left a comment. As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed reading them all.

 

TIME MANAGEMENT

Does anyone remember back to the time when it was believed new gadgets–washers and dryers, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, word processors and even (gasp!) computers–would make our lives easier, reduce the working week, give us more leisure time in which simply to enjoy our lives? Boy, did everyone get that prediction wrong!

When I started writing back in the ’80s, I had a busy life. I was a school principal and high school English teacher, and I had three school-age children and a home to run. Writing was my leisure activity, the thing I did for myself when all else was done for the day. Even when I was able to quit teaching to write full time, being a writer was a reasonably relaxed thing. By that time I had a computer and (glory be!) a printer, but the internet and email were still things of the future. I saw and heard from readers and other writers only at infrequently-attended book conventions and via snail mail. All I had to do with my working time was write. I remember once asking my editor if I should do some advertising. She sounded puzzled. Why should I? It would be so much waste of time and money. I wrote the books, the publisher published them and promoted them. It made sense to me. It was an isolated life. I used to write all day. It was uncomplicated. Between books I could relax and/or catch up with things I had been neglecting. If I went away from home for a while, I could leave my writing behind and have a real holiday.

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How times have changed! I swore I would never have anything to do with the internet and email–too time-consuming. But finally I did and of course that was just the start. A few years ago I made the decision to slip gracefully into semi-retirement and write just one book a year–four months or so of work, eight of leisure. I pictured myself rather like the lady in the picture above, complete with long white dress. Don’t ask me why I am now back to writing two books a year–I’m not sure I even know myself. And suddenly, starting a year or so ago, it was no longer enough to have email and a web site that I conscientiously updated about twice a year. I needed to be on Facebook. I needed to change my web site so that I could interact more with readers by blogging. I needed to blog more generally all over the internet. I needed to make more appearances, do more interviews. And it’s not finished yet. Twitter looms. So does Goodreads.  Now my laptop goes wherever I go, like an extra appendage. I don’t do smart phones–not yet, anyway.

I do, by the way, enjoy all these activities. The close interaction with readers and writers and other interested persons is an unexpected delight and has certainly taken away the sense of isolation that can so easily cling about a writer. Although I sometimes think it would be nice just to shut everything down, I’m not sure I would be able to now that I have grown accustomed to them. I am, though, busier now than I ever was. I used to start writing immediately after breakfast when my mind was fresh. I still do–but after I have dealt with email and Facebook, and that all takes close to an hour. And those things have to be checked constantly through the day. On Tuesday evenings (like right now!) I write a new blog piece for my web site and draw the name of last week’s winner. There are newsletters to send out every time a new book is about to be published. Retirement? Ha! What’s that? Semi-retirement? Forget it.

I have written all this, not because I think I am somehow different from the masses, but because I know very well I am not. An awful lot of people are an awful lot busier than I am. The question is–have we become slaves of our gadgets, or are they our very welcome servants? Or our much resented servants? How have gadgets changed your life? Has the change been for the better of the worse? How do you manage your time–or don’t you?

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To one randomly-chosen person who makes a comment below, I will send a signed copy of THE PROPOSAL, either in hardcover or in U. S.  paperback or in British paperback, or in CD audio format–winner’s choice. Last week’s winner was Nicole (last name and location still unknown)

 

ADVICE TO NEW WRITERS

Almost every time I am interviewed I am asked what advice I would give to a writer just starting out. I always answer in one of two ways, often both–(1) don’t listen to advice, and (2) just write. Being a writer, of course, I am not going to leave it at that. I am going to explain what I mean.

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I could just show this cartoon, I suppose, and rest my case, but the burning question is–how does the book come out? One thing I have discovered since I started meeting other writers long after my first book was written and published is that we are all different in every imaginable way. I like to get up early in the morning, for example, and tackle my writing immediately after breakfast while my energy level is high. I know a very successful author who frits away her time all day, finding any and all excuses to stay away from her computer until finally, in the mid to late evening she sits down and writes well into the night. I am brain dead by then. Who is right? Both of us are, but I am right for me and she is right for her. There is no rule, in fact. Each writer has to find what works for her/him.

I am very organized and very disciplined. I write every day when I am working on a book, and I write a set number of words a day, except when I am revising–2000 words. I know another successful author who, despite intentions to the contrary, just cannot meet her deadlines. When the deadline comes and goes, she is maybe one-third the way into the book. After fretting for another week or two, she finally writes the rest of the book in a marathon burst of creative energy and does not come up for air night or day until she has finished. Who is right?

Those are both relatively trivial points, but I have seen how-to books and listened to speakers who will tell writers that this is when they must write and this is how much they must write per day. Don’t listen!

What concerns me most, though, about the writing “help” that is offered writers–and there is a lot of it out there–is that is can impede the natural flow of creativity that is the writer’s gift. All writers of fiction have stories inside them–otherwise they wouldn’t be writers. And all writers knows how to tell a story–they have probably read thousands in the course of their lives and made up a hundred more in their heads. They just think they don’t know (we writers are such insecure people) and so seek out help on how to create everything from plot to character to suspense to sexual tension. And chances are they will end up either not knowing how to write at all or else producing cookie-cutter stories with paint-by-the-number characters.

A writer’s most precious asset, and also the most fragile, is her/his voice. I don’t mean the physical thing that produces sound and might read a story aloud. I mean the writer’s view of life and way of expressing it. It is quite distinctive when you come across it in a well-written book, But it can be so very easily tampered with. I remember speaking at a conference with a lady who had two manuscripts going so that she could work on one while her critiquing group was going through the other. Then she would swap and work on their suggestions while they had the other manuscript. This had been going on for a long time. I was aghast. And I wondered how much of her vision or voice remained in either of the constantly new-and-improved stories she was working on. I did give her some advice–the one I gave at the start of this little essay. I told her to shut herself into a room and not come out until she had finished a whole book.

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If you are a writer, you will write. If you are a writer, you can write, even if you can never remember the difference between who and whom and don’t have the foggiest idea when it is appropriate to use the semicolon. You don’t need to listen to the well-meaning advice of experts or amateurs. You can do it yourself. Do it. And that is my advice to you today. I know many of you will disagree, and I look forward to hearing from you. Life would be so bland if we all agreed on every subject!

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To one randomly-chosen person who leaves a comment below before the end of next Tuesday, July 16, I will send an autographed advance reading copy of THE ARRANGEMENT, due out at the end of August, and the last one I have available. Last week’s winner of the same book was Diane (last name not known yet) of somewhere in Canada.

OPPOSITES ATTRACT–OR DO THEY?

It’s a bit of a cliché, isn’t it–opposites attract? And although in real life it may be true, it may not always lead to a lasting and harmonious relationship. Now, of course, you are probably going to come back at me with all sorts of personal stories of how it IS true and can lead to a wonderful happily-ever-after. I hope you do, in fact.

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In romantic fiction, however, it can work almost every time, and it is great fun as a writer to make it work. When I am planning a book, I often have a vague plot idea, and often I have a fairly firm idea of either the hero or the heroine. Indeed, in some cases that person will come from a previous book. Finding a suitable mate is often the problem. What kind of woman would make a suitable heroine for this particular hero, I will ask myself–or vice versa. And sometimes the answer will come with little or no trouble. When I came to write Simply Love, for example, I already had Anne Jewell in place as one of the four teachers in the series. She had appeared in Book I and she had made her first appearance in Slightly Scandalous. I knew she was a deeply wounded character, a single mother in Regency England, the victim of rape as a result of saving the mentally challenged girl to whom she was governess from a similar fate. And then she was dismissed from her position, largely shunned by the community in which she lived, and rejected by her fiancé and her parents. When I searched my mind for a suitable hero for her, I discovered him ready made, as it were. Sydnam Butler had first appeared in A Summer to Remember as a one-armed, one-eyed, severely burned survivor of savage torture during the Napoleonic Wars. Anne and Sydnam seemed almost too mutually wounded to be able to help each other and to forge a lifelong love, but I took on the challenge and I think I made it work.

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More often, though, I have to switch the question and ask myself who would be the most unlikely match for this particular hero or heroine. Wulfric Bedwyn in Slightly Dangerous, for example, was a tough one. Aristocratic, autocratic, coldly dignified, everything that was not ducal ruthlessly suppressed deep within him, I had built him up in the course of the six previous books to such a degree that reader expectations for his story were high and I was frankly terrified. I had only one chance to get it right. Once his story was written and published, I couldn’t go back and try again with a different heroine. In my imagination I tried a variety of women and was not satisfied with any of them. And then along came Christine Derrick–I have no idea from where except that she was so obviously wrong for him in every imaginable way that she was irresistible. She was pretty but neither beautiful nor elegant. She was virtually a nobody socially. Though she had troubles enough of her own, she chose to be almost invariably cheerful. She laughed a lot. She was a terrible klutz. The first time she “met” Wulfric, she was leaning over a balcony rail in most undignified fashion to catch a glimpse of him but forgot that when she leaned so did the glass of lemonade in her hand. She dripped some in his eye and thought for a moment that he was winking at her. And perhaps most shocking of all, Christine was not afraid of Wulfric, and sometimes she more or less told him to get over himself. He was forever wielding his quizzing glass to show disapproval of someone or something. When he used it on Christine when they are out walking one day, she grabbed it from him and tossed it up into a tree and then watched him climb up to retrieve it.

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I have done the same thing over and over again with other books. Would Wulfric and Christine have been happy together in real life–or Mary Gregg and Lord Edmond Waite in The Notorious Rake, or Kit Butler and Lauren Edgeworth in A Summer to Remember, or Gwen, Lady Muir, and Hugo, Lord Trentham, in The Proposal? Maybe not, but I am careful in the course of each book to have my characters work out their own issues and their incompatibilities to the point at which it seems at least possible, or even probable, that the love they share at the end of their books will last a lifetime if they work at it every day of their lives. I try to write realistic happy endings rather than happily-ever-after ones.

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To one randomly-chosen person who leaves a comment below before the end of Tuesday, July 9, I will send an autographed advance reading copy of THE ARRANGEMENT, due out at the end of August. Last week’s winner was Jan Sorenson.