The two winners of signed Advance Reading copies of ONLY ENCHANTING offered in my blog on villainous villains are Menna Withington and Cristina Harvey. Congratulations to them and thanks to all of you who left a comment. I always enjoy reading those. Stay tuned–I will be giving away my final two copies toward the end of September, a month before the publication of the book!
Among the questions I solicited from you a while ago were these three:
–From Edea Baldwin: “Have you ever written a character that you disliked intensely? Or must you feel some affinity with any character you write?”
–From Jeanette Harris: “Which of your characters have you liked the least and why?”
–Shelia Hudnall: “Just how often does a secondary character morph into a primary character for you? How often are you surprised when that happens? Or does it surprise you at all?”
I have created my fair share of villains. There are a few I would make different if I were to write the book now, because I don’t like what I think of as “silly” villains–that is, those who are evil for the sake of being evil and enjoy it. I think of some cartoon villains in that category. I like to consider the whole complexities of the human condition when I create characters, whether they be heroes and heroines or villains or neither. And with very few exceptions (I am not going to touch upon that possible extreme here) no person is purely evil. There are reasons for what people do, so numerous that I don’t think I can even begin to give examples. And most of us are a bewildering mix of good and bad. We are human! I like to create heroes and heroines in whom good ultimately prevails, though never in a purely happily-ever-after way. As the hero of the book I have just finished (ONLY A KISS, Imogen’s story) says almost at the end: “I want you to love me for my sorry self, which I will try very hard for the rest of my life to make worthy of you–and worthy of me. I can do it. We can always do anything as long as we are alive. We can always change, grow, evolve into a far better version of ourselves. It is surely what life is for.”
There are a few villains in my books that I regret. One of them is in HEARTLESS, which will be republished next summer. I have left him as he is, however, as I always think it is a bigger mistake to change an older book, when one is coming at it from a wholly different life perspective. I have a number of other villains who are unredeemed at the end and have never been redeemed in future books, though some readers have asked that it happen. Some of you may remember Lionel, villain in both DARK ANGEL and LORD CAREW’S BRIDE. I have never redeemed him, though I think I could! He is very human, but he had allowed self absorption and a good bit of sadism to dominate his character. The fact that he looks like an angel does not help him. Having created him and been inside his head, I can see that such a man is very unlikely to change unless he has to face some really cataclysmic event in his life. I prefer to let realism prevail in cases like Lionel. The same applies to a number of other villains in my books. They must be allowed to live the life they have chosen–or rather (to be fair to them) the life I have chosen for them!
And then there are the villains I have redeemed. Sometimes poor or downright wrong choices can land people in deep darkness. It is often easier to remain in it, especially if there are addictions involved, and even to spiral downward. And sometimes people, speaking and acting from such a place, do downright nasty things and cause other people to suffer. To emerge from the darkness, to make some right choices and keep on making them, to build a will of iron and an ability to take one step at a time without being discouraged by how many need to be taken, is obviously incredibly difficult. We all probably know such people or at least know OF them. But if they can do it–oh my goodness! My character Freddie was pretty nasty in COURTING JULIA, even going as far as to kidnap the heroine so that she would have to marry him and solve his money woes. And even at the start of his own book, DANCING WITH CLARA, he is plotting marriage to a plain, crippled woman who is also rich. But when Clara accepts his offer, she does so because he is beautiful and there has been little beauty in her life. She is not deceived for one moment by his apparent ardor. Freddie has to face suitable torture during the rest of the book before he emerges as a worthy hero for Clara as the end. I LOVE redeeming villains or bringing characters from a dark place to the light.
Does it surprise me when a secondary character in one book morphs into a primary character in another? Sometimes it is planned. Very often it is not. I will be searching around in my head for a suitable heroine for a hero I have in mind (or vice versa) and find the perfect character embedded in a previous book. I needed a heroine for Ann Jewell in SIMPLY LOVE, and up popped Sydnam Butler. I had not created either one of them to end up with the other. I needed a heroine for Flavian in the upcoming ONLY ENCHANTING and remembered that at the end of THE ARRANGEMENT he had danced with Sophia’s friend, Agnes Keeping. Guess who the heroine of ONLY ENCHANTING is. It is always lovely to discover a ready-made hero or heroine instead of having to start from nothing.
I have two more advance reading copies (uncorrected proofs, plain paper cover) of ONLY ENCHANTING, due out on October 28, to give away. I will send them to two people who leave a comment below before the end of August. Good luck!
The winners of the blog contest on the confessions of a non-researcher are Elise Farthing and Barbara Waltz. They will each be receiving a signed copy of an Advance Reading edition of ONLY ENCHANTING. Congratulations to them and thanks to the more than 400 who left a comment. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them all.
I have been wanting to blog here again for some time, but I always have the problem of what to write about. It’s strange, that, isn’t it, when I make my living out of dreaming up and writing stories? I finally went back to the multitude of questions a number of you asked when I asked a while ago for help with topics. And I came across this one from someone I know only by the name Becky:
“How did you research the specific ailments of the Survivors’ Club heroes to get their realistic Points of View? How much of it was just straight research and how much of it was talking to people with similar experiences? If you did a lot of talking to real people, how did you find them?”
And here comes the confession: I do almost no research of matters pertaining to character–as opposed to all the research I had to do for the Regency period itself and the Napoleonic Wars and other factual stuff. Everything else comes purely from my imagination. I do believe I have the ability to put myself imaginatively in the place of most types of people and know just what it feels like to be them. One pleasant result of this is that I am very rarely judgmental. I always know where the most unpleasant-seeming people are “coming from.” Another pleasant result is that I can create stories for the most complex and difficult heroes and heroines.
It is a risk to write this way, of course. I could arouse a storm of protest if I ever get some sort of character horribly wrong. It has not happened yet (fingers crossed). When I wrote SILENT MELODY with its 18th century deaf mute heroine, for example, I could only imagine what it must be like to be deaf in an age when people assume you must be insane. But I heard from several people afterward that I got it absolutely right (whew!). Incidentallly, that book will be out again next summer as a trade paperback. And since THE ARRANGEMENT has been published, I have heard from blind people who tell me I got Vincent right.
For me one of the most exciting aspects of writing is creating difficult characters, jumping inside their skin and their minds and their souls, and living the story with them, often having no more idea than they do where it is headed. It feels like real life in a different persona. How would Hugo have felt in THE PROPOSAL, having not only survived some brutal military action in the Peninsular Wars, including a Forlorn Hope attack, which he led, but also escaped without even a scratch? Would he have been happy, delighted, cocky? Or would he have gone out of his mind with an extreme case of survivors’ guilt? The second reaction seemed the most probable, and it is the one I chose.
And what about Ben in THE ESCAPE? His whole life had been centred about his physical prowess and his military career–and then his legs were shattered beyond repair. Even after five years of determined therapy he could only hobble along with the aid of two specially-made canes. What would that do to his life? To his future? To his self-esteem? Would he merely withdraw to his estate, which would offer him a home and financial security for the rest of this life? Or would he have to find another path through life that would be as fulfilling to him as the old one? Would he find a way of accepting his limitations without being defeated by them? Or would he always feel that his life was an inferior thing, hardly worth living? Well, you can read the book to find what did happen to him. But keep in mind that I write heroes and heroines who triumph over life in their own way. Only so can they be considered heroes and heroines. Only so can they be capable of mature love and a lasting relationship.
And what about Flavian, hero of ONLY ENCHANTING, due out in November? I can’t give away too many spoilers because his book is not even out yet. But if you have read the other books in the series you will know that he spent three years at Penderris Hall recovering from head wounds sustained in a cavalry battle but that he seems to be fine again apart from a persistent stammer. You will also know that soon after he was wounded his beloved fiancée jilted him in order to marry his best friend–a double betrayal. What I had to ask myself when I came to writing his story was why exactly it took him three years to recover from his injuries, and what residual hurts are there apart from the stammer? What was the full extent of his brain damage and has he totally recovered from it? Can he ever? And what about the personal pain of his rejection by two of the people he loved most in the world? Oh, I love, love, love approaching a book with those sorts of questions in my mind.
In my own defence, I must add that I do not live with my head in the sand. Very few people these days could be unaware of the sorts of damage war does to the soldiers who are involved in it, even if they escape physical injury–and especially if they do. And sometimes I talk to people without any thought to doing research. I was in Starbucks just last week, fascinated by the sight of a man with hands but almost no arms, doing an intricate and gorgeous pencil drawing with his hands and his mouth. I got to talking to him and discovered that he had been a thalidomide baby, that he has a degree in fine arts, that he is currently working on a series of oil paintings of THE GREAT GATSBY, and a lot of other fascinating stuff. What an awesome person! He has certainly not been slowed down by a medical disaster that might have ruined his life.
To two people who leave a comment below before the end of next Monday, August 4, I will send an advance reading copy of ONLY ENCHANTING. Please note that it has a plain cover, not the one shown above, and that they are uncorrected proofs and may contain bloopers that will not (I hope) be there when the book is published in November.
Survival: it is somehow what life is all about, isn’t it? It is something we all do between the cradle and the grave, and sometimes it is not easy. There are all sorts of dangers along the way that might put an end to our existence. But survival is not just about staying alive. How we stay alive is equally important. Quality of life is important. And quality is not achieved simply by keeping our bodies alive. Survival involves our minds and emotions and spirits too. Most of us–indeed, all of us–get battered along the way. Even those people who seem to live charmed lives really do not do so. Living is a difficult, precarious business and it is easy to get discouraged, even to give up and become hopeless and embittered. But deep down we all long to survive and to do it well. We all want to triumph, to beat the odds, to retain our humanity and to hang on to love and hope and joy and serenity despite everything. We love hearing and reading about people who have overcome great challenges and hardships to live rich, meaningful lives. Such stories are inspirational.
And such stories, even the fictitious ones, are a joy to write. I have always loved creating and developing wounded heroes and heroines, bringing them in the course of a book from the darkness of their woundedness into the light of wholeness and love. I am not sure where the idea came from to write a series of seven stories about a group of six men and one woman wounded in various ways by the Napoleonic Wars and forced to spend three years together recovering to a point at which they can live independently again. They call themselves the Survivors’ Club and get together for three weeks each year to renew their acquaintance. They are all healed to a certain degree, but none of them is yet whole. Each needs the space of a book and a love story to bring them to that point. And I am the lucky one who gets to write those seven stories!
Book 1, The Proposal, is Hugo Emes, Lord Trentham’s story. He was not physcially wounded, but he did go out of his mind, as he put it, after leading 300 men in a successful Forlorn Hope attack on a Spanish fortress and losing almost all of them. He was brought back to England in a straitjacket. Book 2, The Arrangement, is Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh’s story. Vincent was blinded and deafened during his very first battle in Portugal at the age of 17. His hearing came back eventually but he is permanently blind. And then there is Book 3, The Escape, which is to be published in North America on July 1, 2014. It is Sir Benedict Harper’s story. Both of Ben’s legs were crushed in a cavalry charge. He refused amputation and vowed to walk and even dance again. But he was an athletic man and a cavalry officer who loved the military life. Facing the reality of what the future holds for him is not easy.
Book 4, Only Enchanting, is due out on October 28, 2014. It is Flavian Arnott, Viscount Ponsonby’s story. Flavian sustained bad head wounds during a cavalry battle and suffered long-lasting brain damage. His abilty to think rationally and to speak coherently was greatly impaired, and he has huge memory gaps of which he is unaware. Frustration has made him prone to violent rages. Book 5, Only a Promise, is due out in May, 2014. It is Ralph Stockwood, Earl of Berwick’s story. Ralph was very severely wounded in battle, but worse than the physical wounds was the fact that he watched his three best friends from school days blown to bits before his eyes–and he blames himself for the fact that they were there. Note that Books 4 and 5 (and probably 6 and 7) will have very different cover concepts than the other three and differently conceived titles too as I move to my new publisher, NAL.
Book 6, Only a Kiss (working title–it may change), on which I am currently working, is Imogen Hayes, Lady Barclay’s story. Imogen followed the drum and went to the Peninsula with her husband, a reconnaissance officer and a spy. They were captured together and he was tortured before being killed in her presence. She still suffers from the trauma of those events. And that leaves George Crabbe, Duke of Stanbrook, who brought the other Survivors together when he opened his home as a hospital for severely wounded officers. George was not in the military himself, but his young son was and was killed. His wife committed suicide a month or so later. He is as wounded as the others and must find his own way of surviving and triumphing. His story will be told last in Book 7, which will probably be called Only Beloved.
In these last few weeks leading up to the publication of THE ESCAPE I will give away to one person who leaves a comment below signed copies of the first three books of the series, though the winner will have to wait until I get some copies of the new book. Those books are THE PROPOSAL, THE ARRANGEMENT, and THE ESCAPE. Make your comment before the end of Monday, June 16. In the meanwhile, you may preorder the new book right at my web site if you wish. And you can order the other two books as well!