by Mary Jo
I’m in crazy deadline madness, so I don’t have a lot of time for writing a deeply scintillating blog, but instead of pulling a classic, it occurred to me that I could do something fun: tell you about how I wrote one of books! Is that great or what? <G>
(I’m reminded of a cartoon I once saw, probably from The New Yorker, which showed a couple on a first date. The guy, a pretentious literary looking sort, is saying, “But that’s enough about me. Now let me tell you about my book.” <G>)
At any rate, some people enjoy hearing the story behind the story, so here it is for Silk and Shadows, book 1 in my Silk trilogy. (That's the new e-book version with its wonderful Kimberly Killion cover.)
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact genesis of most books, but as a kid, I used to study the maps on the rack on the classroom blackboards when I was bored. I particularly liked the map of the world, which showed great, empty spaces in the center of Asia. What was there? What mysteries lurked in the vastness? It’s not surprising that I’ve written several books with Asian settings.
In terms of plot, I was intrigued by the idea of revenge, and a man who has lived for a justified vengeance. His fury kept him alive and shaped his life. But ultimately, if he is to have any kind of future, he must relinquish his vengeance. Yes, the hero of S&S was one of the long line of my tortured heroes. <G>
By its nature, the story became my version of Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo. A mysterious, enigmatic man from the east enters civilized society. He is charming and charismatic and has wealth beyond imagining. He is also ruthless, and nothing will stop him from accomplishing his secret agenda.
Nothing except, perhaps, love.
Since I’m a great believer in laying everything out, the book has one of my favorite first lines: “He called himself Peregrine, the wanderer, and he came to London for revenge.”
The story is set in 1839, the very early Victorian era, because the world was opening up. Bold explorers were charting unknown lands and the Industrial Revolution was changing the nature of society. Mikahl Kahnauri, known as Prince Peregrine of Kafiristan, has an entrée into London society because he saved the life of Lord Ross Carlisle, an aristocratic explorer and travel writer. They had become friends—and Ross is now an unwitting tool of Peregrine’s revenge.
I had a fabulous time researching this book. While looking for a plausibly mysterious background for my hero, I came across the chronicles of real British explorers like Sir Alexander Burnes (left) who crossed the vast and empty tracts of Central Asia. (Left)
A real rescue mission to Bokhara fascinated me so much it became the inspiration for Silk and Secrets, second in the trilogy, and the story of Lord Ross Carlisle. I had to force myself to go back to my original story of Peregrine—and Lady Sara St. James.
Lady Sara is Ross’s cousin, and the complete antithesis of Peregrine. She is gentle and blond and kind, the fiancée of Peregrine’s enemy—and she has a core of pure steel. Here’s an excerpt from when they first meet:
As soon as Sara saw the tall, black-haired man, she knew that he was Ross’s newly arrived friend. Then she questioned her conclusion, wondering why she was so certain. His skin was dark, but no more than that of a weathered farmer, his craggy features were not noticeably foreign, and his superbly tailored black clothing was quintessentially British. Nonetheless, she was sure that he could only be Prince Peregrine of Kafiristan.
It was the way he moved, she decided, fluid and feral as a predator, wholly unlike the way a European walked. She saw how women watched him covertly and was not surprised, for there was something about the Kafir that would make women spin foolish fantasies about sensuous savages who were really nature’s noblemen, untrammeled by civilization. Sara smiled at her own foolishness, then lost sight of the prince as she talked to one of her father’s elderly cousins.
Quite suddenly the currents of the party brought her face-to-face with Prince Peregrine. Sara tilted her head up as she opened her mouth to welcome her guest, but her voice died unborn as his intense gaze caught and held hers. The prince’s eyes were a clear, startling green, a color unlike any other she had ever seen, a wild, exotic reminder that this was a man raised under different skies, by different rules. The unknowable green depths beckoned, promising…promising what?
It would be easy to drown in those eyes, to throw propriety and honor aside, and count the world well lost….
Shocked and disoriented by her thoughts, Sara swallowed and forced her mind back to reality. Extending her hand, she said, “I am your hostess, Sara St. James. Surely you are Prince Peregrine?”
His black slashing brows rose in mock despair. Taking her hand, he said in a deep resonant voice, “It is so obvious? And here I thought I was wearing correct native dress. Perhaps I should sell the tailor to the tin mines for failing me.” He had a faint, husky accent, and his pronunciation was slightly over-precise, but otherwise his English was flawless.
Sara laughed. “It is not British custom to sell people to the mines, as I’m sure you know. Besides, your tailor is not at fault. There is an old proverb that clothes make the man, but that is only a partial truth. What really makes a man is his experiences, and your face was not formed by an English life.”
“Very true.” The prince still clasped Sara’s hand. His own hand was well shaped and well groomed, but had the hardness that resulted from physical labor.
Sara remembered a demonstration of electricity she had once seen, for she felt as if a powerful current was flowing from him to her. It radiated from his warm clasp and those unnerving green eyes, and made her disturbingly aware of his sheer maleness. Perhaps an arduous mountain life had made the prince so lithe and strong, so attractive that she wanted to run her hands over his body, feel his muscles, draw him close….
It took all of Sara’s training in graciousness not to snatch her hand back. The blasted man must be a mesmerist! Or perhaps the resemblance was to a cobra hypnotizing a rabbit.
She took a deep breath, telling herself not to be fanciful, the prince was merely different from what she was used to. Ross had once told her that Asiatics stood closer together than Europeans when they conversed. That was why she was so aware of the man’s nearness.
Disengaging her hand from his, she took a step back. “Local custom permits kissing a woman’s hand, or perhaps shaking it, but the rule is that the hand must be returned promptly.’’
His mobile features fell into lines of profound regret. “A thousand apologies, Lady Sara. I knew that, but forgot. So many things to remember. You will forgive my occasional lapses?”
“I can see that you are going to be a severe trial, Your Highness.” Sara hoped her voice sounded normal. Her hand still tingled where they had touched, and she felt abnormally sensitive, like a butterfly newly emerged from its cocoon. The flowers smelled sweeter, the music sounded brighter, the air itself pulsed with promise.
I loved the darkness and passion of the hero, and the profound moral choice at the heart of the story. I was also tickled when a writer friend told me that when she hit a particular point in the book, she thought she knew what was going to happen, and she was so upset that she put the book down and walked away.
Then she resumed rereading, and found I’d done something quite different. Music to an author’s ears. <G>
I love the stories and characters of the Silk Trilogy, and I’m really happy that the books are now available in e-editions. One of the pluses of e-booking was reading through the whole scanned manuscript, looking for errors and possible changes. It gave me a plausible excuse to fall in love with my characters all over again. <G>
Not all readers like exotic settings and backgrounds, and I can understand why. Reading them requires a greater investment of time and energy, resources which are often in short supply. But people who like them tend to really like them.
So what about you? Do you like exotic settings? If so, what books have particularly charmed you? Are there any settings that you’d like to see?
Mary Jo, warning that sooner or later she'll be talking about Silk and Secrets and Veils of Silk, the other books in the trilogy.