by Mary Jo
I’ve been spending a lot of time rereading my backlist lately in order to produce e-editions, and it’s an interesting experience. And in the case of my very earliest books, rather painful.
I just finished proofing the scan of my very first book, the Signet Regency The Diabolical Baron. Objectively, I can say it’s still a pretty good story, and it got my career off to a good start with a Rita nomination and Romantic Times Best New Regency Writer award.
But the WRITING! Or rather, over-writing. Too many words, endless paragraphs, etc, etc. (Someone once told me I wasn’t afraid of a long sentence. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment. <G>)
I finally had to make the executive decision to read a set of faux galleys and mark only the typos. Nothing else got fixed unless it was an actual error, or so egregiously awful that I really couldn’t let it stand. On that basis, The Diabolical Baron has been proofed and it's off to www.RegencyReads.com, and it will become available as an e-book in the next few weeks.
ADDENDUM: As I was reading comments, I realized that I never really explained the origin of The Diabolical Baron. It was pure contrarianism. I'd read all those Regencies were the sweet innocent melts the heart of the older, jaded hero. So I turned it inside out. Sweet innocent is coerced into betrothal to older, jaded hero–and manages to slide away and find a man she likes better. <g>
Writing that first book:
But it was interesting to revisit and remember what I thought as I wrote the book. (“Oooh, how does one write dialogue?! Oooh, let’s put an organ in the church for Caroline to play! Ooops, brother-in-law who is a pianist points out it would be a pump organ. Get hero to work on that. Hmmm, researching music in 1815 England isn’t easy. (The book was written pre-Internet.) Oh, first kiss!” Etc, etc, etc.)
The Diabolical Baron was reissued a couple of times before rights reverted to me, but all of the shortcomings of writing a first book on sheer instinct are still there for the world to see. <G>
It gets better:
Luckily, the reading pain diminishes as the books get more recent. By the time I got to my Fallen Angels series, I’d written a dozen books and my craft had improved noticeably. The tendency to overwriting is probably in my DNA, but reading through the first Fallen Angels book, Thunder and Roses, was actually quite enjoyable.
That book was started when I’d just come off writing my three Silk books, which required a staggering amount of research and very complex story lines, and I was TIRED! I wanted to go home to the Regency to recuperate. (For me, the Regency is always “home.”)
But what precipitated the actual story was when my editor called when I was still recovering and said, “We want your next book in the launch of our new Topaz historical romance imprint, we’ll have to crash publish it and I need a story outline by tomorrow."
SHRIEK! But the Muse, who can be a desultory lass, came through. It’s really hard to describe creative process, but from somewhere in the lizard brain, the idea popped up: a rakish earl who is neglecting his property and a reforming schoolteacher with a temper who wants to bully him into helping the community he’s neglected.
Wanting to get rid of her, he says he’ll help at the cost of her reputation: she must live with him for three months. She doesn’t have to sleep with him unless she wants to—but she has to allow him one kiss a day in a time and place of his choosing.
Much to his horror, she loses her temper and accepts—and life changes forever for both of them. (That's the new e-book cover by Kim Killion on the left.)
But a basic concept is only the beginning. A book requires a never ending stream of ideas and facts–some of which won't work and fall by the wayside.
Writing the first Fallen Angel:
Why did I choose Wales as a location? Maybe because I have friends in Wales and loved visiting the wild hills. Coal mines? Lots of them in Wales. Why is Nicholas half Gypsy? To make him something of a social outsider, and to give his grandfather a reason to hate him.
Why is Claire a Methodist minister’s daughter? Because the Methodists were very active in Wales, and they were reformers who educated and improved their communities.
Why did Nicholas have close friends from Eton? Friends are convenient to bounce things off during the story, plus I wanted to do a trilogy so he needed friends. (How the trilogy ended up as seven books is a story for another day. <g>) So in building a book, one idea suggests another and one ends up in totally unexpected places.
As for the penguins—why not????
Rereading the scan, I made only minor tweaks and had to admit—I still love the characters and it seemed like a darned good romance. Here's an excerpt of Thunder and Roses:
Nicholas awoke with a pounding headache, which he richly deserved. He lay still, eyes unopened, and took stock of his situation. Apparently his valet, Barnes, had put him to bed in a nightshirt. Nicholas much preferred sleeping in his skin, but he supposed that he was in no position to complain.
He moved his head a fraction, then stopped, since it seemed in danger of falling off. He had been a damned fool and was paying the price for it. Unfortunately, he hadn't drunk enough brandy to obliterate his memory of what had happened the previous afternoon. As he thought of the pugnacious little wench who had stamped in and taken up his ridiculous challenge, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Knowing the consequences to his head, he did neither.
He had trouble believing some of the things he had said, but his memories were too clear to permit denial. Lucky that Clare Morgan hadn't come armed; she might have decided that it was her Methodist duty to rid the world of a parasitical nobleman. He almost smiled at the thought. He had rather enjoyed their encounter, though he devoutly hoped that after mature consideration she would decide to stay home and let their bargain lapse. A female like her could seriously unbalance a man.
The door swung open and soft footsteps approached. Probably Barnes, coming to see if he was awake. Preferring to be left alone, Nicholas kept his eyes shut and the footsteps retreated.
But not for long. Five seconds later, icy water sluiced over Nicholas's head. "Bloody hell!" he roared, coming up swinging. He'd kill Barnes, he'd bloody kill him.
It wasn't his valet. Nicholas opened his bleary eyes to find Clare Morgan, who stood a safe distance away with an empty china pitcher in her hand.
At first he wondered if he was having an unusually vivid nightmare, but he could never have imagined the expression of sweet superciliousness on Clare's small face, nor the cold water that saturated his nightshirt. He snarled, "What the devil did you do that for?"
"Tomorrow morning has turned into tomorrow afternoon, and I've been waiting for three hours for you to wake up," she said calmly. "Long enough to have a cup of tea, organize my list of requests for Penreith, and make a brief survey of the house to see what needs to be done to open the place properly. Rather a lot, as I'm sure you've noticed. Or perhaps you didn't—men can be amazingly unobservant. From sheer boredom, I decided to wake you. It seemed like the sort of thing that a mistress might do, and I'm trying my best to fill the role you have assigned me."
She spoke with a hint of lilting Welsh accent and a rich, husky voice that made him think of aged whiskey. Coming from a prim spinster, the effect was startlingly erotic. Wanting to discomfit her, he said, "My mistresses always wake me up in more interesting ways. Care for me to explain how?"
"Not particularly." She took a towel from the washstand and handed it to him.
He roughly dried his hair and face, then blotted the worst of the water from his nightshirt. Feeling more human, he tossed the towel back to Clare.
"Do you get drunk often?" she inquired.
"Very seldom," Nicholas said dourly. "Obviously it was a mistake to do so this time. If I had been sober, I wouldn't have to endure you for the next three months."
With a look of demure malice, she said, "If you decide not to go through with this, I won't think less of you."
Nicholas blinked at hearing his own words thrown back at him. "You've a tongue like a wasp." He glowered at her until she began to look distinctly uneasy, then finished, "I like that in a woman."
I warn you, I will be writing more posts like this. Partly because until I finish writing my third YA, I’m not going to have a lot of time for deep research or deep thought for new blogs. But also because I enjoy revisiting my older stories which are gaining new life in e-editions, and remembering how they came together. (
The book cover is for Dangerous to Know, which was a trade paperback that included The Diabolical Baron packaged with my one Western novella, "Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know." Isn't he a handsome devil?)
So—do you find it interesting to see how stories developed? Are you interested in traditional Regencies and the older, longer, lusher historicals?
Let’s talk about it! One commenter between now and midnight Tuesday will get a print copy of either The Diabolical Baron or Thunder and Roses.