Veils of Silk: the Long Road Home

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

If you’ve been following the modest saga of the book I’ve been working on and my series of “how I wrote what I wrote” posts about my Silk Trilogy, you will not be surprised to learn that A) Sometimes a Rogue, (Lost Lords #5, September 2013) went into my editor yesterday, so B) This is a good time to write about Veils of Silk, last of the Silk Trilogy. 

For me, a series will usually start with a plot premise, and then I create MaryJoPutney_VeilofSilk_400pxcharacters to work with that.  But as a series progress, I find that the characters get the upper hand as I develop stories to maximize their individuality.  And so it was here.

Silk and Secrets, second book in the trilogy, was based on a real rescue mission to Bokhara.  Being a romance writer to the core, in my fictional version of the rescue, the prisoner escaped alive from the Black Well of Bokhara, a horrific oubliette where the Amir of Bohkara dumped enemies he particularly wanted to suffer.

The prisoner, Major Ian Cameron, is a brother of Juliet Cameron, heroine of Silk and Secrets.  An officer in the East India Company’s Army, he was successful, popular, capable, and betrothed to his colonel’s beautiful daughter before he left on his mission to Bokhara. 

He emerges from more than a year’s captivity filthy, barely alive, and broken in many ways.  In the fiercely competitive stakes for my most tortured hero, I think Ian is the winner.  When he returns to his post in India, he finds that the life he’d planned is gone beyond hope of retrieval. 

A few suicidal thoughts float through hMaryJoPutney_SilkandSecrets_200pxis mind, but he can’t throw away the gift of life when Juliet and Ross risked so much to rescue him.  So he’ll take the long journey back to his ancestral home in Scotland.  But first, he must deliver the journal of the dead Russian officer who had shared his imprisonment to the officer’s niece, who is living in India with her stepfather.

And so he meets Laura.  Born Larissa Alexandrovna Karelian, she has become very British since her widowed mother married a British district officer.  Newly orphaned, alone in the world, she needs Ian as much as he needs her.  It’s a marriage of convenience and friendship. 

But Laura’s Russian uncle left her an inheritance in the far northwest of India, and together they journey north to retrieve his legacy, and to make their farewells to the sub-continent.  Naturally, all kinds of things happen along the way, including a planned invasion, a secondary romance between a Hindu widow and a Muslim soldier, and a lot of changes in the relationship between Ian and Laura.

VEILS is the longest novel I’ve ever written, and possibly the most research intensive.  It also comes closest to being a mainstream historical, though the core is pure romance.   

Having Ian share a cell with a Russian officer puts the Great Game, the struggle between Britain and Russia for possession of Central Asia, squarely in the middle of the plot.  Lots of adventure, oh, yes!  I’m proud of the book and the way the characters grew and healed—and at the end, I was so tired that I went back to Regency England for the Fallen Angels series.  <G> 

NoLongerAGentlemanObviously I have a thing about imprisonment since my most recent Lost Lords book, No Longer a Gentleman, had a hero emerging from ten years of French solitary confinement. 

I found this interesting to write because the characters react so differently.  Ian’s captivity is much shorter but much uglier, and he emerges profoundly depressed.  Grey in NLAG is also changed greatly, but he emerges semi-feral and hungry for life.  Different men, different reactions.  Very different heroines, too. 

Here’s an excerpt of Veils of Silk:

Ian Cameron has delivered her uncle’s journal to Laura Stephenson, born Larissa Alexandrovna Karelian, and finds himself charmed by the young woman’s kindness, beauty, and good sense.  Though he had thought marriage impossible, Laura is uniquely suited to be his wife.  This scene is when he has proposed to her in the ruins of an Indian temple to Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of fortune.

    “If I had common sense,” Laura said tartly, “I would not be considering your proposal.”
    “Then I must hope that sometimes you’ll have sense, and other times you’ll have none at all.”  Ian sighed.  “As I said earlier, I want to be honest with you, Laura.  I can provide for you in a material sense, but I’ve changed for the worse in more ways than one.  Though I used to have an amiable disposition, I’ve been living in a black fog for months.  On a bad day it takes every shred of will I have to just get out of bed, and the good days aren’t much better.  Sometimes I feel like a dried husk that will blow away in the next strong wind.”  
    She considered his words calmly, her slanted golden eyes thoughtful, then said simply, “Melancholia.”
     Startled, he said, “I’ve never been melancholic.”
     “You were never imprisoned and tortured before, either,” she pointed out.  “Melancholia is not uncommon, you know.  My father’s father suffered from terrible spells of it.  He would stay in bed for days on end.  When he did get up, he drifted about like a body searching for its lost soul.  But always the darkness passed, and then no one could match his high spirits.  In your case, the melancholy was surely brought on by your experiences.  When it lifts, you may never suffer from it again.”
    Ian thought about that.  Both Juliet and David had counseled patience, saying that things would improve.  Laura went one step further; by matter-of-factly naming his condition, she had made it easier to understand.  Perhaps he wasn’t uniquely cursed.  “I hope you’re right.  But if you are and I improve much in the future, I might become very different from the man you would be marrying.”
     “Everyone changes with time, Ian.  I like you very well the way you are—if you learn to laugh again, I think I would like you even better.  So much for melancholia.”  She made a dismissive gesture with her hand.  “Are you an agreeable man?”
    Startled by her abrupt change of direction, he said cautiously, “Probably not.  How do you define agreeable?”
     “In the literal sense of being willing to accommodate the wishes of others,” she explained.  “My mother once said that the most comfortable marriages are between two people who are both easygoing, who do not always insist on having their own way.  When two such people do disagree about what to do, the one who cares most about the result will get his or her way, and the other accepts it good-naturedly.”
 Intrigued, he said “Your mother sounds like a wise woman.  But what if there is a difference of opinion and both parties care greatly about how the issue is decided?” 
     “Then they fight,” she said, eyes twinkling.  “But I am an agreeable person—most of the time—and you seem to be also.  I don’t think we would fight often.”  
     “I think I’m agreeable in the sense you mean, if not always in other ways.”
    “Very good.”  She cocked her head to one side.  “Do you have any other dark secrets to reveal?”
    “One more, and this may be the worst,” he said with wry humor.  “The lords of Falkirk were border bandits for centuries, so the family seat is built for defense, not comfort.  It’s one of those frightful medieval castles with twelve-foot thick walls, smoking chimneys, and ancient weapons lurking in dark corners.”  
     “Ghosts?” she said hopefully.
     “Three or four, but they’re a harmless lot.  Far worse are the drafts.  When the wind blows from the North Sea, it could freeze the ears off a stone elephant.”
     “You should not say such a thing in front of our friend Ganesha,” she said with mock reproval.  “And don’t think you can frighten a Russian with tales of cold.  Compared to St. Petersburg, your Falkirk will seem like Calcutta.  We Russkis are very good at creating warmth in a frozen land.”  
     Though her words were teasing, they were also absolutely true, for Laura had already created warmth in Ian’s frozen heart.  “I think I’ve covered the worst of my dark secrets,” he said.  “Do you have any to confess?”
    Her levity faded and she glanced away, her absent gaze falling on the bas relief next to her.  “I haven’t your ability to be honest about things that are deeply painful, Ian.  That isn’t a dark secret, but it certainly is a flaw in my character.”
     “If that’s your worst failing, I’ll be a lucky man.”  He smiled a little.  “Are you ready to make a decision, or will you need more time?”
     Laura reached out and rubbed Ganesha’s round, jolly belly with her palm.  Ganesha, the happy god, who removed obstacles from the paths of mortals.  “Laura Stephenson is a calm, rational Englishwoman who thinks that what you are proposing is mad,” she said slowly.  “But Larissa Alexandrovna is a demented Russian, and she says I should grab this opportunity with both hands, for I’ll never have another like it.”
    Hope welling in his heart, he rose to his feet and walked toward her.  “Then by all means remember that you are Russian.”

Veils of SilkWhen going through the manuscript to prepare Veils of Silk for the e-edition, I remembered just how much I like the characters and the story.  I don't know if I ever want to work so hard on a book again–but I've very glad I did for Veils!

I've asked about exotic settings before.  Is India too exotic?  Or are Russians, for that matter? 

Mary Jo

In the Pink with Lauren Willig

Lauren Cara/Andrea here. Today my good friend Lauren Willig has kindly consented to stop by and chat about books and history with us. Lauren is a real Renaissance Woman (and I don’t say that lightly, as you will soon see!) She’s a bestselling author, a historical scholar, a litigation lawyer, and—starting today!—a Instructor at Yale University, where she and I will be teaching a seminar on Historical Romance.

She has a new release coming out tomorrow, the sixth book in her NYT bestselling “Pink Carnation” series, a wonderful, witty set of novels revolving around a group of dashing Napoleonic-era spies (and the delightfully quirky modern grad student who is determined to make history by solving the mystery of their true identities.) So without further ado . . .


Bloodlily CE: Your new book, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, takes us from your usual settings of England and France to India. What made you decide to set the story there?

LW: Six years ago, two unsuspecting professors hired me as a teaching fellow for a class on the Second British Empire.  At the time, I was working on the first book in the Pink series, which was set in 1803.  I was very struck by the fact that the Battle of Assaye took place that same year.  Hmm, I thought, that would make a good basis for a sequel (because, clearly, history arranged itself that way just for my convenience).  I made a note of it and then promptly forgot about it until two years ago, as I was trying to figure out what was going to happen to my wild child heroine, Penelope Deveraux, constantly in disgrace, constantly pushing the boundaries.  Why not have her push some geographic boundaries as well?  (To be honest, I was getting a little bored with Almack’s Assembly Rooms.  It’s not that I don’t like ratafia, but, well, you know….)

Jasmine In the previous book, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, Penelope got caught canoodling one time too many and found herself packed off to India to give the scandal of her marriage time to die down.  The Betrayal of the Blood Lily opens with Penelope’s arrival in Calcutta with her ne’er do well husband, Freddy Staines, who has been appointed Special Envoy to the Court of Hyderabad.  Between the Maratha war raging in the north, political complications at the court of Hyderabad, a spy known only as the Marigold, and the fascinating and infuriating presence of one Captain Alex Reid, Penelope has no idea what she’s gotten into….

India-map CE: Were there any special challenges in researching such a different world?

 LW: This is the first time I’ve researched a book where I don’t speak the key languages and where I haven’t been able to personally visit the site of the story.  For all my previous books, I’ve done on the ground primary source research.  Due to the timing of monsoon season and my own linguistic limitations, that was barred to me.  On the other hand, this wound up working rather well.  The story I was telling is seen through the eyes of an Englishwoman recently arrived in India.  Since I can’t speak Farsi, Urdu, or Hindi, the documents that were available to me were the journals, memoirs and travel narratives of those Englishmen and woman who lived there during the period, who would have had experiences similar to those of my heroine.  For Penelope’s viewpoint, what I needed to find wasn’t the reality of Indian culture at the time, but Indian culture as an English visitor would have perceived it.  I relied heavily on journals, such as that of Maria Graham, who traveled through India in 1809.  Her reactions provided an excellent guide for Penelope’s.  Likewise, my other viewpoint character, my hero, is an Englishman raised in India, sent off to be educated in England, and then returned to England to work in East India Company’s arm and then diplomatic corps.  For him, I had the memoirs of James Skinner and the correspondence of men like James Kirkpatrick, Resident of Hyderabad, who were similarly situated between two worlds.  I was also fortunate in having very detailed secondary works about the interactions between British and Indian culture at my disposal, most notably William Dalrymple’s White Moghuls and Maya Jasanoff’s Edge of Empire.

Shivaji_and_Marathas CE: Were there any historical discoveries that surprised you?

LW: I was also amazed to discover that there was, in fact, an active French presence in India at the time.  French generals throughout India planted liberty trees, led troops into battle under the tricolore, and cooked up elaborate schemes to unite the French forces in India against the British so that the French influence might reign supreme in the East.  In 1802, General Perron, in the nominal employ of the Maratha chieftan, Scindia, went so far as to write Bonaparte for French troops to deploy against the British.  He got them, too, a whole boatload of them, although they were sent packing before they reached their destination.  Lord Wellesley, the Governor-General (Arthur Wellesley’s older brother) used the French threat as part of his rationale for incursions against local rulers, radically expanding the scope of British oversight in India, which, until then, had been largely limited to the three Presidency towns: Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay.  Although I did know that the Duke of Wellington had begun his career soldiering in Ind
ia, I had never realized before that the Napoleonic Wars had been instrumental in the creation of the Raj.

Sikandar_Jah_Nizam_III CE: Did you meet any new (or not so new) historical figures who tickled your fancy?

LW: Oh, goodness, where to begin?  This book bristles with characters who would be impossible to believe if they weren’t true.  Among others, there’s the Begum Sumroo, a former dancing girl who rose to be ruler of her own principality.  She led her own troops into battle and continued to exert her fascination over men well into her declining years.  At the court of Hyderabad, where the bulk of the story takes place, we meet the mad young ruler, Sikunder Jah, who entertained himself by strangling his concubines with silk handkerchiefs; the courtesan, Mah Laqa Bai, who was considered one of the foremost poets of her day, and so renowned for her wisdom that she was awarded a seat on the ruler’s council of advisors; Mir Alam, a Machiavellian prime minister, once buddy buddy with Wellesley, but now slowly rotting away with leprosy and intent on revenge; and an English resident (basically ambassador), James Kirkpatrick, who had “gone native”, secretly contracting a marriage with a Hyderabadi noblewoman, a fact that pleased neither the Hyderabadi court nor Lord Wellesley, who launched an extremely detailed investigation into the love affair.  All of them play large roles in the book.  You just can’t make this stuff up. 


Charles_II_of_England CE: Speaking of research, you have an amazingly impressive academic background. Tell us a little about what attracted you to study history?

LW: My father is a lapsed historian, so I grew up on bedtime stories about Eleanor of Aquitaine and Sunday afternoons watching old Errol Flynn swashbucklers—with the appropriate scholarly interpolations, of course.  I quickly graduated to historical romance novels and the fat, historical epics so popular in the mid-80’s.  I longed to sweep through the corridors of Whitehall with Elizabeth I, to indulge in conspiracies to save King Charles from the scaffold, to whap importunate gentlemen on the wrist with my fan at the court of George II.  In short, I wanted to live in any century but the one I inhabited.  Leg warmers were just so… unromantic.  I wanted to bring these worlds that I loved so much to life—and what better way to do that than to write historical fiction? 

As an undergraduate at Yale, I majored in Renaissance Studies, on the theory that immersion in the history, art history, literature and political philosophy of a culture was the best training for writing about it.  But I still didn’t feel quite steeped in history enough, so off I toddled to the Harvard history department to pursue a PhD in English history, on the theory that graduate school would truly prepare me to write Absolutely Accurate historical fiction.  It didn’t work out quite that way (I made the disillusioning discovery in grad school that, if historians agree on anything, it’s that there’s no such thing as Absolutely Accurate anything), but it was certainly an interesting journey….  

Caroline_of_Anspach CE: You write wonderfully entertaining books set in the Regency era. However your expertise is in other periods as well. Give us an idea of what other eras appeal to you.

LW: If I had to pick a century to live in, it wouldn’t be the Regency, much as I love it (sorry, folks).  My scholarly work was in the seventeenth century, my books are set in the early nineteenth, but, at heart, I’m an eighteenth century kind of girl.  I particularly love the early eighteenth century, amid all the intrigue directly before and immediately following the Hanoverian succession, as politicians conduct vigorous debates in the new coffeehouses, dissolute rakes form Hellfire Clubs, Alexander Pope writes his Rape of the Lock, Jacobite pretenders hatch conspiracies, fortunes rise and plummet in stock market bubbles, and clever women swish about court in wide-skirted gowns, directing policy behind the leaves of their fans.  It’s a rich, tumultuous, bawdy period, with so much going on in politics, in literature, in philosophy.  Not to mention that I’ve always wanted to be best buddies with Caroline of Ansbach, wife of George II, who is one of my absolute favorite historical characters.  You know you’re a history nerd when….

CE: Any plans to write in those time periods?

LW: My undergrad work was primarily on mid-sixteenth century Scotland (I wrote my senior thesis on the Queen-Regent, Marie de Guise, mother of Mary, Queen of Scots), and that’s an area I’ve always planned to revisit.  I still find Marie de Guise a fascinating and canny character, and, having spent some time living in Edinburgh, I’d love to go back.  My doctoral work is on the English Civil Wars, which is another period I’d like to write about some day.  Talk about swashbuckling and deeds of daring-do!  Um, and, yes, I do have rather a crush on Charles II, so the Restoration is also on the agenda for a book one of these days.  Part of the problem, though, is that I’m still too close to all of those periods academically, so it’s hard for me to get away from the footnotes and let the characters take over. 

CE: Is that doctoral dissertation on your list of future writing projects. What is it about?

LW: My dissertation, grandly titled, “Give Caesar his Due: Royalist Conspiracies during the English Civil Wars, 1646-1649” tracked the machinations of the displaced partisans of King Charles following his imprisonment in 1646 up through his decapitation in January of 1649.  I do seem to have a thing about Royalist spies, whether they’re wearing knee breeches or plumed hats.  There’s just something about men in cloaks and spurs clustered in the back room of a tavern, raising their tankards in a clandestine toast, “For the King!” 


Writing CE: In addition to your Masters degree and dissertation work, you also have a law degree from Harvard—any similarities between law and creative writing? (she asks with an evil smile.)

LW: My first week at the firm, the partner for whom I was working (I was in the litigation department) sat me down and said, “We write stories; you write stories; now you will write stories for us.”  I’m not sure I’d quite agree with that—there was a lot less dialogue in my briefs than in my books—but there are some surprising overlaps between practicing law and writing historical fiction.  A lot of what goes into writing a brief is historical reconstruction, going through piles of documents, taking limited pieces of evidence, and trying to spin them into a convincing and persuasive story.  That’s just what we do when we write historical fiction.  We’re reconstructing a narrative from limited sources.  It’s also all about persuasion, about pulling the reader in and drawing her along with you.  In both cases, if you strike a false note and lose the reader’s trust, it’s all over.  The nice thing about writing fiction?  No more Westlaw! 

CE: I think all of us who write face the difficult task of balancing all our different roles in life and figuring out how to manage our time. Obviously, you’ve been tremendously successful in that department. Any hints you can give us?

LW: Time management is one of those things I still wrestle with, but I think what it comes down to in the end is being aware of your own work patterns.  When I started at the law firm, people gave me all sorts of earnest and well-meaning advice about waking up early every morning and writing for two hours a day.  Two problems: (1) my brain refuses to kick in until sometime after noon, and (2) I am incapable of writing in two hour chunks.  I made myself miserable for about a month, wrote the worst prose I’ve ever produced (and, yes, that includes the imitation Barbara Taylor Bradford novel I tried to write in eleventh grade) and then came to the blinding realization that, hey, I’m a fits-and-starts writer; I’ve always been a fits-and-starts writer.  Therefore, I was better off giving up on the two hour a day plan and locking myself up at home on weekends when I could write for forty-eight hours straight.  Learning how you work most productively and finding creative ways to implement that around your other obligations—without beating yourself up about what you could, would, should be doing—is about fifty per cent of the battle.

Hyderabad_india_ CE: At the RWA Conference last summer, you gave a great talk about making historical stories come to life. One of the things you mentioned was how an author can take advantage of all the specialized knowledge out there without becoming a doctoral candidate. We have a lot of readers who are just embarking on writing careers, so it would be great if you would offer some of you “inside tips.”

LW: Thank you!  There are a wealth of resources out there for writers of historical fiction, all the more so now because of the advent of the internet.  My favorite way of getting into a time period is to start with biographies.  That way, you get an individual eye’s view of life at the time—and you can shamelessly follow up on that biographer’s footnotes to work your way back to secondary sources about the period as well as contemporary diaries, journals, and letters, many of which (depending on the time period in which you’re working) are available in print form and can be accessed on-line, purchased through a used bookseller, or ordered through inter-library loan.  While we’re still on books, it’s also useful to have a shelf of quick references next to the computer (or, if you prefer websites, bookmarked on your browser).  My go-to guides vary for each book, but my standard next-to-the-desk texts for quick reference are The Oxford Dictionary of British History, The Companion to 18th Century Britain, The Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars, and several books of historical maps, uniforms, and costume.

Museums, historic houses, and antique shops are a wonderful way of getting a sense of what your world would have looked like.  If you can visit in person, so much the better, but if you can’t make it there, many have photos from their collections on-line, or glossy catalogues that often seem to turn up nicely discounted at used bookstores.  There are also, I’ve discovered, societies for just about anything.  When I needed information of seventeenth century freemasons for my dissertation, I contacted a group that specializes in research on the freemasons.  They sent me back a five page long essay on the topic.  Not everyone will be quite so generous with their time, but I’ve found professors, specialist societies, other authors, and museum curators are extremely kind in sharing their expertise if emailed and asked nicely.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  All that being said, it’s also important to remember that we write fiction.  At some point, tempting as it is to track down just that one last detail, you have to press the “off” button on the research, sit down with that empty Word file, and just write.

CE: Your heroine Eloise has some very funny encounters in archives. Are there any humorous (or embarrassing, heh, heh, heh) real-life research incidents that have happened to you . .  . er, ones that you will share, that is.

LW: You mean other than spending forty-five minutes trying to figure out how to use the water cooler in the cafeteria of the Public Records Office?  Oh, embarrassment.  I did have some great moments, including getting hopelessly lost on the campus of the University of Nottingham, where I had been locked in the library all day with a seventeenth century journal.  Blundering around in the dark, looking for the bus stop (which was, of course, entirely in the opposite direction) I cleverly managed to lose my footing and roll down a hill.  The fact that I was wearing three inch heels and had somehow contrived to wander off the path onto a steep incline covered with wet and slippery leaves might have had something to do with it.  Fortunately, no one saw.  Or, if they did, I’ve blotted it out of my memory. 

Thanks so much, Word Wenches, for having me over!  It’s been a great pleasure to chat with you.

Note: Lauren has kindly consented to give away a copy of her new book to one lucky person who leaves a comment here between now and Wednesday.

Guests and a New Feature

Good morning!  We have a fun October planned for our readers here at the Word Wenches, starting with:ShobhanBantwal

Oct. 9 – Mary Jo will interview guest Shobhan Bantwal.  Shobhan refers to her stories as "Bollywood in a book."  Her books are romantic, colorful, action-packed tales that are rich with elements of Indian culture.

ToLoveWickedLord Oct. 16 – Susie Felber, Edith Layton's daughter, will visit the Wenches to talk about Edith's last book, To Love a Wicked Lord (Avon, 10/27), completed shortly before she passed away earlier this year. 

Oct. 19 – Ask-a-Wench debuts.  Each month, we will take one (or more) question(s) posed by our readers and discuss these questions in a blog.  Questions can come from any number of sources:  from your replies left in the comments section, from our master list of blog topics suggested by readers, and even from your e-mails.  (To submit questions via e-mail, send a message to our site manager/den mother, Sherrie Holmes.)  Anne will be hosting the first Ask-a-Wench, and has already chosen a few related questions gleaned from readers.  Other Wenches may contribute to AAW posts, depending on the questions.  We enjoy interacting with our readers and felt this would be a great opportunity for lively discussion.

So mark your calendars!  We have a busy October lined up.