Dearly Beloved: the Story Behind the Story

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

Editing and producing e-versions of earlier books is an interesting, nostalgic, and sometimes alarming process.  I agree with everything Cara/Andrea said in her Wednesday discussion of the e-release of three of her Signet Regencies.  Proofing forces an author to confront all the appalling writing weaknesses that she has been struggling to eliminate.  Thank heaven that in popular fiction, a good story can trump wordiness! To a point, anyhow. <G>

I’ve just uploaded the ebook verson of Dearly Beloved, my first true Regency historical romance after I’d written 7 traditional Signet Regencies.  I wanted a rock ‘em, sock ‘em story that would push the limits beyond anything I’d attempted, and I succeeded.  I also wanted to do the sort of deception that Mary Stewart did in The Ivy Tree, where a plot twist makes what came before look different in light of new information. 

MaryJoPutney_DearlyBeloved_800pxYes, I was probably biting off too much, but if I were a reasonable person, I wouldn't have become a writer. <G>  Though I generally avoid Amazon reviews, I just noticed one that said Dearly Beloved was a book people either loved or hated.  Luckily, this particular reviewer loved the book, but others didn't.  Which is fine.  No book is for everyone.

When my agent was sending out the manuscript, at least one editor refused to even consider it because the heroine, Diana Lindsay, goes to London to become a courtesan.  But that is much too simple a description of the story. 

Diana is a woman of instinct and intuition, and it is instinct that drives her from her remote Yorkshire home to find a better life.  Dangerously beautiful, she realizes that being an elite courtesan will give her freedom and power, and London will give her young son more opportunities.

At her first venture into the demimonde, Diana meets Gervase, a haunted lord and spymaster who is entranced by her warmth and kindness.  Soon they are locked in an intense, passionate love affair.  But they each have their secrets, and their approaches to life are catastrophically different in ways that threaten to wrench them apart.

Here’s an excerpt, along with the original cover, which I loved for its tenderness.  I think it looks more like the characters in my head than any other cover I've had:

    In spite of their physical closeness Gervase was remote from her, his expression Dearly Beloved originalharsh and withdrawn.  Diana leaned across the narrow gap for a light kiss, asking softly, “Is something wrong?”
     His eyes were shadowed and he was silent for too long.  “You’re like…an addiction.  The more I have of you, the more I crave you.”
     “And you dislike that?”
     “I don’t want to need anyone.  Ever.”
     Diana felt the chill of his mood dispelling her contentment and she sat up, wrapping her cloak around her.  Without true intimacy, it seemed wrong to be naked in front of him.  Staring into the fire, she wondered what one could say to a man who preferred aloneness, who wanted to be sufficient unto himself.  “You need air to survive, and food and drink and sleep.  To be fully human, one also needs other people.”  
     To even discuss such matters was to betray vulnerability, and there was a long interval before he answered.  “Needing objects is safe enough—one kind of food can easily replace another.  To need people is dangerous because…it gives them power over you.”
     Still looking at the fire, she drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around her legs, folds of cloak spilling around her to the rug.  “Sometimes that is true, but why do you assume that others will always use their power against you?”
     With a brittle laugh, he said, “Experience.”
     She turned to face him.  “Can you truly say that everyone you have ever cared about has abused your trust?”
     Silence.  Then, “No.  The risk increases with the level of caring.  If one cares only a little, there is only a little danger.  The real risk is in…caring deeply.”
     Diana felt pity that he couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “love.”  What had happened to him, that the very thought of loving was so frightening?  “Then you are in no danger from me.  I can see what a bother it must be that your lust is temporarily out of control, but sex is just a “thing,’ like the need for food and drink.”
     She wished he would leave so she could give way to tears.  It was a mistake to love a man who daren’t love in return.  She stood, her voice gently mocking. “Take comfort in the fact that soon I will not be a novelty and you can easily replace me with another woman.”
     Gervase stood also, coming behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist, pulling her against the hard length of his body.  “Can I replace you that easily, Diana?  Is that all that is between us—intemperate lust that will soon wane?”
     She held herself rigid, fighting the desire to melt back against him.  “I can’t answer that.  Only you can.”
     “But I don’t know the answer.  I don’t even understand the question.”
     Speaking from her own hurt, she said, “You don’t pay me enough to teach you the questions.”
     His arms dropped away, and when he spoke it was in a voice of cool irony.  “Good of you to remind me what is really between us. Since it is only vulgar money, there can be no danger.”
     She turned to face him, her blue eyes stark with unhappiness.  “You said that, not me.  If that is what you choose to believe, then of course it must be the truth.  After all, the customer is always right.”
     He flinched back at her words.  “If only it were that simple.”  Placing his hands on Diana’s shoulders, he drew her to him.  “But even after that spectacular sexual exchange has discharged physical desire, I still want you.  And so I fear you.”
     She softened then, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head on his shoulder. “Do you really think I could ever hurt you?”
     He laid his cheek against her tangled hair, the scent of lilac poignant around them.  “I don’t know.  I really…just…do not know.  And that is what frightens me.”

Dearly Beloved: Love it or hate it.  The book was nominated for the RWA book of the year award and won the NJRW best historical of the year award.  It also brought me my first hate mail. 

Here’s a review quote from Terrie Figueroa of

"Brimming with betrayal, passion, intrigue and love, Dearly Beloved is a novel that no romance reader should miss…It's a novel that will touch your heart, and a perfect example of what a romance novel should be."

I love the quote, though I don’t think the book is for every romance reader. <G> 

The e-edition of Dearly Beloved is currently being uploaded to the usual platforms.  The only current link I have is for Amazon, but Nook and Kobo and the others will follow over the next few days. 

MaryJoPutney_LadyofFortune_200pxI have two more novels that I have yet to edit, format, and upload: Uncommon Vows, (my one medieval) and Lady of Fortune, originally a Signet Super Regency.  They will become available later this year, but I have no idea when!

In the meantime, I’ll give a print copy of Dearly Beloved to someone who leaves a comment between now and midnight Saturday. 

While I have your attention: I’m thinking of making some of my books available in print on demand (POD) editions, which look and cost about the same as a trade paperback.  So, more expensive than mass market paperbacks.  Do you have any MaryJoPutney_ThunderandRoses_200pxthoughts about this?  Would you consider buying the print edition of a book that is otherwise available only as an ebook?  Let me know what you think, please!

Mary Jo, who would start POD with Thunder and Roses, first of the Fallen Angels series

An Interview with Eloisa James: The Duke is MINE!

Cat 243 Dover

by Mary Jo

We Word Wenches are delighted to have Eloisa James as a guest today.  Possessor of one of the most original voices in historical romance, Eloisa has a background that enthralls journalists and readers alike.  Since she is always being asked about it, I shall briefly summarize so we can move onto more interesting questions.  <g>

Eloisa is the daughter of Robert Bly, the distinguished poet and National Book Award winning author of Iron John, a seminal influence on the men’s 1358518movement and an international bestseller.  The family roots are Norway and Minnesota (yes, like Garrison Keillor), and Eloisa has the tall, lean, blondness to prove it. <G>  She has degrees from Harvard, Oxford, and Yale, and is a professor of Shakespeare and head of the Creative Writing program at Fordham University.

Despite the fact that both her parents were distinguished literary writers, Eloisa was a born story lover and story teller.  She loved reading romance, which progressed to writing romances, and she is one of our genre’s most eloquent advocates.  As her website says, she has two jobs, two kids, two cats, and one husband, the Italian born Alessandro, who is not only gorgeous (I’ve met him and can verify this <g>), but also a hereditary Italian knight, a cavaliere.  Is that romantic or what?

Eloisa JamesI have a suspicion that Eloisa never sleeps, so I’m glad she has taken the time to visit us.  Her new January book, The Duke is Mine, immediately leaped onto the New York Times bestsellers list, and is third in her current series of fairy tale inspired books.  It features a heroine who is just too full of life to be the perfect duchess her parents raised her to be, and two men, both of them very unusual characters. (Excerpt)

Eloisa, The Duke is Mine is loosely inspired by the Princess and the Pea, and it is variously very funny and rather tragic.  Could you tell us about the story and how you came to write it?
The Duke is MineEJ:  I jumped into the story as part of my fairy-tale retellings without thinking through the pea, in particular (which proved to be very difficult to transform).  What interested me right away, though, was the question of how we judge perfection.  In The Princess and the Pea, the girl who arrives in the middle of a rainstorm is tested by her future mother-in-law (including a trial involving the infamous pea and 100 mattresses), and eventually declared a “real” princess, perfect in every way.

So I started the novel thinking about our standards for perfection.  Every character reflects that preoccupation, in one way or another.  Olivia, my heroine is no perfect heroine; she’s impudent, bawdy, and plump. Her sister Georgiana, by contrast, approaches “perfection,” in that she’s mastered all societal rules.  Olivia is torn between a duke, Quin, with an Aspergers-like inability to express emotion, and her fiancé Rupert, who is all emotion with almost no logic.  Olivia, Georgie, Quin, and Rupert are all perfect and imperfect in different ways.  

MJP: How does your work with Shakespearean plays and language influence your romance novels?  
 EJ:  Most obviously, teaching Shakespeare for years has given me a rich poetic vocabulary to fall back on, though the poetry in The Duke is Mine is more Keatsian than Shakespearean (I had to make up a poem for Rupert).  I do think that it is extremely useful to be teaching plays.  I find dialogue an on-going challenge, and teaching a genre that’s pure dialogue is always helpful.
MJP: Do you have any comments about the abundance of dukes and duchesses in your books and in your titles?
EJ:  At some point it became clear to my publisher that my books sell better with dukes & duchess in my titles.  That speaks for itself.  But I would also say that I grew up the daughter of a poet on a farm in rural Minnesota.  My prom party was in a gravel pit, and poets do not make a lot of money.  I am completely uninterested in writing books about money problems.  For me, “duke” often acts as shorthand for person-with-mucho-land (and thereby, money).
MJP: I’ve noticed that several of your books have small dogs with, to put it delicately, incontinence issues. <G>  Are the fictional dogs inspired by real dogs in your life?  I was also told to ask about Lucy and Milo, real dogs with real stories. <G>


EJ: Lucy is indeed our dog!  She is a rescue dog who looks exactly like the rather battered, loving dachshund in The Duke is Mine.  When I was writing The Duke is Mine, she was still having a little anxious incontinence now and then.  I’m happy to say that barring an unfortunate incident after she snatched and ate a full half pound of blue cheese, she’s had no accidents in the last year.

Milo features largely in the memoir I have coming out in April, Paris in Love.  Milo used to be our Chihuahua, until a sad day one summer when Air France refused to let him get on the plane back home from Italy because he was too fat.  Literally over-weight.  So my mother-in-law happily adopted Milo and since then he’s just grown chubbier and chubbier.  And chubbier.  He’s a very funny character. 


What I’ve discovered about dogs—never having grown up with one—is that they have characters, much more so than cats.  I’m really enjoying putting them in books.  They weave into the plot beautifully, and they can echo whatever I’m thinking about.  In Lucy’s case, she is a lot like her owner, Rupert.  They both live completely in the present, full of love and bravery and energy. 

At the moment I’m finishing The Ugly Duchess, which publishes August 28 (I’m running very late!).  At any rate, my duchess has adopted a rescue dog who is very beautiful, but has been maltreated.  It’s an obvious point, but I think it works.
 MJP: In addition to having another of the fairy tale books scheduled for September, you have a non-fiction memoir called Paris in Love coming out in April.  The book is about how you and your family sold the house in New Jersey and packed up and moved to Paris for a year.  I assume you and your husband timed your sabbaticals so you could have such a marvelous adventure.  Wench Anne Gracie says she loved your tweets from Paris.  
ParisSo—tell us about Paris!  What new things did you discover and pursuits did you pursue?  How did your children take to a foreign country and language?  And do you want to live there again at some future time?
EJ:  My children split the difference, as they often do: my son fell in love with Paris and is now fluent in French; my daughter hated the city and refused to learn the language.  Overall, we had a wonderful year.

Looking back, the lesson I learned is how fast life spins by if we don’t record it.  I knew when we left the US that I wanted to remember the year. I was leaving post-treatment for a very early case of breast cancer, which had given me a chilling sense of mortality.  Plus, Luca was already fifteen, and I had the chilling fear that once he grew up I would forget all those funny teenage moments, the way I had forgotten most of the adorable things he did as a baby.  So I had a fit of wanting to record life rather than just live it (and forget it).  That record turned into Paris in Love.  I think it’s a quite funny look at our year: life in Paris with Anna, Luca, my husband, the plump dog I mention above, Milo.

I’d love to live in Paris again.  My hope is that the book will inspire more people to snatch up a dream and just do it—trust that it’s OK to sell the house, move into an apartment you find on the internet, live in a foreign country without speaking the language (because I don’t!).
MJP:  What have I missed that I should have asked you, or that you’d like to say?
EJ:  Well, let me put in a word for The Ugly Duchess, coming next September.  This has been a really tough book to write, but fun.  It’s my first pirate book!  If I was thinking about perfection with The Princess and the Pea, this one is about beauty.  Now I’m realizing that I’m making my books sound awfully moralistic.  I assure everyone that they are not.  I aim at funny escapist, with a thread of thoughtfulness behind it.  I should have an excerpt up on my website,, pretty soon.
When Beauty Tamed the Beast MJP: Thanks so much for visiting us, Eloisa, and I wish you much success in your future careers. 

EJ: Thank you Word Wenches!  It’s always a pleasure.
MJP: Eloisa will be giving away two copies of her earlier fairy tale romance, When Beauty Tamed the Beast to readers who post comments between now and Tuesday midnight.  So—what would you like to ask Eloisa about her dual careers?  What are some of your favorite novels based on fairy tales?  And do you like pets in romances? <G>
 Mary Jo