by Mary Jo
As I warned when I blogged about proofing two earlier books for e-editions, I find the process of rereading and returning to an earlier story makes me want to reminisce about research and how the story came about.
Dancing on the Wind was published third in my Fallen Angels series, but chronologically, it takes place second. The book originally published second, Petals in the Storm, was a former Signet Regency that I was able to revise quickly and fit into the series, and the publisher wanted that. Now that I'm e-pubbing the series, Petals is officially Fallen Angels #3 and DOTW is #2. So no, I’m not e-publishing the series out of order. <G>
Very seldom is there one specific incident I can point to and say, “That’s the plot trigger!” but I can with Dancing on the Wind. The hero, Lucien Fairchild, Earl of Strathmore, is a Regency spymaster who would now be considered an expert in counter-espionage—that is, catching the bad guys in Britain so they won’t pass information to the French.
Yes, spies in Regencies are a cliché (though rather less so when I wrote DTOW) but they’re such useful plot devices! I loved Lucien, who is gorgeously blond, dangerous, and mysterious, but what was his story? And who was his mate???
I found out when I was watching a rerun of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Captain’s Holiday”episode, in which Captain Picard meets a charming and unreliable (but hot) archeological thief named Vash.
Eureka! Lucien’s story is about a sneaky man who meets a sneakier woman! I love when a story manifests complete with a punchy tagline. <G>
Of course the core idea is just the spark. An awful lot of scaffolding needs to be built around it to create a story. Luckily, I had a thin and incredibly worn used book about the Hellfire Club. Since DOTW was written pre-internet, I couldn’t do an easy search on line, but the book was full of glorious details that I used for my fictional Hellions Club, which is set several decades later than the original.
Boys will be boys:
Robes! Silly ceremony! Orgies! Obscene statues! Ruined abbeys with underground chambers! It was a veritable feast of material to build a story around.
Lucien, who is the tight, controlled sort, has to investigate the Hellions because he believes that some of the aristocratic members are passing information to the French. But as he investigates the Hellions, he keeps meeting, and sometimes rescuing, a mysterious young woman of many names and disguises. Who is she, and what the devil is she up to?
She won’t tell him and she’s driving him crazy, but Lucien is very aware, in his controlled Regency way, that she is seriously hot. (The image to the left of him wearing her was the original stepback.)
The heroine, Kit Travers, is on a desperate mission to save the life of the person she loves most in the world: her twin sister. This gave me a wonderful change to research and write about a subject that has always fascinated me. Among my cousins was a pair of identical twins, so I’d always wanted to write about two people who look so much alike, but are individuals with different souls and different goals despite their similarities.
I’d always taken mental notes of interesting twin data, but for DOTW, I had the opportunity to interview at length the identical twin sisters of a bookseller friend of mine. They were not only bright and articulate and very aware of the aspects of twindom, but they were also rather psychic, and some of the remarkable connections between my fictional twins were taken right from the real ones.
For example, one of the real twins could walk into a store and know her sister had been in earlier that day. They could lend energy to each other. Sometimea Twin A would have to call Twin B and say, “I need more energy today so don’t try drawing on mine.”
The more extroverted twin was a better transmitter between them, the more introverted one was a better receiver. Amazing stuff—so if you read it in the book, no, I didn’t make it up. <G>
Here’s a Dancing on the Wind excerpt of one of the first times Lucien meets his woman of mystery. He’s been at a tavern during a Hellion meeting, trying to ingratiate himself with the leader so he’ll be invited to join. And there’s this barmaid he’d been noticing…
By one in the morning, most of the Hellions had left and Lucien was thinking that it was time to go home himself. Then he saw the most vocal of Sally'syouthful admirers, Lord Ives, lurch to his feet and purposefully follow the barmaid out of the room. Though she seemed quite capable of taking care of herself, Lucien was unable to suppress his protective instincts. After saying good night to those of his companions who were still awake, he rose and quietly followed Sally and Ives.
The old tavern was a maze of flagstoned passages. Briskly the barmaid went down one, heels tapping, and turned left, then left again, ending in a storeroom half filled with kegs. Apparently unaware that Ives was close behind her, she set her candle on a keg, then stooped to draw off a pitcher of ale.
Lucien paused in the shadowed passage. If his assistance wasn't needed, he would fade away. It would be bad for his pose as a rake if he kept defending beleaguered damsels, and where the Hellions went, damsels were beleaguered regularly.
As the barmaid straightened, Ives asked in a slurred voice, "If you won't run off with me, pretty Sally, will you at least give me a quick tumble before I go home?"
She started, the ale sloshing from her pitcher, then said good-naturedly, "Even if I was willing, which I'm not, I doubt you'd be much use to me, lad. Alcohol may increase the desire, but it takes away the ability."
Lucien was startled to hear a Shakespearean quote from a barmaid. Still, there was no reason why Sally shouldn't enjoy the Bard as much as an aristocrat.
Less literary, Ives said, "If you doubt my ability, try me and I'll prove otherwise."
Her carroty curls bobbed as she shook her head. "My man is called Killer Caine, and he wouldn't like it one bit if I spread myself around." She gave Ives a playful push. "You go home to your bed, lad, and sleep off the punch alone."
"Give me a kiss, then. Just a kiss." Before she could reply, he pulled her into an embrace, his mouth crushing hers and one hand squeezing her bounteous breast. Lucien guessed that Ives meant no real harm, but in his drunkenness he didn't realize his own strength, or notice that the woman was struggling to escape. Unpleasantly reminded of the chambermaid at Bourne Castle, Lucien decided to intervene.
He started forward, but before he could enter the storeroom, Sally stamped hard on her admirer's foot.
"Ouch!" Ives yelped and raised his head. Keeping his hand on her breast, he asked reproachfully, "Why did you do that?"
"To get rid of you, lad," Sally said breathlessly.
"Don't go," he pleaded, his hand kneading the ripe globe that filled his palm.
She shoved against his chest and managed to break his hold. Before he could embrace her again, she snapped, "'Tisn't me you want, it's these."
Reaching into her bodice, she wrenched out an enormous bust improver and threw it into her assailant's face. "Have a good time, lad."
Ives released Sally and rocked back on his heels as the soft, pillow-like object bounced off his nose and fell to the floor. After staring in befuddlement at the undulating cotton curves, he raised his gaze to the barmaid. The folds of her bodice now fell loosely over a chest of modest dimensions.
To his credit, the young man began laughing. "You're a false-hearted woman, Sally."
"It's not me heart that's false," she said pertly. "Now get along with you so I can do my work."
"I'm sorry—I behaved badly," he said. "Will you be here next time the Hellions meet?"
She shrugged. "Maybe yes, and maybe no."
Blowing her a kiss, Ives left the storeroom by the other door, which led toward the front of the tavern. Sally was watching him go when she heard Lucien's chuckle. She jumped, then spun and spotted him in the shadows. "If it isn't old Lucifer himself," she said waspishly. "Did you enjoy the show?"
"Immensely." He moved forward into the storeroom. "I had thought you might need help, but obviously I was mistaken."
"Lucifer to the rescue?" she said with heavy sarcasm. "And 'ere I thought you wanted a piece of my padded arse."
Bits and Pieces:
**The title, Dancing on the Wind, is a period euphemism for being hanged and is a good description of the peril both characters are in.
**I chose Lucien’s title, Lord Strathmore, because back in my designer days, I’d sometimes ordered Strathmore paper for different design projects and I liked the name. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that there is a real earldom of Strathmore in Scotland, and that the Queen Mother was a daughter of an Earl of Strathmore. Oh, well.
**If you're wondering why most of Lucien's head is cut off in the gorgeous new e-book cover by Kim Killion, it's because blond male cover models are really hard to find, so off with his hair!
**The mechanical toys that are a plot thread were inspired by reading the title of a book on mechanical toys that was listed in the Hamilton remaindered book catalog.
**To my great delight, Dancing on the Wind won the RWA Rita for best long historical the year it came out. Alas, the conference was in Hawaii so I wasn’t there. But the golden girl herself is sitting on a bookcase watching me. <G>
I’ll give away a print copy of DOTW to someone who leaves a comment between now and midnight Saturday. Do you have any more questions about the makings of the story? I’ll be happy to answer them!