Crafty Skills and Writing Thrills

Joanna here with this month's question for the Wenches:

Do you have a hobby or handicraft that's important to you? Does it ever find its way into your writing?

 

Mary Jo sWench MaryJoPutney_RiverofFire_200pxays:

Alas, I am not crafty, except perhaps in my plotting.  I learned basic sewing as a girl and made some of my own clothes because that's what girls did in that time and place, but I wasn't enthusiastic about it, and I was a complete loss at handcrafts.  I botched cross-stitch and never mastered crochet and had zero interest in embroidery.  I did learn to knit in college because it was a way to keep hands busy when we sat around and talked, and I even managed a few large needle sweaters.  But they weren't very good except for basic warmth, and I haven't knit since I got out of college. 

 

 With the exception of young Bree, the hero's daughter in Sometimes a Rogue, my female characters aren't very interested Wench NotQuiteAWifeMMin handwork, though they can mend things as required. And now that I think of it, Laurel, the heroine of Not Quite a Wife, crocheted baby blanket squares while on a long carriage ride, but that was more because poor babies needed warm blankets.  I don't think she was much interested in crocheting for crochet's sake.  <G>  So I guess you could say that my lack of handicraft interest has made its way into my writing!

 

  On the other hand, while I don't have much gift for crafts, I have my share of interests.  As an art school graduate and a professional designer, art and design creep into stories, most strongly in River of Fire, where all the major characters are artists and don't know how they feel unless they have a paint brush in hand.  <G>  And I love music, though again I have no particular talent other than being able to do some research, but it's fun finding a four hand piano version of Vivaldi quartets on youtube, then telling my characters to take it from there.  <G>  A nice thing about writing is all the elements we can weave into our stories!

 

Nicola offers us music:

It’s interesting how many writers are also creative in other artistic fields. I have absolutely no talent for painting or drawing, or sewing, Wench Unmasked - US publishedknitting or making anything with my hands. As a child I did make patchwork cushions in my sewing classes at school and I was also passably good at cookery, which I think is another creative talent. However it was music that I loved and singing was a hobby of mine from childhood.

 

 I studied music at school and learned the piano and wrote some (bad) songs. I joined my school, college and church choirs and was also a member of a local choral society that toured Europe one summer. That was very exciting. My first love was always church music but I have tackled just about everything except opera! My singing tutor was a very fierce Scots lady called Mrs Buchan who had been a professional singer and was a very inspiring teacher.

 

 A number of characters in my books are musical and have good signing voices. Some of my heroines are talented at the piano or other musical instruments. When I am researching a book I do enjoy seeing which pieces of music were popular in the period and choosing something that my heroine might be singing or playing in the drawing room after dinner to entertain the other guests. In Unmasked, the heroine Mari gives away the secret of her ancestry by singing a Russian folk song.  When I write musical characters I am always reminded of Mary in Pride and Prejudice who loved playing the piano even though she had little aptitude for it, and her father saying: “You have entertained us long enough!”

 

Susan is musical as well as craftsy:

 

 

Writers and some kind of creative handiwork are a natural fit — the creativity often spills off the page and Wench susan 1into some other expression like arts, crafts, gardening and so on. And if we're not craftsy otherwise, we can scribble and type a mile a minute, and that's a talent of the hands if there ever was one! 

 

 

I went to art school, so for years I did paintings, drawing, prints and so on, even while I thought about stories. I haven't made art for years (though I do want to return to it), but I always have some kind of handiwork going. I try different things rather than stick with one, so I am master of none and explorer of many. I've done lots of crochet and knitting, and usually have a knitting project going; I've churned out throws and scarves and such, and keep it simple (I love big circular needles and soft yarns, and have no patience for small-stitch projects). I've done beading, basket weaving, needlework, sewing, collage, murals, scrapbooking — it often comes down to my degree of patience for the thing. I especially love to refinish furniture and paint rooms. My routine after completing a book usually involves painting walls or redoing furniture. Give me a ladder, a can of paint, some music and I'm happy.

 

Wench susan 2Some of the art has worked into my novels – I've written about a painter, an illuminator, a sculptor, an art historian and so on. I also wrote about harp playing after taking lessons in Celtic harp years ago. I loved it, and better understood long-ago harpers and harp music. That definitely helped when I wrote The Angel Knight, Lady Macbeth and Queen Hereafter, and if I write about a harper again, I'll dust off my Irish harp and tune it up!  
 
Cara/Andrea brings us:
 
I have an art background, so I’ve featured a both a heroine and a hero who was an accomplished Wenches A Diamond In The Rough-medwatercolor artist. But I’m also the Wench “jock”, as I enjoy sports as a way of relaxing. A while back, I took up golf—I’m pretty athletic, but it was one of the hardest endeavors I’ve ever tried— the swing may look easy, and the ball is not moving, but trust me, getting the timing right takes practice and patience! However I really enjoyed both the cerebral challenge and walking the course. After a day of writing, I love going out in early evening and playing a few holes. I can’t tell you how many plot tangles I have unraveled on the fairways. There’s something about switching gears and doing something physical that clears the brain synapses!
 
On a trip to Scotland, I visited the Old Course at St. Andrews, where golf was popular during Rgency times, and then was lucky enough to play a round with the Duke of Roxburghe, who is a passionate golfer . . .which got me to thinking! I decided it would be great fun incorporate my new hobby into a Regency romance. I did a little research on clubmaking (there are some wonderfully quirky clubs, like clerks and mashies fron that era) and then penned A Diamond in the Rough.The heroine is a great golfer but must disguise herself as a boy and work as a caddie to be allowed to play at St. Andrews. She’s assigned to teach an English lord how to play the game in order for him to play a match to win back his ancestral home, which his wastrel father has gambled away. And well . . . the game is on, in more ways than one.
 
 
Jo comes back with a very down-to-earth hobby:
 
Wench josgarden2Gardening. I'm not sure I've ever written a garden-obsessed character, but my books often have garden scenes and named plants with significance. My
characters are going to have gardens as most people in the past did until the
worst town developments of the 19th century, which led to the allotment
movement — an awareness that people, especially the poor, need a place to grow
food and also to have touch with the land and growing things.

Most of my characters are wealthy enough to have estates and gardeners, but they still take an interest. Interestingly, my book-in-progress, The Viscount Needs a Wife, has a hero and heroine who don't. They're both London people, not fond of the countryside, and know nothing about how to grow anything. I like to be different!

 
Anne says (and this is so cool. I had no idea about the dolls):
 
Wenches myWrapBraceletsI nearly always have some craft activity on the go, whether it's hand-made Christmas decorations, small things for dolls houses, or various kinds of jewellery. I'm more slapdash than meticulous, but I do enjoy making small things.
 
I used to babysit a friend's daughter on a regular basis and as a result I developed dolls house disease. I made lots of tiny things for a dolls house that one of my adult students had given me when she'd learned I was looking after a little girl and had No Dolls!!
 
It was a weekly ritual — my little friend would arrive, we'd get out the dolls house and the box of contents and set the house up from scratch — different every time. At the end of the day she'd tell me what new thing the dolls house needed, in that very cute imperious way three and four year olds have. "I think the dolls house needs. . . a dolls house." Or "I think next week the dolls will go . . . to the races. They'll need hats." This was after Melbourne Cup day and someone had been watching "Fashions on the Field" on TV. So I made hats for tiny dolls.
 
Currently I'm playing with jewelry. Fiddling with small things helps me concentrate and you'd be surprised Wwenches DollHathow often, while apparently concentrating wholly on a necklace or bracelet, I solve a plot problem. I go through stages with the jewelry, too. Not so long ago I was making things using natural crystals, which I love, but was sidetracked recently when a friend suggested I make a beaded leather wrap bracelet — and I was off and playing.
 
Few of these things ever find their way into my writing. I wrote one story, The Virtuous Widow, a Christmas novella that included a dolls house, and that was inspired by my little friend and our dolls house games — she's mentioned in the dedication. Nothing since then, but you never know . . .
 
 
Wenches pat rice wickedPat rounds us off with some wonderfully practical hobbies:
 
I garden and I fix up old houses, so I’m going to guess those aspects of my life creep into my books on a regular basis. I believe readers have upon occasion remarked that they know they’re going to get houses and kids when they read my books. Apparently I’ve disguised the gardening fever better. Even in Formidable Lord Quentin, when the characters have plenty of fancy London houses that need no work, my protagonists end up in a neglected rural mansion battling rodents and bird nests. We have the kids and horses in that one, but no garden.
 
I outdid myself in Wicked Wyckerly, though—the heroine owns a farm and gardens, the hero owns a truly neglected mansion AND townhouse, and we have kids galore. But I’m thinking children probably aren’t a hobby!
 
 
So. What about you? What hobby brings you joy and makes you more creative? If you were to write a book, which of your avocations would sneak into the text?
 
Some lucky commenter will win a copy of any of my books they choose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fallen Angels: Together Again at Last

by Mary Jo

Cat 243 DoverYippee!  This week, River of Fire is being released in e-book form, which means that all seven books of the Fallen Angel series are available.  (The seventh book, One Perfect Rose, was reissued by Kensington Books and has been available in an e-edition for the last two years.)

This series is the one that draws the most comments and requests for availability, but like most projects, it began in a rather haphazard fashion.  I’d just finished my Silk Trilogy, and while I loved the stories andOnePerfectRose the characters, the research required for the exotic settings was exhausting. 

Feeling flattened after delivering the third book, Veils of Silk, I decided it was time to return to the familiar fictional terrain of the Regency.  I’d still need to research each specific book, but it would be child’s play compared to digging for information about Central Asia and India in pre-internet days.

I hadn’t actually gotten as far as thinking of what I’d write when my editor called and said that Signet wanted my next book to be the launch lead for the new Topaz imprint, and she needed a basic idea for the story by the next day. SHRIEK! 

ThunderandRosesBut my muse performs best in dire emergencies and overnight she produced the concept for what became Thunder and Roses.  That was also the seed for the Fallen Angels—boys who’d met and bonded at Eton because of their disastrous families, and who had vaguely Biblical names, hence “Fallen Angels,” a charmingly bad boy series title.

Because Signet wanted to build the new imprint, they wanted more books faster than I can really write.  Which led to me revising The Controversial Countess, a long early Signet Regency, into a historical romance titled Petals in the Storm.  It fit into the series structure beautifully, and the trilogy became a quadrology.  <G>

But the Countess had generated a spin-off Regency with one of my favorite heroes, PetalsintheStorm-1so I revised The Rogue and the Runaway into Angel Rogue.  Dancing on the Wind, a new book, was released between Petals and Angel Rogue

Then came Shattered Rainbows, which would have been the last of the original trilogy, but you can guess what happened—the book generated two more spin-offs: River of Fire and One Perfect Rose.  At that point I quit since I felt that 7 books were quite enough for a trilogy. <G>  (You'll have gathered that I get way too attached to my secondary characters.  Especially if they're male and appealing.)

This is probably way too much information, but I do find a certain amazed satisfaction at looking back at how the series evolved.  I also found, over the recent months of proofing and production—that I still like the books just fine.  Though I fixed the typos and a few minor errors of fact (a reader informed me that Persians were not a cat breed in 1815 <g>), the characters and their stories still worked for me.  I hope they continue to work for other readers.

RiverofFire

The series is built around the later Napoleonic wars, with many of the characters involved as soldiers or spies, and then the transition to peacetime.  The first book was set in 1814, the last in 1818. 

Which brings me to River of Fire.  I don’t see the book on many lists of favorites, but I love the story.  The hero, Kenneth Wilding, has the broad shoulders and burly strength of a stevedore–and the soul of an artist.  Though he was heir to a viscount, at eighteen he became estranged from his father because of the wicked manipulations of his young stepmother.  With few choices, Kenneth enlisted as a common soldier.

Because he had education and leadership ability, he eventually received a field AngelRoguecommission and became an exploring officer, risking his life riding alone across Spain so he could draw maps and gather other information.  By the time Waterloo arrived, he was a captain.

With the war over and his father dead, Kenneth returns to an empty title and ravaged estate.  Then a stranger offers a devil’s bargain: financial salvation in return for Kenneth’s special subversive skills.

Reluctantly Kenneth enters the household of the greatest painter in England to unmask a terrible crime. Instead, he discovers something infinitely more dangerous: a tantalizing, creative way of life and an irresistible woman. Everything he has always wanted—and can never have.

Here’s a brief excerpt.  After proving that he knows and understands painting, Kenneth has just been hired as a secretary by Sir Anthony Seaton.   Sir Anthony’s daughter Rebecca does not approve.

    Rebecca thought wistfully of her father's previous secretaries. All had been pleasant young men of good family. Civilized. Easy to have around the house. Not a pirate in the lot.
    The captain said, "While I don't mind acting as a general factotum, I'm curious about why I'm needed for such work when you are so obviously competent."
    "I don't choose to spend my time as a housekeeper," she said in a clipped voice.
    Responding to her tone rather than her words, he remarked, "You don't like me very much, do you, Miss Seaton?"
    Good God, had the man no discretion? Well, if he preferred bluntness, she would oblige. She halted on the landing and turned to face him. He stopped a step below her, putting their eyes almost level. For some reason, that made her even more aware of his physical power. She repressed the urge to back away. "We've only just met, so how can I either like or dislike you?"
    "Since when is it necessary to know someone to dislike him? It's clear that you wish your father hadn't engaged me."
    "You look more like a marauder than a secretary," she said tartly. "And knowing my father, he didn't bother to ask for references. How did you learn about the position?"
    His gaze became opaque. "A friend of your father's told me."
    "Who?"
    "The gentleman preferred to remain anonymous."
    It was undeniably the sort of thing one of Sir Anthony's eccentric friends might do. "Do you have any letters of reference?" she asked. "Anything to suggest that you're not a fraud or a thief?"
    There was a faint tightening at the corners of his eyes. After a moment, he said, "No, though if you don't mind waiting, I suppose I could get one from the Duke of Wellington. He's known me for years, and I think he considers me respectable."

ShatteredRainbowsConventional wisdom says that books about artists and musicians don’t sell well.  Perhaps not, but I loved writing a book where none of the three major characters know how they feel unless they have a brush or a piece of charcoal in their hands.  <G> 

I’m an art school graduate, and while my major was industrial design and I was always a designer more than an artist, I love writing about creativity. 

I think of River of Fire as my "Creative Process book, historical division."  (The Spiral Path is my "Creative Process book, contemporary division."  It’s about moviemaking, not painting.)  Both books are not unrelated to what I feel about my writing. 

So for all of those readers who’ve asked about the Fallen Angels series over the years, the whole series is now available in e-book mode on numerous platforms.  Enjoy!

Now for a question.  It’s possible to do POD (print on demand) copies of e-books.  It costs money to set up, the prices are higher than mass market (perhaps $12-14), and the authors generally make less money.

Nonetheless, plenty of people don’t have e-readers, so a POD book would make print available.  I have an e-reader, but I prefer print myself.  So how do you feel about POD?  Would you be willing to pay more for a good quality print book that is otherwise available only as an e-file?  When I have the time, should I put the first few Fallen Angels books out in POD form?  I’d really like to know what serious readers think.

To commemorate the end of the long road to Fallen Angel e-books, I’m going to give away—a PRINT copy of River of Fire. <g> It will go to someone who leaves a comment between now and Thursday midnight.

RiverofFireMary Jo, adding that credit for the great covers goes to Kim Killon of www.hotdamndesigns.com