by Mary Jo
I've been slowly reissuing my older books digitally, and now the time has arrived to send my very first Signet Regency, The Diabolical Baron, back into the world. It's the first in my Putney Classics Series, which will include Carousel of Hearts and Lady of Fortune.
Back when I was writing my Fallen Angels Series, my publisher asked me to revise several of my early Signet Regencies into historical romances. I was happy to do that with some of the stories that became Petals in the Storm, Angel Rogue, The Bargain, and The Rake, but I didn't feel that was appropriate for the three books I'm calling Putney Classics. These stories are just too traditional Regency to become rewritten as longer, sexier historical romances.
So, say hello to the newest edition of The Diabolical Baron! To this day, it's an object of wonder to me. I started writing the book three months after buying my first computer for my design business. I'd always had stories in my head (I thought everyone did!) so I decided to see if I write a story myself.
I was a huge reader and rereader of Georgette Heyer and the modern Walker Regencies I found at the library. Because I like history and happy endings, naturally when I decided to see if I could write a book, what emerged from my curious fingers was a Regency romance.
However, any author who is considering reissuing her older books has to consider if they're so weak that they'll send readers screaming into the night, so I reread the Baron.
I hadn't looked at the story for years, but as I read through (removing a few of the excessive adverbs) I realized that the beginning was so very Georgette Heyerish that I should probably pay royalties to the Heyer estate. <G> Jason, Lord Kincaid, the dashing, arrogant lord, the shy young girl from the country, Jason's pleasant but somewhat dim best friend, the casual wagering–all very Heyerish without being as good. Here's a very Heyerish excerpt from the first chapter that shows the set-up:
"Fine color this wine has, George,” said Radford as he held the glass up to the candlelight. “I’m glad I laid in several cases’ worth. By the way, I believe I’ll be getting married.”
"I say, Jason, perhaps we’ve had enough to drink. It sounded distinctly like you said you were going to marry, and when one starts hearing voices it’s time to lay off the wine. Otherwise, I’ll have a headache that would flatten a plow horse on the morrow,” said Mr. Fitzwilliam with owl-like solemnity.
The friends did not much resemble each other. Lord Radford associated with sporting Corinthian set and affected an elegantly simple mode of dress which perfectly suited his athletic form. Shorter, fair-haired and slighter in build, the Honorable George Fitzwilliam looked much younger than Radford, though in fact only three years separated them. While he was described by some as a “fashionable fribble,” it was an unjust accusation that would have wounded his sensibilities. Since he was charming and correct in his manners, hostesses always welcomed him for his willingness to dance with even the most regrettable female guest with never a loss of good nature. Radford always found him to be enjoyable, relaxing company.
"You heard me correctly, George. As my Aunt Honoria has kindly pointed out, it is time I married. So I shall do the deed.”
“How splendid! What lovely lady has consented to be your bride?”
“Do you just mean to choose one, like a horse at Tattersall’s?”
“George, you do me an injustice! I spend considerably more thought on selecting my horses.”
“But…but what about love?” The Honorable George was something of an authority on the subject since he succumbed to the emotion several times a year.
“Bah, love is an illusion of the young and feckless, an illusion maintained by lady novelists for their own enrichment. How many couples of our order have you known to stay ‘in love’ for any length of time?”
“Well, there are the Grovelands. No, he’s taken to keeping opera dancers again. Lord and Lady Wilberton… No, I heard they had a flaming row at a ball last month and haven’t spoken since. And, well, my own parents are dashed fond of each other. You see?”
"On the contrary, you confirm my point. Surely theirs was an arranged marriage? A system that has gone out of style, but which had much to commend it. A rational analysis of family background, fortune, and station in life is surely the best foundation for a successful union.”
“I very much doubt it,” George said boldly. “And even if you don’t believe in love, young ladies do.”
Lord Radford’s mouth crooked cynically. “I’m sure any young lady will find it easy to fall in love with my title and fortune even if my person fails to please. I have been defending myself from matchmaking mamas and ambitious debutantes for years. Now that I am ready to throw down my handkerchief, I should have my pick of the available fillies.”
“Hasn’t there ever been anyone that you really wished to marry?”
“Well… once when I was very young,” Radford said with a softening of his eyes. He gently swirled the wine in his crystal goblet, divining the past from its burgundy depths. “I was just down from Cambridge, and hunting in the shires when I met her. I thought she was the most dazzling female I’d ever laid eyes on. Rode like Diana, hair like flame, and a figure that would keep a Cyprian wrapped in jewels for the rest of her life. It appeared to be love at first sight, but when I offered her my hand, my not inconsiderable fortune, and my honorable name, she threw them back in my face.”
“You actually made an offer for her, and she turned you down?” George gasped. Having seen women languish after his friend for years, he was hard put to imagine so firm a rejection. “Was she attached to someone else?”
“She gave every evidence of returning my feelings,” Radford said, then stopped in mid-sentence at an unexpectedly vivid stab of long-buried pain. A gentleman could not talk about it, but he had never forgotten those forbidden kisses stolen in the garden one magic night. Such sweetness, and such fire….
He had searched in many places for their equal, but without success. And finally he had ceased searching.
But I also remembered my original vague concept for the story, which was rather subversive for the time: a heroine who wasn't interested in marriage because she was a creative person, and her passion was music. Here's the blurb I'm using now:
Rich, handsome, and fashionably jaded, Jason, Lord Radford, knows he must marry to get an heir, but assumes that any well bred young lady will do, so he offers for Caroline Hanscombe, whose name he draws at random. Caroline is pressured by her family to accept, but shy and musical, she finds her new fiancé alarming. Will this be a match made in heaven or hell? Or might Caroline quietly find herself a man who suits her better…?
As I continued reading the book, I saw how the writing improved as it went along, becoming more fluid and less formal. By the end, it was looking like a pretty decent story. I also recognized elements that I've been using every since: the weary Peninsular soldier, characters with creative passions, lost love regained, and happy endings all around. (Anything worth doing is worth overdoing!)
My working title for the book was Lady of Note, a reference to my heroine Caroline's musical passions. My editor pulled the phrase "the diabolical baron" out of the manuscript and it does make a much more dramatic title.
Authors aren't good judges of our own work, butThe Diabolical Baron was a Regency Rita finalist and won the Romantic Times awards for best first Regency novel and new author, plus the New Jersey Romance Writers Golden Leaf award for best historical romance, so some people liked it! If you enjoy traditional Regencies, or you're interested in the work of a very newly fledged romance writer, here it is.
I'll finish with the cover of that first edition, which I've always really liked since it has the tenderness I like to see in my covers. Scattered through this blog are other covers–in 30+ years, a book gathers a lot of covers, and that's not counting foreign editions!
I'll give away an original print copy of the book to one commenter between now and Saturday night. I hope you've enjoyed this trip down a writerly memory lane!