by Mary Jo
Yippee! 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 and 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!
But 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, so 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.
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 commission 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."
"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."
Conventional 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.
Mary Jo, adding that credit for the great covers goes to Kim Killon of www.hotdamndesigns.com