The Last Renegade
I tend to write in the winter months. If there's snow, my sun porch offers a lovely view. It's even better when the snow is falling. There is something about the peacefulness that lends itself to helping me clear my mind. I pretty much need a clear mind to be marginally productive. I'm not good with interruptions.
I always wondered how I would manage to write in the face of a major life event. I didn't really want to learn the answer. It was more of a rhetorical question. I guess I didn't make that clear.
On the Friday afternoon in January 2011 that ended my workweek and started my official writing vacation, I received a call from my sister as I was working on the first chapter of The Last Renegade. Our mother had fallen and broken her hip.
Everything just stopped. What is that expression? Man plans. God laughs. My scheduled week off suddenly began to look very different. Whatever I thought I would be doing for the next three months, I realized it was going to include doctors and decisions. Between trips to the hospital and surgery and rehabilitation and decline, I wrote like a maniac, mostly, I think now, to keep my mind off the inevitable not-so-happy ending that was waiting for my family and me. This was the fall my mother wasn't going to come back from.
I must say this: She believed in me. She was my cheerleader. She bought me the electric typewriter that I used to hammer out my first manuscript. She gave me the money to pay a much better typist to put it into a professional format for submission. Sure, she hoped I'd write a children's book. (Sorry about that, Mom.)
My mother died on March 18th. I finished writing The Last Renegade one week earlier. It might seem strange that the book is not dedicated to her. It just felt too painful. I needed time and distance to do that. I needed another book. I am grateful I had the opportunity to do that.
I wrote A Place Called Home in 2001. For reasons known and unknown, none of which bear rehashing, it did not see the light of day until 2011. It's the only contemporary I've written, and I did it for a change of pace. The historical I wrote later that same year was the second in the Compass Club series, South's adventure. In some ways A Place Called Home is a more personal story. The town of Connaugh Creek subs for my hometown. The characters sometimes say things that my friends have said or that I have thought. The situations and background reflect experiences — with several degrees of separation — that have touched me in some way, personally or professionally. Nothing that I've said should be construed to mean that A Place Called Home is anything but a work of pure fiction.
I enjoyed the freedom of writing dialogue that wasn't from another century and not having to fret whether a particular word was in the vernacular. Having said that, nothing surprised me more than how quickly a contemporary setting dates itself. Mitch Baker is a political cartoonist. I had this manuscript in the hopper before September 11. In the rewrite, it certainly deserved a mention. Technology was a thorny problem. No iPods, iPhones, Twitter, Bluetooth, or texting first time around. Certain references had to be updated to get the age of the characters in the right context. At least with historical fiction, you are purposely dating the story.
Someone told me that Thea was difficult to like at the outset because she didn't want the children. Really? I found that view kind of heartbreaking and offensive since having a uterus doesn't make all of us automatic nurturers. Besides, Thea has pretty sound reasons for not wanting to take on the responsibility. Mitch isn't exactly jumping for joy at the prospect, but apparently that is still less problematic.
One last thing, the cover for this book is a favorite. (I also really liked the original Tempting Torment cover and that beautiful window on More Than You Wished.) When I saw it, I emailed my editor and told him the artist had absolutely nailed the house I had in my mind. I asked him, how did you get it so perfect? He emailed back, you wrote the description. Sometimes it comes together.
A funny thing happened on the way to the foreplay.
Allow me to explain. Even after all these years of writing, the process of shepherding a manuscript from submission to bookshelf (and now, e-reader) is still something of a mystery to me. So many people are involved: an editor, an assistant, a copy editor, the publisher, the art department, an agent, and assorted others who have specific jobs I don't necessarily understand but accept as critical to the finished product.
And sometimes, in spite of all those eyes on the prize, what is really required to spot an OMG! in the making is a friend with myopic vision and a mind that lolls happily in the gutter.
I received the advance reader copies of KISSING COMFORT simultaneous to getting one last chance to find errors with an e-copy of the manuscript. Since I had to attend a work-related counseling conference, I elected to take one of the arcs with me so I could continue proofing while I was away.
During a workshop on sexual addiction — and really, who thought that would be kinda boring? — I was reading the arc in stealth mode. This involved casually sneaking peeks at the open book while pretending to take notes and study the handouts. Occasionally I would gaze glassy-eyed at the power point, which had identical information to the handouts. I rationalized my behavior with the notion that the arc had sex in it so it was part and parcel of the workshop's theme.
Sitting beside me was a good friend and colleague, and she was sort of jealous that I had something more interesting than Angry Birds to occupy me.
When the workshop was over, I shut the book.
And my friend looked sideways at the cover and exclaimed, "Is that his penis coming out of his pants?!" Except she didn't say penis. And she didn't whisper.
Well, no, it wasn't his dick coming out of his pants, but if you don't have your reading glasses on, and you just give the cover a glance, and you've been sitting in a sexual addiction workshop, and the sunlight is hitting the hero's abs just so, and you have absolutely no filters when it comes to saying what you think in these absurd moments, gee, it does kinda look like his dick is coming out of his pants.
People close by peeked over my shoulder at the cover to confirm that yes, indeed, they saw it too.
I didn't think much more about the incident, but as serendipity would have it, my editor emailed me the following week, and this story was fresh enough in my mind that I shared it with her. Her reply was almost immediate and pretty darn funny. She didn't lose any time heading to the art department to get all that suggestive sunlight fixed.
She captured the problem beautifully when she said, "You can't see it at all unless you're looking for it, but once you see it, you can't ever NOT see it again!"
According to Wendy, the cover provided a lot of amusement at Berkley as she asked her colleagues to play what's-wrong-with-this-picture. She now has the poster artwork in her office.
The "pop-up penis" is available only on the arc editions. You'll have to decide if you wish it were otherwise.
This romance will always be DARK LADY to me. That's the title I finally decided on when I submitted it to publisher (after publisher) in the hope of hitting pay dirt. I didn't know then that publishing houses often have their own ideas of what titles readers will pluck off the shelves. In 1984, when PASSION'S BRIDE was first published, it was the word BRIDE (not PASSION), that supposedly was getting reader attention. The other front running title was THE CAPTAIN'S BRIDE. Since Alexis and Tanner don't marry by the end of the book, I thought that title didn't serve the story. But times change, and so do the people who name books. When PASSION'S BRIDE was set for a reprint in 1998, the old title was tossed out. I pitched DARK LADY again, but some things don't change, even with the times. THE CAPTAIN'S LADY was a good second choice, although those of you who have read the book know it could have just as easily been THE CAPTAIN'S MAN. After all, Alexis Danty was a captain herself and Tanner Cloud was as much hers as she was his. It occurs to me that the entire problem could have been solved with perfect political correctness by giving it the title: THE CAPTAIN'S SIGNIFICANT OTHER.
The choice of Alexis as a name for the heroine came years before I put anything in writing. In college I thought a lot about writing a children's book. Each time I thought about a story I always named the little girl Alexis. She was invariably a bit of a tomboy and generally called Alex. When I decided to try my hand at a romance novel, it was the one thing I didn't have to think twice about.
My books are peppered with place names that are familiar to me. In THE CAPTAIN'S LADY there is a ship called the HMS Follansbee. I drive through Follansbee, WV, many times a week.
It is worth mentioning here, especially for readers who want to write romance novels themselves, that I finished writing PASSION'S BRIDE in February 1979, just before my 26th birthday. I didn't see it published until August 1984. I know how fortunate I was to have family and friends who supported me and an agent who made certain the manuscript was seen. I was also lucky to get some assistance along the way from editors who took the time to suggest how I could polish the submission. All I'm really trying to say is thank you to the people who were so generous with their time and don't give up to the people who are thinking it can't happen to them.
After I heard that PASSION'S BRIDE was going to be published I thought a little about the next book I would write. Trouble is, I thought too little. Instead of starting from scratch, I had some cork-brained scheme that I could apply first aid to the first romance manuscript I had written. I pulled it out of the file drawer and went at it. A couple of things conspired against me: I was a little freaked by trying to use a computer for the first time and I hadn't done any writing except graduate school papers for the past 5 years. Oh, and have I said the discarded manuscript sucked ? First aid wasn't sufficient. I applied CPR, tried a transplant, and still couldn't find the story's heart. My editor thought the same thing. She rejected it. After I got over the initial shock and realized she had rejected the story, not me, I went to work on CRYSTAL PASSION.
I've never used a baby naming book to find names for my characters. Often they come from people I know or have briefly met. Occasionally they come from readers. The hero in CRYSTAL PASSION is Salem McClellan. I met Salem at a friend's house just before I started work on CP. I thought it was an unusual moniker and asked him how it was that he was named after a town in Massachusetts. He looked at me like I was an idiot - which I can be - and said it was a family name and came from the Bible. Basically it was a shortened version of Jerusalem. Sometimes it only takes that much to inspire me. I thought of creating a family whose members had Biblical names (with a wink and a nod to 7 Brides for 7 Brothers and Stephen Vincent Benet) and let things flow from there.
The dedication of the book is For friends of John Sutton. John Sutton Hall was the dorm where I lived my freshman and sophomore years at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The dormitory was once the entire school. It housed classrooms and offices and a dining hall and sleeping accommodations for students - back in 1875. It was barely livable when I got there in 1971. My room had no electrical outlets. You had to buy an adapter for the light fixture (which came out of the wall like an old gas light which is exactly what it was at one time) and everything got plugged into it - radios, stereos, and illegal hotpots. Can we say fire hazard? Oh, but what a good time we had there on Sutton 4 South! The conditions of the dorm gave all us newbies a common complaint. We loved to hate the place so much that when we were offered a chance to leave our sophomore year, we stayed right where we were! We didn't get a chance to repeat the living arrangements our junior year. The dorm was deemed unsafe and we had to go into the lottery for housing. A few years later John Sutton was remodeled, refinished, and revitalized so the old place is now a show place.
Now that you know more than you wanted to about John Sutton, let me explain why I mentioned it. Many of the names of CRYSTAL PASSION'S incidental characters come from the friendships that were forged during those years: Arnie, McKillop, Darlene, Smith, Brownlee, and Pooley. Because I couldn't use everyone's name in the book I covered the bases (and my butt) by dedicating the book to all of them.
And one final note about CRYSTAL PASSION. When I wrote the first 150 pages, Lady Davinia Grant was actually Lord David Grant. The Duke of Linfield's lover was a man not a woman. My editor said no and I said okay. Hey, I'm nothing if not flexible. By that time I was comfortable enough with the new computer to take advantage of the find/replace key and voila! David became Davinia. I don't work from an outline so it wasn't as if this presented a huge shift in my thinking, but what a different book it would have been without the find/replace sex change!
When I began CRYSTAL PASSION I had no idea that there would be a follow up to the story. I rarely plan that far ahead. But as the story unfolded an enigmatic character named Smith appeared and he pretty much left me with no choice but to write about him. I didn't even know his first name. Rahab McClellan came forward as the most likely candidate to challenge Mr. Smith. Jericho's name didn't consciously come from Rahab's story in the Bible but the connection was obviously lurking at the back of my mind.
Sometimes I'm asked if the characters ever do anything unexpected as I'm writing. Well, yes, they do. Early in SEASWEPT ABANDON, Rae accidentally kills a British officer. Who knew she was going to do that? Not me. I can't explain how things like that happen. It's as if my fingers are flying ahead of my brain. (Not a particularly difficult task for my fingers.) Anyway, at that point a decision has to be made: delete or leave it in. I chose to see where things would go if the officer stayed dead. I know the plot turned on that decision and I think it was a good choice. Rae had to struggle with a different set of circumstances and figure things out as she went along.
One would think that by this time I would have figured out the "rules". The truth is, I didn't know there were any. Publishers often have tip sheets that offer guidelines about the manuscripts they're accepting. I didn't even know they existed. It was just an accident that until this point at least one of my characters had always been American. VELVET NIGHT, as originally begun, strayed from that rule. Both Kenna and Rhys were English. I sent in the first 150 pages for my editor to take a look at and she called me after reading half of that. Bad news. Zebra had a guideline back then that at least one of the main characters had to be an American. Hmmm, says I. That's a little bit more of a problem than the find/replace key can handle. So we hang up and I stop in my writing tracks (by now I'm working on page 250+). I do a lot of editing, rethinking, and rewriting and by midnight I have a hero who is now an American with an estranged father who is the American ambassador to Great Britain. I'm satisfied I've solved the problem and can move on. I start writing again where I'd left off the previous day and I'm interrupted by another phone call. This time my editor says, Good news. She's finished reading the rest of the pages I sent her and likes the story so much she will advocate for bending the guidelines. I won't have to change a thing. Hmmm, says I again. (I'm not particularly articulate in moments of high stress.) I explain that everything has been changed satisfactorily and I can manage with what I've got. That's when she informs me it isn't enough that one of the characters is now American. Part of the story will have to take place in the United States. I say, sure, okay, I can do that. (My Gumby-like flexibility again.) But now poor Wendy McCurdy is a little suspicious. She tactfully points out that something has to happen in the United States. I can't just send the characters there for no particular reason; it has to be integral to the plot. How will I make that happen? she wants to know. In fact, I have no idea, but ever the quick thinker, I respond, I'm a writer, I'll make it up.
And I did. Alexis Danty and Tanner Cloud would not have made an appearance if the story had only taken place in London. It was a happy accident to visit them again.
Kenna, the heroine in VELVET NIGHT, takes her name from a little town in West Virginia. I pass the exit for Kenna every time I go to Charleston.
VELVET NIGHT was particularly fun to write, at least after all that changing things around, because I purposely wrote most of it without knowing who the murderer was. I decided to leave enough clues along the way so I could pick the murderer from among the usual suspects near the end. Anyone who guesses the identity early on, is making their choice long before I actually did.
This was a painful book to write. That's what I remember most about Brandon and Shannon's story. It's the first time I ever experienced writer's block. I was halfway through and BAM. I took a writing vacation from work and then…nothing. It was awful. Panic ensued. Stomachaches. Nausea. Absolute fear. I thought: this is it. If this is what it's going to be like, this is my last book. I thought: Gee, maybe I should use an outline like other writers. Things got better toward the end. I simply kept plugging away. Some days I would spend 14 hours at the computer. I wasn't in my right mind, but then I couldn't find anyone who would let me borrow theirs.
The oddest thing was that when it was completed, VIOLET FIRE became the first manuscript I submitted that didn't require any rewriting. Not a word, not a line. It was small relief after all that agony. I look back on that time and realize there were a lot of factors, most of them unrelated to writing, that influenced my writer's block. I'm still writing because it's never happened again to the degree it did then. I may have a tough writing day, but not so that I'm virtually paralyzed. (Knock on wood.)
I've lived in the northern panhandle of West Virginia since 1978. Brooke and Hancock counties are the two at the tip of the panhandle. The group home where I worked was named after the two counties. Is it any wonder that I ended up with a heroine named Brooklyn Hancock? I also happened to know someone named Brooklyn and the opportunity to smoosh it all together was too good to pass up.
The origin of Ryland North's name is only a little less strange. I was driving along, minding my business if not the road, musing over names for the next book, and I pass a sign I'd seen lots of times: Rayland, OH. I play around with it a little in my mind and come up with Ryland. Since I was driving north on Route 7...well, you see how it all comes together. The important thing for you to learn here is not to be on the road at the same time I am.
SCARLET LIES was a lot of fun to write. Which was a huge relief after VIOLET FIRE. SCARLET LIES also began its life as MIDNIGHT LIES but another book being released by Zebra that month had midnight in the title. Since I had stopped trying to title books after the DARK LADY rejection, it was okay with me. And in this case, given Brooklyn's penchant for prevarication, LIES was the important word.
This story revisits the McClellan family. Noah McClellan had always pulled on me a little, perhaps because he shared my seasickness. As the book was first written, Noah was a kinder, gentler man. I believe my editor gave me good direction when she suggested Noah needed to toughen up a little. Sure, it was easy forher to say. TEMPTING TORMENT required the most extensive rewriting I've ever done (not counting that cork-brained scheme to resurrect my first manuscript). It meant going through the story line by line and giving the hero more of an edge. Noah retained his moral center but managed conflict with a bit less grace. It was an interesting writing exercise, one I'm not anxious to repeat anytime soon!
My goddaughter is still not old enough to read about heroine I named after her. I figure Jessa will be about 25 before her mother or I will let her crack the book - although I understand the cover took a prominent place on the refrigerator for several years.
I attended a workshop on diagnosing mental illness a number of years ago. One of the handouts was a long list of the diagnoses that patients in the state mental hospital had during the middle to late 1800s. It was fascinating. Women were hospitalized for expressing the kind of emotions we might now recognize as part of monthly hormonal changes. After the Civil War men were locked away for experiencing something along the lines of post traumatic stress. The treatment of mental illness during that time was very nearly torture. Looking at some of the devices that were used to stimulate recovery brings the Spanish Inquisition to mind, not therapy.
The seed for my writing is usually a simple what if question. In this case: What if a young woman is put into an asylum against her will? Everything follows from there. How did she get there? How does she get out? Who hates her enough to do that to her? What if they were acting with good intentions? What if they weren't?
Jenny Holland's story unfolded by answering those questions. My dear friend lgj was instrumental in helping me with Jenny's photography hobby, hence the dedication.
I didn't know until the very end of MIDNIGHT PRINCESS that Logan Marshall was going to show up. It just sort of happened. Sometimes it's like that. With the kind of entrance he made, it seemed prudent to give him his own story. Finding a good match for him meant creating Katy Dakota.
One of the challenges of writing historical romance (at least for me), is trying to find an interesting, believable profession for the heroines. Until this point my heroines were a pirate captain, a duke's ward, the daughter of a plantation owner, the daughter of an English peer, the daughter of a vicar, a gambling hall hostess (and thief), a governess, and an heiress. Katy Dakota was the first heroine who had a career.
I've always had an interest in the theatre and it seemed the time had come to put that interest to work. The first line that I thought of, well before I started writing, was: The playbill said her name was Katy Dakota. It was Chapter Three before I got to use it. The stage needed to be set, if you will.
As for the name Katy Dakota -- I almost didn't use it. Sometimes names come about in almost subconscious ways. I had chosen Katy after my high school friend's older daughter Katie. But the last name kept eluding me. I kept playing with it over and over before I settled on Dakota. I liked the way the syllables worked together. It was a little musical to me. Then out of the blue it came to me...Kitty Dukakis. The presidential campaign was going on then and I know that had an impact on my name choice, even if I didn't realize it until later.
I am frequently asked how I come by my ideas. I tend to answer that question in a variety of ways, depending on my mood. The truth is, I'm usually not able to pinpoint a particular inspiration. If there is such a moment, it's generally lost in the sometimes overwhelming process of getting the story out of my head and onto virtual paper.
In the case of The Price of Desire, however, I actually remember how the inklings began. As many of you reading this will know, I don't spend very much time online. Since October 2007, I haven't even had the internet in my home (now I can only access it at work and I don't abuse the privilege). I share this because it was somewhat serendipitous that I happened to come upon a chat discussing captivity romances. It seemed to me that it had been a long time since I'd done anything along that line (Passion's Bride and Mary Michael's story - I still have a hard time even writing down the title of that book - came to mind). I mentioned that maybe I'd do something like that, and one of the readers (RH) quickly responded with: do it. (Or some sentiment to that effect.) I don't know, it just stuck with me, not in an entirely conscious way, but as something that swam deep and surfaced from time to time. I truly believe that if the reader hadn't underscored the idea, I would have written something else entirely. Timing is everything.
My intention when starting Olivia and Griffin's story was to use the captivity theme. I suppose I did, but it turned out a little differently when Griffin turned out to be so decent. I shouldn't have been surprised, but I really meant for him to keep Olivia against her will. Everything got flipped on its head as I began to wonder what it would be like if Olivia's sense of pride and her own uncertain life circumstances made staying in Griffin's hell more desirable than leaving. And Griffin, when the moment was upon him to insist that she remain just didn't go about it like a Neanderthal. Those shifts in thinking made the story unfold for me in unexpected ways, and I don't know if she was his captive as much as he was hers. In the end, that worked for me.
As for The Price of Desire…I strongly advocated for "Wagers of Sin" - and lost. Sigh.
Finally the "rules" changed. I was actually encouraged to write a romance that significantly used a locale other than Europe and the United States. Australia beckoned. The research was especially interesting since I didn't know much about Australia beyond Dawn Frasier (and you'd have to be a competitive swimmer of a certain era to recognize that name). I lucked into a wonderful find in a local rare and used book store. Saga of Sydney was written in 1962 to celebrate the 175th anniversary of that city the following year. It was written by a man who was a youngster near the time Sweet Fire was set. Reading the book was like interviewing an eyewitness to Australian life.
Lydia Chadwick is another favorite character. She comes into her own gradually and I enjoyed watching her grow. I also liked Nathan Hunter because of his basic decency. What can I say? I'm a sucker for people who do the right thing.
There is no doubt in my mind that Logan Marshall's profession in PASSION'S SWEET REVENGE had an influence here. Mary Michael Dennehy, the heroine of WSE, worked for him at the New York Chronicle after all.
For a long time I had wanted to write a story about good guy posing as a bad guy, and the complications that would present for someone like Michael. How could she fall in love with Ethan Stone when she thought he was a thief and a murderer? How could he protect her without exposing himself? (Okay, so maybe exposing is not quite the word I was looking for.) Answering those questions made their relationship unfold.
Readers are generally surprised to learn that when I created Mary Michael Dennehy, I didn't immediately create her sisters. I didn't know they were going to appear until they did. It's about halfway through the book that she mentions them. Who knew there were so many? And all named Mary! Suddenly I knew what I was going to be doing for the next 3 years. (At the time I didn't think I would every write about the oldest sister - the nun.) As I neared the end of the book I started thinking about how the next sister's story would take off. WILD SWEET ECSTASY and ROGUE'S MISTRESS almost share a common chapter - except for the point of view.
This is Mary Renee's story. I met a woman named Renee (pronounced Rennie) at the same workshop where I almost died from a lemon ball. Yes, there's a story here, and it's not the one I wrote about. It's the one that explains the book's dedication.
We (Lisa, Renee, Aimee, Gwen, Tom, Clarence, Georgie, Karen, and Karen) returned from lunch in high spirits. Five day workshops can make you a little punchy. Gwen had some kind of lemon candy that she popped into her mouth which immediately made her entire face pucker tighter than a certain sphincter in the nether regions. So I asked what I thought was a reasonable question, "Why does anyone eat a piece of candy that does that to your face?" It couldn't possibly taste good, could it?
Well, Gwen offers me her last lemon ball. To my credit, I did not immediately accept. It required a great deal of peer pressure before I was moved to take it. Lisa's contribution was to say, "C'mon, Joanne, give us a memory."
Sure. So I put the lemon ball in my mouth and my entire face puckers so tight you can't jam a pin between my lips with a jackhammer. Needless to say the group is laughing hard. I couldn't help myself. I laughed too. Sucked in my breath and there goes the lemon ball right back into my windpipe!
I leap to my feet. Knock over the chair behind me. My eyes are as big as half-dollars. I put my hands up to my throat in the universal sign of choking and Lisa, ever the cool one in a crisis, yells, "Does anyone know CPR?"
I think, oh my god, I'm gonna die. I can't breathe and someone is going to jump on my heart! Imagine my concern here. Everyone in this room is Red Cross certified in first aid and CPR but they seem a lot more eager to do chest compressions than put their double fists in my gut.
Luckily Aimee stands up and asks the important question: "Are you choking?" I nod. She gets behind me and does the Heimlich and that lemon ball is still orbiting.
They deserved a dedication after that. Most of their names made it into the book. And we still laugh about the incident when we run into each other - however, no one makes me laugh while I'm eating.
I think of the beginning of this book as He Said - She Said. Writing about the same event from different points of view was the most fun I've ever had head hopping. I think it shows how two people can arrive at The Big Misunderstanding.
As for Maggie Dennehy, she's one of my favorite characters, perhaps because she was a little more difficult to unravel. When I realized I was going to write about an entire sibling group I knew that I wanted to make the sisters unique, but also give them some characteristics that were fairly typical of their position in the family. I saw Maggie as the middle child in the Dennehy family: quieter than her outspoken sisters, content to be alone. At family gatherings she would be more likely to be a spectator rather than a participant. On the surface she would appear less competitive, and underneath she would be as headstrong as any who came before - or after - her. Her real strength was thoughtfulness. Like Connor Holiday, I thought Maggie was wise.
This is where I have to explain about the power of subconscious thought when choosing names. I know I've mentioned it before with other characters, but this one took the cake. There's no other explanation for how I ended up with a heroine named Skye and hero named Walker. And the kicker is, I didn't realize the Skye Walker problem until I was halfway into the book. Now, maybe you haven't seen Star Wars and it didn't hit you with the force it hit me, but I saw that movie 13 times when it first came out! I'd have thought I would have been a little wiser to the weirdness early on.
This is Mary Francis's story. I never intended to write about the oldest sister in the Dennehy clan because she was a nun, but once my editor put the bug in my ear and assured me it was not unheard of, the idea became more and more appealing. Mary Francis is my oldest heroine to date. She also had the richest history going into this story because she had appeared in all the Mary books before hers. Readers were telling me they already felt they knew her and were speculating on the kind of hero she might encounter. No pressure here. Thank God Ryder McKay showed up. I don't know what I would have done without him.
John MacKenzie Worth was so obvious about his desire to influence the lives of all his daughters that I wanted to demonstrate in this romance how powerful Moira's quieter authority was. Mary Francis especially was influenced by her mother's unspoken expectations. ONLY IN MY ARMS was an opportunity to look briefly at important relationships in a family and how they influence the romantic ones. In fact, the reason that Jay Mac and Moira were created at all is because so many heroines in historical romances (mine included) don't have parents. I wanted to fly in the face of that for a change.
As for Ryder...he got his name from...you guessed it, Ryder Rental Trucks. A dear friend of mine spent an entire night in a Ryder repair center outside Louisville while her truck was being serviced. In order to stay awake while the mechanics worked, she sat in a forklift reading FOREVER IN MY HEART. When she told me how she passed the time, I knew Ryder was the perfect name I'd been looking for Mary Francis's hero. Sometimes you take inspiration where you can find it.
After the Dennehy sisters my editor asked me if I would be doing another connected series. I hadn't even given it a thought. Once I did, and realized I had 3 books left on my current contract, and since I had just finished with sisters, it seemed like 3 brothers was the way to go. Not exactly rocket science, is it?
The what if question this time was simple: What if the boys were separated as children? How would they find one another? How would their lives be different and how would they be the same?
In my work, and in my own life, I witness the incredible pull of forces in families that bring members together and, with equal intensity, pull them apart. MY STEADFAST HEART was an opportunity to write about that. The brothers' stories, however, took shape individually. While I was writing Colin's story I wasn't thinking ahead to Decker or Grey. This shortsightedness caused me considerable headaches later. What I've learned is that when I paint myself into a corner I have to write my way back out!
When I introduced Decker Thorne in MY STEADFAST HEART I had no idea how much trouble his grin was going to cause me. I despaired of ever capturing his character on paper. Jonna Remington, on the other hand, was easier to write. She took everything so seriously - a trait I could identify with.
As for the subplot dealing with the Underground Railroad, that came to me only two weeks before I was ready to sit down and start writing again. I went to see 1776 again (a favorite play of mine) and as I was listening to the song Molasses to Rum to Slaves I realized I had found the thread that could connect the characters. Up until that time I was pretty much clueless about where the characters would take the story (or is it the other way around?).
This tidbit has a lot more to do with the Thorne brother series than it does specifically with WITH ALL MY HEART. At the same time it explains the dedication to this particular book and what letters from readers really mean to me.
Most of the people listed in my dedication are readers who have taken the time to write to me. Sometimes it was to ask a particular question, other times it was to say how they enjoyed a certain book, and occasionally it was to relate how a story touched them. Each person mentioned in the dedication also touched me.
In various tidbits I have mentioned how certain ideas really form on a subconscious level - or, in my case, a barely conscious level. It was in replying to a reader that I began to realize how certain elements for this series came from my own personal experience. It was absolutely something I hadn't understood until that moment.
The story is simple enough. I had a half-brother whom I didn't know existed until I was 14. He was the son of my father's first marriage and he lived in another state with his mother and grandmother. He was a great mystery to me. The potboiler romantic in me wondered if it would be possible to meet him by accident and fall in love and not realize he was my brother. Oh, the drama that would ensue! For some reason I wasn't connecting with the fact that we both had the same last name - and what were the chances of that? We would have figured out the real relationship pretty fast.
Olaf, on the other hand, had no romantic illusions. He didn't know that his father had a second wife or any children by that marriage. When he set out to find his father in the summer of '72, he had no firm ideas about the man he would encounter. He had grown up hearing, "You're just like your father!" without knowing exactly what that meant. Was it an epithet? Praise? Was it meant to encourage or reflect exasperation? As Olaf came to know our father, it was all of those things at one time or another.
It was not a simple task for Olaf to find his father. The last address he had was more than 15 years old. Luck, however, was on his side. That address brought him to extended family who pointed him in the right direction. He never told them his name and they never asked. They knew who he was when he came up to their doorstep. He was the spitting image of his father at that age.
Olaf backtracked 50 miles to find our home. He found his father and for the first time learned he had 2 brothers and 2 sisters. For someone growing up as an only child it must have been overwhelming. It was a pretty exciting time for us, too. He was more like Dad in looks and mannerisms than any of the rest of us - which was kind of spooky. (It also ended any residual romantic notions I had! Too weird even for the soap opera in my head.) But he was like us, too. The thing that stood out the most was that he swam competitively just as we did.
Olaf's courage always impressed me. The pull of wanting to know family drew him toward us. The drive he showed in wanting to be connected to his father stayed with me. The seed that he planted became Colin's unflagging search to be reunited with his brothers. It was the force that drew Colin, Decker, and Grey together and sustained the Thorne brother trilogy. I wouldn't have realized how much Olaf influenced me if it hadn't been for the letter of one reader and her prompting of my buried thoughts.
The chance to write this tidbit is simply another opportunity to thank all the readers who have shared their thoughts with me and helped me uncover my own. If you're one of them, thank you.
I've always been intrigued by puzzles, not the put-them-together-jigsaw variety, but the word and logic and mystery kind. Not that I'm particularly good at them. My patience wears thin in an absurdly short time and, I confess, if the answer is too easily available, I have a tendency to peek. But, if sufficiently intrigued, with no answer at the ready, I'll play brain games for hours or days.
The Hamilton and Waterstone riddles were written months before More Than You Know was underway. Working in a way that was truly different for me, I jotted snippets down while I was engaged in other activities. I collected the scraps, lines written on post-it notes at work, in the margins of the NY Times Sunday crossword, and on the back of pink phone message slips, and put them together. The story proceeded from there, but the riddles were eventually solved by Rand and Claire in a way I hadn't anticipated when I first wrote them. I realize that probably sounds confusing. I guess you had to be there; plan A never quite materialized and the characters went on to plan B. I had, in effect, written riddles with no solutions to turn to. What was I thinking? (Mental head slap.)
Since I generally get asked about naming characters, here's the 411: Claire is named after my niece; Rand after my favorite author, Ayn Rand. Bree is a neighbor. Cutch rhymes with Butch, not Much. Any resemblence between the London whore Jeri-Ellen and a certain Jeri who frequents the message boards at The Romance Journal is purely serendipitous. ;-) Readers familiar with my earlier books will find name-dropping references to other characters. There are at least three I can think of in More Than You Know.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Aaron Kerr for her (yes, she's a she) assistance with certain aspects of Claire's character. (I'm trying not to give anything away here, although I understand the reviewer at RT did. Sigh.) I would also like to thank my editor John Scognamiglio for coming up with a great title. I think he's a little psychic because he suggested the name before he'd read a word of the manuscript. A very special acknowledgement to Lys Davis for helping me with an important Big Dipper fact. It was one of those things that I thought I knew, then I second-guessed myself, then I fretted, and then Lys came through from Down Under with the definitive, expert final right answer. It was like using the phone-a-friend lifeline - but without big bucks involved. Thanks a million, Lys. Finally, thanks to Laura Novak for her timely assistance with an outline when my back was pressed firmly against the wall. Basically she saved my butt.
LET ME BE THE ONE is dedicated to the real Compass Club so I thought that might be worth some clarification here in Tidbits. My brother and three of his good friends from college (not private boarding school) have managed to do a wonderful job of staying connected as adults. I use the term 'adults' to indicate a chronological age, not a mental or emotional age. In other words, they can vote and drink -- sometimes both at the same time -- but when they get together they're combined age barely makes double digits. Actually, I'm being hard on them. They're really inspirational, which is why they get a nod at the beginning of this book. These guys have allowed me to peek in on their email loop as they share all sorts of smart, funny, raunchy, touching, and insightful snippets or their lives. The Compass Club I fashioned for LET ME BE THE ONE might have more in the way of adventures, but their heart and humor is very much a product of what I've observed from my brother and his friends.
LET ME BE THE ONE also is the first in the Compass Club quartet. It is different from other series I've done in that the stories will not take place in strict chronological order. There will be significant overlapping of stories as the adventures of North, South, East, and West happen somewhat simultaneously. In order words, South's story does not pick up where North's left off. South's story (to be published in March 2003) begins before North's adventure is concluded. If that's not clear now, just imagine how difficult it is to write this blasted series. The idea behind it is simply that friends live their lives together and apart. One person's life isn't on hold while a friend's life is getting a makeover and a happy ending. Yet, somehow, in the middle of individual turmoil, friends are there for each other, whether it's the fictional Compass Club, or the very real, truly inspiring Buddy, Butz, Johnny, and Karl.
The four guys who inspired this quartet of stories (Everything I Ever Wanted is the second in the series) continue to amaze and amuse. They are much taken with the idea that they played a part in anything remotely romantic. Their idea of romance? Well, let me just say that one of them buys his wife something lovely from Victoria's Secret every Valentine's Day so he can keep the catalog coming the rest of the year. You gotta love that deliciously self-serving romantic streak. They were extremely flattered when Romantic Times came knocking to ask what made them inspirational. They were appropriately irreverant in their reply, but the truth is they inspire by their deep friendship for each other, their love of family, and their appreciation of both domestic and foreign beers. Yeah, they're guys all right. Great guys.
One of the most often asked questions any writer gets is "Where do you get your ideas?" I answer in different ways, depending on my mood.; Once, the mother of a friend of mine put this question to me, and since I knew she was particularly interested in the muse behind those bedroom scenes, I answered, "Your daughter tells me all about her love life." That ended that conversation quickly enough and, funny, it hasn’t come up again. As for other ideas, well, where do you get yours? I find I am most thoughtful about characters and plots just before I fall asleep – or when I’m driving. Imagine the ideas I might generate falling asleep at the wheel! Sophie and East had that kind of beginning. I knew they had to be together because I’d set it up in the previous Compass Club books – even the timeline was set by the earlier books – but how it might come to pass was not so well formed in my mind. I suppose what I’ve learned to count on is that an idea will come to me if I can just relax and be open to it.; In this case it was just thinking about East being bullied at Hambrick Hall that helped make the rest of the story unfold. Once I knew the Society of Bishops was trying to steal his desserts, everything flowed from there. And when the Compass Club gets into a bit of a scrape? Well, it helps that I write characters that are smarter than me.
Most readers noticed that each story in the Compass Club quartet begins with a prologue detailing an incident at the fictional Hambrick Hall. The incident establishes something about that hero’s character and is a thread that runs through the story. It also dictates something about how the book will end. You may, or may not (especially if you read the books as they were released), have noticed that the first few paragraphs of the first chapter of each book references the laughter of the Compass Club. Allowing these men to laugh loud and long was important to me, as the men on which they’re (very, very) loosely based, are four of the funniest people I know. West’s story was something I had been thinking about since I began the Compass Club series. I actually fiddled around with it in my head when I was thinking about the plot for North’s book, but then I realized it would have to be West’s story and that I would have to write all the other books just to get to it. It’s a little darker – or as my sister says – twisted – than the other stories, but that’s what happens when I put things off. That kind of anticipation ties me up in knots, and if I’m tied up…well, you see what happens to the characters.
What’s in a name? Actually, names are an important starting point for me. I can hardly think about a character until I have a name to put to her/him. In the case of A Season to be Sinful, Pinch, Dash, and Midge were the first characters I named. Once I had names for those three rapscallions, a story began to tumble around in my mind. Lily’s name came next. It actually helped form her character, contrasting the purity of the lily to the mean streets of Holborn. There was also the fact that Lily was the diminutive of Lilith, which helped define Woodridge's character and obsession. Lord Sheridan was originally named Wyatt Henry Grantham. Names are tricky for titled Regency characters because family and close friends are likely to use the title name or some diminutive of it in addressing the character. Sheridan, because he came into his title at a young age, seemed a likely candidate to be called Sherry. The problem for me is that I really like the name Wyatt and I’m sure I’ll use it at some later time. I just couldn’t bring myself to use that name on a character that was only rarely going to be addressed by his Christian name. Trouble is, that when I sent in the synopsis to my editor, I hadn’t yet gotten around to changing Sherry’s name from Wyatt to Alexander. When I received my proof of the cover for the story it took me weeks to notice that Sherry was still referred to as Wyatt on the back blurb. Oops. In the uncorrected proofs of the story that went out, the few times Sherry’s Christian name is referred to, it’s still Wyatt. Oops again. Luckily the publisher agreed to correct the problem.
I may have mentioned in previous tidbits that I don’t title my books. Not that I don't try from time to time. I just never seem to come up with one that the folks in publishing think will work (primarily the sales people, I think). My working title for this book, indeed, the title that kept me on track with Sherry’s character, was A Well-Ordered Life. If you’ve already read A Season to be Sinful, then you know my title is a thumbnail sketch of Sherry. A Season to be Sinful is just hot. Not that there’s anything wrong with hot. I just like to keep the heat between the covers.
The last thing I wanted to mention is my "tortured" heroines. It’s only through seeing readers, posts on the net and the occasional review of my books on the net that I’ve come to understand my reputation for delivering tortured heroines. Sheesh. What a rep. Deserved, it seems, if I'm being honest. I will point readers to the Dennehy sisters books as proof that not all my heroines are given tough pasts to cope with, but those five books might well be the exception. (It strains my brain too much to come up with others.) In thinking about how it happens that I typically write dark pasts for my heroines, I’m guessing it’s one of the ways in which my professional life collides with my writing hobby. I so admire people who have the courage to tackle the fallout from their own difficult past or present, that my heroines (and heroes) are my own small - and very general - way of paying tribute to them. Writing is not a catharsis for me, but it is a way of managing my own emotional health. Yeah, yeah, some people would just keep a journal, but I suck at that. Besides, I like to make stuff up.
As for my heroines (or heroes) being martyrs, or almost-martyrs, I'm not certain I agree there. My characters typically take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Remember when people did that? I’m so tired of politicians and bureaucrats spinning their behavior one way or another to avoid being held accountable. I'm weary of the excuses people offer in defense of hurting others. There are occasions when the characters might be over-responsible, but another character calls them on it. In my mind, that’s how the characters grow and develop some insight.
Thank you to all the readers, reviewers, and message board posters that allow me to develop some insight myself.
Oh, those scoundrels. When I wrote A Season to be Sinful, I had no idea how the scoundrels would delight so many readers. For those readers who think Pinch, Dash, and Midge deserve follow up books of their own…they don’t. What makes them devilish fun as children doesn’t necessarily translate well to adulthood and I fear – in my hands at least – the fizz would flatten. However, because I also have a soft spot for the threesome, I gave them some page time in One Forbidden Evening. They are, after all, the “nephews” of Cybelline Caldwell and One Forbidden Evening is the story she shares with Christopher Hollings, Earl of Ferrin.
I keep learning the hard way that one of the unfortunate tendencies I have as a creator of characters is to make them more intelligent than I am. How else can I explain Ferrin’s interests? My degree in biology, the minor in chemistry, and my brief acquaintance with calculus and physics (a rotten and unfortunate acquaintance, by the way), hardly prepared me to understand the sort of things scientists get up to - even if they were getting up to it 200 years ago. To the extent that any of the particulars regarding Ferrin’s voltaic pile are correct – well, that was luck. To the extent that they're wrong – well, tha's bad luck. I like to remind myself that I’m writing fiction and move on. (It would have been so much better if my professors had shared that point of view when grading my essays. Really.)
The aspect of One Forbidden Evening that was more interesting on personal level was working with the emotional intelligence of a character that had loss, specifically a loss that is not entirely understood. I recently began to comprehend how loss, or rather the fear of it, has effected decision making almost all of my life. I now have even more respect for how a subtle influence can be so profoundly impactful. Just when I think I’m a fairly rational and reasoned person, I realize how truly reactive I am. Something of an epiphany, I can tell you. Having the opportunity through Cybelline to give it some more thought was helpful. Quite a bit of that thinking is still in my head because – and I cannot emphasize this enough – Cybelline is not me. No character is. And yet they all are. Even when they’re a lot smarter.
Ah, yes, flamingos. Nothing about this book is related to or inspired by those vaguely tacky pink birds, except of course, the dedication. If you haven't read Flamingos: A Love Story, I urge you to do. The flamingo wars were going on the entire time I was working on If His Kiss is Wicked. I'd transport myself via my personal WBM (Way Back Machine) to the early 19th century London where women's gowns had empire waists and men dressed in natty breeches and black leather Hessians, only to be brought back abruptly to the early 21st century where the pink plastic yard icons rule!
I had no choice, really, but to dedicate the book to those intrepid semi-suburban warriors also known as my neighbors. There was intrigue and sleuthing, breaking and entering, even a little romance (though sadly, not mine)...hmm, perhaps their antics were more inspirational in crafting the book than I thought at first blush.
Naturally Restell caught my attention when he first appeared in One Forbidden Evening. I wondered how he might react when his aspirations of becoming a rake were dashed by - of all things - a lamentable tendency toward responsibility. As for Emma, I liked her strength in the face of adversity and her tender vulnerability to Restell. This book was a particular pleasure to write, perhaps because of the silliness of the flamingo wars and the break they afforded me from time to time. I tend to throw myself so completely into writing and work that I don't always come up for air. This time I strove for balance with work and play, and it all came together in the end.
The most difficult thing (for me) about changing genres is trying to get the language right. Prior to Never Love a Lawman I did 8 books set in Regency England. That's 8 years I spent immersed in an alternate universe of empire waist dresses, unfamiliar forms of address, manners and mannered behavior, and hot men wearing intricately tied cravats who liked to say bloody hell.
There were a number of occasions when that epithet started to come out of Wyatt Cooper's mouth before I remembered myself and hit the backspace button, but as I am fluent in potty mouth, I always found an expression appropriate to the situation.
Names are often a source of inspiration for me. I'd been holding onto "Wyatt" through several books. Wyatt was the original Christian name of Viscount Breckenridge in The Price of Desire. I changed his name to Alexander so I could use Wyatt for a character that would likely be addressed by the name. Somewhere in the back of my mind I'm confident that Wyatt Earp and Gary Cooper were crossing memory synapses.
While I sometimes use the name of people I know, I rarely ever use their first and last names together. When I was working on the first chapter of NLAL, the madam's name started out as Caroline Carolina. I liked the musical quality of it, and it sounded as if it could be the name a savvy businesswoman of the madam variety might choose for herself. But then I realized I knew someone with an equally musical and somewhat absurd combination of first and last names: Roseanne LaRosa. In a way, Rose also chose that name for herself. She married into it. I gave her a call, asked her if I could write her name into the book - warned her the character was going to be a madam - and she was game, flattered even. That's how the master's level counselor and director of the residential treatment center for girls where I work became a madam. It was a happy accident that the book was dedicated to the girls. It all came full circle.
Sometimes names do more than inspire a character. Sometimes they inspire a story. That's what happened when I "met" someone named Rhyne. I put quotations around the met because it was one of those fleeting online connections courtesy of Apple Support.
I download a lot of audiobooks. There are plenty of days that I wouldn't have the motivation to ride my bike if it weren't for my need to hear more of whatever story I'm listening to. After every ride I create my own cliffhanger by ruthlessly turning off the iPod no matter where I am in the book. Want to hear more? Get back on the bike. (Okay, sometimes I cheat and listen when I'm driving if it's a long trip.)
So maybe you're wondering how listening to audiobooks connects back to Apple Support, or if you've had occasion to have to Report A Problem, you already know and want me to get on with it.
For some reason I stopped getting receipts for the books I was ordering. I need to print and keep the receipts so this was annoying. When I reported the problem, Rhyne was the tech support who responded to my email query. The problem wasn't resolved easily but in the course of figuring it out, Rhyne and I were able to exchange a few pleasantries. Naturally I asked about the name. I was told Rhyne was named after a soap opera that Rhyne's mother watched: Ryan's Hope. Rhyne's mother played around with the spelling and came up with Rhyne but pronounced it Ryan. I'd guessed, but Rhyne clarified that she was a she and explained it sometimes caused confusion for her. I'd already told her I wrote historical romances (and she looked me up on the web) and that was my interest in her name. That's how an Apple tech inspired Marry Me.
It must be said, though, the next time I encountered this problem, the Apple tech that responded could only have inspired a character who raised the ire of everyone whose life he touched. He could have been the reason that normally sane characters went postal. He helped me connect with #*$&(% and #*%*#. He might have made a good villain if he'd been smarter - and had a better name.
Copyright © 1998-2011 Joanne Dobrzanski.