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Cutting a Book in Half

Historical romances typically run anywhere from 75,000 words long to 100,000 words. As originally written, The Earl Next Door, sprawled to an eye-watering 160,000 words long.

I look back now and marvel that my first editor took a chance on such an over-written book and worked with me to cut it down.

Besides the rookie mistake of simply being over-written, the book contained two full love stories: Piety + Trevor as the main hero and heroine, but also Jocelyn Breedlowe + a carpenter who was axed in revisions.

The Earl Next Door: Author’s Notes

Third Time’s the Charm

The Earl Next Door was the third manuscript I ever wrote, but my first published book. An early draft of the manuscript finalled in RWA’s Golden Heart contest in 2014. A perk of finalling is the opportunity to pitch to editors, and I sat down with Chelsey Emmellhainz from Avon to describe the story of an American heiress and her home-renovation project from hell. She asked to see the full manuscript and six weeks later, she offered me a contract.

And Then We Took an Unplanned Turn Towards Athens

The intrigue involving Joseph Straka in the final half of the book was added in revisions. My editor felt we needed an 11th-hour layer of conflict when Jocelyn’s love story was removed.

Trevor’s early life of crime in Greece was always a part of his character, so it was easy to flesh out the Greek mafioso who descends on London to menace Piety. Not so easy: figuring out how to get rid of Straka after he had been introduced. As my revision deadline loomed, “Adios’ing Straka” became a plotting quagmire from which I thought I might never get free. Finally, it was my mother who off-handedly said to me: “Why doesn’t he just go to jail?”

And the plan to trap Straka in his own game and send him to jail was born. Keep it simple, Sweets.

“I love this heroine, and I never say that!”

I have received this reader comment about Piety Grey more than once, and it is so gratifying. I, too, love Piety. I wish I had her courage and optimism and openness. Piety is the quintessential old-school heroine that feels like the loveliest version of aspirational me on my best day.

The character of Piety is loosely inspired by the character of Taylor Townsend in the TV show “The O.C.” I was a huge fan of the show and especially of the character of Taylor. Autumn Reeser, the actress who portrayed this character, was the image I used for Piety in my head as I wrote.

They’ve Still Got It

It was my great pleasure to revisit Piety and Trevor in my fifth book, All Dressed in White, in a lengthy scene that shows them happy and healthy and as mentors to the couple in that book. Writing the scene between an all-grown-up Joseph Chance and a middle-aged Falcondale was one of my favorites of all time.

Hyperbole, Thy Name is Limpett

Eli, Ennis, Everett, Emmett and Eddie Limpett, heirs to the New York City stocking empire. What can I say? If not in a romance novel, then where? If not to attack the heroine in a church and receive a beating from the hero, then for what other purpose? None, I tell you, none!

Mea Culpa, The Earl Next Door

There are regrettable research errors in every book, but this one contains a particular doozy. I invoked the police force called Scotland Yard to aid Falcondale and his new friend Rainsleigh in catching Straka. When the book was released, readers were quick to remind me that, at the time of my book (1809), Scotland Yard had not yet been formed. Early-19th-Century London was policed by local watchmen and Bow Street Runners.

I was mortified by the error but redoubled my efforts to be accurate with details, large and small, in future books. When police authorities were called upon in One For the Rogue, I was sure to keep Scotland Yard, which would not take this name until the mid-19th Century, out of it.

How I Named the Bachelor Lords Series

When I was negotiating the contract for The Earl Next Door, I pitched two other books that would tie together to become the Bachelor Lords of London trilogy. I used the through-line of bachelors all living on the same street in London and pitched an old manuscript—literally a book that had been sitting under my bed for the last five years—as a potential second book, The Virgin and the Viscount. Book 3, One for the Rouge, was made up on the spot. It all happened on a call with my editor as I spun the trilogy out of thin air.

The Virgin and the Viscount required a few plot and setting changes and some new characters to connect, but I have loved the way the all three books fit together in the end. The uniting element of the London Street (Henrietta Place) certainly links the books technically, but the heart of the connection in my mind are the characters of Lady Frinfrock and Jocelyn Breedlowe.

Miss Breedlowe’s Sideline Romance (on the Cutting-Room Floor)

As first written, ten years before it ever saw the light of day, The Virgin and the Viscount contained a secondary romance between Rainsleigh’s brother Beau and a sideline character named Justice Monroe. When I folded V&V into the Bachelor Lords universe, this subplot was cut for length and focus.

Justice was initially Elisabeth’s sidekick and confidant, a former prostitute who scaled the side of Denby House to reach Elisabeth’s bedroom and scheme brothel raids. When Justice was cut, much of her function was given to Jon Stoker. And Stoker, you will see, is still scaling walls some fifteen years later in his own book, You May Kiss the Duke.

Beau was too delicious to cut and is largely unchanged from his first appearance in the original draft of V&V to his own book, One for the Rogue.

My Favorite Type of Hero

Bryson Courtland, Viscount Rainsleigh (of The Virgin and the Viscount), is my favorite kind of hero, a hard-assed, serious, goal-oriented leader, with confidence and command, but also chinks in his armor and a gap in his life. He is silently begging to be tormented and tempted and undone by an irreverent woman who holds his tortured heart in her hands.

The prologue of this book, which describes Rainsleigh’s wretched boyhood, the neglect of his parents, his stewardship to his brother, and his tireless work is some of my favorite writing I’ve ever done. Rainsleigh was fully formed in my mind by the time I finished this prologue.

I relished the opportunity to go back and glimpse Rainsleigh as a teenager in the brothel flashback.

For a visual image when I crafted Rainsleigh, I thought of singer Sam Hunt.

In Defense of a Crusader Heroine

When writing Elisabeth Courtland (of The Virgin and the Viscount), I tried to be mindful of not casting her as a so-called “crusader” heroine. For whatever reason, the industry has been known to frown upon crusaders. In fact, old tip sheets from publishers used to said, “No crusader heroines.”

But I felt Elisabeth had two choices when she survived the murder of her parents and her days in the brothel, she could either remain mute and emotionally scarred forever, or she could find her voice and fight back. Elisabeth found her voice and fought. But I tried to focus on the personal part of her work, which was rehabilitating rescued prostitutes, planning brothel raids with her band of teenaged renegades, and running her foundation.

I tried to make her confident and bold but also gentle and funny; a pragmatic realist who was also joyful and liked to have a good time. I was inspired partly by the character of Charlotte Dalrymple in a film called Hysteria starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, although the physical image in my mind’s eye was of dark-red hair, olive skin, and freckles.

The Virgin and the Viscount: Author’s Notes

What’s the Deal with All the Virgins?

I once had a note from an editor in the margin of a manuscript: “Can we ease up on the virgin worship? It’s like he has a virgin fetish?”

I had to laugh—first because what other profession invokes this kind of note, but also because if anyone has a virgin fetish, I guess it’s me. Virgins are my strong preference as a reader and writer. We are dealing in fantasy here, and it’s simply part of mine. I acknowledge fully that not everyone shares this fantasy. Certainly, virginal heroines are not as thick on the ground as they were when I read Judith McNaught’s Almost Heaven, my first romance, back in 1989. In today’s contemporary romance, I’d venture to say that virgins are almost nonexistent.

However, when my editor rejected the working title for Elisabeth and Bryson’s book, I offered up The Virgin and the Viscount as an alternative and she leapt at it. V&V remains my best seller to date. So perhaps there are still a few of us virgin enthusiasts out there. Love them or hate them, I have a few theories about the big deal with all the virgins.

An innocent heroine paired with an experienced hero ups the level of sexiness. True statement, in my opinion. Mind you, the power dynamic here is very fragile and must be handled with care. Both lovers have power in this scenario.

Also, a virgin’s first time offers so very much interesting fodder to fill out a love scene. Every romance author approaches love scenes differently, but for me, I don’t really graphically describe sex if it does not advance the story and/or up the stakes. In other words, the interlude must be remarkable and worth spelling out for me to write it. Beginners certainly give me something to write about.

Also, virgins are historically accurate.

Also, we were all (or still may be) virgins, so we can relate.

Also—well, maybe this is more like “primarily” for me—if you know me in real life, you know that I’m an old-fashioned person by nature, and virgins are simply my preferred jam.

That said, virginal heroines should not be defined by their sexual experience (or lack there of) outside the bedroom. A Charis Michaels virgin will never be childlike or naïve, she will not require protection or hand-holding or instruction, she is not meek or marginalized or taken for granted or under the thumb of a man. Inside the bedroom (or carriage or stable, etc.), this heroine has sex with only one man—the hero—and he values it.

While I’m at it, I’ll just toss in a second part of my preferred fantasy, and that is the hero and virginal heroine are married when they make love. They might be strangers, they might not even be fully in love (yet), but they are married. This feels safe and secure to me.
As I said: outdated and not-progressive, but I like what I like and I write what I write.

But First, A Disclaimer

The very first inkling of an idea for V&V was the notion that, on his wedding night, a hero discovers a scar on the heroine’s shoulder that suggests she has misrepresented herself. That is, a hero finds out too late that his new wife is not a virgin; that she appears one thing but turns out to be another in a way that feels duplicitous and like a betrayal.

Despite this, I wanted him to be so very attracted to her, he could resist making love to her.

When they have their wedding night, he discovers that she is a virgin after all. Recovering from this (for them both) is the conflict of the book.

It’s an old-school, old-fashioned romance scenario that is actually so grandmotherly, I feel like it needs a disclaimer. So here we go—disclaimed: I am aware that a hero’s preoccupation with a heroine’s virginity is stale and backward-looking and unpopular. I hope I have made it…if not progressive, at least supported by a “why.”

But back to the scenario. So, how do you create heroine who seems like a virgin…but then seems not to be a virgin…but then really is? I mean, without gynecological exams?

I opened the book with the flashback of the hero and heroine trapped against their will in the brothel. And then I made one of them mute. This gave the hero and heroine a shared history, albeit a history with a lot of holes and questions. The next thing we know, they are crawling out a window (which was my second inkling of an idea for this book).

And Also: Fiction from Life

Just a few of the elements from The Virgin and the Viscount that came from IRL….

In the British Museum scene, Rainsleigh tells the story of trying to enroll in boarding school without his parents. He rides to Eaton alone with meager supplies and tries to sign up. Tragically, he is turned away because his crude education has left him barely able to read or write. This flashback is loosely based on my own family story of a relative in the 1920s who left his uncle’s farm to enroll in college, only to be informed by faculty that he would need to attend high school first. Like Rainsleigh, he returned home, studied on his own, and returned in a few years to succeed.

And, the viscount’s family estate, Rossmore Court, is named after the apartment building in which my husband and I lived as newlyweds in London.