I love it when a good story comes around again. <g> Every now and then, a really good, high concept plot idea strikes, and I had one quite early in my career:
The High Concept
Heroine’s father stipulates in his will that she must marry by age 25, or the bulk of her fortune will pass to her uncle. Heroine is NOT pleased, so she goes to a military hospital, finds an officer dying of his Waterloo wounds, and makes him a proposition.
She’ll settle a comfortable income on his governess sister, and in return, the heroine has a husband by the deadline. Her husband will quietly expire when he meets his own deadline, leaving the heroine a widow in control of her fortune and the hero’s sister set for life.
Then her husband hasn’t the grace to die, and they’re stuck with each other. <G> It’s a classic marriage of convenience set-up, and my editor loved it. So The Would Be Widow was published back in 1988. The title is pretty much the plot. (I was told several times that it resembled the plot of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s’ Shanna, a book I’ve never read. But we all know there are no truly original ideas.)
The Would Be Widow was the third book I wrote, the second published, and drafting this blog started me thinking about the writing of it.
I was a very new writer, going mostly on instinct, still working as a freelance graphic designer. TWBW was the only book where I ever kept track of the time. I fit writing time around graphics, but I wrote the book in the equivalent of three months of 40 hour weeks. Ah, those were the days! I’ve never been as efficient since.
This is also the book where I realized that no matter how light-hearted the synopsis I sent to my editor, I would never be a comedy writer. The book was moving along well plot-wise, but it wasn’t quite working until I gave the heroine some painful back story. Instantly the story fell into place. <G>
Lesson learned: My characters won’t get their happy ending without much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many years and books have come and gone since, and that is still the case with my stories. <G>
I also learned lessons in research. In those distant pre-internet days, I would take a very large tote bag down to Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt city library and pile in possibly relevant books until I couldn’t lift the bag. Then I’d removed the most recent book so I could lift the bag <g> and stagger home to find nuggets of useful information. Bibliographies were mined for books that I could send for through Inter-Library Loan.
Research Then and Now
For TWBW, I researched military hospitals (the picture above is the Chelsea Military Hospital, where Lady Jocelyn found Major David Lancaster) and laudanum and Shropshire and multi-shot pistols, among other things. In the days of the internet, this kind of research has the quaint quality of walking to school ten miles through the snow and it was uphill both ways. <G>
Good stories have staying power. When I was doing well with my historical romances, my editor suggested that some of my early Signet Regencies could be revised and expanded into historicals. Hence, The Would-Be Widow because The Bargain, with more words and more subplot and a bit more sex. (A very little bit more. <G>)
Revising a Regency into a Historical Romance
Here’s a little known fact: editing an early book doesn’t make it longer, it makes it shorter as the more experienced author cuts out a lot of the extra words she doesn’t really need. (Quite possibly swearing under her breath at her previous shortcomings of craft.) When I revised The Rake and The Reformer, a Super Regency, into The Rake, it ended up 4000 words shorter. (BTW, Kensington will reissue The Rake next spring.)
That version of the book did well, but it has been out of print for years. So now The Bargain is back again with a new publisher and a gorgeous, romantic new cover. The previous cover had a rather pretty bouquet on gold foil, but I like the pensive quality of this new cover. (Though the hero’s gold epaulet suggests Ruritania rather than the 95th Rifles. <g> ) This time there was no revision, though I’m sure there are still more words than the story needs. <G>
I revised five traditional Regencies into historical romances, and I learned a lot in the process about viewpoint and story structure. In traditional Regency, I used a lot of different viewpoints. This made for a lighter touch. When I revised the books, I narrowed the points of view sharply to two or three characters. This increases intensity.
In order to write a book, I have to love the characters and the story, so I also love seeing my book babies come around again. Here’s part of a review from the original publication, done by Kathe Robin of Romantic Times:
“With several wonderful secondary characters and a lovely romance between David’s sister and his doctor, The Bargain will delight Mary Jo Putney’s fans, new and old. There is a warmth and charm to this story that will melt your heart and make it sing. Sheer reading pleasure.”
And here’s an excerpt.