Greetings, dear souls. This is Jo's muse, supplanting her this week, for who can better relate the story of her ascent into the glories of publication than the entity solely responsible for that and for all her subsequent literary achievements.
But I came to her like a guardian angel at birth or even before. We do get some input into the pre-conception planning committee, you know. I couldn't swing a literary family, and I fought against the dysfunctional one so beloved of literary muses. All I requested was a book loving family, and that I achieved.
The Muse (Susan Walker Morse, 1836) The Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org
Read to in the crib and taken to the library in the push chair; surrounded every evening by older siblings and parents with their attention on books, she was soon a fluent reader and not long after that began her first simple attempts at story telling.
And thus we progressed. We encountered a few stumbling blocks, not least the teachers who attempted to suppress imagination, trying instead to force their classes to write what they knew. What did you do in your summer holiday and such twaddle. Teachers who would tell children not to make things up. But we survived.
Jo passed the 11 plus exam and went to an excellent grammar school as a boarder, and at sixteen, she finally responded to my gentle prods and put pen to paper -- or to be precise, pen to exercise book -- to write a novel. A short novel, but a novel, and it is to my credit, I think, that she felt no trepidation and that she finished it. It helped that she could pass her medieval romance around to her friends, page by page, for acclamation and "what happens next?" Rich fuel for the literary fire. It was clear her chosen genre was historical romance and so I set my mind to that and firmly steered her, despite some wayward impulses on her part -- Art? How dare an art muse try to intervene? -- toward a history degree.
Through carelessness, I almost stumbled. Keele University insisted on a joint honors. Jo turned, naturally enough, toward the English department. I soon put a stop to that! We were destined for the popular arts. The lure of the different led her to American Studies, which has turned out to be useful even though Henry James was a sad trial.
University provided distractions and Jo ceased to write fiction, but she continued to read, especially her prime comfort and relaxation author, Georgette Heyer. She was conscious at the time of enjoying experiences that could be of great use if she ever achieved her ambition -- to give others the same reading pleasure that she had received from Heyer and from other similar authors.
My choice of Keele University was not, of course, accidental. It is a campus university, some way from urban distractions and built around a stately home, Keele Hall, which is still standing and used for teaching and social events. In a community of less than 2,000 she lived many aspects of the ton life of the Regency.
Like a ton season, this was a circumscribed world, both in dimensions and population. Like a ton season, business -- education -- blended with a continuous round of social activity. It was the flamboyant sixties and Keele was on the cutting edge. There were Brummels and Byrons, Lady Cowpers and Mary Shelleys, and some incidents distinctly reminiscent of Lady Caroline Lamb and Mad Jack Mytton!
Once Jo graduated, I inspired her once more to attempt stories but I could not drive her toward learning the business with any seriousness. So I sent her a mentor -- an older fellow student of youth employment who was also a writer. This lady had sold a number of articles and other sorts of writing. She understood the world of publishing. After some more prodding by me, Jo agreed to do a project on writing as a career.
I sat back with satisfaction to watch events unfold.
They remained resolutely folded.
Did Jo join a writer's circle, as recommended? Did she write to publishers for advice? No, she put aside writing again, married and started a job.
I realized it was time for sterner measures, but this was when I realized that Jo perceived a complete inability to type as a block. Perhaps she was correct. When I provided a typewriter, any attempt to produce one page of reasonable work was torture for her.
There was nothing for it but to retreat and work with the muses of technology to speed the development of the word processor. Mr. Gates and many others who profited by my labor have never thanked me.
When I turned my attention back to Jo, I realized with horror that she was rising extremely fast in her career. She had abandoned her writing aspirations. This would not do. A tempting offer for her husband, a spirit of adventure, and soon they were off to Canada, where Jo's qualifications didn't translate. After a prod from me, Jo's husband said, "Why don't you write that novel you've always been talking about?"
So Jo did. Typing was still a struggle -- my work with technology had not quite come to fruition -- and so she abandoned the typewriter part way through and hand wrote the rest. But it was a novel, a Regency romance, and she now had the sense of being a writer.
But when she wrote to a publisher asking how to submit a book, she received a letter saying they only accepted agented submissions. She translated this to mean that there were some arcane qualifications needed, or membership of some select group. This might not have daunted her entirely if nature hadn't taken a hand and made her pregnant.
I was content with that, for a life of varied experience is beneficial to a writer and I was still rather busy with the personal computer. Jo's household soon had one of the earliest versions, and I was sure that as soon as she'd survived the earliest years of her son's life she would make full use of it.
I should have known Jo would develop a new enthusiasm. This time, it was woman-centered childbirth. Soon she was teaching classes, teaching teachers, and president of the local association. The alarm shrieked, however, when she began to write and sell articles on the subject.
I am not a muse of non-fiction! Another job move put an end to her involvement with the childbirth group, and I decided the time for subtlety was over. I arranged for a talk at a nearby library on "How To Write A Romance." Two talks, in fact, on two Saturday afternoons.
Now, at last, someone laid out the facts -- not so much a formula of romance writing for we know there isn't one, but the processes of publishing. And the speaker offered to read a short piece of people's work for comment the next week.
Despite the many bits and pieces scribbled in notebooks over the years, Jo didn't have anything solid to offer. So she went home and wrote the beginning of a Regency romance. Having read all-too many regencies that started with peculiar beginnings, from snow storms to heroines leaping out of windows into men's arms she, contrary as always, decided to write about two people who had placidly agreed to a very suitable engagement to be married.
It began: "It was the most talked-about and most tedious betrothal of the season." Though many parts of the book were rewritten over the next three years, that first short chapter remained almost entirely untouched.
The novel went out to publishers. Like all writers, Jo was sure the publishing world would fall on its knees in gratitude for such a wonder. Of course, it was rejected. She still needed to hone her fiction writing skills.
I created a writers' group in Montreal -- the Writers Association for Romance and Mainstream, WARM -- and a short story writing contest which Jo won, but the group wasn't completely satisfactory. It met only quarterly and was not particularly focused.
So I moved the family on to Ottawa and started a romance writers group there. Jo's arrival coincided with the first true meeting of the group, attended by twenty-five unpublished writers and two local romance authors. There would be monthly meetings with speakers on craft. I planted the idea of a working group of five who would critique one another's work. I finally felt all was in place.
Jo tried her hand at contemporary romance because everyone else in the group was writing those, but it wasn't for her. In a sign of the future, her completed contemporary novel was judged to be excellent but too different for publication. She joined an SF&F writers group and continued an interest in that. She entered a contest called Writers of the Future. I stood back and merely provided a little luck now and then.
The stars moved into alignment in 1988. Jo sent her reworked regency romance to Walker Publications in New York, simply because they produced nice hardcovers that she borrowed from the library. She didn't know that this meant print runs of about 1,000, and I didn't care. I'm a muse, not a banker.
She received a long letter from the editor explaining all the reasons why the novel was not quite suitable for publication, and entirely missed the yets and buts. Fortunately the editor was impressed enough by the work to phone and ask if she was going to see it again. This cannot be depended upon.
Jo got to it, and Lord Wraybourne's Betrothed was purchased for publication. Within days she heard that she was a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and that her prize was paid publication in an annual anthology and a week-long writing workshop in California.
My work, of course. The process of publishing her first novel was an excellent learning experience, but I knew she would benefit from the intense focus of the writing workshop led by Algis Budrys and taught by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Orson Scott Card.
"The sky's the limit for this extraordinary talent," wrote Melinda Helfer, the wonderful regency reviewer for Romantic Times. The novel was a finalist for the RWA Golden Medallion (now the RITA.) We were on our way.
Now Jo has returned to England, her birthplace, and I continue my work, of course. We have over 40 novels to our credit. And Jo knows she would have achieved nothing without her word-processer and me. Now that our newest book, A Scandalous Countess, is in bookstores, Jo is quite content to let me advise her on her next novel, so I am currently whispering in her ear . . .
~ Jo's muse