If you’ve been following the modest saga of the book I’ve been working on and my series of “how I wrote what I wrote” posts about my Silk Trilogy, you will not be surprised to learn that A) Sometimes a Rogue, (Lost Lords #5, September 2013) went into my editor yesterday, so B) This is a good time to write about Veils of Silk, last of the Silk Trilogy.
For me, a series will usually start with a plot premise, and then I create characters to work with that. But as a series progress, I find that the characters get the upper hand as I develop stories to maximize their individuality. And so it was here.
Silk and Secrets, second book in the trilogy, was based on a real rescue mission to Bokhara. Being a romance writer to the core, in my fictional version of the rescue, the prisoner escaped alive from the Black Well of Bokhara, a horrific oubliette where the Amir of Bohkara dumped enemies he particularly wanted to suffer.
The prisoner, Major Ian Cameron, is a brother of Juliet Cameron, heroine of Silk and Secrets. An officer in the East India Company’s Army, he was successful, popular, capable, and betrothed to his colonel’s beautiful daughter before he left on his mission to Bokhara.
He emerges from more than a year’s captivity filthy, barely alive, and broken in many ways. In the fiercely competitive stakes for my most tortured hero, I think Ian is the winner. When he returns to his post in India, he finds that the life he’d planned is gone beyond hope of retrieval.
A few suicidal thoughts float through his mind, but he can’t throw away the gift of life when Juliet and Ross risked so much to rescue him. So he’ll take the long journey back to his ancestral home in Scotland. But first, he must deliver the journal of the dead Russian officer who had shared his imprisonment to the officer’s niece, who is living in India with her stepfather.
And so he meets Laura. Born Larissa Alexandrovna Karelian, she has become very British since her widowed mother married a British district officer. Newly orphaned, alone in the world, she needs Ian as much as he needs her. It’s a marriage of convenience and friendship.
But Laura’s Russian uncle left her an inheritance in the far northwest of India, and together they journey north to retrieve his legacy, and to make their farewells to the sub-continent. Naturally, all kinds of things happen along the way, including a planned invasion, a secondary romance between a Hindu widow and a Muslim soldier, and a lot of changes in the relationship between Ian and Laura.
VEILS is the longest novel I’ve ever written, and possibly the most research intensive. It also comes closest to being a mainstream historical, though the core is pure romance.
Having Ian share a cell with a Russian officer puts the Great Game, the struggle between Britain and Russia for possession of Central Asia, squarely in the middle of the plot. Lots of adventure, oh, yes! I’m proud of the book and the way the characters grew and healed—and at the end, I was so tired that I went back to Regency England for the Fallen Angels series. <G>
I found this interesting to write because the characters react so differently. Ian’s captivity is much shorter but much uglier, and he emerges profoundly depressed. Grey in NLAG is also changed greatly, but he emerges semi-feral and hungry for life. Different men, different reactions. Very different heroines, too.
Here’s an excerpt of Veils of Silk:
Ian Cameron has delivered her uncle’s journal to Laura Stephenson, born Larissa Alexandrovna Karelian, and finds himself charmed by the young woman’s kindness, beauty, and good sense. Though he had thought marriage impossible, Laura is uniquely suited to be his wife. This scene is when he has proposed to her in the ruins of an Indian temple to Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of fortune.
“If I had common sense,” Laura said tartly, “I would not be considering your proposal.”
“Then I must hope that sometimes you’ll have sense, and other times you’ll have none at all.” Ian sighed. “As I said earlier, I want to be honest with you, Laura. I can provide for you in a material sense, but I’ve changed for the worse in more ways than one. Though I used to have an amiable disposition, I’ve been living in a black fog for months. On a bad day it takes every shred of will I have to just get out of bed, and the good days aren’t much better. Sometimes I feel like a dried husk that will blow away in the next strong wind.”
She considered his words calmly, her slanted golden eyes thoughtful, then said simply, “Melancholia.”
Startled, he said, “I’ve never been melancholic.”
“You were never imprisoned and tortured before, either,” she pointed out. “Melancholia is not uncommon, you know. My father’s father suffered from terrible spells of it. He would stay in bed for days on end. When he did get up, he drifted about like a body searching for its lost soul. But always the darkness passed, and then no one could match his high spirits. In your case, the melancholy was surely brought on by your experiences. When it lifts, you may never suffer from it again.”
Ian thought about that. Both Juliet and David had counseled patience, saying that things would improve. Laura went one step further; by matter-of-factly naming his condition, she had made it easier to understand. Perhaps he wasn’t uniquely cursed. “I hope you’re right. But if you are and I improve much in the future, I might become very different from the man you would be marrying.”
“Everyone changes with time, Ian. I like you very well the way you are—if you learn to laugh again, I think I would like you even better. So much for melancholia.” She made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “Are you an agreeable man?”
Startled by her abrupt change of direction, he said cautiously, “Probably not. How do you define agreeable?”
“In the literal sense of being willing to accommodate the wishes of others,” she explained. “My mother once said that the most comfortable marriages are between two people who are both easygoing, who do not always insist on having their own way. When two such people do disagree about what to do, the one who cares most about the result will get his or her way, and the other accepts it good-naturedly.”
Intrigued, he said “Your mother sounds like a wise woman. But what if there is a difference of opinion and both parties care greatly about how the issue is decided?”
“Then they fight,” she said, eyes twinkling. “But I am an agreeable person—most of the time—and you seem to be also. I don’t think we would fight often.”
“I think I’m agreeable in the sense you mean, if not always in other ways.”
“Very good.” She cocked her head to one side. “Do you have any other dark secrets to reveal?”
“One more, and this may be the worst,” he said with wry humor. “The lords of Falkirk were border bandits for centuries, so the family seat is built for defense, not comfort. It’s one of those frightful medieval castles with twelve-foot thick walls, smoking chimneys, and ancient weapons lurking in dark corners.”
“Ghosts?” she said hopefully.
“Three or four, but they’re a harmless lot. Far worse are the drafts. When the wind blows from the North Sea, it could freeze the ears off a stone elephant.”
“You should not say such a thing in front of our friend Ganesha,” she said with mock reproval. “And don’t think you can frighten a Russian with tales of cold. Compared to St. Petersburg, your Falkirk will seem like Calcutta. We Russkis are very good at creating warmth in a frozen land.”
Though her words were teasing, they were also absolutely true, for Laura had already created warmth in Ian’s frozen heart. “I think I’ve covered the worst of my dark secrets,” he said. “Do you have any to confess?”
Her levity faded and she glanced away, her absent gaze falling on the bas relief next to her. “I haven’t your ability to be honest about things that are deeply painful, Ian. That isn’t a dark secret, but it certainly is a flaw in my character.”
“If that’s your worst failing, I’ll be a lucky man.” He smiled a little. “Are you ready to make a decision, or will you need more time?”
Laura reached out and rubbed Ganesha’s round, jolly belly with her palm. Ganesha, the happy god, who removed obstacles from the paths of mortals. “Laura Stephenson is a calm, rational Englishwoman who thinks that what you are proposing is mad,” she said slowly. “But Larissa Alexandrovna is a demented Russian, and she says I should grab this opportunity with both hands, for I’ll never have another like it.”
Hope welling in his heart, he rose to his feet and walked toward her. “Then by all means remember that you are Russian.”
When going through the manuscript to prepare Veils of Silk for the e-edition, I remembered just how much I like the characters and the story. I don't know if I ever want to work so hard on a book again--but I've very glad I did for Veils!
I've asked about exotic settings before. Is India too exotic? Or are Russians, for that matter?