A few weeks ago Bill Chance reviewed La Desperada.
This is the kind of thing that can make an author nervous, because Bill was not the target audience when the book was written as a romance novel (quite) a few years back. And who knows how a man will react to a sexy genre typically written for women?
His review was thoughtful and gratifying because he picked up on things few people do, so as I responded to him there, I knew I’d eventually want to mention some of these things here.
First, I think I’ll address a question few people ever ask or care about.
“Where did you get the idea?”
I thought you’d never ask!
JK Rowling said the first thing that popped into her head before writing Harry Potter was, “Once there was a ten-year-old boy who was a wizard and didn’t know it.”
Well, in my case, what popped into my head was, “Once there was a woman so desperate to escape that she held a cold-blooded murderer at gunpoint and said, ‘take me with you.’”
That’s all I knew. I didn’t know if it was contemporary or historical, if it was set in London or Acapulco. I just tasted this woman’s desperation, could feel it in my veins, and could only ask a few logical questions in an effort to find out more.
How desperate is she? Well, if the cold-blooded murderer looks like Redford/Pitt/Depp, how desperate does she have to be? Seriously? Take me with you? Isn’t that a no-brainer? So I immediately knew that he was not handsome, and worse, had to be terrifying. Because the more terrifying he was, the more desperate she had to be.
My hero began to take form.
How desperate was she? Well, backing up a bit, why would she be dependent upon a cold-blooded murderer? Story-telling logic told me she had to force herself into his company (and again, if she didn’t have to force herself, what was interesting about that? Not much, so again, I learned more about him, because I learned that he didn’t want her. Truly. Did. Not. Want. Her.) And once forced, they would be forced to stay together.
And thinking of isolation made me think of the Trans Pecos.
Of a town so small, Fort Davis was big in comparison. And Fort Davis is not and was not ever big. Fort Davis in the 1880s was even more isolated than today, when it’s connected by state highways and such to the rest of the world. Because Fort Davis is over 200 miles from the nearest city of size, El Paso and (my research uncovered) only had one mail coach a week. Getting away from Fort Davis would be hard. From an even smaller more isolated town?
Imagine that isolation, that desperation, if someone is in an insufferable situation and is in fear of their very life–
And then I knew even more about the woman.
She was totally unprepared.
She was a lady.
She was from “back East.”
She was fragile.
I chose the location not because I love it. (I prefer green places, the greener the better.) I chose it not because I love westerns. (I’ve read two Louis L’amour and no Zane Grey, though my grandfather loved them.) I chose it because I knew it in that way you “know” a place you’ve visited a few times, have driven through, have peered at through various windshields over the years thinking, “I could not survive here.”
I chose it for logical reasons and for dramatic reasons, and thus, ended up researching places from afar, before the internet was an option, with a two-day side-trip from a tornado chase to nail down some details.
And thus, when Bill Chance wrote about the setting with such understanding and connection, it really, really made my day. And I had to respond, as follows:
You’re the only person I’ve ever known who knew the setting and recognized the details–even McKittrick Canyon, which you recognized even though I didn’t name it. It has been so long, I don’t remember why I didn’t–I think maybe it wasn’t known by that name yet? Or I wasn’t sure if it was? Twenty years ago I decided not to name it but heck if I remember why now. (That is true of most of my research. I research for hours or even days or longer on this detail or that, find what I want, use it, move on, and have no record nor memory of it for later.) Anyway, it’s really thrilling to read your review and see that you knew the area and appreciated it.
The Sierra Diablo is an interesting place to research, too, because I frankly couldn’t find out much about it at all except a few sentences somewhere, and it was all private access so we couldn’t drive into it to look. I finally decided, “There are 18 people on the face of this planet who will know if I get it wrong, and if any of them ever read my book, they are welcome to inform me of my errors.” LOL!
Rooting the conflict in Missouri was another interesting choice, since I didn’t know at the time that my great-grandmother was a James of Missouri. But when it came time to do the screen adaptation, I couldn’t find a way to gracefully work all that background in and make it dramatic and succinct, and I finally resorted to changing it to abolition, which drew a sharp line in the sand between good and bad.
Secondary characters–there is a trend in romance novels to spin off series by writing about secondary characters. I’m not sure why, but I felt obstinate and decided to write secondary characters that were too flawed or unheroic to merit their own books, just to be perverse. Thus I named my young deputy the very unheroic name of Wendell Crutcher, and Obregon was a drug addict. (BTW, today, Obregon would be a perfect hero, romance having changed so much.) Despite the fact that I thought I’d managed to sabotage any desires for spinoffs, I had letters from readers begging for books about Wendell, Obregon, and (yes, really) Doralee. People wanted me to write a book about the whore. Today? Yes. Back then? No. My editor confirmed, no whores for heroines. (And yes, I realize there are other problems with using Doralee for a future book but we won’t go there!)
As for the sex, ah, that’s okay, you weren’t the target audience. (wink)
Thanks so much for this eloquent review. It was well worth a twenty year wait to accidentally find somebody who appreciated the backdrop as much as you did!
[In writing this, I discovered that Bill and I have something in common. The "other" Patricia Burroughs who crops up in google searches is a real estate agent in Canada. When I typed in billchance.com instead of billchance.org, I found a real estate agent in Virginia. We both have careers in real estate in our alternate lives!]
* Originally titled What Wild Ecstasy [Kensington Books], this tale inspired the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences/Nicholl Award-winning screenplay, “Redemption.” The novel [La Desperada],and script [Redemption] are available together for the first time in one download at Amazon and at Book View Cafe.
Alas, I am not even artistic enough to write fun font-y sayings in a Moleskine, but I enjoyed seeing what this man has done with them and what the blogger intended to do with hers.
Oh, to live in Australia where there are Eco Faeries! (Okay, I don’t really want to live in Australia; I want to live in England, but still, Eco Faeries look like so much fun.)
And finally, care for some gun powder for your toothpaste?
What fun things have you run across lately?
No words can express… no words.
Northern Ireland. Bregagh road near Armoy in County Antrim.
But a different kind of dream.
Once upon a time I had a wish, a desire, a dream. If someone had given me a short time to live, I would have put my first priority on going to England. I would have put it ahead of food and medicine, I think, because the idea of dying without ever having been there was deep tragedy to me.
Fortunately, we went to England without such a dire threat hanging over my head. And went back again, and again.
The dream of “England” has never faded, never died, and every trip (five so far) has just made it stronger.
And finally, I found myself writing about England. It was a romp of an action script (science fiction, but that’s a tale for another day). It had a subplot that was set in 11th Century England, complete with castles and lords and ladies and swords and danger and passion and such. Because the entire script was parody, I found that dabbling in the dialect and culture was rockin’ good fun. I didn’t worry over it, the way I would have if I’d been writing a novel set in the same time period. The research was done, but not fretted over. And that script (DREAMERS) was a finalist in the Nicholl in 2000.
A couple of years later I wrote another script set in England, but this one was much more challenging. This one was contemporary, was populated with many English characters and the idea of writing English characters speaking English dialogue that was believable was daunting. And yet, it was exhilarating and fun. This script ended up under consideration at the BBC, and was received really well there. I have that rejection letter in a special file because it was a personal success on several levels.
And finally, a story seized my heart and soul that demanded even more of me. It demanded that I not just write a script, but that I write a novel. Not just a novel, but a trilogy. That I immerse myself in English history, religion, literature, and life. It terrified me and demanded everything I could give it, and more, and that’s where I’ve been living, writing and dreaming for the past couple of years.
Dreaming. Yes, dreaming. The research is a thrill and a joy. The trip we took this spring was heaven itself. I am immersed in this dream of mine, this dream of England. I am writing my dreams, living my dreams.
I have created a magical universe set in an alternate England, and populated it with people who never lived. And yet this universe exists, and these people live. And what sets them apart from any others I’ve written about is that it is all woven with the threads of my most passionate and beloved dream, with the essence of the England that is in my heart.
This has nothing to do with what happens when I close my eyes at night, and everything to do with how I spend my waking hours.
I waited twenty years to discover this bit of magic. Honestly, it took me that long to absorb enough from the movies, books, television shows and friends I adore to feel comfortable writing this. But I am here now, living in my dreams, and writing them.
Tomorrow, a practical application of dreams.
Well, it’s really not. It’s just that I make things complicated.
Like, right now, I’m adding a lot of reference books to goodreads and I don’t know whether to list them as to-read, currently reading or read. I haven’t read them cover to cover and probably won’t, but they are resources I dig into.
As far as that goes, how would you list a dictionary? Nobody (well, hardly anybody) sits down and reads one straight through, so how would you list your favorite dictionary, thesaurus, reference?
My brain needs help.
One thing I’ve found helpful on goodreads is lists. I add a book to my list there, and it shows me what lists it’s on. And I click, and I find new books, that have enough in common with the book I just added that there is a very good chance I’ll be interested in this 100 new books, as well! I love it, even if my wallet doesn’t.
Well, I just started a new list on goodreads.
I’m hoping you’ll check it out and if this is your cuppa, even add some to it.
Oh, and friend me while you’re there. Become a fan, even.
And to illustrate (because I do like the pictures) I will find a book in the stack beside me. It could be about wildlife, or 18th Century cookery, or Celtic civilization. But I know you. I know the book you really want to see.
I would upload some of the illustrations but I’m not that kind of girl.
See ya on goodreads!
I love photographing windows, usually the view from within. And when it comes to windows, there is nothing I love more than leaded glass. When we were in England in March I shot several views from
Erinyes Manor Baddesley Clinton.
It’s difficult to explain what it’s like visiting a place after you’ve already absorbed it into the fantasy world you’re building, absorbed it because of its floorplan, its history–chosen for very practical reasons, when there was a prettier manor actually located in Cornwall that ought to have fit the bill. But it didn’t. And even though it was suggested that I use the exterior of the pretty manor and just make it be what I want it to be inside, I felt that with everything I was making up in this new world I was building, it felt necessary to have some solid walls to contain, and yes, to limit me. And so I chose the less-pretty manor because it fulfilled my needs, and with it came priest holes and a chapel and a moat. A moat!
And once chosen, this place that was only images and words in a guidebook and on the internet evolved into a place similar and yet very different. I let the original wing, built in medieval times, survive instead of vanish. I added an apple tree and a fountain where I have now see lives a wall of wisteria. My manor has ancient oaks so close to the moat, their long branches provide midnight escapes for children who want to explore in the moonlight, and midnight access for abductors whose aims are far less innocent.
But the one thing I never expected when I was writing? That I would walk its corridors, scale its stairs, inhale this place’s real magic in real life within months. The unexpected trip to England was not only a trip to my spiritual home, Cornwall, but an opportunity to visit a place that hitherto only really existed in my imagination.
So when we landed at Heathrow, we picked up our car and drove straight to the Midlands (not exactly on the way to Cornwall, mind you).
How to describe? It wasn’t Erinyes Manor. And yet, it was comfortable and familiar to me. I kept saying, “I could live here.” Unlike many stately homes (St Michael’s Mount, you gorgeous thing, I’m looking at you) this one felt oddly historic and yet livable at the same time. The scale was human; the atmosphere was warm.
I could imagine family dinners more easily than stiff, formal occasions (okay, I’d replace the sidechairs).
The kitchen begged to be the center of a family’s life (even though it probably wouldn’t have been at the time built) and the library only needed some paperbacks and more comfortable seating to be utter bliss. (The Resident Storm Chaser has the best pics so I will wait until I get them before posting more.)
Baddesley Clinton was the embryo of my Erinyes Manor, for which I am ever grateful. But it is more.
I love windows. I love looking in. I love looking out.
But in this case, I stepped through the window and into another world, a world that had been fully lived in and fully loved, and if I manage to capture a bit of that reality in my fantasy, I will be very happy indeed.
Doing lots of research into the Regency era, and also reading lots of books set in the Regency. This, of course, includes Regency romances.
And whilst doing that I discovered a couple of new-to-me-authors who have large backlists of budget priced books for the Kindle. Carla Kelly (Beau Crusoe) and Barbara Metzger (Miss Lockharte’s Letters). They may seem pretty standard Regency fare from covers and titles, but I find Carla Kelly’s to have wonderful wit and often fresh (even disturbing) plot twists, and Barbara Metzger’s to be fun with twisty plot. They all have the requisite romantic conflicts and emotions, of course.
I can’t mention Regencies without going back to the source, and it says everything that hers aren’t bargain priced, and I buy them anyway. The fabulous Georgette Heyer Cotillion, of course.
Tomorrow, I will introduce you to a Regency (all right, Napoleonic War) of a different nature. Very different.