History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

23 July 2009

Eels, squeals, and Comedy release

I approached my fellow Hoydens and asked about correct behavior on the blog for the release of a book. Should I jump up and down and make squealing sounds; should I mention the release in a discreet footnote after an erudite post, on, say, the early nineteenth century Gloucestershire eel industry; and above all, what sort of gloves should I wear on release day?

The eels have to wait. Yes, my book is out today and although it doesn't have US distribution, you can buy it with free shipping worldwide from bookdepository.co.uk. You can also win a signed copy with a comment or question here. I'll pick a winner after the weekend and make an announcement.

So, the book is, sort of, a sequel to The Rules of Gentility (HarperCollins, 2007; Little Black Dress, UK, 2008). I'd thought originally that if I did write a sequel I'd probably write about Philomena's twin sisters (remember a few years ago everyone had twins in their books?). But after Philomena's breathless twittering about Inigo's trousers and bonnets, I felt I needed to clear my literary palate and chose the bad girl, Caroline, who makes an appearance early on in Rules in intimate circumstances with Inigo.

I was inspired, partly, by Dickens' Our Mutual Friend which I reread a couple of years ago (and blogged about here). It's a sinister, complex, confusing book, Dickens' last completed work. I was fascinated by a pair of minor characters, Mr. and Mrs. Lummle, who discover, after their marriage, that neither has any money. Having conned each other, they then proceed to con others and sink into crime. What a great set up, I thought, and so I invented Caroline Elmhurst and Nicholas Congrevance, who are both on the lookout for partners with money. She's broke and in debt and hovering on the brink of ruin, and he's, ahem, professionally interested in rich, gullible women.

Another astonishing discovery about Our Mutual Friend was what an incredible pantser Dickens is. The book was published originally in installments, and the edition I read includes his plotting notes. He takes some outrageous risks (well, risks for anyone else, but not for Dickens). There's one chapter which is pure exposition, so we (the readers) know the true identity of one of the characters. In Volume II Dickens dumps a whole cast of new characters into the book.

Something similar happened to me with Comedy. I knew, roughly, what was going to happen, but when it happened, and to a certain extent, how, surprised me. I found myself halfway through the book where I thought I'd be a couple of chapters from the end, and yes, I introduced a couple of new characters. This wasn't quite as problematic as I thought. For one, I'd figured out that my hero/heroine were in search of community as much as each other (and money. Don't forget the money). They both start off living in isolation, a necessity of leading a double life, with one other person (a servant and fellow conspirator) knowing some of what they are. (I'm fascinated by characters who masquerade as someone else but they're difficult to write-- how much does/should the reader know? How much should other characters know and when? But that's another post.) Both Caroline and Nicholas discover love (reluctantly) and friendship and discover within themselves reserves of strength and loyalty and ...

Lest I mislead you, it's not really that sort of book. No one starts a knitting club or anything. It's funny. It's set (mostly) at an English country house party in 1822 where the heroine has retreated to escape her creditors and sinks further into disrepute as an amateur actress in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. She really needs a husband or protector as soon as possible and although she's extremely interested in the handsome, mysterious (and undoubtably wealthy) Nicholas Congrevance she wouldn't, and doesn't, turn down a Duke.

Two of the Hoydens have already reported to me incidents of inappropriate public laughter. In fact, the morning after Pam Rosenthal won her RITA for The Edge of Impropriety (go Pam!), I woke to the most wonderful sound in the world for a writer of comedy--an informed and smart reader who's also a friend cackling at my book. In the right places, no less.

Comments and questions, please.

More blogging today at the Riskies and Romance B(u)y the Book. Find a complete schedule of my blog tour and a contest (another! I'm offering a pair of really lovely Regency aquatints as prizes) at my website.

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Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Congratulations, Janet! "Comedy" sounds most enjoyable (as opposed to lamentable) -- I love the way you always tweak well known British phrases, or get away with using them for your book titles. I guess you have a most intelligent editor, too. I can't wait to read it.

You mention Dickens' "pantsing" as he scribbled his way through installments of Our Mutual Friend. Are you a pantser or a plotter? Or do you work differently book by book?

And has comedy always come naturally to you?

4:48 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

As the cackler in question, let me add that I went from Janet's house to my mom's to get together with family members. And when I went to bed the first night I had to put the book away so my sister could get some sleep.

And yesterday, back home in San Francisco, I showed my husband a passage and he laughed as hard as I had but then read a little way further and added, "oh, but that's touching, too."

Brava, Janet.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I will tell you that if I ever got a book published that I wrote, I would tell everyone that would listen all about it. I would shamelessly brag, because to be a published author is something you should be incredibly proud of! Congrats!!

7:10 AM  
Anonymous Jane O said...

WHY doesn't it have US distribution? I loved Rules of Gentility, and I've been looking forward to seeing this in stores.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

It'll make it eventually, I'm sure. But meanwhile I'm offering it as a prize at my website. Only 3 more days to enter.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

You had me at "con"! I love stories about professional liars. (I would also love a post on the Gloucestershire eel industry, but...)

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just purchased a copy of the book from the Book Depository website and afterwards clicked on the "Watch People Shop" button (http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/live) and it showed my purchase. What fun!!!

9:51 AM  
Blogger Janet Mullany said...

Hi everyone, I'm at the beach and responding from the Virginia Beach Library, of which I am no w a proud, card-carrying member. Couldn't get the internet to work from the hotel... aargh.

Amanda, I'm a pantser by nature but forced into becoming a plotter by profession. But my synopses are always extraordinarily vague and timing and details come as they will. Adn the comedy just sort of emerges. I'm liable to have people slip on banana peels during deathbed scenes!

Pam--Michael got it! I am so impressed.

Rose, I did actually see part of Gordon Ramsey's F Word where he demonstrated eel catching and eating, and I may well look into it a bit more. But, ugh, it's one of those things where you toss live critters into hot oil to cook them.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

What's in a title? I was just musing that we have 2 hoydens (Tracy with The Mask of Night and Janet with A Most Lamentable Comedy who have cribbed lines from Shakespearean plays for their book titles. I love it, Janet, that you have a heroine performing in A Midsummer Night's Dream, as it's the source of your title line!

10:28 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Happy release day, Janet! I hope you're celebrating! The book sounds fabulous. I love characters who are masquerading in some way. How different authors plot and write differently always fascinates me. This morning (on the way home from taking the dog to the groomer's), I was mentally going over the events of "Act II" of my current WIP and whether things are balance enough. When you were halfway through and introduced the new characters did the rest of the book fall into place?

Amanda, I love Shakespeare quotes for titles. "Secrets of a Lady" was originally published as "Daughter of the Game" (Troilus & Cressida) and before that my working title was "The End of Reckoning" (Measure for Measure) and "Beneath a Silent Moon"'s working title was "Time out of Joint" (yes, I know, it sounds like a time travel, but I liked it :-).

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Janet, your book was waiting in my mailbox when I got home from RWA and I can't wait to read it. It's sounds incredibly delicious from your description of it.

12:32 PM  
Blogger M. said...

"No one starts a knitting club or anything." *snerk*
I'm a newbie here, as an admirer of Ms.Mullany's I followed her over from the Risky site. I very bravely continued on, reading the post, despite mention of eels in the title. I've never quite made friends with these creatures, as zoo citizens or on my plate. A too-much-reality scene about how eels are caught in the German movie 'The Tin Drum' didn't help matters.
I love the premise of this story, though. Would Caroline have been fond of eels, I wonder?

8:36 AM  

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