I have wanted to talk about retellings for some time.
What makes a good retelling?
A retelling could be all these things. I’ve even read retellings where the dialogue was almost exactly the same as the original but the characters and setting were different. (I didn’t enjoy that one)
The first scenes.
Many have seen the movies, the old ones and the newer Jane Seymour rendition. And the first scene in the movie reminds them of the second scene in my book. (once she gets away from the guillotine which in my book, it is a totally unique story).
How did I write that first scene? Is it a play by play of the movie?
No. I read the book, loved the first line,
“A surging, seething, murmuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate.” The Scarlet Pimpernel pp 1-7. Baroness Orczy
I know it sounds awful. You can almost see the bloodlust, the depravity of the people. And when I read that line, I knew, that my romance, my light, fun romance, a story of heroism and courage, would be told against the back drop of a people who had lost their humanity.
So I started there in my book. I wanted to set that up right away, saying: We are in France and it’s an awful time to be alive. OK, at the guillotine, bloodlust all around, got it.
BUT amidst terror, heroes always rise. I have seen this firsthand and I wanted to establish hope amongst the depravity. Yes, humans forgot they were supposed to be human, BUT some were good. Some were so incredibly good that their light shone through the darkness all around. And just like in my book, if you look, you will always find heroes in our day. So in Scarlet, there is a woman who cares, a boy who follows her around, a young man who helps.
Then. I wanted to establish early on, that we are retelling the Pimpernel. I wanted the reader to instantly recognize a familiar tale. So I followed similarly to the first disguise the Pimpernel uses in the book. He drives a cart. He is an old hag. He has coffins with him. (he has coffins many times and I tried to only use coffins once.) He has a boy with him who has the plague. They leave through the west gate where the infamous Bibot watches over. I wanted some costumes to be similar, some disguises to be recognizable but I also wanted to create my own rescues, costumes and disguises. But before I deviated from a much loved tale, I grounded us all in the original.
The movie follows this whole opening in the book pretty much play for play as the book addresses it. Hag, coffins, plague, heads, Bibot.
I include Simon who does not have the plague and he is not a boy but a mentally challenged young man. She is a hag and she has a bag of heads. In the book and movie, the Pimpernel uses the plague of his son to distract and disgust the guard. I use the bag of heads in my book. I also use it for humor. I tried to write the scene in such a melodramatic manner that people laughed instead of cringed, but my mother was pretty upset by the gruesome nature of the scene.
In these first scenes and throughout my book, I wrote a retelling with a twist. Several of the characters are gender bent. I told the story in a similar setting. I include disguise, heroic characters, a fashion conscious heroine, a Prince who feeds on it all. A true hero who is willing to sacrifice all, a league of helpers. The French Revolution and accurate bits of history. The VILLAINS. One day I’d like to talk about what I did with Chauvlin/Eleonore Duplay. and so on.
Baroness Orczy created a wonderful tale and fabulous characters, and since then, many have created their own tales inspired by her genius so that we could linger a little longer in her world, enjoy her characters, and in this case be educated by her setting. And though I don’t claim to have mastered like the master herself, I do feel I have added something of value to the ever growing world of The Pimpernel.
As seen particularly in The women: Exploring how the tale would have worked if a woman were in charge was a fascinating exercise and brought to light some of the stronger qualities that make up the feminine side of our humanity. I felt like the best parts of why women are heroic were shown through this story. I used the gender twist as an opportunity to highlight some of the many women who were involved in the French Revolution, the huge numbers that asked for a constitution, that asked for their rights to be protected in the document. They were brave, outspoken and educated.
And as seen in the historical details: I tried to stay true to the original tale as written in the books, AND to history. I included real to life events and people as much as possible.
And can we not have a bit of fun? Because I have to admit, playing around in this world, with a fascinating and brilliant, brave woman, a handsome passionate frenchman and a league of brave men was one of the most entertaining projects I have ever endeavored.
Thank you for being here on the journey. Thank you for enabling me to add my mark to the growing retellings of such a clever and beautiful story.
I have had a fantastic response to Scarlet, my latest historical romance. People love the twist on a famous character, The Scarlet Pimpernel. They love to read the history of the time. I loved writing it, and the idea fascinated me. So it has been my quickest and most fun historical to write to date. (though I have one coming with a lady who disguises herself as a maid, might rival this one)
But I did something unique with the romance arc in this story. And it mimics what happened in Baroness Orczy’s book which is largely why I did it. But now that I have, it has taught me a few things about romance and life.
So, in the romance genre, you start with two people who have things that bring them together and things that pull them apart and the idea is that the two camps of influences struggle with and against each other throughout your book until in the end, your characters overcome all their inner and outer demons and the romance conquers all. Often this culminates in a kiss or a marriage or a proposal of some sort. (or something steamier if that’s what you read)
And so with Scarlet, you have two people who meet and fall in love quickly, get married right away, but THEN begins their true emotional journey as they learn to trust and rely on each other. Their romance arc, though they are already married, ends when their relationship is at a true happily ever after. Not just in word or paper, but when they have reached a place where you know they can weather whatever storms come because they have each other. This emotional resonance should be present in all romances, and is the TRUE Happily ever after we all seek. No matter if the OUTER physical manifestation is present or not. An engagement does not make a HEA (read happily ever after). Neither does a marriage. A unity of mind and heart and emotional constancy does.
Happy reading my lovely friends! Look for the emotional arc in characters while you read their love stories. Therein lies the TRUE love story.
A Tribute to the Clean, Proper and Sweet.
and compelling, gritty, tense, angst ridden, smart and fun.
As a historical romance author of clean fiction, I get asked every so often, “Is there a market for clean romance?”
When I tell them, most exuberantly YES! Many adults nod their heads gratefully. “Great! Where can I buy your books?” RIGHT HERE
But sometimes a well meaning friend will ask, “Who’s your market? Teenagers? Middle Schoolers?”
So I thought I would explain why I write clean romance, why the market, especially among adults, is growing, and why it can be the most compelling, page-turning option.
1. Steamy scenes can be a crutch. The temptation to go from one such scene to the next with only a weak plot in between is too much to resist for some writers. Sex sells to its audience, but remember it has a specific audience, not an all-encompassing one. I recognize that beautiful books have been written that include steamy scenes, but this is just a reminder to take note, even if the scene or plot naturally calls for such a scene, even if it has a purpose and is character driven and important to the story, the sex can immediately dull the tension in your story, because the story can morph into a plot about the sex.
Just like the gentle touch on your hand, fingers lacing together sends thrills of expectation up and down your arm; once you kiss, the hand holding is nice, but you hunger for the kiss. Also in a romance, once you include a sex scene, everything else dulls because every other physical act cannot measure up, and the story escalates from one hot moment to the next. The story, the romantic arc, the plot points, all become secondary.
2. Let’s talk tension. Suggestion, anticipation , desire and yearning make a story, lead a story and romantic arc for a hundred pages or more without anyone tiring. The thirst is far more compelling than the satisfaction. Aren’t those the things that turn pages? Don’t we write hooks and cliff hangers for a reason?
3. THE SECRET: Emotional fulfillment is far more satisfying than physical fulfillment. And if you can accomplish true emotional fulfillment, where hero and heroine come together in a way you never thought possible, in a perfect blend of a whole, completing each other in just the right ways, the audience leaves feeling far more rewarded than if they had tangled up in someone’s sheets for a scene or two. And here is where steamy romances often fall short. So much physical fulfillment is reached that the other aspects of the relationship can feel neglected or superficial.
4. Personal reason number four. I think art should stay away from interpreting our most sacred expression of love. The holy moments shared in complete intimacy are better in real life when untainted by interference from the imaginations of others.
5. As a historical writer, is your philandering time-period appropriate? It pains me to read Regency romances with open groping and closet make-outs, and sex between nobles. None of that is time period appropriate. The heroes and heroines not only do not act in a manner appropriate for the time, but they don’t think like a hero would in that day. Attention authors: most married couples did not even share the same bedroom–Intimacy was not discussed, not referenced, not public in any way. If handled any differently in the next Regency you pick up, the character’s ideas and passions are modern and historically inaccurate. And that grates the historian in me. Note: My books have some really really fun kissing, but it’s secret, or accidental, or married, or shocking or otherwise appropriate for the time.
And, the key, the clincher:
Ask yourself, can your romance stand alone? Is your story good enough that your audience would read it with or without any steamy scenes at all?
So, yes, there is a market for clean romance. The market is large and consistent and reliable, and it is growing. The authors are well known and established, many bestsellers with bids for movies. Just one Goodreads group has over twenty thousand clean romance books listed in it. And the market is larger and farther reaching than the inspirational lines of books that you would expect, larger than the Christian publishers. Big houses have whole lines dedicated to the sweet and the proper.
AND there is a growing adult audience that actively seeks nice, fun, compelling romance with no sex. Pay attention to the past success of Clean Flicks and now Vid Angel. Media in all forms is neglecting a paying, large audience of adults who would prefer a cleaned up version of excellent entertainment. Also in literature, at the time of my writing this list, Amazon has a category called, “Clean and Wholesome Romance” with over 15,000 books currently listed. A quick scroll through the first page of the list showed many five star options with reviews in the hundreds.
Multiple best sellers are available with publishers who are actively seeking clean and proper romance. See this Facebook group of excellent literature–all clean. https://www.facebook.com/wholesomeromance/?ref=br_rs
Or this one https://www.facebook.com/ProperRomanceSeries/
As readers, we can seek them out, praise authors in our reviews and pay attention to the excellent stories that are told without crutch or gratuitous device. I hope we will, because it will only further draw attention to a growing, marketable and lucrative sub-genre.
While researching for my first Regency romance, The Nobleman’s Daughter, I asked over and over, “But what about the poor people? Have they no rights? No recourse? Who is caring for them?” I had a wonderful story in mind highlighting the beautiful and wealthy elite–the plight of the poor mercilessly bumped it aside. So I stopped ignoring the lower classes, like the wealthy of the time should have done, and I really looked at what had happened to these people.
And I found that no one was speaking for them. No one SAW them. Think about that. In a world where we feel like we have a voice, however small, imagine if you had no recourse, a government who didn’t care, nobles who hoped to keep you in your lowly position, and zero money or opportunity to gain more.
I just couldn’t fathom their lives. And then I wondered how did they get out of that mess? As a people, what brought about change? And that’s when I discovered Peterloo.
The poor were rising. They were not content to live in misery, not content with their lack of rights or freedom, and they bravely asked for change.
Sixty thousand people showed up in a great rally. Think about that. How often could you or I gather sixty thousand people to stand up for anything? And this was before phones or internet or any form of simple communication. They rode horses. And they came in peace with signs. Women too. “No Corn Laws” (their food was taxed an unbearable amount) “Votes for all” “Love” “Unity and Strength”.
They prepared to hear speakers. Full of hope that something would finally change, they came in their Sunday best.
And they were chopped down. By swords. Chased out of the square, trampled. It was one of the worst tragedies of the time and became known as the Peterloo Massacre.
I am proud of these peaceful fighters for freedom, thrilled to continue their memory in my romance, and determined to be another voice who stands for the downtrodden, for rights and for freedom.
“They seek him here. They seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him anywhere…”
The Scarlet Pimpernel. A Tale of Two Cities. Les Miserables.
I have a thing for the French Revolution.
Where tragedy strikes, heroes rise. It always happens. When oppression grinds, freedom struggles against it.
The human spirit beacons, like a fiery torch and I love to study the struggle for freedom. All of my novels so far address this theme in one way or another. The Nobleman’s Daughter, my first novel coming this November 2017. Seeking Suffrage, my third novel. Aya’s Journey, my middle grade tribute to the brave slaves in our country. And Scarlet, my second novel to be published.
To help another who cannot help themselves seems the noblest monument to leave behind. And to help them achieve freedom so that their spirit can soar as it was designed to do, I can think of no higher achievement.
So when my mind stumbled upon the idea of creating a WOMAN Scarlet Pimpernel, I dove in immediately. Elaborate costumes, secretive escapes, desperate victims, and clever heroines. Throw in a gorgeous Frenchman and a league of brave Englishmen, and I could read this story over and over again. As I finish up another round of edits, I am fairly certain many of you could too. At least this new author hopes so. Look for my tribute to the iconic character of The Scarlet Pimpernel early in the year 2018.
If you love Regency, you really love it. If you haven’t read a true Regency Romance yet, find yourself one. Usually when we think of Regency, we think of Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, pretty dresses, handsome Lords, the marriage mart. Servants to follow you everywhere and respond to your every wish. Reading a delicious Regency is escapism at its finest.
But there is so much more to the time period besides the 1.5 % that held title or property or both. More than anything, Regency is about CHANGE.
And during this time period, the poor were SO POOR. And the wealthy, obscenely so. And the working class started to clamor for change. For freedom. For Rights.
Throughout the time period and into the next, 1820 especially seemed to ring a clarion call around the world. Every continent started to speak out. Every human felt a stirring inside. Maybe. I’d like to think so. All over, society started to change. The American colonies led the way. And the tide of freedom swept the Earth, like a great tsunami, pummeling and destroying oppression while carrying freedom fighters in life rafts over the top of them all. The tide is still rolling out. It hasn’t yet reached some corners, but I hope it will. Because freedom is the gift we are meant to have, not just some of us, but all.
So when I began researching for The Nobleman’s Daughter, I was not surprised to find a large movement among the poorer classes of people in England: A desire to be free. And they started to speak out.
And Regency is credited with some of the events that triggered change. I can’t wait for you to read my book, to learn about things like The Peterloo Massacre. And what effect it had on England.
On my daughter’s Instagram, she wrote, “This world will remember us.”
And I believe her. She is that kind of person.
It begs to ask though, HOW do we go about remembering? Eight decades from now, when I am turning to dust, and her children are too, who is remembering?
One of the greatest joys of writing for me, has been to extend our collective memory. In my research, I always stumble upon things that are just about to slide into the abyss of the forgotten, and I snatch them up just at the edge. I am a historical event magnet or something. And then, as I include them in my stories, their existence in memory is extended. And this gives me joy.
I know there are some things in history we would like to forget, we wish never happened. We would give anything to apply the great eraser and annihilate their existence. But I recognize the danger in this. We must keep talking about history. We must extend our collective memory, even of difficult, embarrassing, or heart tearing things. We owe it to the people who lived through it, and we owe it to ourselves. Else we too have to experience the same.
So, as I begin this author journey with you, take note of the history. It is in great honor and tribute that I include the snippets that I do.
And enjoy the story, cause that was just FUN.
“Father.” Liz tried to reason with him. “His teeth protrude so far forward that he cannot even close his lips around them.” Not the largest of her concerns about his suitability, but one that surely her father would recognize.
Chuckling while he glanced over the ledger on his desk, he responded, “Lizzy, Lizzy. Come now. What is a little awkward teeth placement when you consider his station in life, his holdings, his family. You could live in any of his lovely estates, have every opportunity, every frivolity…”
“All of that, without love or affection would feel like prison. You ask too much.”
“I hope that you will change your mind. Get to know him. You have hardly spoken three words to each other.”
“Which is why I cannot fathom your acceptance of his suit without consulting me, without even knowing him properly.” She leaned forward, palms down on his desk, hoping he would look into her eyes. “He might be cruel, prone to fits of temper.”
At this, the Earl leaned back and laughed. “My dear, he is thin as a rail and short besides. You could squash him like a bug, temper or no.”
“You are not thinking, Father. He could command the household to lock me up. You might never see me again. ‘Oh, she is unwell today.’ They would say. ‘Oh, she couldn’t make it this trip.’ Years could go by, years and you would never speak to me, not knowing if I lived or died.”
He shook his head. “If it wasn’t such a frowned upon profession, I would have encouraged you to be an actress.” He began filling in numbers on a ledger. “I have no time for your theatrics.”
Liz rested her elbows on knees, and held her face in the palms of her hands. Thinking on the last ball, she breathed out in exasperation. The room had been full of handsome gentlemen, kind gentlemen, fun, smart, engaging men; and who did her father accept? Lord Nigel Pinweather. Pinweather. Was she to be Lady Pinweather?
Her father pulled his timepiece from his pocket. “Did I mention he is coming to walk in the park this morning? Should be arriving any moment.”
“Ugh! Father, you did not mention it, no. I would have been completely indisposed had you brought it to my attention.” She stood. “As it is, I feel a headache beginning to pinch between my eyes.” She held the bridge of her nose with two fingers and walked to the door.
Lemming, their Butler stepped in front of the doorway just as she moved to exit.
“Oh, do excuse me, my lady.”
“It’s quite all right, Lemming.” Her father waved him into the room and Liz stepped aside.
“Lord Nigel Pinweather here to see you, my lady.”
She reached a hand out to steady herself on the wall.
Lord Davenport chuckled. “Early riser. As he should be. Lemming, please show him into the morning room.”
“Very good, my lord.”
Liz paced in front of her father. “Must I entertain him? Alone? Where is Mother?”
“Of course your mother will join you, don’t be silly. Your sisters too, I’d imagine. Now, give him just a moment to get settled in there and then pour the man some tea.”
“And we’re to go for a walk?” She craned her neck to see outside, but alas, the birds chirped prettily on a bright and sunny day.
“Come now. Give it a chance, my dear. Who knows but he has a charming personality with a bit of wit to recommend him.”
A full thirty minutes after her first sip of tea, she longed for their promised walk.
Lord Nigel pointed at her with his cup. “And then the swine all ran to the far corner of the yard, chasing the young lad while he yelped and hollered. He sounded like the hounds were after him.” He laughed with deep heaving breaths. “You understand. As if he were on the hunt…” He looked from her to her mother with his eyebrows raised.
Her mother forced a smile.
Liz did not. During his first such account, she had waited for more, for the purpose, but it never came, just his laughter. And a cruel sense of humor. Watching him rock, celebrating his own abysmal humor, she wondered if he noticed no one else cared. Or did he think they were all as enthralled as he?
And his teeth. She did not consider herself so utterly frivolous that his teeth should matter, but his lips could not close properly. Would she ever have to kiss those lips? She brought a handkerchief to her mouth, hiding the slight upheaval and burning in her throat.
Food passed across his mouth, and his tongue couldn’t quite reach to dislodge it. Tea didn’t fully wash it away. She found herself distracted, cringing at a piece of cucumber marring his teeth’s yellow surface. And then a bit of sandwich flung outward and landed on her knee, a crumb. Watching that piece of soggy bread soak into her lovely pink taffeta, she knew Lord Nigel could not be her future. How was one to dislodge bread crumb spittle from her person? And how was one to dislodge a suitor?
She stood. Perhaps if she made herself ridiculous, he would turn away and seek a suit elsewhere. Interrupting his next inane account, she rose. “It is time for our walk, is it not?”
Her mother’s eyebrows rose.
If she had to endure a walk in the park with this man before he would leave, then they had best get started. “Do you not agree, Lord Nigel?” She giggled and snorted, wiping her glove below her nose. She offered the same gloved hand to him.
His smile widened as he clasped her hand in his own. Then he raised his eyebrows twice before bowing. She winced when the weight of his lips pressed into her fingers—those same appendages which had just now been wiping her nose in such an uncouth manner.
Subtlety would not turn him away.
She pulled her hand from his grasp. “Oh come now, we have no need of this romantic gallantry. Let us be off, shall we?” She pulled at his arm, dragging him through the open door and ignoring the raised eyebrows of the footman who scrambled to open it soon enough that they could pass.
“Lady Elizabeth, really.” Her mother’s soft tones of disapproval did nothing to dissuade Liz in her course. She turned to eye her mother with a look of defiance.
Ignoring her mother, she used more force to yank Lord Nigel down the hallway.
“Lady Elizabeth. Such strength. Excellent for bearing sons.” He patted her hand where it gripped his sleeve.
She released him. Bearing sons, indeed. “You are too bold.”
“Am I? I feel it is almost decided between us, is it not? Your father seemed most pleased.”
“I cannot speak for him, but as for myself, I am not decided.”
They waited at the front door for the butler to open it. Her maid fell in behind them. Lord Nigel stepped closer. She couldn’t identify the smell on his breath, but, so strong it was, she tasted it on her tongue.
He placed a hand at her elbow. “A proper courtship would be dull, would it not, if I could not spend my efforts convincing you? Turning your heart to mine?” He squeezed her arm and gave it a little shake.
She returned her eyes to his face. “Hmm. I am unprepared for such an effort in my behalf. I do believe you might be better served focusing elsewhere?” There, she’d said it. Perhaps he would desist without her father knowing she’d been the cause.
“Naturally you are unprepared. But I am happy to step in to help, as they say, prepare you.” He raised his eyebrows a couple times and leaned forward, teeth first toward her own mouth.
She yelped and stepped back, bumping against the wall behind her.
“Yes, My Lady.” He entered the hallway from their drawing room.
“We are ready to be off to the park.”
“Very good.” His eyes held sympathy. Then he straightened his jacket, stepped forward and opened the door.
Liz stomped into the house, threw her bonnet at Lemming and would have shouted to the walls if she hadn’t first heard laughter from her father’s study. And her name. She stepped closer.
“But she must go through with it. How can you be sure she will marry the idiot?”
“She will. Has no choice, really.” Her father’s voice sounded strange, giddy, desperate even.
Laughter carried out into the hallway with the sounds of clinking glasses together.
“Lord Pinweather will make up for any grief you hear from her. Padding your pockets, he is.”
Liz fisted her hands.
“Nigel’s father made the whole arrangement quite lucrative, not even requiring half what I would offer in dowry. But I’d never force her like this, you know, if we weren’t in such a bind.”
“Ol’ Horace wants his money, that’s all. And now we’re gonna give it to him.”
Tinkling of glasses followed her as she ran down the hall and up the stairs, straight for her mother’s sitting room. She burst in unannounced. “Mother, you cannot let Father go through with this.”
Her mother frowned. “Leave, and come back in with more decorum. We have not raised you to be the harridan you appear at the moment.”
Sighing, she turned and waited at the entrance to the room.
“Hello Liz, won’t you come in?”
Stomping, she came forward in a flurry. “Father is being compensated for my marriage to Lord Nigel. I am part of some sort of business deal.”
She waited for the shock, the denial, the worry, any expression to cross her mother’s smooth features.
“Every marriage is a business deal of some sort.”
Liz’s mouth opened. “How can you say that? Was yours?”
Her mother waved the idea away. “Of a sort, yes. Your father met with mine and they arranged the financial details.”
“Yes, I know all that, but this is worse. They were laughing and patting each other on the back about it. Calling Lord Nigel an idiot even. Father wants me to marry an idiot?”
Her lips pursed and her brow wrinkled. “You were eavesdropping on your father?
“Mother, this is my life! Surely you can reason with him. I don’t want to be tied in marriage to a man my own father does not respect.”
For a moment, her mother’s eyes showed compassion, and she said, “Come here, dear.”
Leaning in, she hugged her mother. “You will speak to him, won’t you?”
“I will not.”