A guest blog by Miranda Davis
First, I should admit up front that things occur most often in my life slowly, ass-backward and in tangents very much like the parenthetical asides I cannot seem to help making. (Like this, see?)
I was a smiley, happy baby, but so slow to walk as an infant that my mother was convinced I had a serious, as-yet-unrecognized handicap. Dr. Slungaard at the Gundersen Clinic insisted, in a swooping, Norwegian accent, ‘No, Missus Han-sen, she’s chust a lay-zee bay-bee.’ (Both were right in their ways, it turns out.) Even today, while everyone else taps out tweets on their iphones and generally stays abreast of the latest technology, I still crawl, eschewing social networks and dragging my antiquated, easy-to-use, dumb cell phone along because I refuse to own any appliance smarter than I am. (I do love my MacBookPro, but it doesn’t rub my nose in its superior processing speed.)
Anyway, it should come as no surprise that I wrote and self-publish my first Regency romance novel late and completely ass-backwards. See, I meant to write a contemporary American romance set in Montana or maybe New Mexico.
The premise: an ambitious, disenchanted female journalist in New York City (always lifestyles assignments, never hard news) takes a leave of absence to investigate a secretive, Aryan, survivalist cult near a one-stoplight town in Montana (or New Mexico). On the highway, she spots a big dog calmly sitting along the roadside, as if waiting for a lift. She stops, he calmly takes the back seat she offers him. She names him Chance. At the closest town to the Aryan enclave, she rents a room from a ‘Yup-Nope’ cowboy type who wear Levi’s just right, is looking for a roommate to share expenses and agrees to the dog.
This town is so out in the middle of nowhere, the townsfolk bet on everything to pass the time and to amuse themselves. The journalist has come along in the middle of the biggest bet of all, one that has divided the populace.
Turns out, Mr. Yup/Nope is a celebrated, ivy-educated, ‘literary’ author who writes dreary, critically acclaimed, Cormac McCarthy-style, absolutely-no-happy-ending novels out on the family ranch where he lives alone. Mr. Y/N has also condescended once too often to the town’s droll barkeeper/mayor/grocery storeowner about her taste for Regency romances. She’s a tough-love, motherly type with a tart tongue. So naturally she bets him that he couldn’t write a decent Regency if his damned life depended upon it.
A man of few words, Mr. Y/N snorts. Of course he can. Until he reads one. Then he starts to sweat it. It’s like a foreign language, for Christ’s sake. He ends up good and blocked. Worse, all the men have bet on him; all the women have bet against him. And everyone wants to know how it’s going…
Not well. So in desperation, he decides he needs a roommate to drive him out of the house to his writing shack. He doesn’t like anyone underfoot, much less trying to carry on inane conversation.
So there he is, posting a Roommate Wanted notice on the grocery’s community corkboard when the journalist blows into town in her BMW, with an incongruous beast in the backseat, looking like an idiot Ralph Lauren version of a western cowgirl. (Why do women with money go and do that? He wonders with no little disgust.) She’s looking for a place to stay that allows dogs, he senses she’s just the sort to send him screaming from his house and out to the shack.
Her first impression of him is equally unflattering. She assumes the handsome hayseed is barely literate, given he answers in monosyllables and cannot write a legible scrawl. Fine with her, she’s not looking for a cornpone pick-up artist…Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom.
Under one roof, he sets the house rules: no fraternizing, no loud music, no poaching food in the fridge, cooking optional. (All fine with her.) Yet, he slowly unbends enough to wheedle advice from the journalist about ‘romance stuff,’ because she admits to liking a good historical romance herself. Chemistry ensues. And danger, yadda yadda. Once Miss Cityslicker settles in, townsfolk also start betting if Mr. Y/N, the local chick magnet, will hook up with her.
I thought it’d be funny to witness the literary hard case trying his hand at penning a Regency romance. Just imagine any man trying to make heads or tails of the conventions of the genre, the hilarious euphemisms, emotional turning points and the happy endings. Now, imagine Ernest Hemingway — in a foul mood — trying it.
There was to be danger, too, as the heroine gets too close for comfort to the cult leader and his swinish son. And all along, the townspeople create ever more mayhem as the betting on his Regency and on their romance gets out of hand.
When Mr. Y/N finally lands on a premise he likes, thanks to the journalist, the people in his life inspire aspects of the plot and the main characters. The barkeeper loves tattoos, especially the ones on her hard-ass, former biker and common-law husband, Duke. (Hence the tattoo and the title.) As Mr. Y/N ponders the story’s plot, he gives the hero his own inchoate feelings as they develop for the journalist roommate. And that’s how we see the burgeoning romance and its snags, first in life, then as he translates them into his novel.
That’s when I realized, I probably ought to write some excerpts from Mr. Yup/Nope’s Regency romance draft to illustrate how art imitates life… Perhaps you can see where I’m heading (backwards).
So I started writing the Regency parts I needed, the opening ‘discovery,’ the stand-off at the teashop, the big dog, and a couple of other things. But I was laughing so hard at the stuff he was coming up with, I decided to finish The Duke’s Tattoo instead.
Suffice it to say, Prudence Haversham is a lot like the business-like journalist. (She’s into Whole Foods and herbal remedies.) Ainsworth is a lot like Mr. Yup/Nope, the cowboy/literary light. (He figured he might as well play the hero in his own story.) The barkeeper has an uncanny understanding of human nature and foibles, a lot like Lady Abingdon. And the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse resemble his friends in town. And of course, he’s got that dog on the ranch, and Chance plays a pivotal role in bringing the two together in the end.
Hey, I thought, maybe it’d be fun to publish this Regency book-from-within-a-book first before the contemporary romance, and then ‘reveal’ in the second story that Miranda Davis was, in fact, this literary cowboy. But while I was finishing The Duke’s Tattoo, I started liking the big, grumpy Lord Clun a lot, and stuff started happening to him, so off I went. On a tangent. Slowly. Ultimately, I decided it’d be more fun to figure out exactly who challenges each of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse the most and why, then make sure they meet. (Link to RHL review of Baron Clun’s story, THE BARON’S BETROTHAL)
For now, I’ll try to write the remaining stories in the Horsemen of the Apocalypse series: His Lordship’s Last Wager and finally, The Viscount’s First Siege (or Losing Battle, not sure which will be the title). After that, who knows what I’ll back into next?
I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org, in case you want to offer some advice. (God knows, I can use it.)
ABOUT MIRANDA DAVIS
Miranda Davis has loved Regency romances since Mr. Darcy won Elizabeth Bennett’s heart. (Not that Miranda is 200 years old.) Miranda’s mother must take responsibility for her daughter’s love of Georgette Heyer.
At various points, she earned degrees from Smith College and Harvard University and worked at everything from scooping ice cream to big-time advertising. When she’s not busy with family along the Old Santa Fe Trail, she’s happily dreaming of Regency England or reading about it. Or knitting. Or working on the next story. (Yes, she’s living the dream, if that dream involves wool cardigans, hunching over a MacBookPro and chuckling fiendishly while typing.)
Another important individual contributes to her efforts. Though he doesn’t read (that the author knows of), her hulking, brown, part-gargoyle dog graciously agreed to appear in her first book, The Duke’s Tattoo, under an assumed name, naturally.
Pending negotiations, he may return for cameos in subsequent novels in this series. Or not. The author will not be extorted by said animal to fork over a large number of chewies to achieve his cooperation.