“Where was I?”
“You were in the Straits of Magellan I believe,” she offered helpfully.
“Indeed I was. Well, we were crushed by a giant whale. The ship splintered to pieces under the mighty thrash of its tail and we were cast ashore on a desolate island with naught but penguins to eat. Then a pirate ship hove by, captured us and made us swab their decks until we reached Santiago….Ouch!” Will stopped as she pinched him with both hands on the inside of his arm. She had sharp fingers even through the wool of his coat.
“The whale I might believe. I could believe being forced to eat penguins, whatever those might be, but capture by pirates is too much! Particularly as Santiago is not a sea port.”
He winked at her and she glared. “Penguins are birds. They waddle about like very stout chickens. They cannot fly and they look a bit like clergymen,” He clapped his fingers over hers to forestall another pinch. “I swear it. It’s the plumage, like a black frockcoat with a white stock. And they are very upright when they walk.”
“Are they pleasant to eat?” She tugged his arm to turn them right at the next street.
“Not particularly. The meat is very fishy and extremely oily.”
“Now perhaps you can tell me what actually happened.”
Last year’s National Novel Writing Month project was science fiction. This year I tried historical romance, because I had about 8000 words of one sitting around from a project earlier in the year. Last year, I finished. This year I got to about 47,000 words (“finished” is 50K or more).
The genesis of the project was a different online writing challenge, back in the spring, to do the first four chapters of a historical romance off of prompts (winner gets a provisional publishing contract with one of the mainstream genre publishers). Something like: Lady Felicity goes to Lady Whipple’s ball and meets Maxwell Trent who has been absent from London for ten years, and there’s supposed to be a secret and a waltz or something. You write a chapter, then the judges (romance editors, as I recall) pick the one they like best. Now here’s wacky part (for me). Everyone else in the contest has to pick up the story with the winning chapters characters and plot and write to the next prompts (a kiss, a balloon ride, a duel, whatevs). I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to write anyone else’s characters and if I’d won (which I didn’t) I would have probably wigged out at someone else writing “my” characters.
But I enjoyed creating my one chapter. I didn’t like any of the prompted names (Whipple? Really? Maxwell? Please…) and the early 19th century London aristocratic party is so tired. Hell, the entire Regency is tired. I like me a regency romance. I still re-read Georgette Heyer and Mary Balogh’s weirdly modern spin on the genre, but it has been done so much, with such uneven quality. And everyone is a goddamn Duke or Earl. Here’s the thing about Dukes. If you look at the genre progenitor, Saint Georgette herself, writing in the early to mid 20th century, she’s sparse with her Dukes. That’s because Dukes in the 19th century were just shy of a reigning title and in parts of Europe they still were. You didn’t run in to them all that often and for a long time they were basically the bastard or junior offspring of kings (e.g. the Dukes of Richmond or the Dukes of York, who have been the second sons of reigning monarchs since at least the Georges). I think by the 18th century you saw some rank inflation and people got to be Dukes for doing stuff like winning the Napoleonic Wars.
In any event, the prompted hero was a bloody Duke. So I had to come up with a way to make him a Duke without getting too real with it. So I had him spending the last ten years traveling North America and facetiously call him the Duke of the Hudson. But the most fun I had was setting it the story in 1852, about forty years after the classic Regency setting. It means I could talk about different cuts of clothing, for one thing. Hoop skirts! (Later I discovered that really crazy hoop skirts didn’t really come into use until about 1856, which was a bit of a disappointment.) I wrote my chapter, created my characters and their relationship, did not advance in the contest and didn’t think much more about it (although my sister was kind enough to read the chapter and express a desire for more).
November rolls around. All my other projects are dead in the water, in various ways, for various reasons, but I figured having a defined structure (NaNoWriMo’s cute little daily word graph, for example), would be good, so I floundered back into my novel. It was a bit of a cold start to the engine and I spent a chunk of time doing research. I’ve studied enough English history in my life (most of it voluntarily) to have a basic understanding of what things were happening when, but I haven’t spent a lot of time contemplating the golden age of Victorian Imperialism. I figured since the British Empire was so massive, I could have my characters hangout in different parts of the world. Which was a bit challenging, because I had to figure out enough of what was going on in Asia, South Africa, and Canada so as not to offend my own sense of historical accuracy. And I had to deal with the fact that historical romances of this sort are either about privilege blind white imperialists benefiting from the spoils of genocidal resource extraction, or they’re really weird, ahistorical, and fetishistic mixed race relationships. I don’t know that I was able to resolve that basic problem, but I wasn’t looking to take on the whole genre. It was much easier researching railroads and fashion. Because in the Victorian era they had trains! It totally changes up the dynamic of travel not to have everyone banging around in a closed carriage (I don’t mean vernacular banging, although I’ve seen that scene written).
I also got to change the protagonists’ names (bye Felicity!) and create family trees and a complete cast of supporting characters, which is always one of my favorite parts of writing fiction. I puttered around for most of November. I had a couple of job interviews in there, and Thanksgiving happened. November 30 was also the two year anniversary of the death of my last job, so I get my tail in a twist and want to give everyone the finger anyway. Then I had a great burst of productivity after the first of December and wrote like 10,000 words in a week. I got through the big chunks that I had blocked out previously. Then I had a week where I found out I did not get two different jobs I applied for.
Finally there was last weekend when I had a birthday party for one of my kids (at A Venue, a set up guaranteed to bring out my worst neuroses), the spouse’s annual work party, and a very enjoyable Hanukkah party hosted by an old friend, where I was sure all of the people were nicer and more high functioning than myself, and that their children were better behaved. By Monday morning I was unwilling to do anything but huddle in my kitchen wearing a down coat and finish the novel. So I did. I’m not sure how many words I wrote that day, but it finished out at about 75,000. My characters get a happy ending. I got a copy out to a beta reader. I’ll fuss with it and edit it for a while. I’ll pitch it to agents, who will ignore it. It will probably end up in the same bizarre limbo as my three other finished projects are: endless incubating until I decide to self-publish. But Done is Good.