For those of you who haven’t had a chance to visit the Borders eReading Blog to read the piece I wrote for them, I’ve decided to post it here. I have a couple more guest spots coming up in the next few weeks, as well, so check back here … I’ll be sure and post the links.
When I encounter people from my past, something that occurs more and more frequently given my fondness for Facebook and Twitter, they are seldom surprised to learn that I have become a writer. When they learn that I write historical romance, though, the reactions are mixed. They range from stunned disbelief to perplexed confusion, and sometimes outright, unabashed laughter. It isn’t the genre itself that causes these reactions; it is the fact that I have chosen it.
I have never been, you see, a shrinking violet. I was (and am) outspoken, somewhat outrageous, and definitely unconventional. My manner of dress could best be described as a cross between an upscale bag lady and an optimistic Wednesday Addams, and I am fond of all things creepy, gloomy, and dark. I have strong opinions, an acerbic sense of humor, and I seldom shy away from speaking my mind.
So why did I choose a genre known for its dashing heroes and sweetly simpering heroines against a backdrop of glittering ballroom flirtations and coquettish looks over afternoon tea? Because, underneath my gray, somewhat sardonic exterior, I’m a lover of English history and an unapologetic sucker for a happy ending.
As you can imagine, when I began to research the Regency period, I was presented with a dilemma. The women of the period were expected to comport themselves in a manner that was the antithesis of everything I believe in. They had no rights of their own, for the most part, and often went from belonging to their fathers to belonging to their husbands with no time for themselves in between. They weren’t, as a general rule, terribly well-educated, though most women in the upper classes were taught important things, like how to gracefully sit a horse and to shake hands with acquaintances without tumbling from the saddle, to play a tune or two on the pianoforte with tolerable skill, and learn a few French phrases that could be strategically, if not always accurately, inserted into polite conversation. How in the world was I going to create a believable heroine that I could actually respect in such a setting?
Enter the Ackerly sisters: Patience, Grace, Faith, Amity, Charity, and Mercy. Six motherless girls with a loving, distracted father, and a rather alarming tendency to get caught up in romantic and dangerous intrigues.
I’d fallen in love with the Regency period years before, and was quite unwilling to give up that setting. Never one to back down from a challenge, I plunked myself across my bed with a spiral notebook and began brainstorming the plot summaries of a four book series. Not only would my heroines be spunky and intelligent, they would also be individuals who were true to themselves in a time when doing so almost certainly led to a life of spinsterhood. And, as if taking a stand for my thus far uncreated characters, I decided to title each book in the series with nothing but the heroine’s name.
Often, when I read a historical romance with a strong female lead, she comes off as strident, or overbearing, or bratty, so I was mindful of that as I moved along with character development. The aptly named Patience, bless her soul, was left with the difficult task of raising her younger sisters after their mother died. And it wasn’t easy. Grace was impulsive and independent, and determined to live her life her way. Faith, two years younger, was more pragmatic and logical … or so she thought before she encountered her hero. Next were the twins, Amity and Charity, who looked exactly alike, but were utterly different in temperament. Charity was confrontational and colorful, while Amity was sweetness and calm personified. And finally there was Mercy, the baby, perpetually petted and spoiled by all, good-natured and charming with an unfortunate tendency to be a tad clumsy and in constant need of rescue.
Once the girls were all in place, I tossed in a few handsome men with enough strength of character to keep this brood of sisters from running all over them, created a despicable villain or four, seasoned it all with some sweet kisses and a dash of Tragic Misunderstanding, gave it a good stir and the Virtue Series was born.
The publishing industry, rather like my female leads, is in a bit of an odd place, historically. The way we have always enjoyed books is evolving, and not everyone is comfortable with the changes. The movement toward eBooks hit me at an awkward time, right in the middle of a series. Grace was published in a time before electronic publishing was mainstream, Faith kind of straddled the bridge, and Charity was born right on the cusp of the change. What this meant for my readers … and for me … was that the series was sort of a hodgepodge of physical books and eBooks for a while there. You couldn’t get Grace as an eBook, Faith existed in both formats, and Charity was only available electronically.
That is, of course, changing now. I’m excited that Grace is going to be joining her sisters in electronic form, and I’m looking forward to Mercy finally getting her chance to emerge from the shadows and dance at her own balls in the coming year. And I’m grateful to my beautiful, strong, independent leading ladies who weren’t afraid to be themselves in a time when most women were relegated to the background. I’m happy to take a page from each of their books, so to speak, and to embrace these steps into the future of writing and publishing.