Regency,  Research,  Risky Book Talk,  Writing

Diane’s Writing Life…and Beowulf & Grendel

I may have mentioned recently finishing Warner book #3, untitled and awaiting a publication date. This is Blake’s story, one of the hero’s friends in The Marriage Bargain. Right when I was tearing out my hair and gnashing my teeth to finish Blake’s story, my copy edits came for Innocence & Impropriety, the story of Rose from A Reputable Rake. I finished those in a record (for me) two days, then had to jump in to the next Mills & Boon, following a character from Innocence & Impropriety. That done, I decided I ought to plot the next Warner book, too, because I’m going to NYC to see my editor this coming Friday (and to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and Beowulf & Grendel in the movie theatre). The next Warner book is Wolfe’s story.

I like to start my books off with something really exciting, a task that gets harder and harder to do, but sometimes turns out to spark ideas for the rest of the plot. I may also have mentioned that story ideas do not exactly flood my brain and keep me awake at night.

For my big bang openings for Harlequin/Mills & Boon I’ve done lovemaking in a gaming hell (hee hee, pardon the pun), a Gretna Green wedding, and an attack in Hyde Park. This time I decided it would be nice to put my hero and heroine in a shipwreck. So I did my usual thing and bought as many books on shipwrecks that I could find and afford.

I bought Shipwrecks of the Revolutionary & Napoleonic Eras by Terence Grocott (1197 Stackpole Books), and Life Before the Mast by Jon E. Lewis, ed.(2001, Castle Books). I already owned A Sea of Words by Dean King (1997, Henry Holt and Co., Inc). And, of course, I tore through whatever I could find on the internet. The shipwreck scene was a lot of fun to write and I hope it comes off sounding real. I also hope my editor approves the story, because now I am dying to write it.

For Warner my big openings have included childbirth, a duel in which the hero is slain, and a tryst with a mysterious French thief (Blake’s story), but I need something very exotic for Wolfe.
I want to begin Wolfe’s story in India, where he will travel to learn about his Indian roots–he’s one quarter Indian and his father is (gasp) in Trade. I’d already collected some books to help: The East India Company by Antony Wild (1999, Harper Collins); Begums, Thugs & White Mughals, the Journals of Fanny Parkes (2002, Eland Publishing); White Mughals: Love & Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India by William Dalrymple (2002, Penquin Books). I found Original Letters from India by Eliza Fay, EM Forster, ed, (1986, Hogarth Press) when I was in Alabama for my High School reunion, and I just bought Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India by Lawrence James (1997, St. Martins Press). But none of these books were giving me my huge opening.

Scouring the internet about India in the nineteenth century, I came across several first hand accounts of sati (or suttee, as it is sometimes spelled), the practice of a wife throwing herself on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband and burning alive. Now that will make a bang up opening! The heroine being forced into the flames when the hero rides to the rescue, snatching her from the consuming fire. I hope my editor loves the idea, because I really am itching to write that scene!

Now, I don’t want you to think I will actually read all of the books I mentioned above. I must keep up my reputation as the world’s worst read romance author. I do read bits of the books, though, unless one really captures my interest and I read every word. I read enough to tell me if my story idea will work and to give me enough knowledge of the topic to at least take a stab at writing it. Then as I write, I go back to the books and the internet and research whatever I need to at that moment. This may not be the most efficient way to do it, but it has worked for me so far.

I keep all my notes on the computer. I copy information from the internet. I might even summarize something from a book. I don’t make a collage for the story, but I do have a page I always call “Names” where I put down the facts and backstory for the main characters. I find a photo to use for my hero and heroine. Quite by accident, the photo I chose for the hero of this next Mills & Boon was one of Gerard Butler, chosen before I became one of the converted and actually knew who he was. For the heroine, I chose Jennifer Connelly, because she looks vulnerable but has strength underneath. For the Warner book, Wolfe is an actor named Adrian Green and the heroine is a beautiful Indian actress named Bridget Monynahan. But forget these images if you prefer to visualize on your own. The books will not be out until 2007 so you have lots of time to forget.

I don’t know when I’ll get the go ahead for the Mills & Boon but I expect to find out about the Warner book and Wolfe this Friday. If my editor doesn’t like it, at least I’ll still get to feast my eyes on another fictional character that night – Beowulf, played by Gerard Butler!

I’ll let you know how it goes next week.

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Cara King
16 years ago

It all sounds fascinating, Diane. And I think if you did read the entirety of every research book you buy, you would be writing far less!

BTW, are you sure Bridget Moynahan is Indian? I thought she was American. (I do tend to confuse her with Michelle Monaghan, but I’m pretty sure they’re both American.)


Diane Perkins
16 years ago

I found Bridget Monynahan in a list of Indian Actresses, but I can’t find the same image again, so I might be totally wrong!

Kalen Hughes
16 years ago

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Kalen Hughes
16 years ago

Ok, it simply will NOT allow me to post a link. Grrrrr.

Diane Perkins
16 years ago

I’m being convinced that the Bridget Monynahan idea is totally wrong. I thought of Aishwarya Rai, but she seemed such a strong personality in Bride & Prejudice that I wanted someone I had no preconceived ideas about. Might change Bridget to Madhuri Dixit or Isha Koppikar. My goodness Indian women are beautiful!
Kalen, you definitely have “the disease” if you ordered some books from my list! I won’t tell you I just bought a biography of Beau Brummell by Ian Kelly……ordered it from Amazon and needed to get up to $25 for free shipping so bought a biography of Caroline Lamb, too. It’s a disease. Do not EVER learn about . It’s fatal

Mallory M Pickerloy
16 years ago

I never heard of those India actresses before, if I seen things on them I didn’t remember who they were. But India women are quite pretty, and a good choice for an heroine. I recall one from Bombay Dreams a bollywood Andrew L. Webber play couple years back…Though I always tend to use Arabic women if going Middle Eastern flavour. Probably cause Harems & belly dancing and bejeweled naked bodies ;)You know I never had used actours or actresses for novels, but, I have a very bad habbit of useing past ancestours from documents and portraits 🙂 But I admit I do have an actour related to the family.

I have to say I so much love ships and pirates, or anything of the sea, I too love researching, and been far too many hours on it.

Megan Frampton
16 years ago

the world’s worst read romance author

I might fight you for that title, Diane. I buy books, read bits and pieces of them (the research books–the fiction I just tear through), and then regard the books with satisfaction as they sit on the shelf.

Like you, I like big bang openings, too. And your new one sounds like a doozy!

Diane Perkins
16 years ago

Mallory, (my “heroine!”)
I googled “Indian actresses” and searched through them for the ones who seemed like my heroine. But “you” are Jennifer Donnelly, and I think she is so beautiful! For those just popping in, my new Mills & Boon heroine, the one in the shipwreck, is Mallory Pickerloy, with Mallory’s permission, of course.

Ha! I still win the prize because I don’t tear through fiction. I mostly buy books and then pile them up and never get to reading them. And I read even fewer books now that I write them. I think it is one of my most abiding faults.

Elena Greene
16 years ago

Fascinating stories, Diane. Especially like the idea about the suttee.

Here’s the link Kalen provided. Hopefully this will work–I use HTML tags in the comment and it usually does.

Aishwarya Rai is lovely and BRIDE AND PREJUDICE is high on my to-see list.


Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

The actress who plays the “Jane” character in B&B is also very lovely! I can’t wait to read about this heroine. 🙂

I have to plead guilty to being a “research whore” as well! I wish I could just skim books and read the bits I need and then move on, but I get sucked in and end up with lots of time-wastage. Sigh.

Keira Soleore
16 years ago

Oee! Gerard Butler is gorgeous as Beowulf. I was bemused at the “lovable” portrayal of Grendel. I guess, Grendel got a makeover for the 21st century; 9th century sensibilities loved a bad monster.

Can you use real live actresses as secondary characters? Like using “Coke” or other trademarked brand names, I would’ve thought this was risky. You could always look for Indian baby names and clobber a first and last name together.

Diane Perkins
16 years ago

Regarding using “live” actors and actresses, I don’t really. I just copy their images to my “file” and then when it comes time to describe them, I have a model to use. Sometimes I change eye and hair color and they always have the names I made up for them. So, except for intelligent people who read Risky Regencies, no one knows who my “models” might be.
The exception is Mallory Pickerloy, whose name I am using for my M&B heroine (who looks like Jennifer Connelly). Mallory has given me permission to use her lovely name!
GB was great in Beowulf & Grendel!

16 years ago

I drove to NY from Virginia to see Beowul and Grendel. I loved it, and Gerard is the perfect inspiration for a hero. At least he is my hero..

Mallory M Pickerloy
16 years ago

I think using actours and actresses are a good idea, especially if it’s Gerard. I did a google search for Jennifer Connelly, I think you made hot choices for the Hero and Heroine’s looks!

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