Difficult Dukes #2 is Recovering from Its Sulks

Willems, Florent Joseph Marie, The Important Response 19th C.jpg

A few readers have contacted me recently, to ask about the second Difficult Dukes book. Those who subscribe to this blog may remember a plaintive post last spring, wherein I lamented the book’s refusal to cooperate with its author.

Matters did not improve.The Duke of Ashmont’s story did not proceed smoothly during the summer and early fall. Oh, I managed to write the first quarter of the book, and there were some good scenes, but something was off. I had no idea what it was, only that every new scene, instead of bubbling up naturally as a result of the scene before, had to be dug out in bits and pieces. And then it still looked ... off.

Here is the thing you learn after 30+ years’ writing professionally: When this kind of creative slowdown goes on for so long, something essential is wrong.

In my case, since what’s essential in my stories is character, it’s always the protagonists who are displeased with my take on their behavior. Unfortunately, they do not offer helpful suggestions or even clues. Instead, they sulk like the immature things they are (thanks to me) until I figure them out.

If I’d written them correctly in the first place, they would be mature and therefore would not sulk and everything would move along at a reasonable speed, always allowing for the periodic, “OK, what happens now?” And as to that, I do have a story arc in mind, but each scene needs to evolve naturally from what went on before. This means the specifics aren’t clear until I get there. And scenes don’t ring true if I don’t truly understand the characters, because the lack of understanding causes them to behave in ways that are not true to them.

Finally, after a series of consultations with my professional team—no, we couldn’t pinpoint the problem immediately; it took some work—we narrowed things down to the heroine. It finally became clear that she had two different personalities going at the same time, and one was wrong. No wonder she was furious with me.

I gave myself a dope slap, went back and revised all the scenes (yes, from page one) ... and lo and behold, the story came alive. At last. At any rate, the hero and heroine seem to have stopped hating me.

Behold me now, chastened, but with confidence restored. I shall do my very best to get this book finished in time for a 2019 publication date. Can’t promise that will happen, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

International Editions from Japan and Romania

One or two of my publishers abroad use the same covers as my U.S. editions. For the most part, however, the various publishers go their own way. Titles change, and the cover art shows a wide variety of aesthetics. Some covers are steamier than others. Some look more modern, some go for a period look, in an array of time periods. Though all my recent books have been set in the 1830s, cover heroes and heroines have been dressed in clothing from the 1700s to the present day. This is the case for my U.S. covers as well, where the clothing is more modern.

I provide as historically accurate a story as I can inside, but the cover needs to appeal to the majority of readers. Many people would not find the actual clothing of my chosen historical period even slightly attractive, let alone sexy. You probably have to be a major fashion history nerd to love it and what it tells us about people of the time. And not all fashion history nerds are crazy about it, either.

But that’s history nerds and the inside of the books. Publishers everywhere are out there to sell books, and international publishers see their job the same way my U.S. publishers do: What’s going to appeal to their readers?

Here we have the Japanese edition of Dukes Prefer Blondes, and the Romanian edition of Don’t Tempt Me.* For comparison, below are other international editions of these books.

*Special thanks to Cristina Radu, for sending the cover art for the Romanian edition of Don’t Tempt Me. Ms. Radu has translated this book as well as Not Quite a Lady and Scandal Wears Satin into Romanian.

Top Row: (Brazil) Dukes Prefer Blondes, (Germany) Dukes Prefer Blondes, (France) Don’t Tempt Me, (Italy) Don’t Tempt Me, (Spain) Don’t Tempt Me

My Musket Training at Colonial Williamsburg

I’d never fired a weapon in my life. The closest I’d come was holding Baron de Berenger's unloaded musket at the Kensington Central Library.

Yet lately three seemed to be a lot of pistols and such in my stories. I watched many videos and read books. What I learned from the books was how difficult it was, once upon a time, to load a gun and then shoot straight. Actually, the loading part, with practice, could be done quickly and efficiently. Shooting straight was another matter. The pinpoint accuracy in my stories is a case of the author taking liberties.

Given my interest, imagine my excitement last November, at an appearance with author Caroline Linden, when she told me that one could fire a black powder weapon at Colonial Williamsburg. Susan Holloway Scott —aka the other Nerdy History Girl—sent me photos of her family's experience with these weapons not long thereafter. “The next time I’m in CW,” I told myself, “I’m doing this.”

So much of history is available to me only through books. When the opportunity comes to experience it firsthand, I’m taking it. If I’m in a place where historically accurate carriages are being driven up and down the street, by knowledgeable drivers, I’m going to get on the carriage, and pester the driver with questions. If there’s shooting with historically accurate weapons and ammunition on offer, I’m shooting.

So, to the guns. The video here is very short. What I learned is very long. I fired two weapons, a musket and a fowler. What you don’t see in the video is Loretta trying to heft them. The musket weighs ten pounds, the fowler is a little bit lighter, and they're both looong, which makes them unwieldy for someone like me. My arms shook, lifting the gun. Then I had to hold it in my shaking arms, sight along the barrel, and figure out where to aim it. Turns out, the ball isn’t going where you think it’s going. Luckily, I got some good advice as I was aiming.

Another thing you don’t see in the video is how hard it is to draw back the cock. It doesn’t just flip back. You need to pull, and it fights you. I had to use two hands. (I do need to work on my upper body strength.)

Meanwhile, there's the loading process, with which I received a great deal of assistance. Otherwise, I could have been there for half an hour for each shot. Soldiers could load their weapons in 15 seconds, I was told. Well, getting shot at by a line of guys firing muskets is good motivation to load quickly.

These are far from accurate weapons. Even when you know how to aim, you can’t be sure the ball will go where it should. This is why armies created lines or squares of men, all firing at the same time. Standing or kneeling shoulder to shoulder, you were bound to strike the enemy, even if it wasn’t the enemy you were aiming at. But yes, in spite of these difficulties, and much to my amazement, I did badly wound a couple of paper bottles.

Video: Loretta Shoots!!
On my YouTube Channel
Readers who receive this blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post or the video title.