After nine years of hard work
is now here!
Hardcover coming soon!
After the death of her father, Abbie Gray finds herself the recipient of an offer to assume a place within her wealthy landlord’s family. She’s sceptical of the motivation behind such an extraordinary invitation, but having nowhere else to go, she accepts, though reluctantly. While she is being groomed according to the ideals of society and of the eldest son, heir to title and fortune, the younger brothers, suspicious of her motives, attempt to expose her as a mercenary and an upstart. But when they discover that her mysterious past is disturbingly connected with their own, they are brought to reconsider. David, the elder of the two, is forced to ask himself some very hard questions about integrity, liberty and honor, and what it means to be worthy of the title “gentleman”.
Of Moths & Butterflies is FREE
this weekend only!
Grab your copy quick!
A Classic Companion by A Lady
Katherine grew naturally into a handsome, intelligent and truly generous young woman, drawing from her aunt’s strength of character—and her late uncle’s sorry lack of it.
And so begins Lady A~’s exquisitely written Austen-esque masterpiece, Merits and Mercenaries. It isn’t very often I’m completely absorbed in a book. So absorbed that I go to bed thinking about the story’s many layered conflict, and dreaming about the characters, planning and plotting in their behalf, trying to sort out in my head just where the story might go, and all the seemingly impossible obstacles that must be overcome to get it there. It was just that way for me as I read this wonderful book.
This was just a superbly written, cleverly concocted, shining example of what Historical Fiction ought be but rarely is. Here were no attempts to modernise the heroine, or even the conflicts of the story. So much of what motivated and concerned humanity two hundred years ago, motivates and concerns us today. On the other hand, here was no overwrought attempt to recreate Austen-esque literature. It was certainly recreated, but the product could hardly be called overwrought. The narrative was natural and flowing and the dialogue absolutely sparkling with wit and charm. The author never once talks over our heads, and when she fears a question may arise, she cleverly refers us to annotations kindly included in the back of the text. This is a welcome embrace to fellow fans of Jane Austen, and, too, of Literary Historical Fiction, as well.
I like complex plots; I yearn for them. I like big, thick books with rich characters that are engaging and compulsively followable. This book gave me both, but in a way I found cleverly deceptive. The conflict was simple. A young woman, Katherine, is taken to the country by her guardian aunt, in the hopes of presenting her with some new prospects for marriage. Of course Katherine is naive to her motivations and goes about her life, adjusting, albeit reluctantly, to the countryside. In Hampshire we are introduced to country society, among them potential friends, some worthy, others not so much. Here among them as well are one or two—or perhaps four—potential suitors. It isn’t a grand mystery for whom Katherine is intended, but the hero is engaged to another. And it’s an unbreakable commitment, assigned to him upon his father’s deathbed. What are two people in love to do? Save, of course, to resign themselves to their unhappy fates. But it isn’t the hero’s prior commitments alone that stand in the way of our dear Katherine’s happiness, for an intricate web of deceit and interference is slowly woven to ensure that Katherine does not prove an irresistible temptation to our would-be hero. For he simply must marry as he has been charged to do. Mustn’t he?
And so we are guided, led, drawn, through each and every page, as if the author were leading us on a long walk, on a warm spring day, on our very first journey through Holland Park, where some new bit of scenery, an unexpected but always pleasant surprise, awaits us at every turn. I look forward with great pleasure—with anticipation—for Lady A~’s next work.
To find out more about the author, please do visit her at:
And please, do get a copy of your own. You won’t regret it!
Merits and Mercenaries is available at these online retailers:
As some of you may know, Of Moths & Butterflies was recently reviewed by the lovely Mirella Patzer. I was not only extremely pleased by her kind praise of my debut novel, but I was really honoured to be noticed by Mirella, for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration. As if her magnificent review wasn’t enough, she also tagged me to take part in this little Lucky 7 game that’s going around, where authors are chosen to share seven lines from their current work in progress. The timing could be better, for I return this week to working on Cry of the Peacock. It’s about time, too, as the publication date, October 2012, looms before me.
The contest rules are:
He spoke of piazzas and Palazzi and basilicas until it was all a blur of incomprehensible language. Antiquities, gallerias and musei littered the air and now and then he would drop into Latin or Italian—she was not always quite sure which was which—as his mother nodded and smiled and offered the perfectly placed “I see” whenever it was convenient.
“It sounds as though you had quite a time,” she said when it seemed he had at last finished.
“Yes,” he answered. “If I had not to drag James around to see the sights- At least his idea of sightseeing was somewhat different than mine,” and he darted a telling glance in Abbie’s direction…
Now to tag seven authors whose works I have both read and love. I hope they’ll be able to participate, but considering how busy some of these wonderful people are, I’ll excuse them if they cannot. Do check out their blogs anyway. They’re definitely worth a look.
Arthur Tremonton is a man of wealth and property, yet cursed from birth to live without sight.
Zachary Goodfellow is a young man raised in poverty, once blind, now deaf.
These two, though worlds apart in station and circumstance, have more in common than one might suppose. Not the least of which is the mutual acquaintance of Rebecca Adair, a young woman with an unusual gift, and the wisdom to know that the lack of physical sight is only one of many obstacles which might prevent a man from truly seeing.
Faced with the choice between seeing clearly and seeing truly, which would you choose? Rebecca intends to ask the question of them, but in order to do that, they must be persuaded to meet. Pride, vanity, fear, these prevent them from seeing what they might do for each other, what they might be to one another, if only they would open their eyes.
What would you sacrifice for the gift of sight? What, in fact, does it truly mean to be Blind?
And don’t forget!
In the series on Flawed Heroines, I’ve chosen to go last. Not strategically, so I might benefit from the windfall of readers my wonderful writing buddies have brought to my website (Thank you!) but because I’ve really been avoiding it. I know it must be done, but Imogen’s flaws are very personal. I have received some criticism that her reactions to certain events in her story are overwrought and too drawn out. Before I defend her, let me tell you her story.
When Imogen’s mother died from cholera, she was sent to live with an uncle, despite the fact that her aunt was her godmother. Drake Everard was very wealthy. He had worked in finance, in banking and then investments. And then he began to dabble in personal loans. To be honest I borrowed him from Dickens’ Ralph Nickleby, prurient tendencies included. Like Mr. Nickleby, Everard’s beautiful niece served as some enticement to keep the young and fast set coming to borrow money from him. It was not his intention that he should offer her as merchandise, but there was an unspoken understanding that some favoured patron might win her particular attention. One young man took the challenge, and finding an opportunity one afternoon, when the moneylender had gone out, took advantage of a moment alone with her.
I suppose one must also understand a bit about the education of women of the time. A woman was meant to be pure and innocent, she knew little if anything about the ways of men and women. If she was fortunate enough to have grown up on a farm, then she might have witnessed for herself the reproductive ways of the common beast. Not that this would have served as any admirable example to her own mode of conduct when she found herself so circumstanced as to engage in such activities. Imogen was not raised on a farm, but in colonial India with an absent father, and then in London, with her uncle. She understood that if she made herself appealing, she might have a way out of her uncle’s house. He was not opposed to making his own impositions on her, though he never carried these out to their foulest ends. She knew, at least hoped, that by using some charm and a little feminine encouragement, she might win herself a husband. What she did not understand is how easily a gentleman, and a young one with few principles (he was given to borrow money, after all) might be persuaded to take a little more than encouragement and a little less than marriage. This very sudden awakening to the ways of men and the world is part of Imogen’s trouble.
Another contributing factor is the fact that, upon her uncle’s death (which she deems her fault, as it happened when she was trying to resist him) he bestowed her with the entirety of his fortune. This, she deems, is a way of remunerating her for services rendered. She may be spoiled, damaged goods, but she is not a prostitute and she still has some hope of earning a respectable life. If you’re wondering, yes, I did borrow from Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. In fact the story haunted me so I had to try my hand at rewriting her story.
Another thing that must be considered is the fate of a young woman with money. And money, particularly, that others might get at, and feel they have a right to. Her ability to trust has been shattered. She might not ever gain it back. What hope has she of finding someone who would love her for herself and not for a sheer desire to get at the money that would come with her? And if they did, could she tell them about her past? She might keep the secret, but she knows that others know it. It might be revealed at any time, at which point she’d be ruined. But, like Tess, she is a woman of fatal honesty. She will not misrepresent herself.
So Imogen runs away, and, like Tess, tries to work her way to penance, to carve away a little place in life where she can live quietly and respectably, below the notice of others. But of course, being pretty, and having been raised in something of a genteel fashion, her condescension to the station of a housemaid is somewhat apparent. At least she becomes a curiosity and her employer, and his young nephew, take notice.
All of these things conspire against her when her marriage is arranged, yes, for a fortune. What would you do under such circumstances? The guy may be drop dead delicious, that doesn’t mean you would automatically place your heart in his hands ten minutes after he had bought it. Does it?
I probably needn’t say that my marriage wasn’t arranged. I probably needn’t say I did not inherit an immense fortune, or ran from it or hired myself out as a servant in a large country house. But I did go into marriage with some of Imogen’s issues. And I know from experience how difficult it was to trust, even though I knew my husband to be a good man (which is why I married him). I still had to deal with those issues. And there were rage issues too I had not expected. One minute I would be just fine and the next I thought I would explode. Imogen didn’t have the benefit of counseling or therapy. She didn’t have modern mores to say that a woman going into marriage unblemished was the norm rather than the exception. She had guilt, she had self loathing, she had anger. And a lot of it.
So, despite the injuries imposed upon her, despite her nearly fatalistic need for independence, Imogen’s greatest flaw is the hatred and loathing she bears for herself. How does one overcome it? It can’t be done through another. Her husband may adore her, but that means nothing considering how their union has come about, the deceptions he necessarily engaged in, or that others did in his behalf, in order to bring the marriage about. Not when he has bought her. Not when he has a right at any time to demand of her what Lionel Osborne did, and in any fashion he may like, for she is as surely property to him as the money that came with her. Only that isn’t quite right, because there is another complication in the mix in the way of his uncle, upon whom he is dependent, and toward whom he is indebted. And so, quite understandably (at least to my mind) it takes her a long time to learn that her happiness is in her own hands and no one else has that responsibility. That, despite whatever obstacles might have been placed before her, happiness is ultimately a choice she alone must make for herself. Perhaps it takes her longer than it should. But that is the very point I wished to make.
Perhaps I’m alone in my reaction to my own circumstances. I don’t believe so. And if Imogen gives one other person in this world a reason to hope, there is nothing more I could ask for. It will have been enough.
V.R. Christensen attended Brigham Young University, Idaho, where she earned a degree in Interior Design, while, at the same time studying English Literature, Art History and Sociology. When she is not writing, she is designing impractical clothing, redecorating her historical homes, or making impossible demands of her husband of seventeen years. She travels a great deal and considers herself a citizen of the world.
Currently, V.R. makes her home in Appalachian Virginia, where she lives with her three children, seven cats and a dog named Jasper.
V.R. is a member of Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, Past Times Books, Authors Anon and Literary Underground, all of which are aimed at ensuring that the publishing revolution now upon us produces some of the finest work available to the reading public–and makes it available.
from The Scattered Proud
by Gev Sweeney
We like to joke about obsession and blame obsessive-compulsive disorder for everything as destructive as drinking too much to the less damaging, if mildly annoying, twisting of a lock of hair around a finger (my trademark stress reliever). But while obsession is a flaw, it can also be a catalyst for hope, if not outright salvation. Janet Watters, the young heroine of The Scattered Proud, is as messy as a character can get without being addicted to alcohol or any other misuse-able medicinal in vogue in America at the end of the 18th century. Though her obsession can’t be seen and is something she hides from others, it governs her life and the lives of those around her.
Janet has been born into a time when people live close to the notion and reality of death and regard it as a necessary, if disquieting, fact of life that compels them to think about their purpose on earth and what will become of them after they die. Their solace – and, often, the foundation of their life’s purpose – is religion, in this case the Episcopal Church. Janet’s widowed father, a successful and respected lawyer, is on the vestry of St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia, and has cultivated a circle of influential friends that include the church’s rector and his family. Though Janet is 13 when the story opens, she’s still a very much a little girl, subject to the dictates of her parent and the adults around her. But she has no child’s sense of fun or desire to explore the world. She magnifies what should be a child’s ordinary lot in life into a continuous exercise in dread. She can’t do anything or go anywhere without thinking something dreadful is going to happen to her. And, in an age when girls are raised to become wives and mothers, she disparages herself as unwanted, and foresees a future as a lonely spinster.
Instead of turning to religion for solace or security, she gleans comfort from the presence of Kit DeWaere, the rector’s kindly, understated son who is sometimes the victim of his father’s self-importance. Kit believes that doing little or nothing to help people would be an abuse of God’s trust in humanity. Incited by a sense of servicehood that wavers between humility and hubris, he surrounds himself with people who, like Janet, are flawed: the beautiful but self-absorbed escapee from the French Revolution who becomes his wife; the mentally handicapped toddlers of the orphanage that houses the secret Episcopal mission he leads in late Revolutionary Paris; the victimized wife and son of a former political prisoner, whose attempts to survive have an unlikely connection to Bonaparte’s coup d’etat of November 1799.
Kit himself is flawed. He doesn’t know his own limits. He acts expecting the best because he’s doing his best, as he thinks God intended, but his good intentions go awry. As the vicar of the church’s mission in Paris, he tells Janet, who’s been brought against her will to work at the mission: “We all have only one destination, just as we all have only one journey. Everything that befalls us on the road is another blow from the Great Sculptor’s metaphysical mallet. It’s not a matter of how the blow shapes us, but how we choose to interpret and withstand the blow. Do we allow ourselves to be shattered in pieces, like the proverbial earthen vessel, or do we embrace our circumstances, taking heart from knowing their true source?”
But when Kit’s pregnant wife leaves him, he shows none of the strength his words imply and becomes warped by unspoken despondency. It’s not his counsel that resonates with Janet. What resounds is her disappointment in him, and her eventual guilt at that disappointment:
I conceded to myself that I was glad to leave Kit behind [in Paris]. He had exposed himself as one of those people who spout great thoughts and noble acts when all is well, yet crumble under difficulties that demand them to exemplify their own teaching. I conceded but could not believe. I was equally certain that Kit’s decline was no mere deficiency of character. It was the creeping decay of self that comes from knowing one has not merely made a mistake, but has lived for a long time thinking all was well. I remembered how, so many years before, he had spoken to me about man’s responsibility to use his intellect. Somehow, since then, his own intellect had failed to discern anything about his wife to foretell a withered marriage. He did not know how to live with either himself or the consequences of his error. I should have taken him aside and reminded him what he had said about the Great Sculptor’s metaphysical mallet. (…) But I said nothing. And because I said nothing, I fall asleep at night wondering how different everything could be.
Kit’s decline is a turning point for Janet. Though she says, “I could do no more than await the further lessening of Kit DeWaere, a collapse I never could have imagined, not even in a fevered dream,” she does indeed do more. She continues to dwell upon him. His name and image pervade her interactions with the family who, on Kit’s behest, took her in after her father died, and with George Frederick Cunliffe, the haughty, handsome priest sent to Paris as Kit’s assistant. From obsession comes strength. When Janet and Kit become trapped in political machinations that never should have been their concern, Kit’s fate gives Janet a fresh reason for being. The once-scared, self-castigating child becomes something she never could have imagined of herself: a woman in love with life and the world.
Gev Sweeney has been telling tales since sixth grade, when she was caught daydreaming about a failed jungle expedition. She grew up to become a journalist who did everything from getting caught in a riot to shooting a Brown Bess (not during the riot). She advocates historic authenticity in fiction, but forgives Shakespeare for all those horrid anachronisms in Julius Caesar. She lives at the Jersey Shore with her guinea pigs, Auden and Philip Baby-Boar.
by M. Louisa Locke
When I was asked to write about flawed heroines, I immediately thought of Annie Fuller, the main protagonist in my two cozy Victorian mysteries, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits. Annie is a young widow who lives in 1879 San Francisco and supplements her income as a boarding house owner by giving advice as the clairvoyant Madam Sibyl. As befitting cozy mysteries, my characters and plots don’t tend to be too dark, and even my hero (Annie’s romantic interest, lawyer Nate Dawson) isn’t a typical tortured bad boy in need of reform. But Annie does have her weaknesses, and her extreme independence (or perhaps her fear of being dependent) is the most obvious character flaw because it gets her into the greatest difficulties in both books and leads to a kind of recklessness in her behavior.
But as soon as I had that thought, I felt that I had wronged my own creation. How could I call Mrs. Fuller’s fiercely independent spirit a flaw? Wasn’t I just buying into the prevalent nineteenth century view, called by historians the “Cult of True Womanhood,” that said a middle class woman like Mrs. Fuller should be pious, pure, domestic and submissive? Was Annie Fuller truly flawed because she refused to confine herself to the narrow definitions of womanly behavior in that period-particularly the submissive part?
I had consciously made her independent, modeling her on many of the real heroines of the nineteenth century, women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Jane Addams who had challenged the idea that women needed to be dependent and subordinate to men. I purposely gave her a childhood, mirroring the childhood of many of these historic women, that had fostered her sense of competence and equality. Annie Fuller’s mother died when she was young and, as a result, she became very close to her father, who treated her like a son and trained her to develop an extraordinary understanding of business and stock speculation. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for example, had become a surrogate son to her lawyer father when his last remaining male heir died.
And, for Annie, like many of the women’s rights leaders of the nineteenth century, entry into adulthood became a rude awakening and threatened her of sense of confidence and independence. In Annie’s case her crisis came with her marriage to a man who belittled and abused her and eventually destroyed her fortune and left her destitute upon his death. What followed was five humiliating years living off the reluctant charity of her in-laws, a not uncommon fate for widowed women of that time. No wonder economic independence would become so important to her. She worked to achieve that independence when she turned an old San Francisco house she inherited into a boarding house. Then, when that income was insufficient, she created the role of Madam Sibyl and developed a lucrative practice as a clairvoyant, using the expertise she had gotten under her father’s tutelage to dispense business advice.
Not surprisingly, when her economic independence is threatened at the opening of Maids of Misfortune, Annie Fuller is willing to do almost anything to counter that threat, including investigating the death of one of Madam Sibyl’s clients, whose assets, including a bequest to Annie, has gone missing. However, her fierce independence, taken too far, also becomes a weakness. In her single-minded determination to remain economically independent, she acts rashly, not thinking of the consequences of those actions. As a result, in the course of her investigations, people’s freedom, in some cases their very lives, are jeopardized. Yet she refuses to listen to counsel, particularly when given by Nate Dawson, because she sees his actions in the light of the other men in her life who tried to make her submit to their will. She has confused being dependent with being open to help from someone else.
While some readers have grumbled that these struggles between the hero and heroine in my books make Annie too modern, as a professional historian of nineteenth century women, I can assure readers that Annie’s fear of dependence was very common. Some women, Like Susan B. Anthony and Sarah Grimke, refused offers of marriage for that very reason. Others, like Lucy Stone, tried to carve out marriages of equality, changing the marriage vows, keeping their own names. Other women challenged public opinion by winning a divorce, as did Laura de Force Gordon, a minor but real historical character in my second book, Uneasy Spirits.
While Annie Fuller’s independent nature is understandable, it leads to a fear of dependence in Uneasy Spirits that almost proves her undoing. In this, the second book in the series, she not only pushes Nate away because of her fear that she would lose her independence if she married him, but she pushes away all her friends when she feels they might question her decisions. What she achieves is not independence but a growing isolation, which will ultimately result in threats to her own life.
While I have Annie realize some of the ways her behavior has hurt her and others at the end of Uneasy Spirits, I don’t think that the problems she face will go away, particularly regarding her relationship with Nate. Nate Dawson, as a man of his time, thinks of his offer of marriage as gift-giving Annie economic security, protection, respectability, a home and family. By in large her friends, including her female friends, agree with him. Annie, on the other hand, fears that marriage will cause her to lose things, her name, her freedom of action, her work, and, most frightening of all, her independence. Whether these different views of marriage can be reconciled will have to be answered in subsequent books in the series, but you can believe me, as Annie’s creator, I am not going to squash her reckless and independent spirit, because where would be the fun in that!
M. Louisa Locke is a retired professor of U.S. and Women’s History, who has embarked on a second career as an historical fiction writer. The first two published books in her series of historical mysteries set in Victorian San Francisco, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits, are bestsellers in the historical mystery category on Kindle. These books feature Annie Fuller, a boardinghouse owner and clairvoyant, and Nate Dawson, a San Francisco lawyer, who together investigate murders and other crimes, while her short stories, beginning with Dandy Detects, give secondary characters from this series a chance to get involved in their own minor mysteries. Dr. Locke is currently living in San Diego with her husband and assorted animals, where, in addition to these short stories, she is working on Bloody Lessons, the next full-length installment of her Annie Fuller/Nate Dawson series.
Isabella of France
and the soon to be released sequel, The King Must Die
In 1308, Isabella of France married King Edward II of England. She was not yet thirteen. He was twenty-three, a king newly come to his throne. For much of history, Isabella was known as the ‘She-Wolf of France’, an epithet which far from conjures up an admirable picture of her. But it’s not hard to see how she earned the title. She did, after all, go to France in 1325 with the task of negotiating a peace treaty between France and England, take a lover (Roger Mortimer) while there who was a known rebel and traitor to her husband, return to England with him at the head of an invasion force, force the abdication of her husband and then put their son on the throne in his place. Phew! Hmm, and now I’m going to tell you she had redeeming qualities? Flawed? Yes! Heroine? Let me try to convince you.
When I first began writing about Isabella, it was from Edward’s perspective in one of The Bruce Trilogy books, Worth Dying For. I had to learn not just what Edward might have thought about her, but what she was truly like. That led me on a detour and the more I learned about her, the more sympathetic I felt towards her. Their marriage was an arranged one, meant to forge a political alliance between England and France. Four years later, she was pregnant with their first child. They had three more over the next nine years. Eventually, however, Edward’s favoritism towards two men, Piers Gaveston and later Hugh Despenser, strained their marriage irreparably.
For many years, Isabella tried to maintain a harmonious relationship with her husband. But when Hugh Despenser began to assert himself to the point of influencing Edward to give him titles and land, sometimes at Isabella’s expense, things became strained. It reached a breaking point after Roger Mortimer escaped imprisonment in the Tower of London and Isabella, under suspicion, had many restrictions placed on her. For a period of time, she wasn’t permitted to travel, nor could she see her children and her income was reduced to a fraction of its former level. A dutiful wife and diplomat for many years, her back was now up to a wall. Can you imagine being in a position like that? Women back then were expected to do as told and not speak up. Divorce was not an option, either.
So, Isabella took matters into her own hands. She convinced Edward to let her go to France to help with the peace treaty, but once there, she fell deeply in love with Mortimer. He had been married for over 20 years and had twelve children with his wife Joan. But he fell in love with Isabella, too, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to have his own revenge on Edward. All these events unfold in my book Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer. The sequel, The King Must Die, which is due out this April, follows events after Edward II’s abdication. At this stage, she became more avaricious and even a little manipulative, probably in an attempt to maintain her hold on power. But her greatest flaw, her love for Roger Mortimer, eventually proved to be her downfall.
Isabella was a woman ahead of her time. She stood up for herself in an age when women were not supposed to be outspoken and she did what she thought was for the better, however unpopular it may have later proven. Did she do it in the best manner possible? That’s a matter of conjecture. I can’t imagine being in her position, trying to make things work and yet feeling utterly powerless. Without a doubt though, she was a woman of determination and great passion.
N. Gemini Sasson is the author of The Crown in the Heather (The Bruce Trilogy: Book I), Worth Dying For (The Bruce Trilogy: Book II), The Honor Due a King (The Bruce Trilogy: Book III) and Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer (2011 IPPY Silver Medalist for Historical Fiction). She holds a M.S. in Biology from Wright State University where she ran cross country on athletic scholarship. She has worked as an aquatic toxicologist, an environmental engineer, a teacher and a track and cross country coach. A longtime breeder of Australian Shepherds, her articles on bobtail genetics have been translated into seven languages.
Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer is available in paperback and eBook formats. The sequel, The King Must Die, is set for release in April 2012. Gemini is a member of Historical Fiction eBook and Past Times Books, both excellent sources for Historical Fiction of the highest quality. Check them out! You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
(and the others in the Nell Sweeney Mysteries)
by P.B. Ryan
No character that I’ve ever written has generated as much fascination among my readers as the highly flawed, deadly handsome, dangerously charming Will Hewitt. Will is my governess-sleuth’s partner in detection—and love interest, although they dare not speak of it—in the Nell Sweeney historical mysteries, set in post-Civil War Boston.
The black sheep son of Nell’s wealthy employer, Dr. William Hewitt was regarded as the finest battle surgeon in the Union Army before his capture and incarceration at the notorious Andersonville prison camp, where he was reported to have succumbed to dysentery. Four years later, his family is stunned when he turns up alive and accused of a vicious murder he won’t deny having committed. Plagued by survivor guilt and the pain of an old bullet wound in his leg, Will roams the world frequenting high-stakes poker games and back-room opium dens, where he seeks blessed oblivion in the arms of Morphia.
When we meet him in book #1 of the series, Still Life With Murder, Will is deeply damaged inside and out, an addict who walks with a limp and doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. Bloodied from a police interrogation and in the grips of opium withdrawal, he frightens and disgusts Nell—yet she can’t help but be intrigued by his touching protectiveness toward women and his occasional courtesies, which “hint at the gentleman beneath the wretch.”
Despite Will’s shortcomings, I found him totally captivating, but I thought, well, maybe that’s just me. Maybe there’s something twisted in my psyche that makes flawed men appealing to me. So imagine my surprise when, following Still Life’s publication by Berkley Prime Crime in 2003, I was inundated with mail from readers who were just as in love with him as I was. What, I wondered, would make such a seemingly hopeless piece of work attractive to normal, well-adjusted women?
Will’s flaws are both physical and psychological. Let’s start off with the physical: the injured leg. Wounded heroes are nothing new in literature, and I recently discussed their appeal with the noted literary historian Susan Koppelman (who, I’m pleased to report, will be delivering a presentation about the Nell Sweeney mysteries at the upcoming national conference of the Popular Culture Association). If the male is historically considered the dominant partner in a heterosexual relationship—as was certainly the case in pre-20th century settings—then an injury would serve to diminish his physical supremacy, putting him on a more equal standing with the heroine.
Susan tells me this is considered a metaphorical “gelding” of the hero, and that the symbolism is especially pointed when it’s the leg—thought to represent the phallus—that has suffered the injury. Gee, maybe I really am twisted, I thought, since there are three other male protagonists besides Will who’ve limped their way through my books. Maybe I’m subconsciously castrating my heroes. Or maybe a cigar is just a cigar. After all, not all of my wounded heroes had leg injuries. Or so I reassured myself until Susan laughingly reminded me of my medieval romance The Sun and the Moon, in which the hero is a mercenary knight who had a thumb chopped off, after which he couldn’t wield his sword.
Thumb. Sword. Oh, dear.
On the other hand… is a little bit of gelding necessarily such a bad thing? Bear with me here. There’s been speculation among those who study such things that the irritability, hostility, and mood swings that women sometimes experience during PMS are what men experience pretty much all the time. Which, if true, would make women the more emotionally stable and, dare I say it, civilized sex. By chipping away at the hero’s most prominent masculine characteristic—his physical dominance—could it be that we’re not symbolically lowering him to the heroine’s level, but elevating him to it?
The classic hero is strong of mind as well as of body, and more often than not somewhat self-contained. We’ve been brought up to feel that real men don’t bare their souls. But if the heroine can’t penetrate the armor the hero wears around his soul, how can she really know him, much less love him? The answer: create a flaw in the armor, an opening your heroine—and reader—can see into. As Susan Koppelman puts it, “If you think of the hero as a closed container, the only way to know what’s inside it is to wound it.”
Which brings us to William Hewitt’s drug addiction. Judging by hundreds of letters from smitten readers, Will’s dependence on opiates does nothing to diminish his appeal; in fact, it may amp it up. I think this is because a psychological flaw, like a physical flaw, can serve in some cases to level the playing field of the relationship. The hero may pretend to be emotionally invulnerable, but we know better.
With a hero whose problems are mental rather than physical, I think it’s important to at least hint that he’s not completely irredeemable; there’s a reason he is the way he is, and there’s also the potential for recovery. In Will’s case, he started smoking opium to numb the physical pain of his bullet wound, but he persisted in it to deaden memories he couldn’t escape any other way—memories in which his courage and valor failed to prevent his brother’s tragic death. Will’s emotional vulnerability, which he conceals beneath a droll and world-weary façade, tugs at the heart, arousing an instinctive urge to take away the pain that haunts him.
And that brings us to the bottom line: The flawed hero is almost always a fixer-upper. During the course of the story, the heroine often manages to vanquish whatever demons were tormenting him, or even heal his physical wounds, thus restoring the trappings of full manhood—and making him capable of a real relationship. In real life, men who need fixing tend to be Bad News; there are few pursuits as futile as trying to change or improve a loved one. But that’s exactly why such a transformation is so thrilling when a fictional female manages to pull it off. By making the hero a better man, physically and/or emotionally, our heroine triumphs—and the reader closes the book with a smile on her face.
About P.B. Ryan
Pat tapped into her fascination with 19th century urban America to create the Nell Sweeney mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. Set in post-Civil War Boston, the series stars Nell, a young Irish-born governess with a disreputable past that must be kept hidden at all costs. Nell is assisted in her sleuthing by her employer’s black sheep son, William Hewitt. A former Union Army battle surgeon, Will is now a professional gambler who smokes opium to dull the pain of his wounds, both inside and out. The reaction of the series’ fans to the complicated, slowly evolving relationship between Nell and Will (“the beating heart of the series” as one reader put it) delights Pat, who is deeply wrapped up in them herself. The series has been as popular with critics as with readers, and Murder in a Mill Town was chosen as a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award.
Upon getting the rights back to the six Nell Sweeney books (as well as to six novels of medieval romantic suspense written for NAL), Pat published them in digital format. The first book of the series, Still Life With Murder, has made it to the #1 spot on Amazon’s historical mystery bestseller list. In 2010, Pat and fellow author Doranna Durgin launched backlistebooks.com, a showcase of author-published out-of-print ebooks. Once upon a time, Pat worked in the publishing industry as a promotion manager and editor, but she quit her job when she was offered her first publishing contract in 1994, and she’s been spending her days making stuff up ever since.
Visit P.B. Ryan’s website to learn more about her and her work. Her work is available at Amazon and online wherever books are sold. I’m proud to have met Ms. Ryan through Historical Fiction eBooks, where Historical Fiction of the highest quality is brought together in one source. Check them out! You can also follow Ms. Ryan on Twitter and Facebook.