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THE MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE

“No one does a marriage of convenience like Balogh.”

 This is what Publishers Weekly said of ONLY A PROMISE back in 2015. I was a bit surprised at the time as I hadn’t realized I used the theme often enough to have earned such a comment. But actually I have! To name a few: I used it in THE TEMPORARY WIFE when the hero needed a wife to annoy his matchmaking father, with whom he had a bitter and longstanding feud, and the heroine desperately needed money to support her younger siblings. I used it in SLIGHTLY MARRIED, the first book of the Bedwyn series, when Aidan Bedwyn needed to fulfill a promise to a dying fellow officer to protect his sister and the sister needed a husband in a hurry so that she would not lose her inheritance and find herself unable to support her adopted children. I used it in FIRST COMES MARRIAGE, Book 1 of the Huxtable series, when the heroine dearly wanted to save her eldest sister from having to marry the hero and offered herself instead. I used it in THE ARRANGEMENT, Book 2 of the Survivors’ Club series, when the blind hero offered marriage to a young woman who was newly homeless and destitute aa a result of saving him from the matchmaking schemes of her aunt and cousin. There are more–my very first book, A MASKED DECEPTION, for example!

Once I realized that I did indeed write marriage of convenience stories with fair regularity, I asked myself why. There are actually a few  reasons.

For one, it is a way of getting the hero and heroine married early in the story so that the rest of the book can contain all the intimacies of their growing relationship without the restrictions that would otherwise be imposed upon them. I don’t have to contrive ways to bring them together in almost every scene. They live together! My books are almost all set in early 19thcentury Regency Britain when young ladies in particular did not have the freedom of movement and the privacy we take for granted today. Finding realistic reasons for them to be alone with their heroes, especially in ways that give time and opportunity for intimacy (even if only a kiss!), can be challenging. If the couple is married, then they can be alone together as often as they like (or as often as I want them to be).

Another reason is that the marriage of convenience is by its very nature contracted for reasons other than love. The couple has agreed to marry, but they have low or at best restricted expectations of the marriage. The most they can hope for is mutual respect and maybe some affection, though they do not always expect even that much. Sometimes they do not even like each other particularly well when they agree to marry. Occasionally they actively dislike each other, as in A CHRISTMAS PROMISE, for example. In almost all instances they do not know each other at all well at the start and have no great expectation that that will change. However, there is sometimes the misunderstanding among readers that a marriage of convenience must also be a sexless marriage. That is rarely the case. I think it is safe to say that it is never so in my books (I could be wrong—that has happened a time or two in my life). It not realistic. Historically at least, marriage was for procreation, and procreation does not happen without sex. To wander off along a slight tanget, I’ll mention another common misconception here. The plot of some stories rests upon the erroneous belief that the non-consummation of a marriage constituted grounds for an annulment. It did not! I believed so myself until a lawyer set me right.

I began the last paragraph by saying that I write marriage of convenience stories because such marriages are contracted for reasons other than love. That may not sound too logical coming from someone who writes love stories. But it is super-logical to me! When I marry a couple off early and get them in close proximity to each other and in close conflict with each other, amazing things happen, and I get to orchestrate those things. I can show the hero and heroine gradually getting to know each other, to respect each other, to like each other, to fall in love, to love with their whole hearts and souls. I can show them healing their own deepest pain and each other’s. I can even show them arguing and fighting! The marriage of convenience gives me all the opportunity I need to delve deep into character and explore a love relationship as it grows, often messily, and eventually deepens.

I do indeed write love stories. I would not write any other kind. Marriages in my books may start off as a convenience, but they always end up as deep love matches.

To one person who leaves a comment below by Tuesday, November 27,  I will send a signed copy of the two-in-one edition of THE TEMPORARY WIFE/A PROMISE OF SPRING or ONLY  A PROMISE (winner’s choice), all of which are marriage of convenience stories. Goodness, I really have written  a lot of them.

[The winner is Beverly Holmes]

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THE PROBLEM WITH HEROINES

Creating heroines of historical romances is not an easy thing for an author. I often think of it as being a bit like a tightrope walk. On the one hand readers want to be able to admire and identify with the heroine of the book they are reading. They want a strong, assertive, independent woman who can stand alone if need be and does not have to cling to her man for either support or protection. On the other hand, they surely want heroines who are historically believable. Women of Regency England were very different in almost every respect from women of the 21stcentury. Legally they weren’t even persons. They were chattel. Almost invariably they belonged to some man as his possession. They had very little freedom and very little opportunity to develop their full potential. Their education was for the most part severely restricted. Their choices when they grew up were even more so. How on earth can they be admired and identified with as heroines by readers today?

Well, fortunately we can see how writers of the time handled the problem. Jane Austen, who wrote in the Regency era, and Charlotte Bronte, who wrote in Victorian times, did not write historical novels. They wrote contemporaries. They knew first-hand what they were talking about. And both managed to create heroines who were true to the times but still admirable to us all these years later. Jane Austen gave us Elizabeth Bennett among others, and Charlotte Bronte gave us Jane Eyre, both of them fictional heroines who drew power to themselves by daring to stand alone when they might have chosen to be safe and dependent. Yet neither of them was a real rebel. Neither did anything that any other woman of their times might not have done. Theirs was a strength of character and a self-respect that transcended all else, even personal comfort and the prospect of happiness. Elizabeth refused marriage offers from both Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy even though the alternative seemed to be a future of dreary spinsterhood and near-poverty. Jane refused to be Mr. Rochester’s mistress when it was discovered—at the altar on their wedding day—that he already had a wife and could not marry her. She did it even though she knew he loved her passionately and would have been forever true to her. She walked away and risked destitution rather than compromise with her moral values. Austen and Bronte are like a beacon of hope to authors of historical romance, like me.

My reading suggests to me that a number of writers of  historical romance (though not all, I hasten to add!) try to suggest strength in their heroines by giving them characteristics that might be common and admirable now but make them stick out like a sore thumb in their historical setting. How many feisty (a word I hate) heroines do we meet in historicals? I have encountered a number of Regency misses who defy all the rules of genteel society by striding off alone to take on the world. It very rarely works (in my judgment anyway) because it is not remotely realistic. I remember once reading a story of two young women, one of them the daughter of an earl, who went to London alone together to find jobs, which they did. By day they worked. By night they attended all the most exclusive of the ton balls and parties, and of course each got her aristocratic man in the end. Parents, sponsors, chaperones, official presentations at court, invitations, etc. etc. Where were they? They certainly made no appearance in that story. I read another in which the heroine swore so foully and so unceasingly as she strode out into her own life that even if she had been a contemporary heroine I would have wanted to wash her mouth out with soap. Yet the hero was enchanted. He thought she was cute. Huh? When I read a story set in Regency England, I want to be swept off into that world, not straight back into my own. When I write one, I want to get it as accurate for its historical time as I can possibly make it—which does not mean, by the way, that I always get it right! I have been known to make an error or three of historical fact. But I do try.

My heroines run the gamut of human types. They can be quiet and dignified (Lauren Edgeworth in A SUMMER TO REMEMBER), talkative and klutzy (Cora Downes in THE FAMOUS HEROINE), reclusive and socially awkward (Wren Heyden in SOMEONE TO WED), fierce and bold (Freyja Bedwyn in SLIGHTLY SCANDALOUS) strait-laced and bookish (Mary Gregg in THE NOTORIOUS RAKE), widows determined to find love on their own terms (Hannah Reid in A SECRET AFFAIR),  prostitutes trying to find their way back to respectability (Viola Thornhill in NO MAN’S MISTRESS) women deeply wounded by sexual assault and a resulting single parenthood (Anne Jewell in SIMPLY LOVE), aging spinsters who live with an acceptance of loneliness and the dull circumstances in which they find themselves (Dora Debbins in ONLY BELOVED)….and so on. Nevertheless, I try very hard to do the same two things with all of my heroines. First, I try to make them into strong women who can deal with their own lives and who can, if necessary, stand alone at the end of their stories even though they are not called upon to do so—they are, after all, the heroines of love stories. The love in which they share at the end is never a dependent thing. It is a shared passion at which the hero and heroine arrive from a position of equal strength. Second, I try my best to make my heroines believable Regency types. I like to feel that they could find themselves in the pages of a Jane Austen novel without feeling as if they had been caught in a time warp.

Whether I succeed or not is up to the reader to decide, of course. Tightropes are not the easiest things to walk without teetering inelegantly and even toppling off at least once in a while.

To one person who leaves a comment below by Friday, November 16, I will send an autographed copy of either A SECRET AFFAIR or SOMEONE TO WED—winners’ choice.

 

[This week’s  winner is Lila Rives]

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HOW VILLAINOUS IS A VILLAIN?

Most novels have a villain or two—those characters who oppose the hero and/or heroine, standing between them and happiness. Often they behave dishonestly and dishonorably. Sometimes they attempt to do real harm. They can be simply misguided and a little sad. They can be unkind, even vicious. They can be downright evil. They can, in fact, run the gamut of human misbehavior from simple antagonism to outright villainy. They can be redeemable—or not.

I have created my fair share of nasty villains, though I do try not to use what I think of as “silly” villains—those who are evil for the sake of being evil and slink around, cackling maniacally and enjoying their wickedness. Such characters generally fall into the cartoon villain category. I like to consider the whole complexities of the human condition when I create characters, whether they be heroes and heroines or minor characters or villains. And with a few possible exceptions (I am not going to touch upon any of those here) no one is purely evil. People may do evil without being evil. There are reasons for what people do, whether good or bad. Most of us, I think, can justify the wrong things we do even when we probably know deep down that they are wrong. If I am hungry and I steal, I can justify the theft even though I know it is not right. If I tell a deliberate lie, I can excuse it by calling it a “white” lie. Most of us are a bewildering mix of good and bad. Can any of us honestly say we have never lied or said or done shameful, even sometimes illegal things? Is there any driver who has never driven faster than the speed limit? There are few if any saints among us. We are human! At least I am even if you aren’t!

I like to create characters who are as human as they can possibly be considering the fact that they exist only in my imagination. Having said that, there are a few villains in my books that I regret. One of them is in HEARTLESS, a nasty character I did not develop into a believable human, though in my defense I will say that I decided this only years after writing the book. I left him as he is, however, when the book was republished a few years ago as I always think it is a bigger mistake to change aspects of an older book when one is coming at it from a wholly different place in one’s life.

I have a number of other rather nasty villains who are unredeemed at the end of their book and have never been redeemed since, though readers have sometimes asked that I make it happen. Some of you may remember Lionel, villain in both DARK ANGEL and LORD CAREW’S BRIDE. I have never redeemed him, though I think I could. He is very human, but he has allowed self absorption and a good bit of sadism to dominate his character and dictate his behavior. The fact that he looks like an angel does not help him. It gives him a sense of entitlement. Having created him and been inside his head, I can see that such a man is very unlikely to change unless he has to face some really cataclysmic event in his life.  The same applies to a number of other villains in my books. They must be allowed to live the life they have chosen—or rather the life I have chosen for them (funnily enough, it seems most of the time that my characters do the choosing, not me). Lady Hodges, the narcissistic, ruthlessly selfish mother of Wren in SOMEONE TO WED rides happily off into the sunset, so to speak, after she continues her villainy in the upcoming SOMEONE TO TRUST. But she is not redeemed.

Sometimes the villain cannot be redeemed at the end of one of my books because he is dead. Such is the case with the Earl of Eastham in ONLY BELOVED. He is not an inherently evil man despite the fact that he tries to push Dora off a cliff to her death. He is a deeply unhappy man, embittered by circumstances—no excuse for villainy, of course, but a twisted sort of reason nonetheless. One can perhaps pity him though one cannot excuse him.

And then there are the villains I have redeemed in books of their own, books in which they are transformed from villain to hero. Sometimes, as we know from real life, unwise or downright wrong choices can sink people into a place of deep darkness. It is often easier to remain in it, especially if there are addictions involved, than to climb out. Sometimes people, speaking and acting from such a place, do deliberately nasty things to cause other people to suffer too. To emerge from the darkness; to make some right choices and keep on making them; to build a will of iron to take one upward a step at a time without being discouraged by how many more steps need to be taken—all this is obviously incredibly difficult. All of us have probably known such people, some of whom have succeeded, some who sadly have not. But if they can do it—oh my goodness, what a triumph!

Freddie Sullivan was pretty nasty in COURTING JULIA, even going as far as to kidnap Julia so that she would have to marry him and solve his money woes. Even at the start of his own book, DANCING WITH CLARA, he is plotting marriage to a plain, crippled woman who is also rich, cynically using his looks and his charm to snare her. But when Clara accepts his offer, she does so because he is beautiful and there has been little beauty in her life. She is not deceived for one moment by his pretended ardor. Freddie has to suffer severe torment through much of the book before he can emerge at the end as a hero worthy of Clara. Even then, of course, nothing is guaranteed, for Freddie has an addiction—though the third book in the series, TEMPTING HARRIET, shows that he has continued to master it. I LOVE redeeming villains and bringing them from a dark place in their lives to the light of love. I love trying to convince readers that the transformation is believable. For it is. It does happen in real life as well as in romantic fiction.

To one person who leaves a comment below by Monday, November 5, I will send a copy of either HEARTLESS or ONLY BELOVED or the two-in-one DARK ANGEL/LORD CAREW’S BRIDE—winner’s choice.

 

[The winner is Cass. I do not know her last name yet!]

 

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ROMANCING CHRISTMAS

Way back in 1989 my editor at NAL asked me to be one of five contributors to the first Signet Regency Christmas anthology of novellas, a new venture that was so well received by readers that it became an annual event for years afterward. I contributed to ten of the collections. I adored writing those stories! Six of them are now available in two e-books, CHRISTMAS GIFTS and CHRISTMAS MIRACLES. The other four appear in UNDER THE MISTLETOE, together with a new novella I wrote specifically for that anthology. I have written a number of Christmas novels too. Even my new book, SOMEONE TO TRUST (November, 2018), begins with a boisterous Westcott family Christmas and the first unexpected spark of a romance between Elizabeth, Lady Overfield, and Colin, Lord Hodges.

One of my older novels, A CHRISTMAS BRIDE, features two characters from even older books, Edgar Downes, the solidly middle-class brother of Cora in THE FAMOUS HEROINE, and Helena, Lady Stapleton, who does not actually appear in A PRECIOUS JEWEL but nevertheless figures as a villain of the story. In October this year (2018) A CHRISTMAS BRIDE and UNDER THE MISTLETOE were re-published in a nice fat two-in-one print book entitled A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS (not, unfortunately, available as an e-book).

Why have I written so many Christmas stories?

I have always seen Christmas as the absolute best setting for romance. Even apart from the religious significance of the festival, it is a holiday for family and togetherness and feasting and dancing and children and joy. It is a time in which to dwell upon the hope of peace and goodwill. It is certainly tailor made for a love story. When writing about Christmas, I can be as sentimental as I want as I deal with love and healing, with second chances and an end to loneliness, with surrender to friendship and love, with commitment to marriage and parenthood and happily ever after.

Most of my Christmas novels and novellas have a larger family beyond just the hero and heroine. Christmas stories needs to be filled with people. Most also feature children. Children can teach adults a great deal about love. Many of my stories have a couple with a troubled relationship—a marriage that teeters on the brink of failure,  or a former romance that ended bitterly but needs rekindling, or a marriage that has already fallen over the brink of failure. Or… The possibilities are endless. Some merely feature two lonely souls who have yet to discover each other. But it is always Christmas that brings the lovers together and shows them that they belong together, that there are love and joy to be shared during the season and maintained after it is over and built upon through the rest of their lives.

Christmas is never incidental to my stories. It is never just a convenient setting that could be changed without in any way affecting the developing romance. Christmas becomes almost a character—a central, benevolent force for family and love and happiness and new beginnings. There is no more suitable time of year for a love story if one listens closely enough to hear what at its heart it is saying about the meaning of life—that love is forever present and that really love is all that matters.

To someone who leaves a comment below by Tuesday, October 23, I will send my last advance reading copy of SOMEONE TO TRUST.

[Last week’s winner was YVONNE JONES.]

 

[And this week’s winner is LINDA YANIGER. Congratulations to her, and thanks to all of you for your comments.]

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THE POWER OF THE SPOKEN WORD

 

Unlike that witch on her broomstick, I believe most us at least try to think before we speak. But I’m sure all of us have experienced the odd time when we did not do so but blurted out the first thing that came into our head—and ended up variously embarrassed, horrified, remorseful, and wishing fervently that we could rewind the clock a few seconds. The trouble with the spoken word, of course, is that it cannot be recalled once it is out there, not when there was someone to hear it anyway. Not one iota of what has been said can be changed, whether it happened five minutes ago or five centuries ago. Time is unforgiving that way.

The written word can be just as fraught with danger for the impulsive and almost as unforgiving in an age of constant texting, twittering, and firing off unconsidered comments on social media sites. Sometimes it is possible to erase or edit something we wrote, even if it is only to correct a typo we notice the moment after we press that “post” button. And perhaps we are more likely when we write than when we speak to think through what we have to say and choose our words carefully before we write them down—though I know those twittering thumbs can be very itchy especially when tempers are running high.

But what about the writer of stories and novels? The written word for us becomes very forgiving indeed. We can change anything—the last sentence we wrote or something that happened seven or twelve chapters ago. Anything we like, in fact. We get to play God. Time means nothing in the creation of a story. We can totally erase something that happened six weeks ago and eight chapters back. Poof! It never happened. We can change our characters’ appearance and name, their words and actions, even their thoughts, as often as we choose. If we don’t like something they say, we can simply erase it and get them to say what we want them to say. After all, we created them. They have no existence outside our imaginations. We are in control. Right?

Hmm. Let’s call a pause right there. The answer is yes, of course. It is also no.

I know I am not unique in this. I have spoken to numerous other writers who agree. We create our characters out of the stuff of our imagination. We provide enough detail to round them out and make them seem like real beings, and we set them loose into our stories. And then what happens? Pretty soon they become separate beings with a will of their own, and they decide what they are going to say and do in the course of their story. This is why I find it impossible to plan a book ahead of time. I never know what is going to come out of my characters’ mouths when they begin to talk. I can set a piece of dialogue in motion and often do so as I love writing it, but then I just sort of sit back and let them have at it. Often the conversation goes off in a direction I had not anticipated. And often what is said changes the course of the story and establishes a theme and a message I did not see coming.

In the book ONLY ENCHANTING, for example (Book 4 of the Survivors’ Club series), I had vaguely planned a relationship between Agnes and Flavian in which seduction and a brief affair and its consequences would lead to a deeper relationship and ultimate marriage. However, when I got them into conversation several times early in the book, each time obligingly placing them in an attractive and very private setting, would they cooperate and get down to the business of having an affair? Not a bit of it! That whole segment of the book ended up with Flavian blurting out a marriage proposal that surprised both him and Agnes—and me. At that point I had to decide whether to erase his words and force him back into a more determined seduction or let him have his way. But letting him have his way totally negated everything I had half planned for the remaining two-thirds of the book. I let him have his way! Sometimes when words have been spoken aloud, even within the pages of a book, they just have to be allowed to stand. The story must be changed accordingly.

In THE NOTORIOUS RAKE, a totally unimportant minor character, a friend of Mary Gregg, the heroine, was cautioning her against encouraging the advances of Lord Edmond Waite, the notorious rake of the title. As part of her argument she asked Mary if she realized he had killed his mother and brother. I swear those words just appeared on the screen before my eyes. I had NO idea she was about to speak them. The words alarmed me to no small degree. I think I felt as Pandora must have felt when she opened that forbidden box. Of course, I was more fortunate than Pandora—all I had to do to put matters right was delete the words and carry on with my story of a perfectly stereotypical rake who needed to be redeemed by the power of love. But I had the feeling that the friend must know something I didn’t, so I kept her words without any idea of how they were going to affect the story. They turned out to be the key to Edmond’s character and to the whole relationship that developed between him and Mary. Lord Edmond Waite is still one of my favorite heroes. Did he kill his mother and brother? Well, yes—and no…

The spoken word, it seems, then, has a power of its own whether the speaker is a real person or a fictional character. When it is spoken in real time it cannot be recalled. When it is spoken in the pages of a book, it can be recalled by the author but perhaps ought not to be. Perhaps in either case we need to ponder where the words came from—and where they are likely to lead. Life is a dynamic, unpredictable, exciting process… But I won’t proceed down that road.

To one person who leaves a comment below by next Monday, October 15,  I will send a signed copy of either the two-in-one edition of  A COUNTERFEIT BETROTHAL/ THE NOTORIOUS RAKE or ONLY ENCHANTING–winner’s choice.

[This week’s winner is YVONNE JONES]

 

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THE ETERNAL APPEAL OF CINDERELLA

All little girls love the story of Cinderella. Well, there are probably exceptions, but they must be few. The discovery that a poor girl who is forced to wear rags as she drudges incessantly at all the most menial tasks set her by a wicked stepmother has a fairy godmother is breathtaking. So is the notion that with one wave of her wand the godmother can send the girl to a prince’s ball—the tall, handsome Prince Charming, no less—wearing a gorgeous ball gown and glass slippers (ouch!) to catch the eye of the prince himself and actually dance with him (it must have been a waltz, don’t you think?). The terrible letdown of midnight coming too soon and Cinderella’s coach turning into a pumpkin and her ball gown into rags is merely a temporary setback as the prince searches frantically for the wearer of the glass slipper left behind on the palace steps. Then the denouement—ah, sigh! For of course the slipper fits only Cinderella. Prince Charming has found her and marries her and thus makes her into a princess. And they lived happily ever after. One more sigh!

 

I think most women have a soft spot for the story too, and probably a few men. The basic story, with innumerable adaptations, has been recreated over and over again in stories and movies. The rags-to-riches theme combined with a love story is irresistible. There is a potential problem, however, especially in the 21stcentury. Most adult readers demand more of a romantic hero and heroine than the original story provides. The hero must be more than just a handsome prince, and the heroine must be far more than just a poor downtrodden girl waiting for a prince to find her and marry her and give her identity, wealth, and security. Readers demand more of a love story than boy meets girl, falls in love with her, pursues her, and marries her. And of girl suffering in patient silence through a life of drudgery and bullying while she waits for some man to come to her rescue (preferably tall, dark, handsome and rich). Readers want more of a relationship than the simple romance of a first starry-eyed encounter followed immediately by love and marriage and happily ever after.

 

Don’t they need to know each other?

 

We expect a hero and a heroine with depth of character. We want equality in their relationship, even if their circumstances are quite different. We need to know that they can bring assets (not necessarily material) of equal value to the relationship. We want a story that shows the growth of their characters and a development of their knowledge and understanding of each other. We want to see them fall in love—not just with each other’s looks and surface charms, but with the person behind those attractions. And we want to know that it is real love, that it is based on a solid foundation and will last a lifetime. We don’t demand (at least I don’t) happily-ever-after because there is no such thing. But we do want to know at the end that these two people stand a very good chance of remaining happy together because they have already shown a willingness to work on valuing themselves and each other and of loving each other through thick and thin.

 

We want substance, in other words.

 

Actually, what I think we hope for in the romantic stories we read and movies we watch is everything.We want to have our cake and eat it. But surely we can have both a realistic story with the sort of hero and heroine we can relate to and believe in and at the same time have the sheer romance of a Cinderella story. Why not? Life isn’t always or even often an either/or proposition. Fiction doesn’t need to be one or the other either. By all means let us have both!

 

Sophia Fry, heroine of THE ARRANGEMENT, Book 2 of my Survivors’ Club series, is very much a Cinderella figure at the start of the book, and she faces total destitution when she is tossed out of her sorry home after being foolish enough to save Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, from the devious matchmaking schemes of her aunt, uncle, and cousin. Vincent, of course, comes to her rescue in true Cinderella story fashion. He marries her. But he is Prince Charming with a difference—he was blinded at the age of seventeen in the Napoleonic Wars. And this story does not end with the wedding. It really only begins there. But before it does begin, Sophia demands a sort of prenuptial agreement, something Cinderella did not do.

In my book LONGING, Siân Jones lives with her grandparents and her uncle in a small house in a Welsh coalmining valley. She works long hours in the mines, harnessed to a coal cart which she drags along low, poorly ventilated tunnels from the coal seam to the shaft. Yet she ends up married to Alexander Hyatt, Marquess of Craille, the blond, handsome and wealthy new English owner of the mine and its accompanying steelworks. There is a long and troublesome journey between the starting and ending points, however. Times are tough and the workers throughout the Welsh valleys are beginning to rebel against the owners. Siân is a strong-willed, high-principled Cinderella, devoted to her family and her community and her Welsh heritage. Alexander is a powerful man who nevertheless is willing to learn and show humility in face of the rich and ancient Welsh culture and a close-knit community he had not expected before he came from England to take up his inheritance.

To one person who leaves a comment below by Friday, October 5, I will send a signed copy of either LONGING or THE ARRANGEMENT (British edition with a different cover)–winner’s choice.

 

Last week’s winner of  a copy of ONLY BELOVED was Claire Gilless.

This week’s winner is BRENDA MATZEK. Congratulations to her! Thank you all for your comments.

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The Appeal of the Wounded Hero(ine)

 

I was asked a while ago who were some of my favorite tortured heroes in books other than my own. It was not easy to narrow down the possibilities, but I eventually came up with Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE; Christian, Duke of Jervaulx from Laura Kinsale’s FLOWERS FROM THE STORM; Darius Lindsay from Grace Burrowes’s DARIUS; Reggie Davenport from Mary Jo Putney’s THE RAKE; Lord Ian Mackenzie from Jennifer Ashley’s THE MADNESS OF IAN MACKENZIE; and Holden Caulfield from THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. And that was just the heroes. The question did not ask about heroines. I have created my fair share of wounded heroes and heroines. Why do I do it? Why do I write so often about men and women who are wounded in body and/or tortured in spirit—especially in books that are billed as feel-good love stories? Why would you read them or other books like them?

To a certain degree woundedness of body and brokenness of spirit are common to the human experience. We all suffer. No one is immune. Because I am an optimist, I am fond of saying that I have lived a blessed life, and indeed I have. Yet I have also known times of intense suffering, either in my own person or involving people near and dear to me—or concerning people worldwide whom I don’t know personally but only through media reports. Often the heart feels as if it must surely break. Sometimes  it is hard to hold off the self-pity and the “why me?” or “the world is doomed” reaction. Now these facts don’t mean we have to read about suffering in the books we choose for relaxation and pleasure. So why DO we do it? Why do I write about suffering? Why do you read about it?

I think maybe it’s because we are all uplifted when we witness or hear of other people enduring pain and rising above it, conquering it, finding themselves capable of extraordinary achievements and acts of kindness and heroism and love, not despite their suffering, but because of it. Think of real life people such as Helen Keller, Stephen Hawking, Nelson Mandela, for example, and all the innumerable heroes and heroines, often nameless, who selflessly give of themselves and risk their lives and often lose them in the face of great calamities and tragedies. They are an inspiration to the rest of us. They can raise us above the sufferings that threaten to drag us down into despair.

Such people are irresistible (to me, anyway) as the heroes and heroines of love stories, for love can help them accept what they cannot change and find healing for what they can. It can help bring them the peace of acceptance for what life offers them. The healing and wholeness they find can enable them to trust the love that is offered them and to give love in return. Great love stories are about more than just romance and sexual chemistry and happily-ever-after. They are about two people who have lived long enough to have picked up baggage and to have constructed layers of armor and masks behind which they hide. They are about two people who at the start of a story are not ready or whole enough in themselves to take on the great risk of loving their way through life regardless of what the future may have in store for them. As a writer I love taking two such characters and showing the healing process, which must be both personal and shared. I love to take them to the point at which they trust love—trust that they are good enough to give it and worthy enough to receive it. I like to run them through the mill so that the happy ending can be all the more satisfying and believable. And I want readers to feel that yes, love works and suffering for the most part can be overcome.

In my book ONLY BELOVED, the final book in the Survivors’ Club series, George, Duke of Stanbrook, is a sad character. His only son was killed in the Napoleonic Wars and his wife committed suicide soon after. Since then he has devoted many years to helping severely wounded officers heal and recuperate on his large country estate. The stories of six of those people are told in the other books of the series. George is quiet and kindly and always ready to listen to other people’s sufferings. But deep inside is the raw wound of a far deeper torment than any of his friends suspect. Dora Debbins, whom he marries early in the book, saw the dreams of her young womanhood fade when her mother ran away from home with a lover, leaving Dora to bring up her much younger sister. After that sister married one of the other Survivors (in ONLY ENCHANTING), Dora was left alone, quiet and cheerful, seemingly content with her lot as an aging spinster giving music lessons in a country village but in reality deeply wounded. The marriage of the duke and Dora promises a placid sort of contentment to both. But the real suffering they hold deep and try to hide from each other must be confronted and dealt with if they are to know the full glory of love. In the course of the book I give them no choice, poor things!

 

 

As a reader, which would you prefer? To read about the placid contentment or to tackle the woundedness and the healing and the real, passionate love story to which it gives rise? To one person who leaves a comment below by Thursday, September 27, I will send a signed copy of ONLY BELOVED.

 

[The winner is CLAIRE GILLESS. Congratulations to her!]

 

 

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WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?

I’m sure all writers will recognize this as the question readers ask more often than any other. I wonder if other writers find it as nearly impossible to answer as I do. Most of the time I really don’t know where my ideas come from. I often look back on a finished book, or even one in progress, and wonder how on earth I came up with a particular plot idea.

Perhaps that is partly because I really can’t plan a story ahead of time. I usually start with two characters (and I don’t even know them particularly well at the start!) and a situation. But I have no story apart from a few vague notions of where it may be headed and the certain knowledge that it will end happily. The story takes shape gradually after I have got the characters into that situation, acting and reacting and interacting, though even then there are many false starts and restarts. Often I have to go back and rewrite as new ideas pop out of the ether. It is not a comfortable way to write. Nor is it for the faint of heart. But it is challenging and exhilarating and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Somehow everything always seems to work out for me. After more than a hundred novels and novellas that is reassuring—especially when I am deep in despair after having painted my characters into a corner with no discernible way out.

 

I do know, however, what sort of thing might inspire me to write—and it is almost always something that stirs some deep emotion in me and inspires me to write a story from that emotional place. It doesn’t have to be a romantic emotion. It can be a scene of extraordinary beauty—the mountains and lakes of British Columbia, a sunset reflected across the ocean, or a picture of giant trees in a rain forest. It can be a work of art. I remember once sitting and staring at a picture of Michelangelo’s Pieta for well over an hour. Or it can be a piece of music. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto can do it to me every time. So can Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World or Bette Midler’s The Rose. And definitely it can happen with any music sung by a Welsh male voice choir—Hiraeth(Longing) or Myfanwy, for example, or the Welsh national anthem, Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (the land of my fathers). Or sometimes it is a quotation or a short poem, like William Butler Yeats’s Had I the Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths. I always want to capture these soul-deep emotions in words of my own and in a love story.

Just occasionally I know exactly where a story idea comes from because I have chosen to set a book within a definite historical event. It doesn’t happen often, but I can think of three of my books that came into being that way. I wanted to set a love story in my native Wales, and chose to set it in one of the coal mining valleys of South Wales during the early years of the Industrial Revolution, when the resources and the workers of Wales were terribly exploited for the profit of wealthy mine and steelwork owners, mostly Englishmen. I had to do a great deal of research for LONGING and make sure that my story was woven about authentic events. Nevertheless, my passionate identification with the Welsh (even though my hero was one of the English owners) helped me keep the story on track as an intense love story, I believe—and hope. My use of Welsh music in the book helped with that! Then there was another Welsh book, TRULY, (I hate the title, was assigned to it when I was away from home for a few weeks and had no input). The third book based heavily upon actual historical events is BEYOND THE SUNRISE, my most action-packed book, set in Spain and Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars. My hero and heroine helped shape those events, so I had to make them accurate.

And then there are the stories I can’t account for in any rational way. They come from an inner place that is virtually impossible to describe in words. I have often complained that I find it impossible to think. When I sit down to try to work something out in my head, my mind either turns blank or it wanders off on a thousand tangents—or I fall asleep. At school whenever I had a paper or essay to write I could—and did—do exhaustive research, but then I could never think through what I was going to write. If a teacher demanded a detailed outline, I always wrote it after I was done with the paper. The only way I could write that essay was to sit down with paper and pen (yes, I am that antique) and write. Then ideas I did not know I had flowed with no trouble at all. The same thing happens when I write a book. Every morning (EVERY morning) when I sit down to write, I have no idea what is going to happen. I could easily plead permanent writer’s block. I have to take a few minutes (sometimes more than a few) to focus in and then just start. My daughter, who is a trained hynoptist, tells me that what I am doing is hypnotizing myself. However it is, the act of writing enables me to by-pass the mind and put myself into some other dimension—the sub-conscious, consciousness itself, call it what you will. But it works for me. Do you wonder that when people ask me where I get my ideas I find it almost impossible to answer?

To one person who leaves a comment below before the end of next Wednesday, September 19, I will send a signed copy of LONGING, the Welsh historical mentioned above. The winners of the two tote bags last week were MELISSA  RENNER and MARTHA JUDITH DURICK.

 

[UPDATE: The winner of a signed edition of LONGING is KATHERINE RIVERA. Congratulations to her. Thank you for your comments. I always enjoy reading them]

 

 

 

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WHY ROMANCE?

As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a writer. When I was a child I used to fill notebooks with long stories, all about the hair-raising adventures of super-hero children. When I grew up, however, I did not immediately proceed to becoming a writer. There were two main reasons. First, life intervened. I moved from Wales to Canada and started a career as a high-school English teacher; and I married and had three children. There was no time for anything else. Second, and perhaps more important, I didn’t know what I wanted to write. Fiction, yes. But what kind of fiction? Literary fiction, probably, but my mind always turned blank when it came to plot ideas. Genre fiction, then? I had always loved mysteries. I still do. But my mind didn’t seem to work in the right way to enable me to create one. I imagine that writing a mystery takes a great deal of planning and plotting, something that again turns my mind blank. I am what is known as a seat-of-the-pants writer. Romance, then?

What? Romance?

That was way beneath my dignity, surely. It is strange how an academic education can give one that attitude even though it is usually based upon just the opposite of what an education is supposed to teach—that is, that an opinion ought to be based upon facts and personal research. I had never read a romance.

Or had I?

I was a voracious reader as a child and as a teenager. I read almost all the  British, American, and Russian classics as well as some from other nations. My feelings about them varied. I loved books like ANNA KARENINA, TESS OF THE D’URBAVILLES, and A TALE OF TWO CITIES even though I found the endings excruciatingly painful. I knew something about those books, though. I would never read them again—because I would not be able to take those endings again or enjoy the book itself knowing how it would end. On the other hand I adored books like JANE EYRE, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and PERSUASION and knew I would read them over and over again. The reason? They had lovely, happy endings, and they were love stories. They left me feeling happy and uplifted. They were  romances.It took me a while to work that out!

I discovered the actual romance genre when I opened a Corn Flakes box one day and pulled out a Harlequin romance (NO GENTLE POSSESSION by Anne Mather). I almost tossed it in the garbage can (such is the power of an academic education) but read it instead. I was enchanted. I proceeded to read every romance I could lay my hands on, like a person who had been starved for most of her life. I found the books patchy. Many I loved; many were all right as light entertainment; many were disappointing. I found this last group shallow, with improbable plots, cardboard characters of no depth, love that did not have to be worked for and therefore did not convince me that it was love, and endings that left me unmoved. Some books failed (for me) in all of the above.

The lesson for me as a potential writer was obvious. I loved reading a good romance. And much of what I read was good or better. But much was not. I found myself wanting to rewrite parts of some books, particularly the endings. But—something I still strongly believe in—one ought never to try rewriting or adding to someone else’s book. And there was no point in grumbling and complaining (to myself) that I could have done so much better myself.

Prove it! Write your own romance,an inner voice said.

So I did.

I write what I love to read. I believe in love. Not just romantic love, but love in all its many manifestations. I believe it is powerful, unconditional, enduring, life-changing. I believe it is the basis of all goodness and happiness. But it is something that has to be worked for, especially if it is romantic love and involves a relationship with another person that will last a lifetime without turning to indifference or hatred. Love does not come on a wave of lust, though lust can be a healthy part of it. I want a love story to have substance, to seem very much like real life, to show two people who have considerable baggage, who are in some way broken by past experiences and need to face up to that baggage and find healing. I want to bring them in the course of a book to the point at which they can give love and receive it consciously, with a firm commitment to work on it for the rest of their lives. I want them to be involved in each other’s growth and healing. And I want the reader to have warm, sympathetic feelings about these characters, to fall in love with them, to root for them–and to enjoy the journey from the first page to the last.

I don’t believe in happily-ever-after either in real life or in fiction. I want my readers to be confident that there is real happiness awaiting the couple who are so joyful and deeply in love on the last page. But I want that confidence to come from an understanding of those characters, not just from my say-so. I want readers to trust them and believe in them as though they were real people.

Most of all, perhaps, I write romance because it is my way of sharing the love that is within me. I am a bit of a shy introvert in person, but never in my writing. There are outlets for love available to all of us.

Please leave a comment below by Wednesday, September 12, 2018, for a chance to win one of two Mary Balogh tote bags shown below.

[September 12: The winners of the two tote bags are MELISSA RENNER and MARTHA JUDITH DURICK. Congratulations to them, and thank you everyone who left a comment. I always enjoy reading what you have to say.]

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A Peek Ahead to 2019

2019 will be a busy year for Mary Balogh books–one new edition to the Westcott family series and six e-book republications of old, out-of-print books. I have no new covers to show here yet, but at least I can give you advance notice of what you can look forward to–and show you a few old covers. Note that publication months may change–it often happens for one reason or another.

The new book, Book 6 of the Westcott series, will be SOMEONE TO HONOR in November. It is Abigail’s story and begins three years after Elizabeth’s story, told in SOMEONE TO TRUST–due out in November, 2018. At the age of twenty-four, Abigail is still unmarried and not even looking. The family is worried about her and doing what they do best, They are plotting and planning on her behalf. But Abby will have none of it and, as it turns out, she does not need anyone’s help. I am within a couple of weeks or so of finishing her story. I still have two more books planned for the series. Jessica (Lady Jessica Archer, sister of the Duke of Netherby) still needs her story told and so does Harry (Major Harry Westcott, formerly the Earl of Riverdale).

The e-book republications will begin with SECOND CHANCES on February 5, an anthology of four novellas:

The Treasure Hunt

The Forbidden Daffodils

The Betrothal Ball

Another Dream

The last-named of these novellas, “Another Dream,” first appeared a couple or so years ago in a novella duo with a story by friend Grace Burrowes. We have just taken it off the market after it had a good run of success. My story is one that might especially interest you if you did not discover that duo. It is the story of Eleanor Thompson, sister of Christine in SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS. Christine, of course, married Wulfric, Duke of Bewcastle, who seems to be everyone’s favorite hero of mine. He makes a significant appearance in his sister-in-law’s novella, as do all the Bedwyns, I believe. I did not intend giving Eleanor her own story. I had left her as the happy owner and headmistress of the school in Bath that figured in all the SIMPLY books. However, a number of readers wanted her to have her own happily-ever-after, so I decided to oblige.

The other five e-book republications are all full-length novels:

AN UNACCEPTABLE OFFER, originally published as a Signet Regency romance, will be out on April 2.

DECEIVED will be published in on March 5. It was originally published as a longer-length historical (even longer than the books I am currently writing) back in the ’90s

THE UNGRATEFUL GOVERNESS, to be out on May 7, is also an old Signet Regency

THE FIRST SNOWDROP will be published on June 4.

CHRISTMAS BELLE will be out on September 3. These last two books have linked characters. Both were Signet Regencies.

Readers often ask with some dismay why these republications are available only as e-books and not also in print. I can understand the disappointment. However, publishers have full publication schedules of new books and limited budgets and cannot be expected to take on old books in huge numbers as well. Also, bookstore shelves would be clogged with all the old stuff and not have enough room for the new (or the other way around). Modern technology has given us the wonderful opportunity to publish and to read books that have been long out of print. I am certainly not too old to remember the frustration of discovering a new author and being eager to read everything he or she had ever written only to find that the treasure of that author’s backlist was forever lost to me except sometimes through used bookstores. I know many people do not enjoy reading books in electronic form, but at least they are there for anyone who really wants to read them. So forgive me, please, if you are disappointed at the lack of a physical book. But commenting as a reader, I must say that I find it wonderful indeed to be able to access the backlists of almost all my favorite authors, especially the recently discovered ones–Patricia Wentworth, for example.

Happy reading for the rest of this year and throughout 2019.

 

 

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WELCOME To My New Web Site!

Welcome to my brand new web site. I am very happy with the new look. I have kept it simple, assuming that most of you want to find here (a) what is new and upcoming (b) all the books and novellas I have written, with clear BUY links so that you can go and buy them without having to hunt around, and (c) some details about me and my life outside of writing. You can find all these things here. Also you can contact me through my guest book, join the email fan list through which I can also communicate with readers and readers can communicate with me, and read and comment upon my blogs. I have not been great about writing blog posts in the past few years, but I plan to mend my ways and post something here at least once a week. Time will tell whether I keep that resolution or not!

 

You can see at the top of Home Page what is to be published during the rest of 2018–one new book (SOMEONE TO TRUST), one ebook republication (A DARING MASQUERADE), and the all-in-one bumper print and ebook  (A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS). It is a republication of A CHRISTMAS BRIDE and the five-novella anthology, UNDER THE MISTLETOE. I know many of you are eager for my old, out-of-print books to be available again, and many of them already are, as Class Ebook editions. There have been only three this year, but there are no fewer than SEVEN scheduled for 2019. Maybe my next blog post will be about those and when exactly they will be published.

 

I hope you will enjoy my personal page, with new pictures of my family (great-grands Mia, Kade, and Melody, in the picture above). I consulted them all so that I could choose pictures they wanted to see here. Do write something in my guest book. I always love to hear from you, and I answer most messages before posting them. I also strip email addresses so that they are never shown publicly.

Happy reading.

Mary Balogh

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