Birthing Bertie —

12 Jan

People always ask me (and other authors, too, I know) “Where do you get your ideas?” As if I knew! My usual smart-aleck response is  “They fall out of the sky and land in my lap.”  I really don’t know. Some little thing somewhere will put an idea into my head and away I go!   Sometimes it just dies there, and sometimes it doesn’t. Several times the idea has grabbed me so strongly I couldn’t let it go — and it finally wins out and becomes a book.  And sometimes — I’m sorry to say, I get distracted–or worse, I run into a snag, and put it up for while, where it stays in limbo until something jostles it loose again. I know, I’ve used the word ‘sometimes’ in there entirely too many times, but that’s because I don’t know what else to call it!

Every now and then, however, I’m asked, what made you write this book? So, I decided to tell you the story of how each of my books (so far) came into existence. Maybe you’ll find a bit of inspiration in here for yourself, as well. I hope so.

The first book I wrote (translate: finished!) was a Regency romance.  I was quite surprised by this event, as I was actually working on a historical book about Katherine of Valois, the wife of Henry V, and then Owen Tudor. But I had little luck reading myself to sleep while going through large research books, searching for those intriguing tid-bits of interest.  Stopping every now and then to write a note to myself effectively pushed back the sandman until I decided if I was ever going to sleep again, I had to find other reading materials.

I’d always loved Georgette Heyer’s delightful Regency confections, and to a lesser extent the many books of Dame Barbara Cartland. There were a few others (this was in the early 80s before Regencies really took off) so I was able to happily read myself to sleep with an abundance of them. A few years later, to my great surprise, I woke up one morning with a story idea for a Regency novel. I thought nothing of it (ideas are NOT strangers to me!) and went on researching. The next morning, there were additions to that idea.

At work that evening, a young lady I knew uttered an infamous statement that so captured my attention, I said to myself – there’s Bertie!  Karen stumbled a bit going over a threshold. She didn’t pull one of my stunts, (falling flat on my face!) but recovered herself very gracefully, and muttered, “Ah yes, Grace is my middle name!” I couldn’t help myself and burst out laughing, and I told her she’d just given me a boost for my book. So, the next morning, I said, okay, and sat down at my typewriter. By this time it was early January, 1988, and three weeks later, (Superbowl Sunday, in fact) I had produced a full-length novel of some 70,000 words.

Curiously enough, my Medieval research came in rather handy, as I already knew that Richard of York (who would become Richard III) had served as the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, so there was part of my Duke’s family background, at my fingertips.

By happy coincidence, the very day I finished typing the book on the typewriter, my first computer was hooked up and ready to go, so the next day I started typing it again. And editing a wee bit in the process. Then what? I had no clue whatever. Believe me, if you read all those rules about what not to do when writing to a publisher – I did every single thing on that list! I can’t believe how stupid I was!

Eighteen months later, not one editor had expressed interest in my book. Not one! But everyone local who read the book loved it. What was wrong with those goofy people in New York? Well, part of the problem was that it was written in first person, and as this was just after Regency was married to romance (silly me – I thought Heyer’s books were just simply novels!) it was considered mandatory to have multiple viewpoints so the reader could know just exactly what the hero and heroine were thinking. Not necessarily at the same time, but sequentially. What did I know? Nada.

I did, however, find RWA – or Romance Writers of America, and discovered several very prolific Regency authors, whom I still read today, in fact! Edith Layton, Mary Balogh, Sandra Heath, Patricia Rice, Barbara Metzger, and many more, of course.  I loved their clever plots, engaging characters and sense of humor—and was shocked when they introduced love scenes! Eeegads. Not in Regencies!

Yes, indeed. Get with it, Kelly. Sex was here to stay. Just not in my book, thank you!  At any rate, this first book was called Bertie’s Golden Treasure and nobody but me ever loved the poor girl. Until – fast forward almost 20 years, when I first heard about a newish publisher who was starting a Regency line called Cotillion. I was advised to submit Bertie, so I did. And of all things, they liked it enough to offer a contract!!! Need I tell you I did not hesitate? Not one second, believe me.

I had submitted it with a pseudonym – Hetty St. James. And that’s the name it was published under, and it’s still available! In print or as a Kindle and other e-formats, as well. I remain thrilled by this success, and have been seriously working on a new Regency. In the meantime, I wrote a very short Regency-set adventure tale called Just Like Old Times . . . which was also accepted by Cotillion as part of their Scintillating Samples program. It is only an e-book, or Kindle, but has been quite popular on the Amazon best-seller short romance list.  (It’s a free download from either site.)

I should clarify here that just after I finished Bertie and started sending it out to publishers, they all stopped publishing Regencies! Really. How frustrating. First it was Walker, then Warner, until within ten years, there weren’t really any left. (When I first started Bertie, there were 10 publishers who collectively released 22 or so books EVERY MONTH!!! Within ten years, a grand total of six to eight books were being produced each month by three publishers , and less than five years later, there were none.)  Thank goodness for e-books, and self-publishing which kept the genre supplied, until now it’s picking up again. Oh—and thanks, too, for Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the famous BBC-A&E version of Pride & Prejudice! In all honesty, I think he’s solely responsible for the current increase in the availability of Regency-set books.

Generally, Bertie has received excellent reviews and I hope her step-sibling Arabella, or whoever the others are, gets into print soon, as well. (Like the old woman in the shoe, I can’t remember all their names, off the top of my head!) Of course, first I have to finish her (or someone), don’t I?

Here’s Bertie’s cover, which I really, really like!

If you’re so inclined, you may purchase a print copy or e-book from my publisher here:– – –

Or, you can also download (for free!) Hetty’s short story ‘Just Like Old Times’.  Happy Reading!

P. S. You’re almost the first to know that I am also Hetty St. James! I decided it was time to come out of my Regency closet–Bertie has been available now for some 3½ years!


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