I am revising, really I am, but I’m also taking a little writing break and doing some extra reading. I got more Georgette Heyer Regencies out of the library and broke down and bought one that came highly recommended. I’ve also succumbed to Eloisa James’s Desperate Duchesses. More accurately, to the Duke of Villiers, a chess-playing rake who’s got enough money and rank to be casual about the rules of society.
There are six duchess books. It turns out I started with book 2. Villiers spends most of that novel on what’s possibly his deathbed, having gotten himself wounded in a duel and then into the hands of the sort of doctor that is one of the main reasons I’m not nostalgic about this time period. When he’s between fevers, he spars with a visitor who hopes his soul might at least be saved, but then that he might live.*
The fever breaks in the closing pages, but we don’t hear otherwise what becomes of Villiers. Someone on Twitter told me that he was in all the Desperate Duchesses books, so off to the library I went. I ended up with another middle volume and the last one, in which Villiers is finally the hero and finds his true love. It was entirely sigh-worthy, and I thought maybe I won’t read any of the others: I’ll quit on this high note. But then I found out that Villiers is a major player in book 1, so back to the library. I’m up to the point where one can see a duel in his future.
Heyer’s The Black Sheep deals heavily with family duty, which I’m wrestling with in “Rite of Return” (thus making it research, right?), and conventional behavior, which . . . okay, I’m never wrestling with. Heyer doesn’t do simpering misses (nor does James): these heroines are smart, sometimes moody, frequently surprising. Considering that romance novels are considered formulaic—and we do know the hero and heroine will fall in love by the end—there are plenty of twists in these two writers’ books.
The current reading list has really got me thinking about and hoping for my own writing, different though it is. These characters! Man, I want to create people who live large in readers’ minds! This stack of books reminds me that it isn’t done with particular personality traits but rather (additionally?) by being able to see process. We see the character react and evolve and thus become engaged; we see them with a genuine problem that will be a struggle to solve. That is a meta-statement about what I value in books; now comes figuring out how to actually do it, word after word on the page.
* She feels guilty that she now hopes he might live, which I why I don’t feel nostalgic about that.