Sunday, May 25, 2008

TSL and the aspect of violence

I'm pulling up a comment here to talk about.

Could you please tell why all the spy in SL are considered by each other to be "deadly" if they are so concerned about taking human life. Annique obviously considers it a huge deal, but the others? Your earlier comment about Doyle made it sound like everyone understood the Game and were gentlemen/gentlewomen intelligence gatherers. Thanks.

I was thinking about this sort of thing all morning.
Quaker Meeting does a lot of soul-searching on Memorial Day, as you'd imagine. I spent time considering violence and where my characters stand.

TSL presents four views of violence.

Annique -- youthful idealist -- is willing to risk her life to avoid killing an enemy. For her, each life and death is significant and personal. She's a 'small-picture' person. For her it's always this square on the chessboard.

You see this when she's trying to decide what to do with the Albion plans. She translates the impact of an invasion into 'this farm wife', 'this house burned', or 'this French soldier drowned on the beach'. It's never -- 'what will this do to the geopolitical position of France?'

She casts her decision in terms of philosophy, but it is, at heart, a bone-deep distaste for dealing death. I'd guess that dates from her father's hanging. It is no accident that, of all the parts to play among foreign armies, she chose to work in the medical tents.

Grey -- professional soldier -- has the nineteenth-century career soldier's view that killing has rules. Grey would, and did, kill without hesitation, qualm or remorse under the conventions that allow him to do so. He's an honorable man, and death fits within his code of honor. Following this code, his conscience doesn't trouble him.

Like any good officer, he's chary of using deadly tactics when lesser force achieves the goal. And there are 'rules' of spying, different from the rules of engagement in war. More of that below.

Adrian -- trained killer, damaged soul -- doesn't hate death, the way Annique does. He doesn't believe in the rules of armed combat, the way Grey does. At nineteen or twenty, he's still groping his way toward a useable morality. He takes cues from his fellow professionals as to what's 'right' and 'wrong' in these, for him, puzzling ethical situations.

Doyle. I'm in the middle of working on Doyle right now. He's humane and cynical. I can see that much. He's more detached than any of the others. We don't get beneath his surface in TSL.

Anyway -- work in progress on Doyle.

Now ... wandering back to the question.
The first inquiry is 'why are all the spies in TSL considered to be 'deadly?'

Well ... 'Dangerous' is probably a better rendering. The capacity for violence exists in all four major characters, but it remains largely latent.

Annique has been drilled for years in the arts of self-defense and escape. Doyle, Grey and Adrian are considerably more lethal than Anneka, and their skill at dealing death, much more finely honed. Those three have all killed in the line of duty.

But it is not this potential lethality that gives them value as spies. The traits they all share, what they admire in each other, what marks them as master spies, is not a knack for death.

Adrian sums it up when he says of Annique --

"We get reputations in the Game – you, me, Doyle, all of us. I recognize her work when I see it. Annique Villiers is playful and wise and stealthy. Slip in, slip out, and you never know she's been there. If she killed anybody at all, I never heard about it."

Doyle stands in front of the inn, watching Annique do nothing whatsoever but eat breakfast, playing a part. It impresses the hell out of him.

If I may venture a modern analogy ...?

A systems analyst might occasionally move a 40-pound desktop unit from one office to another. But that's not what he's hired for. It's not what his colleagues mean
when they say -- 'He's a hell of a programmer.'

If you managed a brilliant analyst with a bad back, or one in the fourth month of pregnancy, you'd barely notice that they couldn't move equipment. You'd just call in some jackass from the mailroom to do the heavy lifting.

In Annique's case ... her handlers wouldn't put her in a position where she needed to kill, any more than a camper would pick up his Nikon to pound in tent stakes.

Second half of the O.P. question is:

Your earlier comment about Doyle made it sound like everyone understood the Game and were gentlemen/gentlewomen intelligence gatherers.

Not 'gentlemen'. No.
But professionals who understand the 'rules'.

Annique says,
"In the Game, we do not kill one another in this bloodthirsty manner that would leave us all dead. "
Even today, in a nastier world, intelligence agencies don't target each other's professional personnel. It's pure practicality. Nobody wants to be targeted back.


  1. Actually, this came through pretty well for me. In part this is because I've never watched a James Bond movie--boycott, y'know, for reasons too obscure to go into here--but one of the things that I loved most (well, one of the MANY things I loved most) about TSL was that your characters acted like real spies.

    Not just real spies, but real spies from the time. Gray rings true in a way that the vast majority of romance heroes from the time do not. He sees himself as part of the British Empire, and they're the Good Guys. They don't hit below the belt, and they don't hit women. The British Empire was, in a way, Noblesse Oblige writ large.

    . . .

    Even today the best spies are not the ruggedly handsome men who can slip into and out of a building swathed in black. Sometimes, they're the aging guys in a baggy janitor's suit.

    And not to mention Tom Clancy, who has his own set of believability problems, but one of the best parts of Red October was that it was the foolish, stupid, over-loud American woman who was the drop. 'Course it is. Your best spies appear average.

    When you make someone real like that, it resonates on a deeper level than any sort of James-Bondism really can.

  2. Hi CM --

    There's a lot of 'army' in Grey's nature. And in C18 and C19, (and today,) that meant having a code.

    The Service always recruits a sprinkling of carefully chosen army types into management positions. The mindset that makes great spies doesn't necessarily make good 'spy managers.' The Service has a hard time filling the position of 'Head of Section.'

    In Re Clancy.
    D'ya know ... if I am going to write another spy story, (and I'm deep in the middle of doing that right now,) I should probably read some of the classics.

    I have hold of something called The Spy's Bedside Book, by Graham Greene. Interesting and enjoyable.

  3. I loved your spies. I also took a good look at your book and amalgamated 2 principles. Start with killing someone, move to sex. Write the book around those two principles, and everything will be okay!

  4. Hi Lynne --

    Start with killing someone, move to sex.

    Oh my! (helpless giggles)

  5. I don't know quite where to put this but did you see that La Nora herself LOVED your book (fomr Smart Bitches I think) ...

    and I quote:

    Nora Roberts said on...
    05.26.08 at 12:54 PM |
    ~The lesson is, I guess, that readers must familiarize themselves with reviewers and learn which ones have opinions worth considering.~

    I agree, but would say not ‘worth considering’ but which seem to jibe with your own personal likes and dislikes.

    I don’t often talk about specific books, but I did just recently read Spymaster’s Lady. I loved it. LOVED it. And I see at Dear Author there are some reviewers who agree, and some who don’t. I actually got why the reviewers who didn’t like the book didn’t like it. They had valid points. But none of their points bothered me in the least while reading the book.

    I think their review(s) were worth considering. But their needs, taste, emotional reaction simply differed from mine.

  6. Oh my ears and whiskers.
    Oh my.

    I wonder if one can have electrons bronzed.

    The review in question is careful and thoughtful and raises interesting issues, even if she doesn't like the book.

    Which not everyone does. Wouldn't expect them to, y'know.

  7. Anonymous3:45 PM

    After reading SL, I got really curious about the whole British Secret Service during this time. I even tried to find a book about it, but the only one I could find, by Elizabeth Sparrow, seems to be out of print, unavailable, and not in my local library. Any suggestions for other books? And I got very confused about why Grey was the British Head of Section. What Section? Why wasn't he the Head of the French Section for Britain, or something along those lines?

  8. Hi Anon. --

    Sparrow is very dense and scholastic reading.
    You might try interlibrary loan, but Sparrow's a tough slog for someone not dedicated to the study of European politics of the era.

    More readable are

    Steven E. Maffeo, Most Secret and Confidential; Intelligence in the Age of Nelson

    Mark Urban, The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Code

    Hubert Cole, Fouche, The Unprincipled Patriot

    You might also try about the first 60 or so pages of Richard Deason's, the French Secret Service, or any other good summary. I mention this one because I have it handy.

    >>>>I got very confused about why Grey was the British Head of Section. What Section? Why wasn't he the Head of the French Section for Britain, or something along those lines?<<<<

    First off ...
    You do realize that this British Intelligence Service never existed.
    It's all made up.

    The British Service has a man-in-charge-of-everything, Galba, who reports directly to the Prime Minister.

    Under Galba are a couple dozen 'Heads of Section', each in charge of some section of Europe.

    It can take MONTHS for messages to get back and forth between London and some of these sections. The Head of Section for St. Petersburg -- who handles all of Russia -- is pretty much on his (or her) own.

    The two most important Heads are Head of the British Section and Head of the Paris Section.

    Head of Section for Paris directs the Heads of Section in Lyon, Marseilles and some other spots in and out of France.
    This is the frontline office of the Service. This is arguably a more important position than Galba's.

    Head of Section for Britain deals with overall European operations, assigns personnel, distributes resources, and is in charge of counter intelligence in the British Isles. He's also the direct boss of all Independent agents, wherever they may be.

  9. Anonymous10:37 PM

    Thanks, that makes it a lot clearer. And no, I wasn't sure how much was made up. I knew the current British Secret Service started early in the 20th C, but then I found references to Sparrow's book which made it clear that some kind of Secret Service existed in Napoleonic times, and I was curious how much was real and how much was made up...

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Hi Anon --

    Oh. Oh. In giving you those 'Regency espionage' references I didn't even think to check the web to see if there was something fast and sweet I could hand over.

    Now, as it happens, there is a long, on-going discussion about Wordsworth as a spy. Cool stuff.

    This message I'm referencing below sort of drops you down in the middle of the minutia of that.

    I'm giving it to you because it, in passing, provides just a lovely description of covert services.

    Pulling a quote from that site here ...

    "Some of the confusion Johnston displays . . . stems from his ignorance of the way the British secret service worked in this period. For the first time since the seventeenth century, Britain's secret service was centralized and highly efficient at turning information gained from many disparate sources into useful intelligence. The great departments of state and the Irish administration in Dublin had their own intelligence networks, but information gathered from these sources was directed to one secret department, where Britain's espionage and counterintelligence policies were formulated. This department existed in the shadows cast by the Alien Office, a sub-department of the Home Office created in 1793 . . . The titular head of this secret department was the duke of Portland, but . . . the effective controller of the secret department within the Alien Office was William Wickham, who held the official positions of undersecretary of state at the Home Office and Superintendent of Aliens. Wickham, lately returned from a long and arduous mission to Switzerland, was highly experienced in both espionage and counterintelligence; little of a secret nature escaped his notice or was decided upon without his advice being sought. He devised the coordinating and filing system which was the key for turning the base metal of undigested information into intelligence gold. It is the failure of Johnston to understand the role of Wickham's secret department that explains his incomprehension when faced, for example, with foreign secret service accounts being channelled through the Home Office. "

    Now my folks in my 'British Inte4lligence Service' are organized a good bit differently from reality, because I want to make the whole thing very simple.

    But what was actually going on is, of course, much more interesting than fiction.

    If you want to really get into this, you could try 'The Duke of Portland: Politics and party in the Age of George III' by David Wilkinson, which I do not own and cannot pull quotes out of for you. But I have notes from it I made some time or other and it's another very readable book.

  12. Since you brought up Adrian -

    What are your latest thoughts on writing him a book of his own? I'm following your deliberations on this with great interest. He's a marvelous creation and I'd love to read more of him, but, like you, I have some difficulty imagining his heroine or HEA.

    And, if Adrian's story isn't next (after Doyle/Maggie)... do you know yet what is?

  13. Hi Calire --

    Right now, MAGGIE is plotted to be a 'Big Complicated Story.' And ADRIAN would have to be another one.

    I'm not sure I can write two Big Complicated Stories in a row, (g) so we might have something more straightforward following MAGGIE, and then ADRIAN as the one after that..