Thursday, April 22, 2010

And We Got Yet More Questions

Continuing with the questions that have piled up a bit . . .

15)  ---Are there any elements in the SPYMASTER's LADY that you wished you'd done differently?

There are quite a few aspects of my life I wish I'd done differently.  For instance, I wish I'd sold PHP Healthcare stock a few weeks earlier than I did. 

And I made this dish last night  - Fusilli Donna -- from a recipie my friend Donna gave me.  I forgot to add the 1T vinegar, which would have improved everything.  And there was the matter of forgetting to blanch the fresh spinach before I added it, though I coped with that fairly well.  In any case, it was very good the way it came out.

So it would be strange indeed if I did not look at the galley of a book and say -- Dang!  (using the exclamation point,)  I should have done that dfferently.

There's lots of places in Spymaster's Lady, (and in Lord and Spymaster and in Forbidden Rose,)  where I'd love to go in and jiggle with the writing. Make it clearer. Make it sweeter.

But if I were to come up with one particular place I'd change . . .

There's this scene in TSL where Grey has come up on Annique on the road out of Dover.  Grey, who's being 'Robert Fordham', insists on going with her to London.

Originally, I had four or five paragraphs of Annique's internals. We see her thoughts while she decides it's safer to take Robert with her than to leave him behind, him wondering about who she is and maybe going to the authorities.

In the earlier drafts, I show her adding up the things 'Robert' knows about her -- he knows she's French; she's illegally in England; she's a skilled fighter; she throws knives like a circus performer; and she has these shifty Frenchmen chasing her.
I have her thinking this over.
What am I going to do about this? Anneka ponders in a French accent. (trans. Oh la la, I am le screwed.)

She decides that no lie is going to explain all these various lethal skills.  I mean -- What?  She's escaped from a sideshow and has the lion tamer after her?  Keeping mum on the situation gets more and more suspicious.

So -- remember this was all in the draft -- I have Anneka decide to reveal about one tenth of the truth and say she's a retired spy because there's nothing like spreading a flimsy camo net of truth over the Big Knobbly Important Stuff you're planning to hide.

But this explanatory internal was long and boring and slow moving and . . . well . . . internal and I was up to the gizzard in internals along about then.  So I jerked it all out of the final draft.

I figgered it'd be fairly obvious to the reader why Anneka has to make some explanation of who and what she is and if the reader can come up with a more plausible story to account for all that then the reader's a better plotter than I am and probably a writer herself and she will be sympathetic.

But it was all not so much obvious to the reader, apparently.
My bad.

Looking back, I should have left in the part where I explained Anneka's reasons for being so 'open' with Robert, because we are not supposed to leave the reader scratching her head about such stuff and saying 'That was stupid of Anneka', when actually it was rather smart, IMO or at least that was the hopeful intention.

16) --You did an outstanding job with both sensory details and sexual tension -- were these elements you worked in naturally or reviewed the ms to find opportunities to ratchet up?

To which I reply -- Oh wow. Thank you so much.

I write in layers. That is, I make many drafts and go back to add detail. Every part of the manuscript is much niggled over.

But if we're looking at adding stuff at the level of scene, the love story -- the sensuality and sex -- is the core of what I was writing. That's what the 'story' is about. Those relationship scenes went in early. The rest of the pacing was moved around to accommodate them.

The 'action plotting' about drove me crazy, but the Annique/Grey interaction was pure pleasure to write. Came very naturally. 

the photo of old paper is cc attrib glass and mirorr


  1. Anonymous9:39 PM

    <> LOL Certainly not the former, but definitely the latter, Jo.
    And IMHO, the story suffered not one whit for its lack....
    But the pasta? Vinegar. Balsamic. Yes, indeedy.

  2. (hangs head)

    I will remember the vinegar next time. It was right there next to the stove . . .

  3. Jo, I would never question your instincts when it comes to storytelling. All I can say is I don’t miss those internals when I read/reread the story. I’ve thought about the scenes between Annique and Robert a fair bit, and Annique’s actions make practical as well as psychological/emotional sense to me. She’s come to the conclusion that Robert must be a smuggler, for one thing. I assumed, and figured Annique did, too, this would make his going to the authorities unlikely. Annique and Robert are both dodgy characters in Dover, in parallel to Annique and Gray in France. A kind of trust comes in that recognition on Annique’s part, withal she also imagines Robert’s domestic life. But Annique is singularly domestic herself; she wouldn’t consider a homely side incongruous with smuggling. And Annique has had good experiences with smugglers, and this one has impulsively (so it appears to her) come to her rescue. Annique’s Achilles Heel, I’ve always thought, is her generosity and lack of cruelty. She’s oddly trusting for a spy, because she’s so trustworthy herself. She’s acute in being able to recognize cruelty, though, and as a consequence trusts her instincts. This has gotten her into trouble in the past, beginning with her rescue of Adrian and Gray. Her trusting Robert, then, is not wholly inconsistent with what we know of her.

    There’s also the circumstance of her being newly sighted and not used to it. As the cliché goes, she’s blinded by the light and not seeing clearly as a consequence. She knows to eat lightly when she’s been starved, but she can’t be gradual about seeing. She’s drunk on it.

    For even a brilliant spy, it must have been irresistible to have a companion/protector when she’s been alone and on the run for so long, this time with no prospect of returning home to Maman. And Gray has the advantage of her and can be cleverly manipulative. Her actions made sense to me, though perhaps I’m being a naïve reader.

    One can question why she doesn't expect to find Gray on every street corner, I suppose, but would he smell like fish?

  4. P.S. Fusilli Donna sounds wonderful. Is this a secret recipe--hint hint?

  5. Jo, I am afraid it was very presumptuous of me to go on and on about how I interpreted those scenes in SL. I certainly didn't mean to suggest I understand Annique's motivations better than you do! This really was by way of explaining (or overexplaining as is my custom) why I wasn't taken out of the story when Annique lets Robert accompany her to Dover. Even if it was for the wrong reasons, I experienced her actions as reasonable and consistent.

  6. @ Annie --

    No. No. I'm just delighted when anybody stops and thinks about what's happening in the book.
    Shows that I made it real.

    And, basically, you've said exactly what I was trying to establish in that scene, so I was hitting most stuff right.

    What I'm doing today -- and was doing yesterday afternoon -- is raking out eight cubic yards of mulch over a bit of forest we got in front of the house. This involves much wheelbarrowing of mulch and pulling weeds and discovering azaleas I forgot I had planted and coming across stuff that is either mock orange or another, larger weed . . .

    I wanted to get this done before the rain.

    Anyway, I am exhausted. I have come in, very sweaty and itchy and covered with a fine robust layer of soil, to finally get to the emails.

    I must decide who Doyle and Maggie resemble in the way of celebrities.

    Not easy.

  7. @ Annie --

    Recipie for Fusilli Donna:

    ... Oh, Donnaaaa

  8. Anonymous2:56 PM

    Got to thinking about your celebrity issue...does Ralf Moeller from Gladiator (maybe minus the bright white smile and gym physique) resemble Doyle in stature?

  9. Anon --

    Y'know -- I never know how large these movie people actually are. Size is apparently all done with camera angles and standing on a box or something.

    I will, in about six weeks when 'Forbidden" is out, do a blog post on all these lovely celebrity types I went and googleimaged.
    It's not so much that folks want to know what Doyle and Maggie look like -- though maybe they do.

    It's just an opportunity to show a bunch of hot pictures.

  10. Anonymous11:38 AM

    I see Gerard Depardieu in my mind for Doyle...
    THis is probably entirely wrong, but I'm thinking not classic good looks but very competent looking and able to blend in on the streets...

  11. Anonymous1:05 PM

    Dear Jo and Annie,
    As requested, the recipe for pasta with collards and bacon.
    1 lb. COLLARD GREENS(turnip greens, spinach work well) OR 8-10 oz. frozen collard greens (this a wonderful shortcut to what's about to come),coarse stems discarded and the leaves washed well, chopped coarse and boiled in salted water for 10-15 minutes until tender

    6-7 oz. BACON, browned in a skillet

    4 LG GARLIC CLOVES, chopped fine

    1 large ONION, sliced thin


    1/3-1/2 cup OLIVE OIL

    3/4 pd. PASTA (preferably a short variety)


    Freshly grated PARMESAN or ROMANO CHEESE(Romano's my preference)

    Drain the collards after cooking. YOu may cook the pasta in the same water.
    Transfer the browned bacon to a dish and drain off the fat from the skillet. Into the pan add half the olive oil to it, the garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes and cook over low heat until the onion is soft and the garlic is barely golden.
    Cook the pasta, drain and add to the onions et al. Add the greens and bacon, the remaining oil and vinegar. Toss well. Taste. Correct seasoning.
    Serve grated cheese on the side.


  12. Thank you SO much.

    This is a lot better than the little scribbled notes I was working with (g)

  13. Donna, thank you for your willingness to share and for taking the time to type up the recipe. I can't wait to make it.

  14. mst3kharris9:49 PM

    I'm curious: Annique's name is being spelled as Anneka. Was the spelling changed for the new edition? Also, does this mean I've been pronouncing Annique's name wrong all this time? I've always thought of it as like unique but with Ann.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Hi mst --

    Oh dear. I didn't mean to be confusing.

    I used 'Anneka' as a place-holder name for my heroine. A 'working name'. It's the name that made her real for me and it's still how I think of her.

    But I knew I wasn't going to get away with using this name in the actual book,
    because Anneka is not French.

    It's kind of funny. About the first thing my editor said to me when we were talking and getting to know each other was, "You know you're going to have to change Anneka's name, don't you?"

    "I know," says I.

    Now, all along, I saw the Anneka character as having a baptismal name AND a nickname that she actually used on a day-to-day basic. I wanted both a 'core', original identity for her AND a nom-de-spy.

    I liked 'Anne' as the baptismal name because, in exactly that form, it would work for a Frenchwoman or a Brit. Many names have different French/English forms.

    So I started from there. From Anne.

    'Anne' would have been called 'Annie' when she was very small. Her parents had to change this when they hit French soil, because 'Annie' doesn't sound French.

    So they slid 'Annie' over to another common diminutive of Anne
    -- Ahn EEK'

    This name, under fifty different spellings, is common all across Europe. In Brittany, where they would have landed, it's spelled Annick. In France itself, Annique.

    I used the French, (and more modern,) spelling of the name rather than the Celtic spelling, because I didn't want readers getting all distracted wondering why the heroine didn't have a French name, her being French and all.

    Would the heroine have been known by a nickname? Did folks use names other than their legal names much?

    Well . . . I do think so. Baptismal names were traditional and stuffy and generally involved being called after your great-aunt Eglantine.
    (Which means 'needle'. Why would anyone name an innocent baby, 'needle'? Though I suppose it would be a good name for a junkie.)

    But I digress.

    So lots of folks in France operated under 'use names' of various sorts, their names on the baptismal papers being truly awful, even by the elastic standards of the day, or else 'Marie' or 'Anne' which if you yelled it out in any deserted field would bring forth half a dozen women from toddler to granddam.

    Moving on to the fretful topic of

    In late C18, France spoke a dozen, mutally unintelligible dialects.

    'Annique' would be two syllables in Paris or in Brittany or Normandy -- pronounced exactly as you suggest. That's how Doyle would say it.

    Somebody speaking the main sourthern dialect of French would make three syllables out of it, the southern type just generally adding on the sound to the endings of words that north'rn folks chopped off.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.