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Thursday, June 06, 2013
From the pen of Author Lecia Cornwall
Romance Readers Connection 05/30/13
A Writer’s Notebook
There they are, nine of them, my precious notebooks, on the shelf beside my desk, lined up like soldiers after a hard battle, tattered and worn and falling apart at the seams. There are pages missing, and scraps of paper, ticket stubs and Post-it notes tucked between the dog-eared pages that remain.
I use Moleskine notebooks, the eight-inch-by-five-inch ones. When I get a new cover flat from my publisher, I use two-sided tape to affix the front and back covers to a new, color-coordinated notebook. I’m currently filling up a red one with the covers for The Price of Temptation on it. It will soon join the ranks of the others on my shelf, filled up, duty done.
So what’s in this mysterious little book? Let me share my secret life with you.
It starts with notes for blog posts for All The Pleasures of The Season (2012), as well as to-do lists from volunteer committee meetings I attended at my daughter’s high school.
There are several pages of dialogue for How To Deceive A Duke with arrows and crossings-out and reminders about the story behind the story, the real reason why the conversation is taking place at all. It includes details about the characters’ unspoken emotions and hidden agendas. Notations like “M must prove self to N, not father.” “Add sensory” reminds me to add the non-verbal dialogue, the story that plays out under the spoken lines and illuminates everything they aren’t saying.
There are notes for The Secret Life of Lady Julia going back to the very germ of the idea. “What would a ruined woman have to do to make a new life?” The jotted list of options following is short—courtesan, governess, companion, demi-monde. From there, the idea started to coalesce into the full story.
There are story ideas that come to me and need to be written down at once before they drift back into the ether. In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he describes how the universe offers us stories to unearth and bring to life, like archeologists. We don’t just think them up by ourselves, and they don’t belong strictly to us. If we fail to take the universe’s offering, it sinks back into obscurity for another author to bring to light. So, stories conceived on subway trains, or that wake me up in the middle of the night, are dutifully recorded. Not all of them are great ideas—some are downright terrible—but they represent possibilities, a place to start, a color swatch to build a room around. In this red notebook, there are lots of useful ideas, too. I used part of a World War II plot for some the details for Thomas Merritt’s story in The Secret Life of Lady Julia.
There’s a recipe for a Back berry martini jotted on one page, the first drink my daughter ordered in public after she turned eighteen (our legal drinking age here). Vodka, Chambord, Crème de Cassis, muddled blackberries, and fresh lemon juice. We experimented with proportions later at home. They are truly delicious.
Another page has a bright green Post-it note with scrawled ideas for Christmas gifts, mostly books. It’s clear that I give way too many books for Christmas! This particular note is stuck crookedly over more plans for the Secret Life of Lady Julia, labeled with the book’s old working title “Thief of Hearts”, including the title of one of the research books I used (and loved), Vienna 1814, by David King.
Doodles—there are dozens in the margins of every page—Faces, swirls, squiggles. On one page is a sketch of a Halloween witch we later turned into a life size Paper Mache Halloween decoration (there are pictures of her in my Facebook photo albums). She stands in the basement in the off-season, and there are times I come round the corner and scare myself silly, thinking someone’s standing there.
I have four pages of point form notes outlining the first fourteen chapters of The Secret Life of Lady Julia, showing who’s point of view each chapter is in, and offering brief but insightful notations and ideas. There are further pages dividing up the subplots, too. The Intrigue plot is here, with details about how it will slowly unfurl through the story like a red flag in front of a bull. And Dorothea’s sad, laudanum soaked existence is described. There’s also a list of floral perfumes, since Thomas Merritt has strong opinions about the fragrances ladies wear. Julia, like all my heroines, wears violet perfume. My mother wore the violet-based Je Reviens by Worth. I still keep a bottle of it, and it reminds me of dress up days and special occasions when my mother wore her black Jackie Kennedy coat and elbow-length black kid gloves. Alas, Je Reviens doesn’t smell the same on my skin. I wear Jo Malone’s Pomegranate Noir—I wonder what Thomas would say about that?
There’s a list of trees guaranteed to grow in our tough Alberta climate—Makamik Crab Apple, Russian Olive, Norway Maple—made when the fledgling apple tree in our backyard died and had to be replaced. We chose a Golden Willow, and it wasn’t a good decision. The tree is dead as a stick, but each spring it valiantly puts out new shoots from the roots, like a hand from the grave reaching for salvation. I can’t bear to cut it down when it’s trying so hard.
Here’s another scrawled outline for The Secret Life of Lady Julia, a scene where I was trying to decide what Julia was might use as a weapon against an attacker in the dark. “She tiptoed across the floor and grabbed the only weapon close to hand…” and then follows the potential list—book, candlestick, chamber pot, hairbrush, and bed warmer. You’ll have to read the book to find out which one I ultimately chose to be our intrepid heroine’s weapon of choice, and who is the recipient of her forceful blow. There’s a hint in the book trailer, too, which you can access from my website.
There are pages of ideas and story questions for three other books, including the next one in this series, Stephen’s chance to find love at last, and currently titled “What A Lady Most Desires”.
I also have a list of the real historical figures included in The Secret Life of Lady Julia. I usually don’t use real people, just work the story around them, but this time, characters like the wily French ambassador Talleyrand, the charming Prince De Ligne, and the utterly delightful Madame Anna Protasoff were too wonderful to resist using.
On the last page of each of my notebooks, I list songs I want on my iPod. I’m learning fast, but I still haven’t had ‘the lesson’ from my kids on how to do this myself. I still turn over the list and the iPod over once a year, and the update is one of my favorite Christmas gifts. In past years it included recordings from their excellent high school bands. I am almost ashamed to say I have a few songs from my distant past this year—from the Best of Bread, no less. Even I’m cringing. There are a couple of Partridge Family songs, too, since my daughter has just discovered the old TV show in re-run. It’s a daily date—she and I sit down at four-thirty to watch the Partridge Family (really!). Remember how cute David Cassidy was? And they had some amazing guest stars on some of the episodes, before (or long after) they were famous—Mark Hamill, pre-Star Wars, Richard Pryor, Harry Morgan, and Ray Bolger to name a few.
Written inside the back cover is the best note of all—the date and time of the flight that will bring my son back in a few weeks from his latest adventure, a study abroad trip to Kosovo and St. Petersburg, Russia. I can’t wait!
And now, there’s a brand new notebook waiting for me, one decorated with the gorgeous cover of The Secret Life of Lady Julia … and doesn’t a brand new notebook offer so many wonderful possibilities?
Special offer: Two lucky winners will receive their very own Secret Life of Lady Julia Moleskine notebook, blank but discreetly signed, handmade by the author, for your own amazing ideas.
Posted by jenngjones at 12:03 PM