Inspiration is Not Always a Muse

One of the things I found myself doing when I started Point of Honour was deliberately trying to take up the glittery surface of the historical romance (particularly the Regency romance, since that’s where I got my start) and check out all the worms and slimy bits below.  A number of the Regencies I read when I was a teen had so little to do with the actual period that even I, as a fifteen-year-old, could catch them out.  And there was one, in particular, that drove me nuts.

Understand, this was multiple decades ago.  I no longer remember the title or the author; I do remember the set up of the book because it was so intriguing.  Briefly: Our Heroine, having lived with a man without benefit of clergy for philosophical reasons, is left alone when said man dies.  He leaves her an income, not large but enough to keep herself on, and the house in which they lived.  The only condition: to keep the house she must live in it or lose it.  Only, see, the house is in the same town where she grew up, where her history is known to all.  To the men in town she’s a dirty joke, a woman to be had for the asking.  The matrons who knew her as a child refuse to speak to her or let their daughters speak to her; she is a cautionary tale, a hissing and a byword.  Maybe some of the servants and peasant-types talk to her, but maybe they don’t.  She’s looking at a lifetime of misery, and I began to wonder why she got involved with a man who would set her up to be punished and ostracized this way.

Well, my fifteen-year-old-self thought.  That’s really interesting.  She’s ruined; can’t even rehabilitate herself by moving somewhere else. How on earth is the author going to rehabilitate her and give her the happy ending this category romance requires?  This ought to be a really fabulous read; I’m dying to see how she does it.

Simple: she didn’t.  Having built herself a really interesting box, the author got out of it by deciding the box wasn’t there.  Within a chapter or two you’d have thought the worst this young lady had done was be seen talking with the guy after church with her chaperone beyond arms’ reach.  By half-way through the book no one seems particularly concerned by her moral lapse.  And even at fifteen I knew this was cheating.  I knew the consequences of making a decision to live with her lover would be serious, and it infuriated me that the author had ignored it.

So many years later, when I sat down write Point of Honour, I wanted to avenge my disappointed fifteen-year-old self by writing a book in which the consequences of a decision were serious, life-defining, and potentially deadly.  I had first readers ask me why I had to make things so hard on my heroine; because the times would have been hard on her, and I couldn’t magically forget that.  All I could do was give her the character and resolve to cope, and follow her lead.

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9 responses to “Inspiration is Not Always a Muse

  • saffronrose

    Thanks for the explanation of how Sarah came to be–I love backstory!


  • mswyrr

    It’s really interesting to hear this. There’s a lot of talk about research papers being in conversation with each other as part of an ongoing discussion. But I don’t think enough attention is given to the way that novels and other stories speak to one another, their authors arguing with the points of other authors.

    • madeleinerobins

      I know it happens with me a good deal; my short story Willie was written after I saw the Kenneth Branagh Frankenstein; I had a 2 year old and got really pissed off that The Male Scientist could create life, go Ah!, and run for the hills, so I wrote a story in which the Doctor raises the Monster.

      And Boon was written as a reaction to the Borderlands stories, which I love–but which always evoked in me a curiosity about the people for whom living among the boho faeries was not a cool thing dearly wished for, but a pain in the ass.

      I have to believe this happens a lot; I don’t pretend to be particularly unusual in this regard.

      • mswyrr

        Though I am but a lowly fanfic writer, I often write out of a sense of pique and/or in response to another author. Which is part of why hearing this delighted me so much.

        Thanks for the links to your short stories. 🙂

      • mswyrr

        …oh, my goodness! Just read “Willie.” It’s lovely. I really liked how you portrayed the Doctor, and how the language of scientific accomplishment that the Doctor thinks in gets interwoven with the tasks of parenting.

      • madeleinerobins

        Thank you! I loved writing that story, particularly the Doctor’s not quite Germanic speech patterns. It was only after I’d gotten the first draft done (in something like 24 hours) that my husband read it and pointed out that it was all about the fact that we had a two year old. I was chagrinned; that had never occurred to me (how blindered can one be?).

      • Michael

        Just finished reading your short fiction at BVC and note that “Aberland’s Kiss” in not accessible;(

        There also seem to be formating errors in “Papa’s Gone a-Hunting” and “Somewhere in Dreamland Tonight” but that might be my browser.

        I did enjoy all the stories and am looking forward to the next ST novel.

        Did you ever read Kate Ross’s Julian Kestrel regency mysteries?

      • madeleinerobins

        “Abelard” was pulled for use in Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, a BVC reprint anthology. (In the immortal words of grannies everywhere, “why buy the cow if you can get the short story for free?”) I’ll check the formatting; it’s such a Byzantine system that sometimes things kind of fall apart. I noticed some problems in “Boon” that I need to fix, too. Thank you!

        No, haven’t yet read the Julian Kestrels because I’m a little fearful of cross-pollination or contamination or something. I’ve heard they’re great fun.

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