Why I Write What I Do
My wonderful friend, critique partner par excellence, and Golden Heart finalist, Dawn Marie Hamilton, author of the exciting new book, Sea Panther and The Highlands Garden series, asked me to participate in a blog tour about our writing processes. Perhaps you might enjoy learning a little about why I write what I do.
What Am I Currently Working On?
My current project is called Patriot’s Dreams, the third (and last) book in my Dreams of Oakhurst series. It is the story of my two main characters who struggle to keep their home intact and their burning love alive through the long separations compelled by the long and bloody Revolutionary War in South Carolina’s back country. Richard is a Continental cavalry officer while Alexandra plays a difficult role of her own. It is to convince the British and Charlestowne's Tory elite that she and her husband sympathize with their cause. She plays a dangerous game. Who is her real adversary: Lord Cornwallis--or somebody else? Will she win or lose? She and Richard are determined it will be neither of them.
My books are set in pre-Revolutionary War, Charleston, South Carolina. The final book in the series, Patriot’s Dreams, is actually set during the Revolution. The war, as it was fought in the South, is largely unknown. Most Americans have heard about Concord and the Boston Tea Party since their first years in public school. How many know, though, that it was actually won in the South?
My hero is Richard Berkeley, a scion of one of the oldest families in Charlestowne, a descendent of one of the Lords Proprietors. My heroine is the granddaughter of two dukes, the fourth Duke of Argyll and the Duke of Wessex whose ancestors were kings of England. Richard’s goal is to become one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in South Carolina. Hers is to be the son her father never had. Through Alexandra and the fabulous wealth from which she descends, Richard is set to achieve his goal. Alexandra has a little more difficulty—especially since she was raised to behave as a lady. Richard’s sister marries into the Henry family of Virginia. Remember Patrick Henry, whose classic words, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Alexandra’s cousins marry into the highest echelons of British nobility. One of their dearest friends is General Lord Cornwallis.
I have tried to set a stage rife with possibilities for treachery and intrigue, yet remains one within which men and women can live with love and honor.
How Does My Writing Process Work?
I begin with an idea of when and where I want to set my book and then determine who my hero and heroine will be. I enjoy imagining possibilities of who these people are, what they might want, and how to make them work for what it is they hope to achieve. I try to write the story in the “house style” my publisher uses, but it’s a rough draft that I go back through, often many times and consider ways to say what it is I want my characters to say, feel, think or hear. A famous writing instructor, Margie Lawson, describes the ways we might make our characters smile, as “Miles of Smiles.” People smile when they’re happy—or when they’re trying to cover other emotions, but we can’t just say he (or she) smiled. How tedious! How did they smile—and why? Was it something someone said that evoked it? Or was it the comical way someone appeared that caused it? It’s the job of a writer to make the reader feel the character’s emotions, to despair when their character does or to laugh over a comical thought. I’ve always thought the mark of an excellent author was one who could make me cry from the force of the emotion they created. I know of some excellent authors who can do this, too. Diana Gabaldon accomplished it in her second novel, Dragonfly in Amber, and so did Renee Vincent in her magnificent novel, called Raeliksen. Màiri Norris, achieved it in her second novel, Rose of Hope. Grace Burrowes seems to manage it repeatedly. Her book, The Soldier, was the first one I read that touched me so deeply. I cried for five straight minutes with David. Such a moving story. Thank you, Grace! I hope I manage similar results in Dreams Within Dreams.
Anyway, after I’ve written what I consider golden prose, I subject my manuscript chapters to my critique partners, during which process, they’re free to rip it apart and make me humble. Thank you Dawn, Cathy-and-Derek! Afterward, my wonderful editor, Ciara Knight, makes free with it. She is a lovely lady who is, for me a Rumpelstiltskin, hardly a gnome who weaves straw into gold, but a word-genius (or genie?) instead.
The historical editor reviews it for historical accuracy and points crit partners, Ciara and I have both missed, and then the executive editor gets a final pass. It’s a long, arduous, exciting process that I feel privileged to have participated in to bring my stories to life.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my writing process! Now sit back and enjoy the first scene from Dreams Within Dreams.
“Mr. Richard Berkeley and Lady Alexandra Berkeley,” proclaimed the queen’s chamberlain in stentorian tones. Sharp pounding resounded throughout the noisy chamber when he struck his long mace against the marble floor once…twice.
Heads swiveled their way. Painted and many-patched men and their ladies, garbed in gorgeous court clothes and dripping with jewels, thronged St. James Palace on this Thursday evening for the queen’s bi-weekly Drawing Room. Word of the Berkeleys’ appearance had spread through St. James District like fire through a ramshackle barn stuffed with dry hay bales. Richard’s and Alexandra’s sponsors, her grandmother and aunt, flanked them. Two duchesses as sponsors—such had never before been the case to everybody’s certain knowledge.
Richard led Alexandra forward through crowds that parted like the Red Sea before Moses when they passed down the center of the mammoth room. Halting before the pregnant queen, Richard swept his grey tricorn from his head, extended a foot and bowed from his waist while his wife sank into a deep curtsey.
Waves of murmurs swept through the assembly behind them, scarcely audible confidences, overheard by Richard’s keen ear. One of them, a girl born with every advantage, had allied herself to a mere gentleman whom nobody had ever heard of before, nobody would distinguish with an invitation anywhere, and nobody wanted to know. Yet from the number of invitations flooding in to Her Grace of Argyll’s secretary, everybody most plainly did. From the corner of Richard’s eye, he glimpsed several short men and a few women clamber onto chairs to capture a better view of them. One elderly dame even lifted a lorgnette containing pink glass to match her silk gown. Richard successfully stifled a smirk. For somebody nobody wanted to acknowledge, he’d garnered enormous attention.
“We have not enjoyed your presence in our Court for the past year and more, Lady Alexandra.”
Queen Charlotte’s gaze swept her from bright red, high-piled curls to the hem of her magnificent embroidered cloth-of-silver wedding gown, the only acceptable attire for her appearance today.
“We hear you have given birth to a son, Lady Alexandra. What did you name him?”
“Edward Thomas Rutledge Campbell Berkeley, Ma’am. He was born last December.”
“We are pleased to see you in good health, for you appear well, indeed. You give no evidence of your recent travail. And you are happy, we see, for you are aglow with it. Very well, very well,” she smiled, a rare occurrence during one of these tedious events, and waved her hand in dismissal. “Now step aside, gel, while we acquaint ourself with your gentleman.”
Richard snapped to attention and bowed his head. “Your servant, Ma’am,” he drawled. His accent, with its long, slow, in-gliding vowels brought a smile to the queen’s lips. Those near enough to witness her open appreciation gasped, their eyes widened with amazement.
The small woman before him lifted her head and gazed into his eyes. He’d come to recognize such smiles. He’d seen them since he was a boy, fighting off advances from flirtatious females.
“We are charmed by your distinctive accent, Mr. Berkeley. You are from Charlestowne of our South Carolina colony, are you not?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I am.”
“Yet you spent a number of years in England.”
“That’s true, Ma’am,” he grinned, impressed she knew anything of him. Of course, Alexandra had written her and, doubtless, explained. “I attended school in England. Lord Edward Campbell convinced my father to send me to Eton when I was eight years old. Later, I entered his alma mater, Christ Church, Oxford. Afterward, I trained in the law at London’s Middle Temple.”
“Is that when you met Lady Alexandra?”
“No, Ma’am. I didn’t have that privilege until several years later.”
From the corner of his eye, he glimpsed Alexandra slanting a glance at him while he stood at ease, with hands folded behind his back, and flashed a grin at the queen. The small brown-haired, sallow-skinned woman with striking turquoise eyes lifted her chin. He suspected nobody ever presumed to grin at her. But Her Majesty was a woman and, he supposed, from her widened eyes and the flirty grin playing on her lips, he’d surprised and stricken her, as he had most women all his life.
“How was that, Mr. Berkeley?”
“Lord Edward Campbell, Lady Alexandra’s father, was my mentor and, later, my business partner, Ma’am. He and my father planned a betrothal between us since we were children—though, they didn’t bother to share the information with either of us until the spring of 1768. Since I was soon to embark upon a voyage to England, His Lordship sent along a letter of introduction to the Duke of Argyll, in Inveraray, Scotland. After I saw to my affairs in London, I travelled north—and met my wife.”
“I see. Yet, Lady Alexandra failed to mention it to us during the following year when she served us as a Maid of Honor.”
Richard grinned again, amused. Her Majesty gasped and leaned toward him, her eyes widened further. He doubted any gentleman had ever been so audacious as to display genuine friendliness toward Her Majesty during all the years she’d sat beside her husband on his throne.
“A delicious tale, Mr. Berkeley. We have always been fond of your lady wife, and are pleased you make her happy.”
“I’ve tried, Your Majesty, but I’ve not always succeeded.”
“And why is that, sir?” By her alert posture and the crinkling of her eyes at the corner, Richard knew laughter lurked while she awaited the outcome of his anecdote.
“You see, once I refused to burn a house down for her. On another occasion, I forbade her to ride. I recall even threatening to post guards on her. She was remarkably unhappy with me on both occasions, Ma’am.”
“And why were you commanded to burn a house down, Mr. Berkeley?”
“It contained a nest of snakes, Ma’am.”
The queen’s eyes flew wide and she glanced toward Alexandra. “A nest of vipers, Mr. Berkeley? Pray share the tale with us.”
“Well, you see, I’d bought a sawmill upriver from our home. After cleaning and repairing homes for the workers I’d hired, my wife pulled aside a bed, and there they were. Believe me, Ma’am, I’ve never heard such blood-curdling screams.”
“We should say not! What did you do?”
“Well, I carried my wife outside before she strangled me, while others carried out the snakes. Once they were gone and the place was cleaned, there was no longer a need to burn down the house.”
“She nearly strangled you, you say?”
“Yes, Ma’am. She jumped at me and wouldn’t let go of my neck. It felt like I’d imagine a tightening noose might feel, you see. On that same occasion she nearly suffocated herself and our child, as well.”
Beside him, and amused by his tale, Alexandra fidgeted, wanting to supply some detail that did not present her actions in quite such a…colorful manner. Queen Charlotte pointedly ignored her, though, and she dared not speak unless addressed by Her Majesty.
“I must hear this tale now, if you please, Mr. Berkeley,” the queen demanded.
“My wife took it upon herself to burn vermin-ridden bedding in a fireplace that didn’t work properly. Lady Alexandra was not happy with my response, I fear.”
“Indeed? What did you do?” Another of her rarely seen public smiles wreathed her face. The muscles in her cheeks and about her mouth twitched with the effort to maintain her regal composure.
“I wanted to turn her over my knee, I assure you. That might not have been appropriate, given her delicate condition, though. Instead, I snatched her into my arms, carried her outside and ordered her to sit. Without a single chair on the site, however, my only alternative was to assign her a simple task. It gave her something to do and kept her out of everyone else’s hair, at least.”
A Queen of England may never be said to roar with mirth but her laughter rang through the Presence Chamber and she clapped her hands in delight. Her ladies fluttered about her, fanning her and dabbing the tears streaking her cheeks with lacy handkerchiefs.
Finally, re-gaining control of herself, regret crossed her face. “We fear we must excuse you, Mr. Berkeley, and remember the others awaiting our notice. We look forward to meeting you again at court. Lady Alexandra, we are glad to welcome you back.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” Alexandra replied, sinking into another curtsey, then backed away from the throne, her hand again in Richard’s.
Her Majesty had extended the usual five minutes granted to each couple by twice as long. This was to the consternation of her formidable chamberlain who stood nearby drumming his fingers on his lectern and waving his hand each time the queen glanced his way, hoping to attract her attention.
After they retreated from the throne, another couple approached who had been kept waiting. The redoubtable Lady Mary Coke, ever present at these bi-weekly affairs, sallied forth and accosted Alexandra.
Her Grandfather Argyll’s first cousin was the daughter of the great Second Duke of Argyll. Lady Mary reigned over St. James District. “You may introduce your gentleman, Lady Alexandra,” she commanded, as though nobly bestowing a great honor.
Inward rage roiled within Alexandra’s breast at the woman’s haughty demeanor toward her tall, handsome husband. Richard bowed when Alexandra introduced him. Her grandfather, the Duke of Wessex, approached and greeted Lady Mary. Afterward, he claimed Richard’s attention and took him to meet a friend. Alexandra could have murdered him for taking Richard away and leaving her alone to combat the arrogant woman. She expected nothing but censure from the fearsome dame, nor was she long disillusioned that she might escape.
And thanks for joining me today.