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RANSOME’S HONOR: The Inspiration & Road to Publication

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

There have been quite a few times on the blog when I’ve mentioned what initially inspired me to write a story set in late Georgian England (1814—three years after the man who would become King George IV became Prince Regent, a.k.a. The Regency Period), but I don’t know that I’ve explained the entire process all at one time.

At the end of my first year of graduate school (spring of 2005), after I’d gone through a massive push to get the first draft of Stand-In Groom finished (by writing the last 25,000 words of it in one three-and-a-half-day weekend, with only about six hours of sleep the entire span—and most of that is still in the book, and some of my favorite material!), I needed something totally different to work on, since I knew I’d spend the next year working on rewrites and revisions of SIG. About a year earlier, I’d seen the final two movies A&E produced based on C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series (Duty and Loyalty) on TV. I was enthralled by them, not only because my love of Jane Austen’s novels gave me a love (and knowledge) of the era, but because Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel so I already had a somewhat romantic view of officers in His Majesty’s Royal Navy. (We’re talking romance novels here, people, not “reality.” Rose-tinted glasses are required.) I rented the first six through Netflix before making the decision to buy the set of eight DVDs (which I eventually did). The first four were okay. Interesting enough to keep me watching and eagerly anticipating the next disc in the mail. Then I watched the fifth entry in the series.

What’s split into two movies, Mutiny and Retribution, is actually one continuous story. And it introduces the character who would become vitally important . . . to me, anyway. The character of Lieutenant William Bush. But had that character been played by just any actor, he might not have made such an impact on me—ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll get into that in another post.

The character of William Bush changed the dynamics of how things worked for dear Horatio. William is an older, more experienced character, with a reserve and caution Hornblower doesn’t (yet) possess. In fact, the character of Lt. Bush in the movie so intrigued me that I went out and bought the book upon which this duplex of movies is based, Lieutenant Hornblower. Imagine my surprise when I opened it to discover that it’s written from William Bush’s viewpoint! And right from the very beginning, Forester’s narrative in Bush’s POV began to give me a much fuller picture of the character from the films:

        The duplicity—play acting—of the young lieutenant aroused a momentary suspicion in Bush’s mind. A man who could assume an appearance of wrath and abandon it again with so much facility was not to be trusted. Then, with an inevitable reaction, the twinkle in the brown eyes called up a responsive twinkle in Bush’s frank blue eyes, and he felt a friendly impulse towards Hornblower, but Bush was innately cautious and checked the impulse at once, for there was a long voyage ahead of them and plenty of time for a more considered judgment. . . .

        Every lieutenant could at least dream, even lieutenants like Bush with no imagination at all. . . .
        ~Chapter One, Lieutenant Hornblower by C. S. Forester

But it was upon a second viewing of the two final movies in the series that I completely fell under William Bush’s spell. It’s in his observation of and remarks upon Horatio’s relationship and marriage to Maria, a woman well below his station—in life and in intellect. And once again, the novel made it all the richer:

        This was something Bush could not endure. . . . What he was looking at now jarred on him unbearably—perhaps it rasped his aesthetic sensibility, unlikely though it might seem that Bush should have such a thing. Perhaps he was merely irritated by the spectacle of uncontrolled hysteria, but if that was the case he was irritated beyond all bearing. He felt that if he had to put up with Maria’s waterworks for another minute, he would break a blood vessel.

        [From the end of Lieutenant Hornblower]

In the movie Duty, when Horatio remarks to Bush about how he knows Bush thinks this is a bad time to get married (when England is about to go to war again in 1803 after a year of uncertain peace during the Peace of Amiens), Bush responds with a remark wondering if there is ever a good time to marry.

Which instantly got me thinking: what kind of woman would it take to make a man like that change his mind?

Well, because I loved the character of Admiral Sir Edward Pellew (based on a real-life person) in the movies so much, it only seemed natural to make the woman who could win William’s heart be his admiral’s daughter—which would give me logical opportunities to throw them together, even when he doesn’t want to be around her. I spent a couple of months just thinking and toying with coming up with characters and interactions, each of which generated so many ideas for the ways I could take the story that I got more and more excited about it, and could hardly stop thinking about it, even when I had to set the brainstorming part aside to finish SIG. But once I got that draft finished and turned in to my grad school mentor, it was full sail ahead on Ransome’s Quest.

Yep, I thought it would be a single, stand-alone novel, taking William and Julia all the way from their reunion in England through to Jamaica and everything that happens there. I wrote the first chapter in one sitting and turned it in, with almost no revision, for workshop critiques at school that summer. I was so proud of that first chapter! It was the first first chapter I’d ever been proud of! It was going to be the first first chapter of mine that stayed the first chapter and didn’t get rewritten/cut/replaced! And everyone who critiqued it loved it.

But just like with Stand-In Groom before it (and Menu for Romance after it), once I got eight or ten chapters into it, I realized it wasn’t going where I wanted it to go. The characters weren’t deep enough, there wasn’t enough conflict—and there was no way I could tell the entire story I was envisioning in one novel, even if I took it to an unpublishable 150k word count. There was just too much story. So I started over again.

I kept the first chapter! But now it was going to be the first chapter in Part 2 of the first book, Ransome’s Honor, because I had the brilliant idea to start Book 1 with the first time Julia and William meet: when she’s ten and he’s fifteen and they’re on her father’s ship on the way to Jamaica for the first time. I got about four chapters written . . . and then I was so anxious to get on to the point where they’re adults and come back together that I realized I wasn’t going to be able to sustain a reader’s interest in them as children if I couldn’t stay interested in it myself. (To read what would have been the first chapter of this version, click here.)

So I re-started it with the original first chapter! and moved forward from there. Once I finished the first draft, however, I had run into a couple of problems. First, Julia’s mother was one of the main antagonists—giving me two viewpoint antagonists . . . and a very unlikeable mother character for whom there was no redemption and very little reason to believe she would be so hateful toward both her husband and her daughter as she was, while kissing up to the male antagonist, who is merely her nephew. So Augusta was changed into Julia’s aunt, Sir Drake’s mother now, which gave her good motivation to try to force a match between the two of them. And then something quite interesting had happened. I had mentioned in passing in the beginning of the novel that William’s mother and little sister were going to come to Portsmouth to visit him. When I got to the unruly middle of the novel and was trying to figure out which way it was supposed to go next, I re-read the first part and saw that reference and remembered I needed to bring them onto the scene.

And in walked Charlotte Ransome, William’s little sister, demanding her own viewpoint scenes and showing me that her story would be one of the primary conflicts for the second book in the series! So after the first draft, I needed to work her POV in from the beginning and start delving into her backstory to see where she was taking me.

And once I finished my revisions, I sent it off to Chip with the proposal—and with the original first chapter!—and waited for the bidding war to begin. (This was shortly before receiving my first contract from Barbour, for Stand-In Groom.)

But no one instantly snapped it up. One publisher told me that if I took all the “seafaring” stuff out of it—made it into a sitting-room romance—they might look at it. (Uh . . . not going to happen. Thanks.) But everyone else passed. Except . . .

In February 2008, we received an e-mail from Kim Moore, an editor at Harvest House, whom I’d talked to about the story at conference in September 2007—because we share a love of all things Austen and Hornblower. She sent a long letter detailing some of the problems she saw with the manuscript, but said that if I worked on those areas, she would be interested in looking at it again.

One of the primary problems: the original first chapter! It opened too slowly. And in Julia’s first scene, she was too melancholy, which started the story out in a much darker place than the tone of the rest of the book. Could I add a prologue in which Julia was in a happier frame of mind and then get the story started quicker—bringing William and Julia face to face (instead of just thinking about each other because of other characters talking about them) before the end of the third chapter?

Why, yes. Yes I could!

Buddy, you never saw the first scene of a chapter chopped off faster than I cut that original first scene I was so proud of. Okay, I’ve teased you enough. Click here to read it.

I thought I could use the scene of William and Julia meeting as children as the prologue. Easy-peasy, right? But . . . what if that hadn’t been the last time William and Julia saw each other? I mean, after all, there was the Peace of Amiens in 1802–3 when it’s very likely that then-Captain Edward Witherington would have brought his wife and daughter back to England, now that the war was “over,” for a visit. And all of his crew would have been turned out on land, but maybe still in Portsmouth hoping maybe to be able to sign on to another ship in the greatly reduced Navy. And of course, when Edward received his knighthood, someone in Portsmouth would have thrown a ball in his honor. And of course it would be at that ball at which seventeen-year-old Julia would have expected the man she’d loved since she was ten years old to ask her to marry him. So that’s the prologue I ended up writing (which I posted Friday). I then pulled an idea for a scene from the very original one-book version of the story which brings William and Julia together—along with Augusta, Sir Drake, and Admiral Sir Edward Witherington—in the second chapter.

And in April, I sent in the revised version of Ransome’s Honor.

And I waited.

Shortly after turning that in, I received the contracts for Menu for Romance and A Case for Love. And I started wondering . . . if I got another three-book contract (for the Ransome Trilogy) while I was still trying to write these books for Barbour and was working full-time, how was I going to get all these books written?

I started working on a second or third (and final) version of Menu and tried to forget that Ransome was back out there, sailing uncharted seas in Oregon at Harvest House.

Kim, bless her heart, kept in touch. Each time I got an e-mail or phone call from her, I thought it was the call. But it wasn’t. She needed a bio, or a new synopsis, or just wanted to chat (have I mentioned Kim and I are close buddies now?).

On July 21, 2008, I found out I was being laid off from my full-time job. Okay, now I’d have time to write multiple books a year . . . if only I would get an answer!

Then, in early September, Kim told me she was taking the proposal to pitch to the publishing committee. If I could send her a one-page synopsis, she’d get it in before the ACFW conference instead of after. I think I sent it to her at 2 a.m. so she’d have it the next morning. When I saw her at conference a couple of weeks later, of course there was no news yet.

So I kept waiting.

Then, the week before Thanksgiving, I received a phone call from Kim. I really didn’t think much of it. We were talking by phone so often by that point that I figured the publishing committee just had another question or needed something else from me. But Kim asked: “Are you sure you don’t want to wait until conference next year so we can announce your contracts there?”

It took some negotiating (yay for having a superb agent to handle all of that), including some phone calls from Chip while I was in Arkansas during Christmas. And surprisingly, Ransome’s Honor went up on Amazon with a July 1 release date a couple of weeks before I received even the first draft of a contract to review. I hadn’t heard the first hint of a timeline or a release date until I saw it on Amazon.

So that’s how Ransome’s Honor and the Ransome Trilogy came to be.

And now, if you’ve stuck it out this long, here’s a treat for you. Yesterday, Harvest House sent me a link to a video trailer they created for Ransome’s Honor:

  1. Tuesday, June 9, 2009 5:24 am

    I was up really and reading through my Google reader, your post was the frist. After reading through your writing process, I decided to document my writing process since I’ve just started the really work on my first book. Thank you for your insight and I loved the trailer.


  2. Tuesday, June 9, 2009 6:37 am

    I think I actually got whiplash reading about RANSOME’S journey. 😉 Your post has reminded me that I probably need to read Lieutenant Hornblower at some point. I’m also reminded of the great tragedy that is the current state of the A&E network and their gosh-awful decision to end the Hornblower film series with the Duty and Loyalty eps. *sigh*


    • Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:12 am

      And you were there for the whole journey. Of course, compressed like that, it seems like it happened a lot faster than it felt like while I was living through it.

      I wonder what ever happened with that rumor we heard around the time Amazing Grace released that Ioan was interested in doing a few more HH movies.


      • Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:31 am

        It’s a real shame that apparently money and/or interest never materialized to result in the continuation of that series. It may be just me but I think Ioan’s career could’ve used a boost like that (whether it was on the big screen or TV). He’s so well suited to costume dramas (as evidenced in Hornblower & Amazing Grace). The contemporary roles don’t seem to fare as well.


  3. Jess permalink
    Tuesday, June 9, 2009 9:17 am

    That is seriously the best book trailer I have ever seen. I didn’t even want to click on it because normally they are so corny, with these bad actors reading lines from the book, but this one did a good job. I’m not so much into historical romances of that period because they usually compare unfavorably to Austen, and I really hadn’t planned on buying this one, but that really made me want to read the book. I love that they don’t see each other for 12 years!


    • Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:14 am

      I was a little scared to look at it when they initially sent me the link. With as much as we went back and forth on the back cover copy for it, I was a little scared of how they would spin the story for something like a trailer. But I’m quite pleased with it!

      I need to see if I can get them to send me the jpeg of the portrait of the sailor they used for William. I like that picture!

      Oh, and I don’t usually read Regencies written by contemporary authors, either, as they try to channel Jane Austen’s style and voice—and it just ends up being ridiculous. While trying to stay true to the historical era, I did try to use my own voice in this, so hopefully you won’t be “reminded” of Austen, you’ll just be able to read a story set during her era.


  4. Carman Boley permalink
    Tuesday, June 9, 2009 9:46 am

    I loved that book trailer! It was very well made.

    Now I can’t wait to read RH. I loved those old chapters, especially the one when they are kids. I’m probably going to buy RH now if my library doesn’t get it.
    Thanks for the awesome post today!


    • Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:16 am

      Most libraries have a system—either on their online site or a form you can fill out at the library—so that you can request they acquire certain books.

      If you’ll e-mail me the address of the main branch of your public library, I’ll send them a post card, to get them to start thinking about it.


  5. Lori permalink
    Tuesday, June 9, 2009 9:52 am

    AWESOME trailer! the world will not know what has hit them when the TWINS arrive!


  6. Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:41 am

    Kaye, that was great to read. Thanks for taking the time to detail Ransome’s journey.

    Those pesky little sisters with big personalities! I had to smile as I read about Charlotte. My Ian has a little sister too.


    • Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:53 am

      Teehee . . . I am the little sister in my family, so there might be a little inspiration from me in her! 😀


  7. Tuesday, June 9, 2009 2:13 pm

    Oh my word! That trailer is awesome–and I’m not a fan of book trailers.

    But this one made me want to read the book. Sheesh, it made me wish it were a movie to watch! Can’t wait to read it, Kaye.


  8. Tuesday, June 9, 2009 4:00 pm

    I can’t wait for it to come out, Kaye!!!! And I loved the story of RH’s “Journey”…makes me want to go and write up about my own WIP’s story. Thanks for sharing!


  9. Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:19 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with us…it was so exciting to read! I love hearing about the inner workings of the book (writing, selling, publishing) process.


  10. Wednesday, June 10, 2009 11:14 am

    Love the book trailer–it’s really well done!

    I had to laugh when I read that excerpt from Lieutenant Hornblower. I remember watching the video and thinking, What are you doing, Horatio? Don’t marry her. You don’t even love her. Good grief.

    Now I want to watch the movie again and pay more attention to William Bush. 😀

    Looking forward to your July releases!


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