Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Day II~ Guest, Victoria Janssen; On writing The Duchess...

The winter winds are blowing here this morning, with a delay in school and winter advisory’s o’plenty! It’s great to be here, snug and warm in front of the blazing fire at the manor. The aroma of fresh baked scones and a robust, hot cuppa coffee in my hand makes this morning tolerable! These winter morning’s are my favorite, when Lord CM awakens to make sure the fires are blazing when we venture downstairs! But I digress…
Our guest this week is Victoria Janssen. Are you a coffee or tea drinker in the morning, Victoria? Or perhaps that bottle of Cola is what gets you started?

Amanda: Authors gain inspiration from all kinds of things, where did yours come from for “The Duchess?”

Victoria: The inspiration for The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover was in a contest; I think it was in 2001. I am often inspired to write something by a call for submissions, even today. There was a five dollar fee, and you had to submit the story on a diskette, so it was rather a pain, but the prize was $1000. I believe the theme was "danger," though I might be remembering wrong; it doesn't matter now, because the story didn't make the final cut, and then the contest folded before final judging ever began, and I was left with a story on my hands, about an Empress and a stableboy named Jirin.

In 2004, I finally sold the story to Jim Brown at LL-Publications for an e-anthology titled Eternally Erotic. Jim worked with me on the story, and it's thanks to him that the setting became less fantastical and more like eighteenth-century France. The Empress became a duchess and the stableboy's name changed to Henri. Perhaps most importantly, I added the possibility of a happy ending, when the original story had ended on a cliffhanger.

Amanda: It’s always amazing to me how a story can be re-sculpted. You and I are presently in revisions , in fact , for our stories. At first, I looked at these and found them daunting, but after speaking to my editor, and letting things settle a day or two , I began to get excited about the revisions. How did you approach the changes you made in “The Duchess?”

Victoria: First, I named the duchess Camille, so she wouldn't have to spend an entire novel being addressed by her title. And though the original story was from Henri's point of view, for the novel I would need to get inside her head.

When writing an outline for the novel, I knew immediately that the two characters from the original story wouldn't be enough. I was working on the assumption that there should be a sex scene, or a partial one, in every chapter, and I knew I'd find that easier if I could vary the partners and the goals of the scenes. For example, the first chapter has a "first time" scenario with the duchess and Henri. If I had more characters, I could also have a "first time" scenario with Henri and someone else, which could serve a different purpose in both Henri's relationship to the duchess and in the plot.

The original short story referred to other characters who weren't seen: the duke, the duchess' maid, and her eunuch guards. The duke was of course the villain of the piece, the reason the story began. As soon as I tried to picture the maid, I realized she would need to be a much sharper, more sarcastic character to contrast with the seriousness of the duchess and her plight, and the innocence of the stableboy. As part of that idea, I decided the maid would dress as a boy while on the road, an homage to all those Georgette Heyer novels I've read. Because her personality was in many ways at odds with the other characters, she became a third point of view character as well.

I decided on a pair of eunuchs. It easily followed that they would be extremely loyal to the duchess, and could be involved with her sexually as well, in the classic fantasy of "woman pleasured by two men." I liked the idea very much, eventually giving them their own subplot: They're in love! But their love is forbidden! Which doesn't stop them from consummating it anyway!

Finally, I thought more on the stableboy. The duchess was clearly the leader in this relationship, tired and embittered from years of an unhappy relationship. Therefore, Henri was the ingénue. Almost everything about his character snapped into place with that realization. I particularly enjoyed playing with the tropes of the innocent as applied to a young male character, when in romance that role is usually assigned to a female.

Finally, there needed to be The Other Man. I never seriously considered Maxime as a rival to Henri, but for my own amusement I did feel an erotic novel needed a character who was, shall we say, well-endowed. The rest of Maxime's character and role developed later in the writing process.

Once I had the characters, the outline took shape. I already knew the plot. The duke is going to kill the duchess. She flees. Eventually, she defeats the duke. The tricky part was creating sex scenes that showed changes in the relationships between the characters, all while moving the plot towards the final goal of the duchess' victory. However, as I tend to figure things out as I write, my outline didn't necessarily show that movement. For instance, one chapter's summary read simply: "Camille ponders how to find out if Henri trusts her, and how to make him her lover." Or "The Duchess, while riding the next day, remembers an encounter with Maxime in her youth, before she married the Duke." Some of the chapter summaries were more detailed, but all of them left plenty of room for invention. In the process of writing, I changed not only minor plot details, but also some major ones, including changing an off-camera coup d'etat into the final action scene.

I'll sum up the various pairings in The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover. I had a lot of fun with choosing these scenes and playing with erotica tropes to see how far I could push the envelope of genre expectations.

There are, of course, several sex scenes between the Duchess Camille and her loyal stableboy, Henri; but Henri also has an unexpected encounter with a bathmaid and several encounters with Sylvie, the duchess' maid, including once as a performance for the duchess' benefit. Sylvie enjoys herself with the duchess and, later, with a brothel owner, Master Fouet, who also obtains a valuable service from Kaspar, one of the eunuch guards. Both of the eunuchs, Kaspar and Arno, pleasure the duchess, and later in the story have their own love scene. The duchess remembers her first affair, in her youth, and later consummates it with Maxime. Alas, I didn't have room for Maxime's projected scene with Sylvie, and his scene with Henri was cut for pacing reasons.

Amanda: Can you share an excerpt with us from ”The Duchess…?”

Victoria: Sure, here's a short excerpt, from late in the book, featuring Sylvie and Henri:
"It's time," Sylvie said to Henri. "You promised I could have my way with you. We have been in this castle for two days. I am tired of waiting." Also, if she once more saw him moping near the duchess' door, waiting for her to return from yet another meeting with Maxime, she would have to tie him up for purposes of murder, not fun.
"Oh," he said. "Yes." He did not sound the slightest bit apprehensive. That would never do.
Sylvie cracked her palms together. "You will kneel when you acknowledge me!"
Henri jumped at the noise. "Stop it, Sylvie! I'm not in the mood for your games!"
She planted her hands on her hips and advanced on him. "You will put yourself into the mood," she said. "You owe me. Or do you break your promises so easily?"
"What does it matter? It's all just sex, in the end. Why can't we skip all that--that--" He flapped his hand in the air.
…"On your knees. This is what I want. You will give me what I want. Yes?"
"Yes." Henri sighed and knelt on the floor at her feet.
"Show a little more enthusiasm," Sylvie directed. "Perhaps you could kiss my feet."
Henri leaned over and studied her boots. "Are you going to take your boots off?"
"May I take them off?"
He sat back on his heels. "Sylvie, this game might be fun for lords and ladies and--and you--but I've spent my whole life having people order me around. It isn't the same for me. If I wanted someone to hit me, I could go back to the Duke's stable."
Sylvie frowned. This wasn't going according to plan…his genuine reluctance was only frustrating her, and not in a way she enjoyed. "We will try something else."
"I could take my clothes off," Henri said, hopefully.


Genella deGrey said...

It's interesting to hear about your story's journey, Victoria. We don't get to hear about the 'behind the scenes' very often.

It sounds like a VERY yummy book!
I am curious, does everyone get an HEA?

Victoria Janssen said...

I am curious, does everyone get an HEA?

Yes, they do, though I think of Sylvie (the maid) as being a "happy ending in progress." The Duke, who's the villain of the piece, does not get a happy ending, but I hope no one expects that!

flchen1 said...

LOL! I'm thinking it's OK if the villain doesn't get an HEA, partly because that's a component of everyone else's HEA :) And thanks for the background for your story--how neat to hear more about how you created it and pieced it together!

Caffey said...

Victoria, fascinated how this process of the book coming to be worked. When having to wait those 3 years before the publishing, do you continue to write other stories? Or is it difficult to work on more than one story at a time?

Thanks for the peek into Sylvie and Henr!

Charlotte Featherstone said...

Victoria, you mentioned writing sex scenes and trying to vary them up. I thought I'd ask if you find it sometimes difficult to always change up the sex in the book you're working on?

Amanda McIntyre said...

Victoria, do you find that you have to research the sexual terminology as they pertain to a particular era?

Additionally, since we are all readers--I'd like to know how much historical accuracy really means to you? Are you jarred by seeing a contraction ("We've," for example) in an Arthurian setting?

I am talking books here, not movies. (Example of brilliant blend IMO, is the Heath Ledger movie, A KNIGHTS TALE, where they use both modern slang and old world lingo and it works!)

I have had comments both ways in my writing. I was curious how you handle that in yours.


Victoria Janssen said...

When having to wait those 3 years before the publishing, do you continue to write other stories? Or is it difficult to work on more than one story at a time?

Since I didn't know at the time that the duchess novel would sell, I did work on other projects--mostly short stories, and I began another novel which was eventually set aside in favor of The Moonlight Mistress. I did have to juggle a bit while writing The Moonlight Mistress, because I received my revisions for The Duchess in midstream, and then my page proofs, so twice I had to stop thinking about WWI and go back to the duchess' world. It usually took a day or so of adjustment for me to get back into the swing of the other project.

Victoria Janssen said...

I thought I'd ask if you find it sometimes difficult to always change up the sex in the book you're working on?

If I've been working on a project for months on end, I sometimes worry I've reused certain words or phrases, so I go back and check in the revision stage, at least as much as I have time to check.

So long as the characters are different, it's relatively easy, because each character experiences things differently, and uses different words to describe things. At least, that's how it works in a perfect world! I know my own, narrative voice leaks through sometimes. If it's the same two (or more) characters, then having the situation be different helps, or even more so, having their emotional state be different.

Victoria Janssen said...

Victoria, do you find that you have to research the sexual terminology as they pertain to a particular era?

I did do that, at least in the case of WWI, but most of the terminology we use now was in use then. People's underwear was different, though!

I think the writer can choose to be in the period voice or view that period through modern eyes (which we are all doing, no matter how hard we try to think like a historical person). I prefer trying to sound historical.

I have noticed that sometimes readers don't believe certain things, such as the use of certain curse words in a WWI setting, because they didn't "sound old." Even if there's plenty of documentation for the usage.

Additionally, since we are all readers--I'd like to know how much historical accuracy really means to you? Are you jarred by seeing a contraction ("We've," for example) in an Arthurian setting?

If the people in the story aren't supposed to be speaking modern English, but the book is written in modern English, then I think it makes more sense for them to use contractions and such, because in their own language, they WOULD have. They weren't trying to sound like "Le Morte D'Arthur" in their everyday lives. I think we forget that spoken language is very different from written; it changes much faster, and is much more, well, colloquial.