Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, January 26, 2019

More on Birth of a Book

A friend posted the photo below to Facebook. No source given, but it's surely one of those serendipitous moments. Love it.


On Thursday, I wrote the first chapter of the sixth book in my Regency Warrior series, the one that spawned my original "Birth of a Book" blog. So, time to catch up. What more did I have to do before I could sit down and write?

As mentioned in my blog of 12/8/18, I finally came up with a title: The Notorious Countess. I can, of course, change this at any time up to publication, but I've found that I rarely do.

After that, over the holidays and during the first weeks of January, there was a lot more "prep."

1.  More Names.  

All I had was a bare-bones Character List, with a Hero and Heroine, a bit on their extended families, plus characters from previous books in the Regency Warrior series. Which meant I had a long way to go. I needed to create and name at least two characters who would provide additional "color" to the plot. I needed to create and name a gaming house manager, a hardened gamester, a footman, my heroine's maid and housekeeper/cook. Only when my Character List popped over to a second page did I feel I had enough names to get started without having to resort to "blanks" here and there.

2.  Research. (More formidable than I'd anticipated since I've been studying the era for so long.)

     a.  The Year 1817.  I re-read the history of 1817, with particular emphasis on the first six months. (It was a more tumultuous time than I had recalled.)

     b.  I created a Timeline for the five previous Regency Warrior books, discovering that Jack Harding (Rogue's Destiny) had not yet met his significant other and Terence O'Rourke (O'Rourke's Heiress) was attempting to deal with the aftermath of murder and yet another estrangement from the love of his life; i.e., neither was married in the Winter of 1817.

    c.  I re-read all the Georgette Heyer books set in London (this would be the 4th or 5th time for most of them). There is nothing like Heyer for getting the Regency flavor, even if one is writing in a more serious genre than a Traditional Regency. 

   d.  And then the hardest research of all: I, who hate card games, had to learn the rules of piquet. Why?  Well, most authors, other than Heyer, do no more than mention that people are playing piquet. But I had a scene in which a hardened gamester was required to lose his temper, and I felt this required enough details to justify how this happened.  

3.  Character Problem to Solve.

Frankly, I did not realize I was attempting to drum up sympathy for the Countess, who was the "other woman" in The Lady Takes a Risk, until as I was beginning Chapter 2, I finally realized that sympathy was exactly what my "out of the mist" instincts told me Dasha needed to make her an acceptable heroine. Hopefully, Chapters 1 and 2 will do that. (Chapter 2 expands on who the countess is, what she's doing in England, etc.) Women of those days were at the mercy of the men in their lives, and any woman attempting to survive on her own needed all the help and sympathy she could get.

4.  Results.  I am copying below the first chapter of The Notorious Countess. It will undoubtedly undergo many more revisions, but here is how it stands during its first week of life. Comments are encouraged.

Grace note:  Previous posts on "Birth of a Book":  12/1/18 & 12/8/18

Chapter 1

London - Winter 1817
The flickering light of a branch of three candles, augmented by a similar branch standing on the mantelpiece, haloed the golden blonde hair of the woman seated at a gaming table for two, while at the same time casting shadows onto the saturnine features of the man seated opposite her. The lady, though no longer in the first blush of youth, glowed with the full bloom of womanhood; her figure, once merely promising, now as striking and elegant as the face that went with it. The gentleman was at least a decade her elder, his deft hands, shrewd dark eyes, and the barely restrained aura of a predator about to pounce proclaiming him a hardened gamester.

The lady’s remarkable violet eyes were cast down, seemingly fixed on the twelve cards in her hand; in actuality, making certain her opponent could catch no hint of her thoughts. They had just begun the fourth of six parties in a high-stakes game of piquet, the lady ahead two rounds to one, and with no intention of walking away the loser.

The two were the sole occupants of a small private parlor in a well-appointed house on Bennet Street, not far off St. James Square, an area known for discreet gaming clubs which allowed access only to “subscribers,” as many of the most intriguing games of chance were quite illegal. The police, in fact, not infrequently supplemented their salaries by raiding these “private” clubs and scooping up every coin in sight. (For to whom could club owners complain about the disappearance of their illegally-gotten gains?)
Carte blanche,” declared the Countess Dariya Alexandrova, indicating that she had no court cards in the hand just dealt, and thus gaining ten points before play even began.
Carte blanche indeed, the Honorable Bertram Lyttleton snarled to himself. He might be willing to offer carte blanche in its more salacious meaning to the elegant beauty with the oh-so-charming accent, but he’d be damned if he was going to let her beat him at a game he considered peculiarly his own. Devil a bit! His reputation was at stake.
The countess, with the casual elegance of an accomplished piquet player, discarded five of her twelve cards, choosing replacements from the eight-card talon, face down in the center of the table. After perusing her new array of cards, she raised her gaze to her opponent, and proffered a cat-that-ate-the-cream smile. The Honorable Mr. Lyttleton was startled by an inadvertent shiver that rippled his gamester’s calm façade.

Sixième,” declared the lady, indicating she now had six consecutive cards in one suit and gaining another sixteen points. The Honorable Bertram had not so much as a tierce to offer in response. The countess promptly followed with a declaration of a  quatorze of Aces, gaining another fourteen points, to which Mr. Lyttleton again had no response, giving the lady a repique and an additional sixty points. Mr. Lyttleton, although well aware that only cool heads prevailed in a tight situation, felt his temper flare. Clearly, Fate was against him. For it could not be possible that this female, this foreign female, was more skilled than he.
When the countess put the cap on her excellent start to the partie by winning all the subsequent tricks for a resounding capot, Lyttleton had to struggle to control his outrage. He sat down with her only to prove that the stories he’d heard of her skill at cards were patently false. Now here he was on the verge of defeat. He rang a handbell, conveniently situated on a side table, ordering Thomas, the bewigged footman stationed just outside the door, to produce a bottle of madeira and some biscuits. But when the footman returned, bearing the order on a silver tray, the Honorable Bertram barked, “What is that?”
“That,” said the Countess Alexandrova, “is my tea. The management here is kind enough to serve me in the Russian fashion.”
“Who ever heard of tea in a glass?” Mr. Lyttleton mocked.
“It is pretty, is it not, with the glass set in its silver holder? We Russians know how to drink tea—and not muddled about with milk, I might add.”
“Good God, that is barbaric!”
“To each his own,” the countess responded with a smile so charming, Mr. Lyttleton was forcefully reminded of his lascivious thoughts when the lady had declared “Carte blanche.”
Perhaps a flash of shame—he was raised a gentleman, after all—was enough to enable the Honorable Mr. Lyttleton to control his temper through the fifth partie, or mayhap it was merely the fact that his cards were heavily sprinkled with royalty, yet as they recorded their point totals, it became clear the lady was still ahead. Nonetheless, his luck had changed, he knew it.
Except, alas, the sixth partie was more like the fourth, the declarations a disaster, and if he heard that woman intone “Not good” and topping his card one more time, he was going to—
The Countess Alexandrova laid down her final card, taking the twelfth trick of the final hand. With her elegant features totally indifferent, as if she had not just won five hundred pounds, she declared, “I believe I have won, Mr. Lyttleton.”
That this foreign intruder could address him with all the sangfroid of a seasoned gamester was the final straw. The Honorable Bertram Lyttleton erupted from his chair with enough force that the games table overturned, scattering cards in every direction and catching the edge of the side table supporting the wine, tea, and plate of biscuits on the way down. The wine bottle remained intact but a river of red began to flow onto the Oriental carpet. The silver filigree tea holder, however, was insufficient protection for the glass and it shattered, the shards dotting the spreading stain on the carpet like glittering raindrops, while the biscuits seemed to be doing their best to soak up the wayward wine and tea.
The countess, though nimble, was unable to save her gown from the first splash of the wine and now stood, gazing in disgust at the ugly splotches on her rose silk gown—splotches that were promptly forgotten when she glanced up and saw the fury on her opponent’s face. Clearly, Mr. Lyttleton was well beyond acknowledging that his display of outrage was bad ton. His loss to a female, someone as outré as a Russian female, totally unacceptable.
“Cheat!” he hissed. “Doxy! You used your wiles to beguile me, turn my head. Those damned violet eyes—”   
“Mr. Lyttleton, you know that is not true. We have played a game of piquet, gamester to gamester, and tonight the cards were with me. I have won. That is the whole of it.”
She backed up hastily as he took a menacing step toward her, the menace in his dark eyes promising retribution.
“Mr. Lyttleton!” An authoritative voice, with only a hint of deference, came from a man who had just entered the room, closely followed by the footman, Thomas.
The countess’s breath whooshed out in a sigh of relief. The widow of a Russian diplomat, she had survived the siege of Moscow. She was an international traveler, an experienced gamester, and considered herself capable of dealing with most situations. But this was the first time she had come close to physical violence in a card room. Definitely an occasion when she was grateful for a man’s intervention.
Mr. James Wherry, manager of the discreet gaming establishment on Bennet Street, said in a softer tone and with all the aplomb of his trade, “Mr. Lyttleton, we have just made up a fine hot punch in the refreshment room, which you might care to try. A-ah, that’s the ticket,” Wherry breathed as Lyttleton’s shoulders slumped into a more natural position. “Thomas will escort you—as soon, that is, as you have given your note of hand to the countess. And then it’s a spot of punch, and we shall all forget what happened here.”
Now calm enough to realize he had committed a social solecism of the first order, the not-so-Honorable Mr. Lyttleton accepted the pen and paper handed to him by Mr. Wherry, scrawled his promissory note, and stalked out, the footman on his heels.
James Wherry promptly turned to the countess, who had just sunk into an upholstered chair in a corner of the room, her graceful fingers touching her brow. “Dasha,” he groaned, “I warned you not to play him. Lyttleton is known for a sore loser in every gaming club in town, and to lose to a female, a foreigner . . . My dear girl, you are mad, quite mad!”
“You see me chagrined.” Dasha Viktorovna, head in her hands, did not even look up.
Mr. Wherry heaved a sigh, strongly suspecting his words had fallen on deaf ears. “But five hundred pounds richer,” he noted. “I was reading over his shoulder.”
“And very helpful it will be.”
“Dasha . . . must I remind you I can protect you only so far. If Thomas had not brought me running at the first sign of trouble . . . If I had been even a moment later . . .”
The countess responded with nothing more than long moments of silence before asking, 
“James, would you be kind enough to see if my hack is waiting? Clearly, my evening is ended.”
Mr. Wherry shook his head but did as she asked, ascertaining that the countess’s faithful jarvey, who, five nights a week, waited for her between two and three in the morning, was indeed in place. Within ten minutes, the Countess Dariya Viktorovna Alexandrova, suitably cloaked and hooded, was on her way home. Though not as sanguine about her future in London as she had been at the start of the evening.

 ~ * ~

Please don't forget 

The Ghosts of Rushton Court

For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here.

For Blair's Facebook Author Page, with background info on
the writing of Ghosts, click here. 

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