Elements of Romantic Comedy: SaleZ

What a way to end the A to Z Challenge, by talking about money! And yet selling books is part of the equation. Readers are always on the hunt for new titles–and authors–to love. They are! Don’t lose heart, writing friend.

Photo: Marco (Creative Commons Flickr)
Readers are incredibly loyal. If they love your work, they’ll buy up your backlist. Really. Photo: Marco (Creative Commons Flickr)

This is the age of the story. I mean, look around. People are addicted to Netflix and Hulu, binge-watching an entire series in one weekend. Even using their phones, which I think is crazy. How can they see? Then again, these are twenty and thirty-somethings with young eyes.

Get in on this craze, because readers do the same with books. Feed them! Keep that idea factory running.

Nothing sells older titles like a new book, right? And eBooks? Those are instant-gratification mind candy! One click, and… let the reading begin!

DBAON-thumbnailPeople do judge a book by its cover. A book purchase is impulsive, driven by curiosity and emotion. I think the cover designer for Darcy By Any Other Name nailed the intrigue of the body-swap. The publisher’s designer for my Mercy’s Embrace  series? Not so much.

Speaking of Darcy, choosing which passage to share each day has presented a quandary. I cannot betray what happens at the end, or in the middle, or, well…anything! So let’s finish the A to Z Challenge with a no-spoilers smile. From Chapter 30, here is Collins-as-Darcy in all his bumbling glory. Dear me, with Collins at the helm, the handsome “Mr. Darcy” is fast losing ground.

The evening wore on. It was Miss Bingley’s stated intent to accustom him to fashionable hours, such as he would find in London. What brutes Londoners were! Supper had been abominably late—even Mr. Bingley had complained—and then they must play cards and converse and listen as Miss Bingley played the pianoforte until the small hours.

But Collins’ tedious evening was brightened by the contents of Netherfield’s wine cellar, in particular a decanter of beautifully-aged cognac. Such a lovely, golden amber it was, served in special glasses to warm it. Bingley sipped his. Collins, who had never before tasted brandy, tried to follow suit but could not. It was simply too delicious. Mellowed and warmed, he found himself humming a tune as he refilled his glass.

Not that he’d had the funds in those pinched university days for as much as a pint of beer. But from the mists of memory an old drinking song bubbled up.

With women and wine I defy ev’ry care,” Collins sang. “For life without these is a bubble of air.”

He drained the glass, marveling at the delicate flavor of the brandy. He stole a glance at Miss Bingley. She was looking both surprised and disgusted. Wonderful! Smiling, he continued humming. “A bubble of air.

Charles Bingley began to laugh. “Upon my word, Darcy,” he said.

Again Collins reached for the decanter. Wasn’t it odd that a song he’d never sung came so easily to his lips? This time Charles Bingley sang with him.

“Each helping the other in pleasure I roll,
And a new flow of spirits enlivens my soul—

“Really, Charles,” said Caroline Bingley, “you shouldn’t encourage him. We have enough to put up with in Mr. Hurst.” And she tugged on the bell pull.

Collins shared a grin with Charles Bingley.

Sometime later Holdsworth appeared, as neat as a pin, wearing his usual wooden expression. Apparently the man’s intention was to escort him to his bedchamber.

“Good night, Miss Bingley,” Collins called, as he was led from the drawing room. He was soon grateful for Holdsworth’s arm, for he staggered as they climbed the staircase together. Bingley followed.

For life without cognac is a bubble of air,” Collins sang. “A bubble of air.

Yes, a merry song. For some reason Holdsworth did not enjoy it.

Again, thank you for joining me for this challenge. It’s work, pumping out twenty-six posts in a single month, but it’s been enlightening and affirming. I expect the artwork for the print cover soon, and then we’ll be off and running. Check here for details!

Laura Hile (1)

Excerpt is from Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile, copyright 2016

Z is for Zero

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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You can fix anything but a blank page.

Nora Roberts

The rough draft is like the ugly duckling, not the goose that laid the golden egg. Nurture your draft, work with it, revise it. Allow it to grow into the novel it deserves to be. You might surprise yourself with what it becomes.

Photo: Bill Smith (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

Elements of Romantic Comedy: Y-not?

Grasping at straws for a meaningful Y word here. But “Why not?” is a question I ask whenever my story gets stuck.

Not IF it gets stuck, but WHEN. Sooner or later every plot bogs down (like the unhappy jeep pictured below), usually in the middle. It’s too easy to write yourself into a corner and/or run out of ideas.

Photo: Wagner T. Cassimiro (Creative Commons Flickr)
How often I get stuck in a fictional mud wallow! Yeah, one that I’ve driven straight into. Photo: Wagner T. Cassimiro (Creative Commons Flickr)

Bring on the free write! This is a technique I use with students. Write freely in a notebook–yes, by hand–for ten minutes–yes, with a timer. No stopping, no editing–just words. Nonsense sentences at first, or whining words, or a list. But after three or four minutes, the creative mind kicks into gear. It’s remarkable. Ideas come bubbling up, especially lines of dialog. Before you know it, you’re off and running with a story solution. Move to the keyboard and start typing.

“Why not?” is something I’ve learned to ask of the most unlikely ideas. For instance, list things that could not happen to your lead, things he or she just wouldn’t do. Can you tweak one of them, twisting it around, finding a way to make a version of it work?

Pixar’s Emma Coats’ 22 Rules of Phenomenal Storytelling to the rescue! If you write, I’m betting you’ve seen this helpful list somewhere around the blogosphere. Heck, I blogged about it for NaNoWriMo a while back. Here’s an  infographic from that post (scroll down).

My bail-out favorites on Coats’ list are Nos. 6, 9, 10, and 12. And then there’s No. 7 (get the ending working up front). Yeah, that. For me, the ending is always the most challenging.

Anyway, here’s a “Why not?” example from Darcy By Any Other NameDarcy-as-Collins needs an ally among the Bennets, you know, for story purposes. Elizabeth has her sister, Jane, but who would side with the odious “Mr. Collins”? Everyone hates him! So I asked my “Why not” question, and an unlikely candidate stepped up.

This scene from Chapter 7 is rather long; I apologize. I want to show how I use a somewhat predictable concept and humanize it in such a way that it is believable and works. Darcy-as-Collins IS a different man. Elizabeth Bennet might not see that yet, but someone else does and instinctively responds.

Being present at dinner was not as easy as it appeared. Darcy must deal with Hill, who made him sit on the bed as she removed both his coat and neck cloth.

“Menfolk,” she muttered. “You’ve no sense, none at all. But it’s not my place to say, is it?” She crossed to the wardrobe and removed Mr. Collins’ clean nightshirt. “Put this on, and without a lot of talk, if you please.”

Darcy could tell she was in no mood for being crossed. He took the garment.

“Remove the shoes and stockings,” Hill went on, as if speaking to a little boy. “You had no business going downstairs today, and even less jaunting off to Netherfield.”

Darcy was about to blame Jones and his aunt, but the look on Hill’s face silenced him. This woman was paid to listen to Mrs. Bennet’s excuses, not his.

“And now,” said she, putting her hands on her hips, “your head hurts like thunder, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Darcy meekly. He fumbled with the buttons on his waistcoat.

“Here, now,” said Hill, and she made a move to assist him.

Darcy pulled away. “I can do this,” he said. But his fingers felt thick and awkward.

Hill pushed his hands aside and helped him. She unfastened the top button of his shirt, too. Removing the night shirt from his resistless grasp, she said, “You might as well lie down as you are. It won’t make much difference if you sleep in your shirt and breeches.”

Darcy was happy to comply. She was right; he was worn to the bone. He lay back against the pillows and closed his eyes.

“There now, Mr. Collins.” Hill’s voice was soothing instead of scolding. “A bit of sleep will do you good.”

He could not sleep! Darcy raised his head to eye the wardrobe. “My evening clothes,” he said. “For dinner. Where are they?”

“You will have your dinner brought on a tray, young man, and no mistake.” Clucking and fussing, Hill drew the blankets up to Darcy’s chin. “You are not well enough to come down tonight. The idea!”

“But,” protested Darcy. “Wickham.”

There was a pause. “What did you say?” demanded Hill.

Darcy lay back against the pillows. “That devil Wickham,” he said. “He’s coming to dinner tonight.”

“Aye, he is. What’s it to you?” Her tone accused Darcy of jealousy.

Darcy ignored this. “I must be at table,” he said. “Miss Elizabeth does not realize…”

He paused to steal a look at Hill. Her hands were on her hips again. “Miss Elizabeth does not realize what?”

“That Wickham is a scoundrel. She has no way of knowing it.”

Hill sat down on the end of the bed, and Darcy heard her give a long sigh.

“Something’s not right,” she said at last. “I feel it in my bones. The Mistress, bless her, has no notion of what’s what, and the Master indulges the girls. Again and again these officers come to the house. They’re harmless for the most part, amusing the girls with high spirits and dancing. But that Mr. Wickham? He’s not their sort.” Frowning, Hill lapsed into silence.

“He speaks well enough,” she admitted at last, “but he’s not one of them.”

Darcy worked his good hand free of the blanket. “I must be at table,” he told her.

But Hill did not appear to hear. “Calculating!” she burst out. “That’s what he is! A smooth smile and smooth speeches. And up to no good, if you ask me.”

“Very much up to no good,” said Darcy.

“He’s too agreeable! But he watches them, oh he does. And the Bennets know nothing—nothing! —of the ways of conniving men. The Mistress believes any tale told her, and that Mr. Wickham has been telling her plenty. When a man has something to hide,” she added, “he talks on and on.”

Hill turned a speculative gaze on Darcy. “Perhaps there’s more to you than meets the eye, Mr. Collins. But you are not,” she added, “up to sitting at table tonight.”

Darcy hated to admit that Hill was right, and yet what could he do?  He tipped his head to one side, rather like his late father’s favorite spaniel. “What do you say to after-dinner coffee, Mrs. Hill?” he offered, smiling appealingly. “In the drawing room? You could put me on the sofa before the others come in.”

He paused, studying her expression. “By the fire with a lap blanket,” he added. “And with a mug of hot milk.”

Mr. Collins was not handsome, but Darcy discovered that he could be charming. Mrs. Hill rose to her feet. “Hot milk!” she scoffed. “As if I do not have enough to do.”

But she did not refuse, Darcy noted. And she took with her his spare shirt, frock coat, and breeches to press. When the door closed behind her, Darcy allowed himself to smile. He had made his first ally.

Tomorrow is the final challenge day. Thank you for hanging in there with me.

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Excerpt is from Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile, copyright 2016

X is for … What if X?

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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Two questions form the foundation of all novels: ‘What if?’ and ‘What next?’ (a third question, ‘What now?’ is the one an author asks himself every 10 minutes or so; but it’s more a cry than a question.) Every novel begins with the speculative question, What if X happened? That’s how you start.

Tom Clancy

Another leftover post from last year. I don’t ask as many “What If” questions about real life these days. I focus instead on what I can be thankful for.

Photo: Thomas Leth-Olsen (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

Elements of Romantic Comedy: eXcellence

With each book you write, you take your best shot. What you release into the wide world represents the best you can do. That’s the glory and the heartbreak of writing.

Photo: Daniel Wetzel (Creative Commons Flickr)
Aim carefully, and then let that story arrow fly.  Photo: Daniel Wetzel (Creative Commons Flickr)

Your book deserves to live. Bring it out of your imagination and share. What if your favorite author had given in to self-doubt and had never put pen to paper? Never came up with the fortitude to publish?

Ah, but Indie publishing tempts the writer to toss words onto the page and call them good. For me, the difficult first draft is only the first step. Then comes the rewrite, the process in which I tune up the story and make the words sing. Here, I’ll show you.


Below is a rough first version of an exchange in Chapter 1.
Is it good enough? Not really. There are flashes of fun and snark, but there’s a lot of “telling” too. The cadence isn’t snappy enough, and I’m covering way too much story ground, especially in the first paragraph. Not much description, is there? Yeah, description is my weak point.

He was a young man, but was well on his way to stolid middle age.  Without invitation or encouragement he’d babbled on about Rosings and the august favor of Lady Catherine de Bourgh—as if this were a recommendation!  Darcy did not know which was worse: the flow of insincere compliments, the nervous smile, or the way his plump hands twisted together as he conversed.  No, there was something better. His clumsy attempts at dancing with Miss Elizabeth.  Darcy’s lips curved into an unholy smile. That display was not something he’d soon forget.

Darcy increased his pace, making for the stone Folly in the center of the garden.  Perhaps he could lose Collins in the shadows.  There was no question that the man would take a hint and leave him alone.

Sure enough, the man came on; Darcy could hear his short-legged mincing trot. “Oh, Mr Dar-cy,” he shrilled.  “Forgive the intrusion, but–“

Something about the man’s voice told Darcy he was cold and uncomfortable. So much the better. Darcy came to a halt beneath the arch and waited.  He offered no word of greeting to the man.  The wind was picking up; fallen leaves swirled in and around the Folly’s arch.

“I am reluctant to intrude,” Collins wheezed out, for he was breathing heavily.

Reluctant?  The man had crossed the garden at a run! Was he now pretending the encounter was accidental? Not only was he impertinent, but also a liar.  Darcy folded his arms across his chest.

DBAON-thumbnailHere is the finished version from Chapter  1 of Darcy By Any Other Name.  The beginning paragraph that covered too much? That was expanded into the first half of the chapter.

 

The crunch of footsteps on gravel caught Darcy’s attention; had someone followed him? He turned and saw the white of a clerical cravat. Indeed, he could hear Collins’ reedy voice calling his name.

Darcy increased his pace and crossed the lawn, heading for the stone Folly. Perhaps he could lose Collins in the shadows? There was no question that the man would take a hint and go away.

Sure enough, on Collins came; Darcy could hear his mincing trot. “Oh, Mr. Dar-cy,” he shrilled. “Forgive the intrusion, but—”

The chill air held the promise of rain, and something in Collins’ tone told Darcy that he was cold and uncomfortable. So much the better! Darcy came to a halt beneath one of the Folly’s arches and waited. The wind was picking up; fallen leaves swirled around his feet. Yes, a storm was definitely blowing in.

“I am reluctant to intrude,” Mr. Collins wheezed out, for he was breathing heavily. “Most—reluctant.”

The man had crossed the garden at a run! Was he now pretending this encounter was accidental? Not only was Collins impertinent, but he was also a liar. Darcy folded his arms across his chest.

And Elizabeth thought him condescending? Top-lofty? Impossible to please? Would that she could see his patience and forbearance! For her sake, Darcy would not give Collins the reply his arrogance deserved.

The man gazed at Darcy with a confiding smile. “I cannot think why, but I neglected to inquire earlier,” he said, and paused mid-sentence.

Darcy knew precisely why: because the man was an idiot!

“Is there a message, good sir, that you would like me to convey to your esteemed aunt? I return to Hunsford on the coming Saturday.”

Surely this was the slenderest pretext for conversation! It now occurred to Darcy that the man might be seeking a loan.

Tomorrow’s post? Y is for … hm’m. Haven’t figured that out quite yet!  Thanks for reading.

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Excerpt is from Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile, copyright 2016

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Y is for Years

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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It’s not the years in your life but the life in your years.

Abraham Lincoln

You don’t have to come back from the edge of death like me to see truth in Lincoln’s statement. God has given us today as a gift.

What are we waiting for? It’s time to do some living, friend.

Photo: Fechi Fajardo (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

Elements of Romantic Comedy: Worthy Opponent

Okay, so the Worthy Adversary is the baddie: the villain, the antagonist, the opposition. (Find out more about villains here.)

The Worthy Opponent, on the other hand, is the sparring partner, otherwise known as the charming romantic foil. That’s right, the love interest. This person should be more than your lead’s equal, having intelligence and humor and heart. Such a refreshing change from the others your lead has met.

Photo: (Creative Commons Flickr)
Swordsmanship skills are a definite plus for a Worthy Opponent! Photo: (Creative Commons Flickr)

This pair generates sparkling banter, and it’s your job as writer to keep it coming. Banter is why readers devour romantic comedy. At its best, it’s a delight. At it’s worst, it’s, well… never mind. To pull off playful teasing effectively, you need to be at the top of your writing game.

Because conversational sparring is the heart and soul of romantic comedy. It embodies everything you’ve ever heard about “show-don’t-tell” in writing. The style might be light and carefree, but the storytelling craftsmanship is precise and demanding. No shirking!

Photo: Walt Stoneburner (Creative Commons Flickr)
A mysterious rook move? Not on your life. Bring it!  Photo: Walt Stoneburner (Creative Commons Flickr)

Finding a brief example–without spoilers–is a challenge. Here’s an exchange from Chapter 14 of Darcy By Any Other Name. Darcy-as-Collins, as a clergyman, has been summoned to Netherfield to attend to “Mr Darcy.” It’s snowing heavily, and Darcy encounters opposition from a most unexpected source.

Elizabeth Bennet stepped forward, and Darcy felt a flush rise to his cheeks. What was she doing in the kitchen? And how much had she heard?

Her arguments, like Hill’s, held weight, and he listened while she said her piece. But while it was one thing to be scolded by a worried housekeeper, it was quite another to be ordered about by a pert young woman.

Darcy drew himself to his full height and faced Elizabeth. He saw her chin come up, a martial light sparkled in her eyes.

“As I have explained to Mrs. Hill,” he said crisply, “which no doubt you overheard, it is imperative that I reach Netherfield. My position as Lady Catherine’s rector demands it.”

“It most certainly does not,” she countered. “The risk is far too great. You are a fool to consider such a thing.”

The word fool rankled and Darcy felt his lip curl. “I appreciate your heartfelt concern.”

“Concern has nothing to do with it,” she flashed. “You are the hope of the family.”

Her sarcasm hit a nerve. Collins be damned! He was no weakling!

He put on his hat, took up his satchel, and faced Fleming. “We’d best be going before conditions deteriorate. Good-bye, Mrs. Hill, Miss Elizabeth.”

“But Mr. Collins,” protested Elizabeth. “This is madness.”

Again he met her gaze. “I prefer to think of it,” he said, “as a calculated risk. I should be back in time for supper.” He tipped the brim of Collins’ parson’s hat, pulled open the door, and went out into a world of white.

For tomorrow, X is for eXcellence. Because you’ve got to give it your best shot.

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Excerpt is from Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile, copyright 2016

W is for Win

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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Now if you are going to win any battle, you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.

George S. Patton, U.S. Army General and 1912 Olympian

Ah, procrastination. It sounds so good, robbing tomorrow’s accomplishments in order to enjoy doing nothing today.

This post is a year late, due not to procrastination, but to my unexpected battle with septic infection. General Patton’s words are just as true now, and I am happy to be here to share them with you. Write on, brave friend!

Photo: Andrew (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

Elements of Romantic Comedy: Vulnerability

To be human is to be vulnerable. Even in a book that is considered an escapist “Beach Read,” your hero and heroine should not–indeed, they cannot–be perfect. They ought to have human foibles. You know, those likable failings and flaws.

Photo: Alon (Creative Commons Flickr)
“Aw, man, did I say that out loud?” Photo: Alon (Creative Commons Flickr)

Remember Mary Sue? It’s a kind of story in which the novelist lives out wish fulfillment through her too-perfect heroine. Yeah, don’t be that writer. It’s embarrassing.

But you don’t need to turn your lead into a soap opera sinner either. He doesn’t have to be an addict or ex-con, and she doesn’t need to be a victim of horrific abuse or a scheming control freak. Just ordinary human failings, placed in an extraordinary story setting, will do the trick.

People have a way of messing up almost anything, right? Give a character your own less-than-ideal reactions–denial, sloppiness, laughter at the wrong moment–and watch what happens. Add in the failings of friends and coworkers, and you’ll have a smorgasbord of faults from which to choose.

Be mindful about embarrassing the reader, though. A small degree of wincing (“Oh, man, my cousin is just like that!”) is fine. But if your hero is too much the jerk, he risks becoming an annoying stereotype. Your reader could close the book and walk away. Can’t have that!

DBAON-thumbnailLet’s take a look at Mr. Darcy’s inner self. Here he is, in all his snarking glory, grumbling about Mr. Collins in Chapter 1 of Darcy By Any Other Name. Just because we agree with everything he thinks doesn’t make him any less human. In fact, this humanity makes the man rather more likable.

 

Mr. Collins paused to draw breath and displayed a fine set of teeth. Had he come to the end of his speech? Darcy hoped so.

But no, Mr. Collins had more to say, and his plump fingers became busy in a hand-washing motion that Darcy found repellent. “And in such a capacity,” said Mr. Collins, “I must set social niceties aside and take it upon myself—for indeed, it is my solemn duty as a clergyman—to convey to you the tidings that, as of Monday last, your aunt was in excellent health.”

Mr. Collins paused and smiled expectantly. Darcy said nothing.

The silence, which Darcy meant to become awkward, was quickly filled. “Lady Catherine, as you know,” said Mr. Collins, “is a most distinguished and worthy patroness, and I am humbled and gratified by her notice. And I am most honored to make myself known to you, her distinguished nephew. Such an august lineage is yours, and such a distinction is mine, to serve—”

There followed more praise of his aunt. Darcy endeavored to stem the flow with a quelling look, but it was no use. Mr. Collins would talk, tossing out compliments with abandon.

At last there came an opening. “My venerable aunt,” said Darcy crushingly, “is known for her powers of discernment. I am certain she could never bestow a favor unworthily.”

This was the wrong reply to a simpleton like Collins. He responded with delight, not chagrin, and resumed talking. At last, with a gesture and another bow, Mr. Collins dropped a useful bit of information. Apparently he was related to the Bennets of Longbourn.

Didn’t this cap all! As if Miss Elizabeth’s mother and boisterous younger sisters were not enough, she must have this noxious cousin!

Darcy’s lips curled into a sneer. After the slightest of bows to Collins, he turned away. Mr. Collins went immediately to Elizabeth’s side, apparently to share his triumph, but Darcy did not wait to see her response. He had had quite enough of her family.

In fact, he’d had quite enough of Netherfield Park. Why in heaven’s name had he convinced Bingley to take this estate? Anything—a cow herder’s stone cottage shared with the cow! —would be preferable!

But no, when considering a property one took into account nothing of true importance. The size of the rooms, the condition of the park, the number of bedchambers, the state of the drains—what were these? What one ought to do, Darcy now realized, was examine the neighbors! Line them up, spend thirty minutes exposed to their chatter and flattery and hapless conversation, and then run like Hades in the opposite direction!

Tomorrow we’ll have W for Worthy Opponents. You know, the sparring thing? We loves that.

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Excerpt is from Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile, copyright 2016

Elements of Romantic Comedy: Unrelenting

Your story needs a pulse, a ticking clock running in the background. Like a time bomb, this sense of urgency is quietly unrelenting, pressing the story forward.

Photo: me! This is my clock! (And my shadow on the glass, ha)
Tick, tick, tick. The suspense builds, sometimes silently, and yet the reader can’t forget.  Photo Credit: me! This is my clock! Eh, and my shadow reflected in the glass.

Think of suspense like the tempo of a song, the thing that causes you to tap a foot, even without meaning to. Readers might say they want “Happy People in Happy Land,” (hat tip to James Scott Bell), but they don’t. Without a looming crisis, a story becomes flat and uninteresting.

On the other hand, continual, unrelenting drama is exhausting, which is what comic relief is for. Give the reader an emotional break, while that story clock continues to tick quietly.  The Mercy’s Embrace books have Jane Austen’s Sir Walter Elliot and Mary Musgrove. Darcy By Any Other Name has members of the Bennet Family, Lady Catherine, and (of course), Mr. Collins.

DBAON-thumbnailThere are several ticking clocks in Darcy By Any Other Name, the most prominent being the body swap. How much damage will Mr. Collins cause Darcy before they switch back? If they switch back! And, oh no, Elizabeth Bennet is falling in love with the wrong man! But wait, he’s Darcy, so he’s the right man! Well, kind of. Arg! We want handsome Darcy!

Here’s an illustration of comic relief from Chapter 9. Notice how the ticking clock is woven into the scene, running silently in the background. What if Darcy-as-Collins betrays himself? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Or wait, that might be disaster.

William Collins was probably as ignorant about billiards as he was about everything else. It would never do to show skill, or even aptitude. While the lamps were lit and a second footman ironed the green baize table, Darcy selected his cue stick. He made an awkward business of it, first gaping at the rack like a yokel and then taking down one stick after another. He asked a greenhorn’s questions, too—about the cue ball, the spot, the red ball, and the rules by which they would play. Bingley showed remarkable restraint, answering each of his questions with kindness. At last Darcy became ashamed of himself.

Collins’ hands were not as large as Darcy’s, so he chose a stick with a smaller shaft. And he made sure to hit Bingley’s ball during the lag, giving his friend the advantage. Darcy hesitated and chewed on his lower lip; he moved around the table and sighed like an old woman.

But once the game was in play, long years of habit and competitive spirit took precedence. Without thought, Darcy assumed the correct striking stance; his follow through was straight and relaxed and therefore all wrong. He felt Bingley’s eyes on him as he moved round the table. Blast!

And so before he took the next shot, Darcy chalked up with vigor, twisting the chalk on top of the cue stick like a rustic. He then studied the position of the balls from multiple angles, leaning over the table and waggling his hind end to and fro.

He heard Bingley choke back laughter, disguised as a cough.

When Darcy finally took his shot, he struck the ball with an abrupt hit so that it bounced. A foul! Fortunately his stick did not damage Bingley’s baize-covered table.

Charles took his shot and then set aside his cue stick. He said, with studied nonchalance, “Bye the bye, how is Miss Bennet?”

Darcy’s stick went clattering to the floor. So the wind was still in this quarter, was it?

Tomorrow’s post is V for Vulnerable. Because even the most heroic hero has foibles.

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Excerpt is from Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile, copyright 2016

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