Kathy Lynn Emerson (aka Kaitlyn Dunnett) here. What, you may be asking, is the book of the heart? For me, right now, it’s my historical mystery, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, the first in a new series set in sixteenth-century England.
The term, as used by most professional writers I know, means a book that the writer has to write, even knowing going in that it will be difficult to sell when it’s finished. If writing is the way you make your living, it is no easy task to find the time to write a book of the heart. For one thing, instead of writing a proposal and finishing the rest of the novel only after a contract has been signed and an advance against future royalties has been paid, most books that don’t have a readily apparent market usually have to be written on spec. In other words, the writer has to finish the novel before trying to sell it. That’s both good and bad. Good because what goes out to an editor is a polished, as-near-to-perfect-as-possible piece of writing. This is often more persuasive than a synopsis, especially if writing a synopsis isn’t that writer’s strong point. The bad? To produce that polished, as-near-to-perfect-as-possible piece of writing takes time. In my case, it meant finding six months when I wasn’t committed to doing anything except working on Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe.
The new sleuth?
I’d been wanting to get back to the world I created for my Face Down series ever since the tenth entry, Face Down O’er the Border, was published back in 2007. Unfortunately, I needed to be writing books that would pay the bills and historical mysteries set in the sixteenth century were not going to do that for me. Instead, I became Kaitlyn Dunnett to write contemporary cozies. I returned to the sixteenth century, although in earlier decades, to write non-mystery historical novels as Kate Emerson. I was writing mysteries and I was writing historicals, but I was not writing historical mysteries. Although I enjoyed what I was doing, and still do enjoy writing the Liss MacCrimmon series, I had to tamp down my desire to once again write books that combined those two elements. Even finding time to write the occasional Lady Appleton short story was a challenge.
Susanna, Lady Appleton, is an Elizabethan gentlewoman who also happens to be an expert on poisonous herbs. As the sleuth in ten mystery novels and numerous short stories (some collected in the anthology Murders and Other Confusions) she accumulated a large number of friends and relatives, many of whom appear as continuing characters in the series. Each book takes place about two years after the events in the previous one. Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie is set in 1559 when Susanna is in her mid-twenties. When the series went on hiatus, it was 1577 and, for a woman of that era, Susanna was getting on in years. I had ideas for more books, but gradually, between 2007 and 2013, most of those ended up as short stories. Susanna got older and less active.
I have nothing against older detectives, and I’m no spring chicken myself, but at some point in those six years it began to dawn on me that the way to revive the Face Down world, and make it more appealing to a publisher, would be to focus on a younger sleuth. Such a character already existed in the person of the illegitimate daughter of Susanna’s late, unlamented husband, Sir Robert Appleton. Rosamond Appleton first appears in Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross and crops up again and again in the series, featuring heavily in Face Down Beside St. Anne’s Well. She starred, with Rob Jaffrey, in the short story “Any Means Short of Murder,” in which the two of them defy convention and elope at the age of sixteen. Rob, you see, is the son of Susanna’s steward, Mark, and his wife, Susanna’s housekeeper and longtime sidekick, Jennet. Most people in the sixteenth century would consider this marriage a misalliance, especially since Rosamond, although illegitimate, is heir to a considerable fortune.
I’ve written books of the heart before. Deadlier than the Pen was one. So was Winter Tapestry, my first attempt at historical mystery. It ended up being published as historical romance, a story for another post. So, for that matter, was Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie. As with those books, ideas for Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe wouldn’t leave me alone. The plot revolves around the very real negotiations in 1582 and 1583 to marry an English “princess” (Queen Elizabeth’s distant cousin, Mary Hastings, sister of the earl of Huntingdon) to Ivan the Terrible of Russia in order to secure trade concession for the Muscovy Company. I kept asking myself one question: what if someone wanted to sabotage those negotiations? Then all I needed was a way to get Rosamond involved, and I didn’t have far to look for that. Nick Baldwin, Susanna’s lover in the later books in the series, traveled to Muscovy and Persia as a young man. He provided the link between the Muscovy Company and Rosamond . . . especially after I sent Rob Jaffrey off to Moscow and, once I got him there, put him in jeopardy.
One door closes and another one opens. I’ve always found that to be true. After writing six books as Kate Emerson, the demand for historical novels set at the court of Henry the Eighth was petering out. To tell you the truth, I didn’t have any brilliant ideas for another one anyway. And the urge to throw in a murder or two had been getting stronger with each one I wrote. Last spring, just about a year ago, I finished revising the Liss MacCrimmon novel that will be published as Ho-Ho-Homicide this coming October and put it aside to “rest” for a minimum of two months. It wasn’t finished, but I was fairly confident that it wouldn’t need too much more tweaking before it had to be turned in that September. I did not sign up for any conferences for the remainder of 2013, no matter how tempting their offerings. I did not agree to any signings. I discouraged visitors. And for the next six months, I concentrated on writing Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe.
No one saw the manuscript until it was finished and I was satisfied with it. Only then did it go to my first reader, my husband, and to a writer friend, Kelly McClymer, for feedback. After some revisions, I took a deep breath and sent an efile off to my agents, Meg Ruley and Christina Hogrebe. The good news was that they liked it. The “oh-my-God-what-do-I-do-now?” news was that they wanted to start submitting it at the beginning of the new year, less than a month away. Why the panic? Because I’d reread the manuscript myself in the interim and come up with several things I wanted to improve upon. And I knew it needed at least one more pass to find all those sneaky typos and misspellings. I had about three weeks to fix everything and this was Christmas tree season, too, when I’m supposed to be helping out in the shop.
You already know how this story comes out. I finished the revisions on time. The manuscript was offered to publishers. After several rejections, the book of my heart found a home with an editor who loves it and sees it as a series. Severn House will bring out a hardcover edition in the UK this November and the hardcover and ebook will be available in the US in the spring. The second book in the series is due January 15, 2015. I guess it’s a good thing I’ll finish major revisions on the next Liss MacCrimmon mystery later this week, because it looks like I’ll to be busy for the rest of the year writing the sequel to my book of the heart.