Back in the late 1980s, I decided I was going to write a romance novel.
Not that I had any clue whatsoever how to write one, but I’d read my fair share of them – you know, those books with a flowing-haired, muscular, bare-chested guy on the cover who’s holding a woman in some back-bending position that probably would send most women rushing to see their chiropractor.
I noticed that the majority of romance novels followed the same plot: boy meets girl, boy and girl hate each other, boy and girl eventually fall in love, boy and girl get separated due to some form of hardship or misunderstanding, and boy and girl finally get back together, have lots of sex and live happily ever after. The books also contain more than their share of “heaving bosoms” and “throbbing manhoods.”
So I figured it would be pretty easy to write a historical romance novel. After some deep thinking, I came up with what I thought would be a good plot for a historical romance: in the 1650s, a Pilgrim woman, Rosalind, becomes betrothed to Nathaniel, the handsome son of the town’s wealthy magistrate. She doesn’t love the guy because, basically, he’s an egotistical jerk who thinks women are a lesser species. But Rosalind is desperate to save her family’s home and land, which are about to be taken as payment for her father’s gambling debts – and Nathaniel has promised to pay off those debts…but only if she marries him.
Meanwhile, Rosalind becomes infatuated with a drop-dead gorgeous Native-American guy named Shadow, the son of a sachem. To the Pilgrims, he is nothing but a “savage,” but to Rosalind, he is the man of which x-rated fantasies are made. So, the question is, does she follow her heart and pursue Shadow, revealing how he makes her feel, or does she choose to save her family and marry Nathaniel, even though the mere sight of him makes her so nauseated, she finds herself wishing that Tums or Rolaids had been invented back then?
I also noticed that historical romance novels were thick, hundreds of pages long, so I knew I had a massive task ahead of me. And back then, novels were written on typewriters. There were no home computers or spell-check, no ability to add a paragraph or delete a word unless you used a correction fluid like White-Out.
So I sat down at my typewriter and started typing my story, bringing Rosalind, Nathaniel and Shadow to life. I soon became best friends, via telephone, with Cindy, the woman at the information desk at the Manchester City Library. Homes did not have the luxury of the Internet back then, so if I wanted to know what Pilgrims ate back in 1650, I had to call the library. If I had lived closer, the library probably would have become my second home, but instead I had to rely on sometimes half-hour phone calls to the library while writing my book.
Finally, after months of work and about $150 worth of White-Out, I managed to create 110-thousand words of what I thought was a romance-novel masterpiece. The only problem was, I kind of went rogue and didn’t follow the strict romance-novel formula. In my book, Rosalind wasn’t a super-hero who could leap tall buildings in a single bound, like the women in most romance novels. No, Rosalind constantly was frightened, helpless and she cried a lot. And I didn’t have her fall in love by page two. Rosalind waited a while. And Nathaniel wasn’t the typical romance-novel villain who eventually turns good. Nope, Nathaniel was a creep in chapter one, and was even creepier by the final chapter.
I typed up a nice fresh copy of my novel, then packed it up and shipped it off to a publisher who specialized in romance novels.
A few weeks later, she wrote back and said my book was well-written and she really liked my characters. But (heaven forbid!) I hadn’t followed “the formula.” She then listed all of the changes I’d have to make to my plot before it could become romance-novel acceptable.
Muttering to myself, I shoved the manuscript into my desk drawer and didn’t look at it again…until nearly 25 years later when I was cleaning out my old desk, which was down in the basement by then, and happened to find the manuscript stuffed in it. Only vaguely remembering the plot, I brought the manuscript upstairs, sat down and read it.
“That’s not half-bad!” I said to myself after I’d finished. Suddenly, I was stricken with a burning desire to rewrite and polish it. I still wasn’t about to change any of my plot, but I wanted to give the book more detail, more authenticity. And besides that, unlike 25 years before, I now had the Internet at my disposal. I could look up any information I needed instead of making poor Cindy at the library run up and down the aisles, searching for descriptions of what Native-American guys’ loincloths looked like back in New England in the 1600s.
The first thing I wanted to do was make certain I was using the correct language for the time period, I mean, I was pretty sure two Pilgrim guys wouldn’t walk up to each other and say, “Hey, dude! What’s happening?” But I wanted to make certain I wasn’t giving them dialogue that hadn’t even been invented yet. I recalled how, when Kevin Costner used the word “celebrity” in Dances With Wolves, thousands of people wrote to him to complain that back then, the word hadn’t even been invented yet. So I wanted my book to be authentic.
I found a great website called dictionary.com, which not only gave the definitions of words, it also gave their origins – the year in which they first were used. So anything after 1650 was going to be taboo in my book. I decided, however, to forgo being too authentic, and not use the traditional “thee, thou, or thy,” especially in the passionate parts.
And speaking of the passionate parts, I was sitting on the sofa one evening, my laptop on my knee, doing some research on the Internet. Out of curiosity, I looked up what a certain female body part was called back in the 1600s. I was pretty sure that most of the current slang terms, and even the medical ones, hadn’t been in use back then.
The first answer that popped up was, “moist canal.” I couldn’t help it, I burst out laughing.
My husband actually tore his eyes away from the TV long enough to ask me what was so funny.
I knew from experience that when my husband was watching TV, he paid no attention to anything else, so no matter what I answered, he probably wouldn’t hear me anyway.
Still, I said, laughing,, “You know what they used to call a woman’s private parts back in the 1600s? The moist canal! Isn’t that a riot?! You can tell that Pilgrim women never lived to be old enough to reach menopause!”
“That’s nice, dear,” he said, his eyes once again riveted on the TV screen.
The next night, I again was sitting on the sofa and working on my novel.
During a commercial, my husband looked over at me and said, very seriously, “Are you writing about the soggy creek?”
I nearly died laughing. But I had to give him credit for at least half-listening to me for a change.
Then I decided that even though Shadow, the Native American in my book, could speak good English, he might seem more authentic if he spoke some words in his native tongue. So I looked up the language of New Hampshire Native Americans back in the 1600s. All I can say is they must have been very intelligent people to even remember – or be able to pronounce - those words. I mean, for example, their word for “hair” was ndebkwanal, and “snoring” was chigualakwsowogan.
The thought did cross my mind that if my book ever got published and I had to read excerpts from it at book signings, I wouldn’t be able to pronounce half of what I’d written. Still, I wanted to add authenticity, so I tossed in some Native-American terms.
Another problem I had was writing the lovemaking parts. I struggled, I really struggled with them. Then, seeing no one else was around, I'd read them to my husband and ask how they sounded.
He usually couldn't stop laughing, rolling his eyes or groaning (in a painful, not turned-on way) long enough to give me his opinion.
When the rewrite was finished, I made the decision not to try to find a publisher, especially one who would insist I followed “the formula.” Instead, I decided to self-publish. Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to come up with a cover design.
I knew I wanted Shadow on the cover. I wanted him to be a muscular, long-haired hunk in a loincloth or tight leather breeches, certain to attract female readers. However, after pricing what it would cost to have a professionally designed cover made, I decided I could afford only one option – to create it myself. I have a background in art. I took lessons at the Currier Gallery, and my mom had a degree in art, and she taught me a lot. So I figured I should be able to come up with something.
I set to work sketching Shadow – using a photo of some muscular model on the Internet as my guide. I did pretty well on his body, his leather pants, his arm band, and his long, black hair. But I ‘d never been able to draw a decent face…and I discovered I still couldn’t. After trying a dozen times to sketch my vision of Shadow’s super-handsome facial features, all I ended up with was something that made him look as if he’d just been in some horrible, disfiguring accident.
So I decided to decapitate him.
Now, poor Shadow is headless on my book cover. But, if I do say so myself, what’s left of him looks pretty hot.
Then I decided to come up with a pseudonym I could use – something that sounded worthy of a romance novel – something that would save me from becoming irreparably embarrassed in case my third-grade teacher wanted to read something I’d written using my real name. Arianna, for some reason, popped into my head as sounding “romancy.” And, because I own land in the East, I came up with Eastland. Thus, Arianna Eastland was born.
When I told one of my aunts I’d written a steamy romance novel, her eyebrows rose.
“They say you have to experience everything you write in those novels to make them sound realistic,” she said. “Does that mean you’ve done everything in the steamy parts?”
I laughed. “That’s crazy! Do you think the woman who wrote 50 Shades of Grey actually did all of that kinky stuff she wrote about?”
“Fifty Shades of what?” my aunt asked.
So, if you look down below on this page, you’ll not only see my original romance novel, Too Far to Whisper, you’ll also see the two sequels I’ve written since. And if you have a device like Kindle or Nook, or even want to just read it online on your computer, you can download the original book free of charge by clicking on the link. There’s no catch. It’s really free. But if you want the paperback version, you can find it on Amazon.com. That one, unfortunately, isn’t free.
And just in case you’re curious…no, I did not use the words “moist canal” (or soggy creek) even once in any of the three books.
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