The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

One Good Turn

Sometimes readers are hard to please, and never more so than now, when I'm writing for three different publishers. "We need a sequel to My Loving Vigil Keeping," some will insist. Others want more Julia and Mr. Otto. The only sequels I can guarantee right now are the ones to follow The Double Cross, my historical mystery set in colonial New Mexico, which comes out in June. I'm contracted to write at least three more of those. To put a finer point on this, they are more part of a series than sequels.

I'm not one to write many sequels. Enduring Light is only the second, in a writing career that spans a bunch of years since the first novel in 1984. The first sequel was One Good Turn, now available, as of this week, in ebook from Signet's electronic arm (ouch, that sounds strange). The need for "Good Turn" was made amply plain to me by readers disgruntled after they finished Libby's London Merchant, also in ebook now.

"Libby" was a triangle, with two men vying for the attentions of the heroine, Libby Ames, a sweet thing living on her uncle's estate in Kent. A number of readers thought I had her marry the wrong man. I am still convinced that was not the case; besides, who should know better than the author? The Duke was just not good enough at the time: a drunken care-for-nobody, neglectful of the men who served under him at Waterloo, and not willing to make Libby his wife. (He had other ideas.)

But everyone loves a rake, I suppose. Or mostly everyone; I don't, really. There were enough redeeming qualities about Benedict Nesbitt, Duke of Knaresborough, to make him a charming character. I succumbed, but not until ten years after "Libby" was published. The result was One Good Turn.

I'm glad I waited ten years to write that sequel, because I was a better writer in 2001, when I wrote One Good Turn. By then, I  also knew more about the Peninsular Wars in Spain and Portugal, and the Royal Navy fighting on the high seas and in the English Channel. The third siege of strategic Badajoz was a nasty business, even in a nasty war. If Nez is really going to reform, he has to go through his own trial by fire. I knew the heart of this story of redemption had to have its center in that third siege.

I downloaded One Good Turn and glanced at it a few mornings back. I don't think I've read it since I wrote it in 2001, so it was almost a rediscovery. I wouldn't change a word of it. War is as terrible today as it was in 1812. What happened to the women and young girls of Badajoz shouldn't have happened to dogs. It was the same terrible suffering that went on after Russian troops entered Berlin in 1945, or what happened over and over in Kosovo or Rwanda.

I suppose new readers of mine who prefer unicorns and roses will be horrified by One Good Turn. If you're squeamish, don't read it. But if you like realism and understand the psychology of suffering, you'll like the novel. Does everything turn out all right? Of course; it's a Regency romance. I must agree with Thomas Hardy, though: there's nothing wrong with a happy ending, as long as people learn something along the way. You know, kind of like life.

I owe a real debt to Ruth Cohen, my former agent. When I quit writing for Signet and started writing for another publisher, she told me to get my copywrites back for those 16 Signet Regency romances. It took a while - publishing houses are not well-organized - but I did. As it turned out, it was just before the ebook revolution began. What this means is I have control and am able to parcel out those Signet copywrites to other publishers of my choosing. Cedar Fort has five of those copywrites - Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career, Reforming Lord Ragsdale, Marian's Christmas Wish, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, and Summer Campaign, plus two short story collections.

I returned some to Signet, and I've been impressed with the way they are reproducing those electronically. Signet has done Libby's London Merchant and One Good Turn. Next will be The Wedding Journey, and The Lady's Companion. Camel Press in Seattle has Miss Whittier Makes a List, and two others. The rest I'm hanging onto, for the time being. I'm not sure how lucrative all this will be, but the books have earned out their advances, so it should be satisfactory for all of us.

That suits me. I'm happy for new readers to discover the gallant Liria Valencia and her small son Juan, and what the war did - and didn't do - to them. I just wish war didn't keep hurting the innocent. One Good Turn is a story that makes me thankful - and this is the season - for the comfortable life I live, and grateful that people are brave and resourceful still.

One Good Turn has done something else for me. I owe Harlequin two more novels. When I finish the book I am currently writing for Cedar Fort, I've pretty well decided to return to the Napoleonic Wars, thanks to One Good Turn. It's an era I'm comfortable with. I'm trying to decide between bomb kedge duty with the Royal Navy (really, really dangerous) or a return to Spain, or maybe even - if I'm brave enough - Waterloo. Now there was a battle.

These are nice problems for this writer to have. I get to pick and choose my way through history, meet new folks/characters along the way, and learn more, because I learn something from every novel I write. I hope readers do, too.


  1. I read One Good Turn shortly after it was published. It was the first time I'd heard of the horrors of Badajoz. I thought you handled it with compassion and sensitivity. Yes, it's hard to read if you're squeamish, but as you point out, war hurts the innocent. And as the book demonstrates, healing is possible afterwards. It's good to be reminded of both of these things.

    1. Thanks, Phyl. My particular field of expertise is the Indian Wars. It always touched me to read of officers and their families who took in Indian children found on battlefields. Combatants usually have a good idea how hard their profession is. I covered that subject in my short story, "Casually at Post," which is found in the book Here's to the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army, published by Texas Christian Univ.

  2. I think I read One Good Turn before Libby's London Merchant, so I was pleased with Libby's match. One Good Turn is probably in my top ten favorite Carla Kelly books, although I can't really tell you why right now. (I don't like analyzing books, when is why I refuse to join book clubs.) I've learned much about the Napoleon wars from you and Bernard Cornwell.

    I'm glad some of your books are being reprinted. Now, if I can just buy Miss Billings Treads the Boards. It's the only one your books I've not read.

  3. I'm a military historian by degrees and training. My heart has always gone out to the innocent victims of war. I'm also amazed at the resourcefulness of people, especially during an era like the Napoleonic Wars, when there was simply no safety net for those victims. I think Liria Valencia is one of those resourceful persons. And the duke is like people I know - a man doing much good who just doesn't see it, in light of what he perceives as his larger sins. Maybe he's a bit like all of us that way. None of us is wholly bad or wholly good, but too often we just see our flaws. That was the character I wanted to write, because he is altogether human, as we are. Just a thought, anyway.

  4. Do I have to read the book in a special order? Are some of them connected or can I read them as standalones?

  5. I haven't ever done too many sequels. Libby's London Merchant should be read before One Good Turn. And it's Borrowed Light and then Enduring Light. Beyond that, my books are stand alone. The historical mystery series set in colonial New Mexico begins with The Double Cross, and will follow with at least 3 more books. First one is out in June. I'm finally getting it into my thick skull that readers like continuing series. I know I do. I'm stuck on Robert Crais's Elvis Cole/Joe Pike books, and Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch.