Noelle Pierce, who’s been an active Book Country member since it’s beta-days, won a one-on-one manuscript feedback session at RT14. We chatted at the convention about her Regency Romance REACHING FOR THE MOON, which began as a NaNoWriMo Project.
I love the premise of this novel: Lady Anne Marwood is to marry Thomas Oakes, a noted ladies’ man with far less noble birth. Thomas and Anne were once friendly acquaintances–in fact, in another novel by Noelle, set in the same world, the two of them conspired to make a match between each of their best friends. But due to an embarrassing incident at a ball, they’re now engaged, however extremely wary of one another. Thomas doesn’t believe he’s good enough to marry Anne, and Anne believes Thomas feels she’s trapped him–and now hates her. Additionally, strong-willed Anne is completely horrified at the prospect of her husband having mistresses, common to men of the era.
As I read Noelle’s book and then chatted with her about it, I put together some takeaways that might be useful to think about as we revise our own WIPs.
The charming prose is true to the style of the era. Though Jane Austen would never have dared write a sex scene like Noelle does, there’s a wholly Austenian quality to Noelle’s writing that totally transported me to Regency England. Many aspiring writers of Historical Romance struggle with finding the right voice and tone for their stories; Noelle’s is hitting all the right notes. It’s lighthearted and witty, but earnest and romantic, too. So much of the ardor for the Regency Romance genre is propelled by love for this style of writing, so I was glad to hear that Noelle is well-versed in other writers of like the genre, like Julie Garwood.
Similarly, the book has a historical specificity that I quite liked. Sometimes I read historicals and they feel like the author is using a vague old-fashioned fancy-speak–it could be Regency, or it could be Edwardian, or it could be Edith Wharton’s New York. Here, I feel certain that I am in Regency England: character’s wear “wrappers” and they play card games true to the time period. Even better, the dialogue is formal, avoiding contractions and other more “low-brow” ways of speaking. Good grammar (remembering when a “whom” is needed, for example) and Britishisms are key: “nary,” “sovereign” coins, “‘Have you a shilling?”, and others make for delightful reading.
Noelle is paying careful attention to plotting. As she drafts, I like how flexible she is with moving things around and seeing how they will work. “The Incident” is how Anne refers to what happened between herself and Thomas before they got engaged. In Noelle’s earlier drafts, the book started with “The Incident.” But that was starting to feel too much like a prologue. Now Noelle is starting the novel in scene with Anne waking up on the morning of her wedding day, about to marry a man who hates her. Now that’s a compelling hook! As we move through the first chapter, we learn more about what happened in small flashback moments. I think she’s starting the book in exactly the right place, and her instincts for how much backstory to reveal at a time are spot-on.
Suggestions for revision:
Noelle has been developing the motivation of the book’s hero, Thomas Oakes. She’s going in the right direction: Thomas is compelled by a feeling of never being “good enough.” Noelle shared a great deal of interesting backstory for Thomas as she and I were talking, and I thought his character was fascinating–and just tragic enough to make me swoon. She’s got a rich character to draw out in her writing, and I think it will take a little more chiseling to make sure Thomas comes off the page smoothly. My biggest note here is to paint him in bolder strokes: it’s okay for his actions to keep us guessing, but make sure they are always in harmony with his motivation–and avoid wishy-washiness that makes him seem weak or undecided about what he wants.
Thomas and Anne have fantastic chemistry, but right now they like each other just a little too much, too easily. I want Noelle to heighten tension by making Anne really have to fight for Thomas’s attention. His sexual interest in Anne should be immediate and always clear, but the fun part is watching her try to get him to fall for her romantically. If he shows those mushy feelings too soon, the tension gets deflated.
The tastes of historical detail that I got here made me want more. In my review of REACHING FOR THE MOON, I also asked Noelle to add much more scenery, landscape, and interior settings: I want rolling hillsides, stormy skies, stone walls, cozy fireplaces, gorgeous gowns, and lots and lots and lots of lace. Noelle, like a lot of writers (myself included!) writes actions and dialogue first, then adds the physical descriptions later, so I feel confident that I will get to see more of Regency Northumberland and London in the next draft.
Be sure and check out REACHING FOR THE MOON if you’re looking for a real historical escape! Let Noelle know what you think is working in her book.