Book Country member Jaycee Ford won a one-on-one manuscript feedback session at RT14. Jaycee asked me to take a look at a historical romance that she is working on called ORDER OF THE GARTER. I love anything historical, and was even more intrigued that the book takes place in New Orleans (where Jaycee is from) and NOLA is where she and I met! I was so excited to re-visit the Big Easy via Jaycee’s sexy book.
ORDER OF THE GARTER is the story of Ella Harrison, a beautiful, charming “lady of the night” who makes her living charming the pants of the men of New Orleans in Storyville, the red light district, in 1915. Determined to stay unattached, afraid of wanting more, Ella’s carefully compartmentalized world is shaken up when she meets not one but two dashing men eager to sweep her off her feet.
Reading ORDER OF THE GARTER left me with a few writing takeaways that I wanted to share with the community.
Jaycee’s commitment to the historical setting really wins over the reader. In Storyville, a district in early 20th-century NOLA where prostitution was decriminalized, she’s found a true historical oddity. The city printed up “blue books”–basically, a directory and tourist’s guide to every prostitute in the city. I love how Jaycee uses the “blue book” to kick off ORDER OF THE GARTER and then subtly threads historical details into the story, so that the situation is normalized for the characters, but still feels intriguing and rare for the reader.
Ella Harrison is an instantly likeable character. She’s plucky, fun-loving, and fiercely independent, as well as loyal and kind to the other women in the brothel where she lives. I loved that so much of this story was about her trying to reconcile her desire to go her own way with her tumultuous feelings for the two very different leading men. Creating a character who has a clear but complex internal struggle drives a story forward because it gives the character that all-important motivation.
The book is peppered with funny, girly moments that I think readers will love, despite the exotic setting. For example, there is a scene where Ella and her friend Lillian go shopping. It’s a bit of a sad scene, since the two women know they aren’t likely to be accepted outside of Storyville, but at the same time, they really want some new shoes. This pattern keeps the story from getting too sad or dark.
Suggestions for revision:
Smooth out sentences. Jaycee is packing a lot into them, and it makes the reader sometimes stumble. I see lots and lots of compound sentences, linking clauses with “as” and “while,” and I am not sure they are necessary. It also causes a pattern when the sentences have a similar rhythm: “Ella did this as this happened,” “The madam was feeling this as she saw this,” which I found distracting. I would try to limit each sentence to have no more than two clauses, and to mix it up so that some sentences are simpler. Try reading sections aloud and see what rolls off the tongue easily, and what doesn’t. That’s a good indicator of what prose needs reworking.
Make the dialogue sound as historical as the setting. Jaycee can do this by adding historical detail to the setting, but I’d especially like to see Jaycee research colloquialisms of the period. It would be so fun to really hear what New Orleans sounded like in 1915!
Jaycee and I spent some time yesterday talking about romance genre conventions. I asked her, “Is it possible that ORDER OF THE GARTER is perhaps a mix of historical fiction and women’s fiction instead of historical romance?” If there is anything I learned at RT14, it’s that romance readers want steamy sex scenes–and a lot of them! But the sex I read in this book largely happened off-screen. I was also concerned because I wasn’t sure if romance readers will respond well to a prostitute heroine who happily has sex with men besides the two love interests. However, none of this gave me any pause as a reader, because for me it is more fun to read about this fascinating character drawn from New Orleans history than to make it fit into the typical romance genre arc. And Jaycee, who is deeply into the romance-reader scene, is confident that the romance readership is changing. Also, Jaycee assures me that more sex is coming in later chapters . . . so readers should not be disappointed on that score!
I hope that Jaycee will continue writing ORDER OF THE GARTER according to her vision, and that Book Country members will read her book and weigh in, too. I can’t wait to see how this book develops!