A Fallen Lady

book cover: Fair-skinned woman in a Regency gown, elbow-length gloves, and pearls. Colors: deep green dress, white gloves, light gray background
Published December 2015
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Book Description

Six years ago, to the outrage of her family and the delight of London gossips, Lady Helen Dehaven refused to marry the man to whom she was betrothed. Even more shockingly, her refusal came on the heels of her scandalous behavior: she and her betrothed were caught in a most compromising position. Leaving her reputation in tatters and her motivations a mystery, Helen withdrew to a simple life in a little village among friends, where her secrets remained hers alone. 

For reasons of his own, Stephen Hampton, Lord Summerdale, is determined to learn the truth behind the tangled tale of Helen's ruin. There is nothing he abhors so much as scandal - nothing he prizes so well as discretion - and so he is shocked to find, when he tracks Helen down, that he cannot help but admire her. Against all expectations, he finds himself forgiving her scandalous history in favor of only being near her.

But the bitter past will not relinquish Helen's heart so easily. How can she trust a man so steeped in the culture of high society, who conceals so much? And how can he, so devoted to the appearance of propriety, ever love a fallen lady?

 
My Unofficial Summary of the Book

In addition to the real, full, professionalish book description (above), I traditionally provide a more casual description in the spirit of Real Talk, like how I pitch it to my friends:

 

Alternate Title: Helen Has Issues

 

What happens when you swallow Judith McNaught's entire backlist, wash it down with several glugs of Jane Austen, and then randomly snack on second-wave feminist literature? This book is what happens, apparently.  

I should probably say from the outset that this has turned out to be one of my more love-it-or-hate-it books. The loves and hates vary widely - readers hate the heroine, or they adore her. And they loooove the hero, or they haaaate him. Or they completely understand why these two act the way they do, unless they think it's just a chaotic jumble of feelings and endless back and forth. From what I can tell, many of those who love it/them have either had an experience like Helen's, or they have deeply cared for someone like her.  (And fair warning, the thing that happened to her was witnessing traumatic violence and what we would call "date rape". None of it is depicted on the page, it's not graphic, but that's what this story is about: learning how to live again after horrible shit happened to you. So now you know.)

This is not the book to reach for when you want a light and fluffy Cool Whip 'n Jello parfait, because you will dip into it and get a mouthful of meat. Or something like that. You know what I mean, you see Regency romance and you think "Ooh yay, pretty dresses and house parties and crushing set-downs!" And though this book technically does have all of those things - though not in any abundance - I feel compelled to warn the reader that it is not a delightful romp, but rather an aching emotional struggle. Seriously, don't go into this looking for a lighthearted summer beach read, or you will feel like punching me by chapter five. The good news is that I was totally conscious of that as I wrote, so I was diligent about inserting humor wherever possible. (The comic relief is French, btw, and quite saucy. And sassy.)

This is the story of Helen, who had some bad things happen many years ago, and how she tries to get over it. It is also the story of Stephen, who is honestly just a really sweet guy who wants to help her get over it, even if he doesn't have any idea of what the hell really happened and is a little crippled by his own secrets. Both of them are ridiculously lovable, in a way that (I hope) will squeeze your heart. They  make mistakes, because falling in love is easy but building a relationship is hard, man. Especially when past experiences - the bad and the good - are part of who you are forever.

All that said, I swear to you that they live happily ever after. VERY happily ever after. I promise. 

But until they get there... yeah. It's pretty heavy. It is sad and romantic and brutal and beautiful. Like humans. Like love. Like life. So just remember it's an entrée, not a dessert, and you should be good to go. Bon apétit!

 
Writing A Fallen Lady

The truth is that I wrote this book back in 2002, so I am a little hazy on some of the details of writing it. I do distinctly recall wondering to myself what it would be like to experience seriously damaging trauma in a time when there was no Oprah on TV (much less a whole ocean of self-help literature and support groups) to explain how to deal with it. Setting it in Regency times among the British upper class made the most sense to me, since it seemed one of the most repressive, suppressive cultures in which such a thing could play out.

 

So I sat down and wrote it, thinking it'd be angsty melodrama that maybe would make me a few bucks if I could sell it. I wasn't counting on falling in love within three sentences. In love with writing, I mean, though I did also fall rapidly in love with my characters. I wrote it from start to finish very quickly and it was like being in a trance. When it was done and polished, I shopped it around to agents. While I was waiting for some publishing professional to recognize The Sheer Genius Of Me, I got started writing The King's Man.

 

I got a pile of rejections for this book which, while of course I knew was to be expected, I admit really was a gut-punch to my enthusiasm. But other things were going on in the depths of my psyche, and even though I had one completed novel and a very healthy chunk of another, I stopped writing altogether. I put A Fallen Lady into a metaphorical drawer (more like a computer disk, because this was the post-typewriter, pre-USB era) and stopped being a writer for about a decade. Then I - obviously - found my way back to being a writer. I finished The King's Man. I published it myself, because skipping the agent and the big publisher was actually a viable option in 2015. People bought it, and liked it. 

 

It's nice, in that situation, to have another novel in your back pocket, ready to go. But I hadn't even looked at A Fallen Lady in over a decade, so I had to screw up my courage and see if it really was as publishable as I'd thought. So I bit the bullet and read through and you know what? Though there was plenty of cringing, I was pleased to see that it held up very well. I had to cut some things and change one big thing and tweak an awful lot of little things to make me not cringe quite so much (I seem to have been overly fond of ellipses back in the day), but it was solid in its bones. So I managed to do the work to bring it up to snuff and now it's out there.

 

What struck me when I read it again after so long - and when I look at it now - is how very romantic and tender it is. There are elements of the writing and of the characters that feel like pieces of me. But they are pieces of who I used to be, not who I am now. In a very real way, someone else wrote that book, and I'd like to give that person and Helen and Stephen a big hug.

 

Because of this history, I find it hard to say that The King's Man is my first book. To me, A Fallen Lady was written first - though overhauled and published second. I'll always think of it as my first book, even though the final version is appreciably different than the original. When I decided to write a book, this is the one I wrote. It's the book where I fell in love with writing. It's the book that made me a writer. 

 
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