Friday, February 24, 2017

The Book That Changed My Writing Style

Counterfeit Countess

By Cheryl Bolen
Counterfeit Countess was the seventh of my novels to be published by a New York publisher, but it represented a shift in my style—a pursuit for humor that continues now more than ten years later. (Note: Counterfeit Countess was out of print for over ten years, and I re-launched it when the rights reverted to me after ten long years, also making it an eBook for the first time.) 

My first published book, A Duke Deceived with Harlequin Historical, featured a brooding, tortured hero. There was at least one other tortured hero in the next five books and lots of emotional ups and downs in all of them, including particularly the third and fourth of my popular Brides of Bath series (which now numbers six).In fact, they were hanky reads.

 After I turned in the fourth Brides of Bath Regency historical, my Zebra editor, Hilary Sares, called me and asked me to write two new, totally different books that would be connected to each other in some way. I asked if she'd read a proposal I'd sent. Her response: "It's pretty dark."

 It was. (And I never finished it after writing the first 75 dark pages.)

 In those days there were few publishing options. If I wanted to sell more books to Zebra, I knew my editor would prefer "light." So I started brainstorming. To be perfectly honest now, I must tell you I took some of the plot of my favorite movie, Charade, and decided to adapt it to Regency England. A widow who was planning to divorce her husband finds out on his death he wasn't who he claimed to be. With humor. Just like in Charade.

Reviewers say they laughed out loud at With His Lady's Assistance.
With His Lady's Assistance
 I wrote a first chapter which is basically just like in the published book (read it here  and my editor said, "I love it!" I had like a one-paragraph synopsis when I got the green light—and the publishing contract and advance money.

 It was so much fun, I wrote the book faster than I'd ever written a book before or sense. (There was no social media then, and email wasn't of the volume that it is today.) In ten weeks I had a completed novel that was published to some acclaim. The reviewer for the American Library Association's Booklist didn't call my Counterfeit Countess hero tortured, but he said he was honorable. I like that!

Reviewers have said my With His Lady's Assistance makes them laugh out loud. Judge for yourself in this short scene. Scroll down a bit to read the excerpt.

Now as I'm older, I've come to know myself better. I have analyzed what I like in a book or movie, and humor always factors in. Therefore, I endeavor to make all my books lighthearted now. Sometimes the humor works well; sometimes it's probably a miss.

That is not to say that I have turned my back on emotional depth of characters. That's important. And so is the magic of falling in love.

Do you like humor in your historical romances? What elements are important to you?


  1. I love humor everywhere (including yours), and especially love when it's mixed with emotional depth you mentioned--because that's the way life is. I've never yet been to a funeral where there wasn't a clutch of people laughing out loud because of memories of the deceased. Interesting post, Cheryl, and how cool that Hilary must have known you had a good voice for funny.

  2. What an insightful comment about funerals, Liz. Yes, we need to laugh at sorrowful times.

  3. I love humour in books. And in life. I look for it, in fact. The headlines are full of dour, dark news and I need regular breaks from the darkness.

    I'm hooked Cheryl! And not surprised Hilary saw something "else" in your voice. She wouldn't have asked if she didn't think you could deliver. :)

    1. Gee, Bonnie, we had such fun that night in New York when we took Hilary to dinner. When will we meet again? Are you a member of NINC?

  4. Humor done well adds a delightful dimension to a story. But when it's not done well.... shudder.

    1. Right you are, Kathleen. Writing good humor is probably easy for some naturally funny people, but I'm not one of those. It's hard to write funny. No problem in overdoing humor for me. I aim for a couple of funny scenes or one humorous character in a book, just enough to give the book a memorable edge.


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