An open letter to Anya Wylde author of Penelope (A Madcap Regency Romance)
Dear Ms. Wylde:
Sincere congratulations on completing and publishing your second novel. It is indeed a great achievement and one which I certainly cannot claim; however, I have read a very, very many historical romances, so if it is true that novels are never finished only abandoned, I have some notes for you. If you have moved on, they might help with your next effort.
1. The writing itself is perfectly serviceable. The plotting, characters, tone, and editing are problematic.
2. The bit with “Are you thinking about your grandmother?” was very clever.
3. The heroine, Penelope, arrives at the Duke’s London residence with a PET GOAT. She may be a bumpkin with no filter, but this is patently ridiculous. It is neither endearing, nor whimsical. It is malodorous and incontinent. Why not a puppy? It could grow up, calm down, and, this is the important part, be house-trained.
4. The reader is given two random and extremely brief scenes of Penelope’s dead mother in heaven looking down on her between rounds of tossing her halo for wolfhounds to fetch. Sure. Why? Give a dog to Penelope and kill the dead mother (and the damn goat).
5. Your ducal hero, Charles , is an awful person and does not become any more tactful, likeable, or sympathetic as the story progresses. He finds Penelope gauche, embarrassing, and appalling. He tells her so regularly with spectacular insensitivity. He’s even rude to her in the Epilogue and refers to their children as “brats”.
6. Know your genre tropes: If the hero and heroine are opposites and set against each other, they must also have an intense sexual attraction underlying their interactions as they find common ground. Charles should find Penelope’s lack of pretension refreshing and charming, even if he doesn’t want to. Tell the reader what he is thinking. Penelope is flighty and blithers endlessly. He could help her feel comfortable and relax. She could help him remove the stick from his bottom.
7. Penelope and the duke’s sister act like 15 year olds. Why on earth would anyone be attracted to them, unless he/she too was a silly teenager? It makes the romantic relationship, such as it is, jarring and incomprehensible. Penelope may be sweet and well-intentioned, but she’s childlike.
8. Calling the story “madcap” does not excuse these elements:
- The openly gay, openly transvestite modiste who teaches Penelope to be a “proper woman”, AND who is a peer AND a spy because of a late and inexplicable espionage subplot.
- All the men have to wear a moustache to dinner to appease an elderly grandfather. This is silly, but it’s also a squandered opportunity. At some point, Penelope should either wear a moustache to dinner as a joke, or rip off the Duke’s in a fit of pique.
- The lovelorn highwayman Penelope prattles into submission before the story even begins. Why did you not start with this episode?
- The return of the lovelorn highwayman in some bizarre plotting which includes the Duke in costume declaring his love for Penelope despite the fact that he clearly can’t stand her.
9. I’m 99.96437% sure that no one in The Regency used the word “diddlysquat”.
Thank you for your time.
This letter is also posted on my tiny little blog.