I wrote Althea, my first book, with no idea of selling it. I sent it off to an editor because she was my mother’s friend and I thought she might tell me if it had anything going for it…and the next thing I knew, I had a contract.
Actually, after I wrote Althea I took a long-planned trip to England (traveling poverty-plan, because I had just enough saved for this trip, and because at 22 you have no idea how uncomfortable you really are) and it was while I in London that I got a flurry of messages essentially saying “Fawcett is buying your book are you coming home!!!” In my memory I cartwheeled back to the hostel where I was living, although logic suggests I took the tube like a sane person (the manager, told I had sold a book, said “that’s very nice.” I think he believed that I’d sold some used books for a little spending money).
When I got back to the US and dealt with things like galleys, my editor said “will you write us another one?” And I said yes, and they gave me a contract, and just like that, I had to do it all over again. And I got a walloping case of second-book terror. I’d sort of blithered into doing it once, but I had no certainty that I could write a second book. What on earth would it be about? (Well, it was a Regency, which had certain things built into it, including a hero, a heroine, and a happy ending.) I was a little overwhelmed. And then one of my friends made a throw-away suggestion: on the first page of Althea I dropped a name: Iphegenia Prydd. It was a name meant to be awful, a joke. But my friend said “why don’t you write about her?” Write about Iphegenia Prydd, with the awful, earnest name? I realized that when I’d come up with the name I’d had a picture in my head of Miss Prydd, a poor relative or lady’s companion, living on the scraps of her friends’ news about the parties they went to.
So that’s where I started. Iphegenia’s name (rapidly shortened, by the hero, to Jenny) gave me clue to her personality. Iphegenia was a Greek character who is sacrificed by her father Agamemnon in order to get a fair wind to sail for Troy; not only is she sacrificed, but she goes willingly for the greater good. My Jenny, while not quite that accommodating, has become used to sacrificing herself for the good of the people around her, and only the hero sees it and objects to it. Which is why, of course, he’s the hero.
I’m happy to see the book given a new electronic home here on BVC. One other thing about this new release of My Dear Jenny that makes me very happy: in the book, somewhere near the end, the typesetter mixed up two pronouns with the result that, for the space of one sentence, Jenny thinks she’s too good for the hero. I caught this in galleys, but somehow it was never fixed. They were going to fix it in reprint, but it was never reprinted. So now, mumble-years later, that line has been fixed. As Oscar Wilde said, a poet can survive anything but a misprint.
Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and a double-handful of short stories which are available on her bookshelf. Today My Dear Jenny joins her first Regency romance, Althea, at Book View Café. She has just completed The Salernitan Women, set in medieval Italy, and a new Sarah Tolerance novel, The Sleeping Partner (which will be out in fall of 2011 from Plus One Press).