November has arrived, and along with it my favorite Festival for the Mad, National Novel Writing Month. Yes, thirty days of coffee-quaffing and work-shirking and burying wacky background characters in gaping plot holes in the name of cranking out a 50,000-word novel started on Saturday. It’s my favorite month of creating dangerously, and this year, all bets are off. I’m breaking copyright laws faster than they can write ’em (not really, as the story is private) by writing a spin-off of Romancing the Stone, having fallen in love with the idea of Joan Wilder and Jack T. Colton’s gay son (“Jem,” who else?) getting in trouble trying to follow in his folks’ famous footsteps. The story is set in Cuba, a country I’ve never seen, and the plot twists are so unexpected I have no idea what they’re going to be yet: I still have to cook up a treasure, a gang of thugs to go looking for it, and a reason for it to have anything to do with Jem, but the game is afoot. At all events we’ve got a love interest and high hopes for a Joan Wilder cameo; you kinda gotta figure the rest of the words will write themselves. 42,600 of them, if I’m lucky — that’s what I’ve got left to go.
If you’ve read any of my novels, you know I love a good prologue. Like Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile, Jem’s story starts off with an unrelated scene from Joan Wilder’s latest crowd-pleasing historical romance novel. Stone starts in the Old West, Jewel starts on a pirate ship, and I was stumped trying to think up more cliché romance time periods. So I thought covers: long dresses, puffy shirts, big pecs and ponytails on him and her… Eureka! The American Revolution.
Here, then, in the spirit of kicking off a whole month of Write Whatever Works by rewriting American History, is an excerpt from my fictional version of (already-fictional) Joan Wilder’s Love’s Revolution:
Riding sidesaddle through the woods at one in the morning in a lacy nightie was for the birds.
“The British are coming!”
It’s not like she didn’t know how to handle herself on a horse in a dress. What she really lamented was her lack of an outer layer. In his blue wool military coat, Paul was far and away the handsomest revolutionary in Massachusetts, and there it had lain, in a ball on the floor. She’d tripped over it when the clattering arose at the door. Rather than throw it across the room with a curse, she should have put it on, but of course her doing the actual riding had never been a part of the plan. Now the coat and Paul were sprawled across his bed, eight miles behind her, both of them useless.
“The British are coming!”
She’d initially jumped astride Paul’s horse—the Colonies had bigger problems than how ladylike she would look clattering through the streets, at least tonight—but there’d been a certain urgency in her departure from his Boston apartment and she couldn’t find his trousers. Her bare thighs had lasted about two blocks in the saddle before she pulled over to rearrange.
“The British are coming!”
Of course what chapped her hide worse than any old saddle ever could was the certain knowledge that he’d get the credit. As she galloped across half the colony shouting herself hoarse like a barefoot madwoman, he was crashed—still, she would have put money on it, and she’d been gone an hour and a half—in a post-coital stupor, too drunk on the heady combination of ale and her own charms to do anything but open one eye and whimper for more of each. While this news might have surprised Longfellow as he worked to compose his famous poem, Calliope simply cursed the timing of the lights in the church tower. Paul Revere was fit—husky, strong, and brave. He was a loyal soldier and a clever strategist. He had a really nice round rump and loads of stamina, but when he came, the eruption came from so deep within his body it invariably seemed to empty him of all but the most vital life-support energy. He was done for the night, and Dawes had come howling at the door while Paul was still pumping. He couldn’t have told you his horse’s name, much less saddled up, but Dawes was adamant.
“Can’t you do it?” she’d asked.
“I am doing it,” Dawes said. “Knock knock; I didn’t come here to borrow a cup of sugar, Cal. It’s happening, and it’s happening tonight, and I can only ride one road at a time.”
“It’s the sleep of the dead.”
“Half of Concord will be sleeping with the dead if we don’t get this show on the road. Wake him up or take the reigns, I don’t care which.”
She shook him til she worried he really was dead, and when she shouted The British are coming! into his face and he mumbled a tasteless ejaculation joke, she saw the writing on the wall.
“So where’m I going?” she asked Dawes as she hurried around to the stable out back.
“Get to Lexington as quickly as you can and rattle every window in town. They’re coming for Sam and John, and if the Red Coats get their hands on our stockpile in Concord, we’re Loyal Subjects for Life, if you catch my meaning. I’ll be an hour behind you at the most, but the clock’s ticking. Get Sam and John out of town or under a haystack or into dresses and wigs, for all I care, but you’ve got to get to them before the Union Jack Offs do.”
Calliope liked William Dawes. She always had, bless his ill-fitting wig. He didn’t sugar coat for the Fairer Sex like every other man in Massachusetts, euphemizing even the most basic fact of life until half the time she didn’t know if she was having a conversation about independence or Indian food. If any of those other Faneuil Hall windbags had come a-knocking tonight, she would simply have stood aside and let him drag Paul’s unconscious corpse into the night, but for Dawes she’d saddle up. She supposed that was why he’d come himself when he obviously had more items than just this one to check off his own To-Do list.
Once she was astride Paul’s trusty mount, she spared a look at the bedroom window. She clicked her tongue at Ranger, rolled her eyes at Dawes, and the two of them clattered up School Street and into the night. If she made it to Lexington and back without landing in jail or the grave yard, she’d give Mister Paul Revere a piece of her mind. And then, if she knew what was good for her, she’d probably marry the big lug.