I’ve been gradually collecting Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s category romances. The most recent one I’ve found is 1994's Again, which I enjoyed hugely and read in a single evening. Others seem to have enjoyed it, too, as it won a RITA award in 1995.
I like books with heroes and/or heroines who are artists, actors, or writers, and this one featured an actor hero with a television writer heroine. The setting was also particularly cool: a daytime soap opera. In fact, one of my favorite things about the novel was all the details about how the soap was conceived, written, and produced. My other favorite thing about the novel was how the romance and action plots intertwined in that setting; some of the romance happens, at one remove, in the plot of the soap.
Soap operas seem to be constantly being canceled these days, or relocating to the internet, but in the world of Again, in the mid-1990s, they’re still vibrant. Heroine Jenny Cotton, fan of Georgette Heyer, is the creator and chief writer of a half-hour soap set in the Regency period and titled “My Lady’s Chamber.” There was one detail that really made me laugh:
Jenny did the longterm story outlines; she also wrote the “breakdowns,” detailed scene-by-scene summaries of each show. From those breakdowns her staff of five script writers—former Regency romance novelists, all of whom worked out of their homes—wrote the actual scripts.
There’s a funny bit that current viewers of historical dramas like Downton Abbey will appreciate:
Why Lady Lightfield would ever, in the middle of Almack’s, explain primogeniture and entailment to a duke who had to have understood this since the cradle made no sense even to Jenny, and she had been the one who had written it. But scenes like this were necessary. All soaps had to recap their own stories, but “My Lady’s Chamber” had to give history lessons as well. Viewer mail made that clear.
The romance plot is completed entangled with and informed by the day-to-day events associated with filming the soap opera, and later some events in the soap’s story. Gradually, it becomes clear that Jenny bases her characters rather too closely on those in her own life. The character whom hero Alec Cameron is hired to play, for example, is based on Jenny’s longtime lover, Brian. Meanwhile, as she begins to get to know Alec, the character Brian plays grows more and more like Alec. (It’s not as confusing as it sounds, when you’re involved in the story.)
Jenny grew up motherless, and though she had a loving father, she always longed for a TV-perfect mother and a large family. She gets this, in some ways, through the familial environment of the soap’s actors and crew, but she can’t have it for real in the long term until she meets Alec, and realizes how much he can add to her life.
Though Alec is a well-known actor who has won two Emmy awards, I love that he is in no way overbearing or egotistical.
He was difficult—the reports went —temperamental, obstinate, a perfectionist. He couldn’t believe it. He had always been one of the good guys, punctual, professional, dedicated. How could anyone call him difficult? He was Canadian. The world’s longest unprotected border and all that. Canadians didn’t know how to be difficult.
I also loved how dedicated he is to his art; he’s honest in both his work and in his relationships with people, which meshes perfectly with the deep emotional honesty of Jenny’s writing.
Alec didn’t know yet [what his character was like]. But he would eventually. Over time he would come to know everything there was to know about his character—how he got angry, how he showed impatience, what moved him. After that the fun began, pushing the character’s edges, experimenting, exploring.
And to top it all off, he’s thoughtful. Near the beginning of the story, Jenny is hospitalized.
The show, the network, and people from other shows were weighing in with floral tributes. Which was why Alec had brought her a bagel.
The romance between Alec and Jenny made a great contrast to the relationships in “My Lady’s Chamber,” because unlike the twists and turns of the soap plot, their relationship has a closed arc, ending in their Happily Ever After.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her World War One-set Spice Brief is titled “Under Her Uniform” and is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.