Back to the Damsel Under Stress reread with commentary … now on chapters 5-7
The scene in which Ethelinda and Katie go out to a restaurant was the one I used for readings when I was promoting this book. I even recorded it for a feature on the local newspaper's web site. There were a lot of characters to work with, which let me do voices and generally have fun. I didn't name the restaurant in the book because I have this curse in which any restaurant I name in a book will promptly go out of business, and this one is something of a landmark, so I didn't want to be responsible for killing it. I don't know if the curse applies to blog posts, but just to live dangerously, the restaurant I had in mind was Pete's Tavern, which is famous for being the place where O. Henry wrote "The Gift of the Magi." I went there when I was in New York to research this book, hoping the mojo might rub off. Actually, I've been there multiple times, since it was very close to the hotel where I used to stay when I visited New York (they've since put mini refrigerators and small microwaves in each room and declared them to be "extended stay" suites they only rent for at least a week at a time, so I can't stay there anymore for quick trips).
A few of Ethelinda's blunders during this meal were somewhat based on real-life bits of awkwardness I've either experienced or witnessed. There was the non-couple eating together on a business trip who got mistaken for a romantic couple, and that happened a lot when I was traveling on business. People seem to have these blinders or filters so that they assume that when they see a man and a woman together, they're a couple. There were so many times when I'd be at a trade show and having dinner with a client or colleague because we both happened to get off the show floor at the same time and wanted food or I'd be visiting a client with a colleague and we'd grab dinner together after our meeting wrapped up before we headed to the airport or our hotel, and the restaurant staff behaved like we were on a date. We weren't necessarily being all business and talking business, since when you're thrown together in that kind of proximity you tend to become friends, but there were certainly no signs of affection. It got really awkward when a waiter would treat us like we were having a romantic date. Then there was the proposal Ethelinda rigged that wasn't intended, which reflects those really uncomfortable times when a relationship is way out of sync -- one of you thinks you're just friends, the other is thinking things are inevitably building toward romance. So, yeah, I created a bunch of one-scene characters just to torture them emotionally for our entertainment.
We start to get a bit more backstory on Owen when Rod preps Katie for the Christmas visit. This all stems from when I was drafting the first book in the series. At that time, I really didn't know his backstory. I was just having fun with the idea of the really cute guy who was also painfully shy. A friend who was reading along as I wrote fell madly for Owen (as you do) and wanted to know more about him, especially how he came to be that shy. That was when my quiet, shy character suddenly got very chatty in my head, and I learned/figured out all about his background. I had it in mind from about midway through the first book and used that in writing the next book before I started giving more of it in this book. The full story behind that backstory finally hit in book 5.
I get to go on another anti-shopping rant when Katie has to find gifts for Owen's foster parents. Do you get the impression that I hate shopping for gifts? It's not that I don't like giving things to people. I guess I'm just something of a perfectionist about it, which makes it stressful. There are a few people who are easy to buy for -- I know them well enough to know their interests, they actually have interests, and they don't buy much for themselves so you don't have to worry about what they already have. But buying gifts for people you don't know well is sheer torture, especially when you think you're going to be judged by that gift.
Then there's Katie's undercover assignment, posing as an oil baron's daughter to infiltrate the business that was stolen from Philip -- only to learn that they're probably in league with the bad guys. I think I originally had more planned in this plot line, but the book got very long. I couldn't cut this scene because it sets up some stuff later that explains what's going on with Idris, but at the same time, the reason Katie and Philip are there gets brushed over.
Another part that got trimmed a lot was the day out with Owen. I'm afraid my research was showing, as I wanted to fit in all the fun details I got from visiting New York in December, and I wanted to convey the experience. I found it particularly interesting that the theme for the store windows that year all over the city seemed to be fairy tales. It was like they planned it for me! But I had to cut the scene that was about the magic behind the store windows. This is one of those tricky things as an author -- you need to keep the plot moving and not have scenes of people just having a day out together, but then there are also the Katie and Owen 'shippers who desperately want a scene of them just having a day out together. I believe I put at least one deleted scene from this part of the book on my web site, so the ones who just want to see the characters together can do so, but it doesn't drag down the book itself. All this culminates in the dramatic fall through the ice, which shouldn't be possible on that particular ice rink. Gee, do you think something funny is going on here?