Karma Is a Nice Doggie

I’ve been waiting to tell this story.

This is not a complete story, because I’m sure the heroine will go on kicking ass chapter after chapter, but the end of Chapter 1 reads something like this:

Golden Heart Nominee Courtney Milan’s PROOF BY SEDUCTION, about a rigidly logical marquis who uses the scientific method to save his heir from the clutches of a fraudulent fortune teller, only to fall for her and discover that the one hypothesis not susceptible to proof is love, to Ann Leslie Tuttle at HQN, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency (World).

Now I have a small role in this story. Back when PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS came out, I held a pay-it-forward contest on this blog. The prize was a query consultation and Courtney was the winner as chosen by Random.org.

I find query letters relatively easy to write. For PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, I knocked it out in one morning. I’ve done a number of pitch critique sessions where I helped people retool their pitch/query, usually in 30 minutes or less. So when I took a look at Courtney’s query, I figured, a few questions, a couple of hours, and I’m done.

It took a whole months and twenty-some e-mails back and forth, before we finally hashed out an acceptable query. I think I probably drove poor Courtney nuts with my endless questions. The upside was, the book was so hard to summarize, all my questions weren’t enough. In the end I had to ask to read some scenes and chapters.

Oh, wow.

This was what I wrote to Courtney after I read her stuff: I truly believe you’ve the potential to be the next Loretta Chase. And so I did–and so I do. Courtney’s story reminded me firmly of my favorite Chase book (Mr. Impossible), in the wit and the energy of her prose and the emotional depth of her characters.

I’ve one of the best agents in the business. And so naturally, after Courtney and I were done drafting the query, I asked if she planned to query Kristin Nelson. It turned out that Courtney had a pitch appointment with Kristin at a Chicago conference that very weekend. So I fired off an e-mail to Kristin that basically said Major talent coming along–hurry up if you know what’s good for you.

Kristin requested the full at their meeting, read it in a week or so, loved it, and offered representation. Courtney, being the smart woman that she is, accepted. And some weeks and furious bidding later came the Deal Lunch announcement as seen at the top of this post.

Now so far, this story as I’ve told it is basically a mirror image of Courtney’s own account, except she accorded me a far greater role than I really played: Kristin would have requested a partial in Chicago anyway, and in time Courtney would have had her Call with or without my participation.

But what Courtney didn’t tell is the story of how she came to save my precious behind–and truly, I can’t think of another person who could have done what she did for me.

That story went like this:

After we agreed that the query that I concocted was usable, Courtney told me that if I ever found myself in need of post-1700 historical legal expertise, she would either already know it or have fun finding out.

To which incredible offer I said–and looking at our old e-mails confirms this–absolutely nothing. Not that I wasn’t grateful she offered, but I saw no need of it. I was perfectly happy to stay far away from legal things as much as I can.

And then, that very weekend, as Courtney was in Chicago getting acquainted with Kristin, I discovered a possibly fatal research oversight in DELICIOUS as I was on the very last round of proofing.

The hero in DELICIOUS was born a bastard. In the book he was later legitimized by the marriage of his parents and consequently inherited the family estate from his elder brother when the latter passed away without heirs–the estate where the heroine worked. So the entire story hinges on his inheriting the estate.

And then, what should I find out when I consulted a late-19th century edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the subject of bastardy? A bastard was legitimized when his parents married–under Canon Law and Scottish law and Continental law, but not @#$%ing English Common Law! The E.B. kindly listed case after case of bastards whose parents later married who weren’t allowed to inherit various pieces of real estate in England.

I was distraught, practically in tears. Granted, probably not too many readers would know this piece of historical trivia. But now I did. I couldn’t in good conscience let the book be published when the entire premise was impossible. And could I really move the estate to Scotland when 1) I didn’t know enough about Scotland to fill a teaspoon and 2) the book had been typeset once already for the ARC, and I was supposed to make only minor changes?

Consulting another late-19th century encyclopedia informed me that there was an out: the bastard can be legitimized under English Common Law by an act of parliament. But now my confidence was well and truly shaken. I didn’t know anything about anything. If only I had an expert on historical law who could help me out…

So I e-mailed Courtney and laid out my problem before her. And let me just say, I think I understand the lure of the Rescue Fantasy now. Because it was sooooooooooo wonderful to be pulled to safety by someone stronger and greater, and all I had to do was say, “Really? You mean I need to insert only a few sentences and change a couple of paragraphs and Stuart and Verity will be ALL RIGHT?” (Strangely enough, I wasn’t so much afraid of consequences for myself when and if I had to tell my editor that the story couldn’t be publish as-is, but I was heartbroken for my H/H, who’d had such tough lives and who needed each other so–I felt I was destroying their happiness.)

Courtney was my knight in shining armor. She explained concepts; she dug up cases; she gave concise interpretations on passages of law that otherwise made about as much sense to me as Linear A.

She made everything all right.

I’ve always considered myself pretty fortunate. But in this instance my luck has been truly spectacular. That Random.org would select for me the one person whose help I would desperately need in exactly one month’s time–it gives me the chills.

So here’s to Karma, which says that the person you help most when you help others is yourself–couldn’t be more true here. And to Courtney, may this be the beginning of a long and illustrious career.

(I owe you, girlfriend.)