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Monthly Archives: April 2007

I recently finished CLANDESTINE, by one of my favorite authors, Julia Ross (aka Jean Ross Ewing). As usual I adored her lush, poetic prose, the depth of her characterizations, the intrigue and the elegant sensuality.

CLANDESTINE is set in 1829, near the end of Prinny’s reign as George IV. I haven’t discovered a name for this period that is used in conjunction with 19th romance novels, which are usually categorized either Regency or Victorian. Some of the details, such as women’s clothing, are different and there are subtle social changes evident, yet a lot of it still feels “Regency.” One of my favorite romances ever, Laura Kinsale’s FLOWERS FROM THE STORM, is also set in this time period.

I find the period between 1820-1830 interesting to read. I would also like someday to write stories for the foundlings from LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE. Since the oldest of the foundlings would only be 17 in 1820 I am clearly headed for that date range and beyond.

I have to admit I’m ambivalent about the Victoria era. Some aspects of Victorian womanhood really bother me: “chloroform and forceps” childbirth, corseting that pierces internal organs (thereby unfairly giving all corsets a bad name). On the other hand, it is the time of the Brontes and I’ve also enjoyed modern romance novels set in that time period such as Kinsale’s SHADOW AND THE STAR and Judith Ivory’s SLEEPING BEAUTY.

For me, the Victorian romance works if the characters don’t form a life that is typically Victorian. If they end up somewhat on the edge of society or living a rather Bohemian lifestyle, I can imagine them happy much more so than if they toe the line. It’s different from a Georgian or a Regency in which I can accept (but don’t require) that the couple’s marriage be fully accepted within society.

At the other end of the Regency we have Georgian novels. When I was reading Georgette Heyer as a kid I knew her books had varied settings but at the time I didn’t put them in categories marked “Georgian” or “Regency.” It wasn’t until I started writing my own Regencies that I discovered the official Regency was 1811-1820 or that Jane Austen started writing well before that time. Now I’m glad to see more Georgian-set novels coming out, because I enjoy them and also because I have a few (still very embryonic) ideas for Georgian-set romances myself.

So now to my survey:

1) When did you know the Regency was 1811-20? Is there a broader date range you consider the “Regency” in terms of the reading experience?
2) How do you feel about that period between the Regency and the Victorian (1820-1837)? Do you enjoy books set in that period?
3) Do you enjoy earlier Georgian-set romance?
4) What do you think of the Victorian era and Victorian-set romance?

Let me know what you think!


We all have traumatic formative experiences as children. If you don’t mind me getting personal here, sharing my pain and showing my (metaphorical) scars, then…then I will.

(I can feel the love of all the Risky readers buoying me up, giving me courage to go on.)

When I was a kid, I… (Hard to say, for the misery, the shame.) I — I learned all the secrets of The Empire Strikes Back before I saw the movie. All of them.

I still haven’t recovered from that. (As you can see.)

It really hurt my enjoyment of the film, too, because I kept waiting for this to happen, and that to happen, and then for So-and-So to dramatically intone those terrible words (which I already knew)…

Around the same time, I found a copy of Diana Wynne Jones’s Charmed Life in a lovely little shop, on a lovely little day.

It had one of the prettiest covers I’d ever seen. It was paperback, so I could afford to buy it. And it was by one of my favorite authors!

I bought it. I loved it.

Tragically, this very pretty American paperback edition gave away a major secret on the back cover. This was a piece of information which was not known to the main characters until near the end of the book — but I didn’t realize they didn’t know it!

Ever since then, I’ve been spoiler-averse. I’m not on the extreme edge — I watch most previews in movie theaters, for example (though sometimes I close my eyes and ears and hum) — but if I know I’m going to read a book, I never read the blurb on the back…and when I’m watching television and a voice says “Next time, on Lost,” I turn it off, or hit the mute button and look away.

So…how about you?

Do you read the blurb on a book’s back-cover, or on the inner flap? Do you peek at the ending, to see if it ends happily?

Do you watch a TV show’s scenes from next time? Do you hide your eyes during movie previews?

Do you seek out spoilers online?

All answers welcome!

Cara King, author of MY LADY GAMESTER, which has a back cover that gives away some but not all of the plot

This marble bas-relief by Antonio Lombardo in 1508 is called “The Contest Between Minerva and Neptune,” which has very little to do with my topic. I did, however, feel I must crop this image or figure out how to add fig leaves. Antonio, it seemed, liked naked realism and I figured our blog should be at least a PG 13!

It is Romance Writing Contest time again, the time when many hopeful romance writers are biting their nails, hoping their entries make the finals in a contest, hoping they win, get requested by the judging editor, and finally make that sale. I remember how that feels–it wasn’t so long ago that I was The Contest Empress, entering every contest I could find with those same hopes. At the same time that I was entering contests, I was also judging some of them. Judging was another learning tool then. It was amazing how much the “theory” of writing Romance became crystal clear when judging the anonymous works of other hopeful writers.

I always volunteer to judge my Chapter contests, The Royal Ascot for Beau Monde, The Fool for Love for Viginia Romance Writers, and The Marlene for Washington Romance Writers. The last two years, for unusual reasons I hadn’t been sent judging packets. This year I am experiencing this whole judging thing anew. Both Royal Ascot entries and Fool for Love entries have arrived and I’m plowing through them.

This time I’m much more confident that I know what makes a good story and good writing, but I’m also very sensitive to the idea that what I say will have an impact on a hopeful entrant. I want to be encouraging but I also want to be realistic. I don’t want to mislead a writer if I think something they’ve done would get in the way of the manuscript being published, especially if I think they could fix it. I know my heart is in the right place, but I don’t know if my words will feel that way to the contest entrant.

We all have a learning curve in our writing. For some whose natural story-telling ability is innate, the learning curve may be short, but for others it might be long. If these writers have the courage to enter contests at the beginning of their long curve, I don’t want to discourage them even if it seems like they have so much to learn. The problem is, how much to say is helpful and how much hurtful?

If someone is at the beginning of their learning curve, I want them to feel that they’ve learned something after reading my comments. I tell everyone to only believe criticism if it gives you that “Duh. Why didn’t I see that?” moment. But I have no idea if what I say provides such a moment.

I remember when I was entering the contests for unpublished writers, one of my judges suggested “How to Write” books to me. I was by that time a pretty seasoned writer so I felt insulted. I don’t suggest How to Write books, needless to say.

Woe is the poor person whose entry is Regency-set (all of the Royal Ascot entries, of course). I will actually check facts, especially titles, to make sure they are accurate, but I try not to make my bias toward historical accuracy too big a factor, because I know that editors don’t care as much as I do if the daughter of a viscount is called Lady Mary or Miss Mary or Miss Smith (Miss Smith is correct).

I’ve had wonderful contest criticism. One I remember was a judge catching the fact that I used the word “discrete” when I really meant “discreet.” (I can’t tell you how many people read that word and didn’t catch it!) I’ve have horrible criticism, like the judge who judged me down for my historical facts and I was correct! Or the “How to Write” book recommendations.

Those of you who have had the courage to enter contests, do you have any contest horror stories? Or, maybe you can tell me if a judge ever actually HELPED you.
If you haven’t entered contests – either because you don’t want to or you are a reader not a writer–what do you think would hurt and what would help?

This year a critique by me is part of the prize for the Historical category of The Marlene Contest. We’re announcing the winner at Washington Romance Writers Retreat this weekend. That means I’ll have to give someone a detailed critique and it will be considered a prize.

But wasn’t it just yesterday, I was the entrant and some multi-published author gave the critique?


PS I’ll blog about the Retreat next Monday!
PPS Don’t Neptune’s abs remind you of Gerard Butler in 300?

Kalen Hughes is a debut historical author and former Golden Heart finalist. Always a voracious reader, Kalen didn’t discover the world of romance until her godmother handed her a Georgette Heyer novel during her freshman year of college. While she studied philosophy and creative writing (yes, she’s one of those dreadful MFA people *grin*), she continued to read romance . . . and eventually her inner poet was drowned out by voices demanding that their stories be told. Growing up in the lively reenactor community on the West Coast, and working as her godmother’s research assistant during college, pretty much guaranteed that those self-same voices would be historical.

When she’s not writing, Kalen spends enormous amounts of time researching and recreating historical clothing, often going so far as to use period sewing techniques (yes, that means lots and lots of hand sewing). She also gives workshops to her fellow romance writers on topics ranging from the History of Underclothes, to How Clothes Worked During the Regency, to the Origins of the Kilt.

For more information about Kalen, LORD SIN, and the History of Underclothes, please visit her website

Enter a comment or question for Kalen by the end of the day, Monday April 23, for a chance to win an autographed copy of LORD SIN (winner to be chosen by the Riskies).

“Lusty and dramatic, with a great touch of suspense, this deliciously erotic debut will keep readers enthralled. Heavily character-driven, Lord Sin features a tremendously appealing hero and a splendid heroine, full of honesty and courage. Fans will be eagerly awaiting the next sexy Georgian romance from Kalen Hughes.”

– Julia Ross, RITA Award winning author

K.I.S.S. Award!

“What do May flowers bring? Heroes like Kalen Hughes’s Lord Sin, Ivo Dauntry, who learns that revenge is a double-edged sword.”

4-Stars (RT Book Reviews)
“Hughes debuts with a novel that’s part erotic romance and party country house party romp—a unique combination that will keep readers intrigued. Part of the appeal is Hughes’s ability to create likable characters as well as spicy love scenes tinged with rough sex and tenderness. She’s definitely on her way to enticing readers who adore Lisa Kleypas, Pamela Britton and Katherine O’Neal.”

Tell us about LORD SIN. What inspired you to write this particular book? Did it start with a character, a setting, or some other element?

Honestly? Ack. LORD SIN started out as my response to some book or other that hadn’t pleased me (so many of us get started that way, LOL!). I knew what I wanted to be reading (Georgette Heyer, but HOT) so I began to write that book . . . the story really started with the heroine, and the idea of writing a role reversal book. She’d be the alpha, he’d be the silently strong man who loves her just the way she is. I wanted a kick-ass historical heroine, something you don’t see a lot of in historicals. Fast-forward a year or so, I have a finished manuscript and no bloody idea what to do with it. My godmother, who’s also a novelist, tells me to email the first 100 pages to her editor at Avon. Knowing nothing about the business, I did. *blush* All I can say is Lucia Macro is an angel and was extremely gracious about the whole thing. She wrote me a detailed rejection letter and suggested I check out RWA.

Someday I’ll meet her face to face and buy her the dozens of drinks I clearly owe her. If I’m brave enough to introduce myself, that is.

Tell me more about your characters. What or who inspired them?

Georginna, the heroine, is a tomboy. A girl raised with a pack of boys (her parents’ friends). Her theme song is Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better. She simply is one of the boys. I’d say she was very much inspired by my own childhood (only girl on a commune) and strongly influenced by some of Heyer’s more lively heroines (Sophy, Babs, Serena, Prudence). I wanted her to have edge. To be strong. Too strong for most men to handle. And I wanted to explore the challenges that strong-minded independent women face (then and now, as I think this issue is timeless). She’s got a little bit of Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire in her, mixed up with some Hester Stanhope, and maybe just a little bit of Moll Flanders.

Ivo (yes I stole the name from Bath Tangle) has gone through a lot. Literally. He started out as the strong, silent type. The guy who could let George’s outrageous behavior just wash over him like water off a duck’s back. The guy who would never compete with her, because he’s not at all threatened by her. His only growth arc was to learn to love her just the way she was . . . He’s ended up a little more emotional, and a lot louder. LOL! Somewhere in the middle of the book he suddenly had an agenda. And he started getting angry about what had happened when they’d met years before. They had back-story. Who knew? So I rewrote the opening to play up that back-story and bring what was clearly their real conflict into focus. I can tell he had a much better time when he got to be as bad as she is. *grin* He’s so ready for that duet. I feel really honored that Romantic Times gave Ivo a K.I.S.S. I sure think he deserved one!

What draws you to write about the Georgian period?

Oooooo, I can give you a couple of different answers here. There’s the “real” reason my book is Georgian, and then there’s all the reasons I’m glad it is.

The “real” reason is that my (now) editor said she was full up on books with Regency settings and could I please send her something else. Anything else.

The reason my “anything else” is Georgian is that I just love the period. The late 1780s is a period which fascinates me. It’s tumultuous on multiple fronts, multiple continents, in ways both micro and macro. 1787 marks a major milestone for the still fledgling United States: The signing of the Constitution. Uranus, Oberon and Titan are discovered by Herschel. Mozart’s Don Giovanni is performed for the first time. In 1788, England’s George III experiences his first bout of madness, ushering in the Regency crisis which will last for the next twenty-plus years. London’s Daily Universal Register becomes the Times. The first convicts are transported from Britain to Australia, and Sydney is founded. 1789 marks the beginning of the Revolution in France, and the world will never be the same. The guillotine is invented. Mrs. Radcliffe’s first horrid novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, is published. The Duke of Devonshire is openly living with both his wife and his mistress (the duchess’s best friend). The young Price of Wales is illegally married to the Catholic Mrs. Fitzherbert, and has likely already sired an illegitimate son. The Whigs and Tories are locked in combat in Parliament, each marshaled behind their leaders Charles James Fox, and his former protégé, William Pitt. There’s just so much going on. And then there are the clothes . . . I know lots of people love love love Regency fashion, but I vastly prefer the clothing of the late 18th century. There’s just something sensual about the silks, the embroidery, and the fabulous hair that I think gets lost by the Regency. And the general mores of the people are a little wilder, a little looser, a little more fun. I felt I had more scope, a wider vista, a more distant horizon. LOL! And it seemed fresh. Only Heyer, Beverley and Ross to contend with really (and none of them were currently putting out Georgian-set books). Since then, a certain NY Times Best Selling Author has set her new series there (yes, I’m looking at you, Eloisa!). I’m hoping that she’s so addicted her legions of fans to all things Georgian that I’ll get to bask in a few reflected sales. *grin*

You mention on your website that you’ve been involved in a great variety of living history events since you were three years old. How do you think this has influenced the way you write historical romance? Do you think it’s given you an advantage in getting “inside” a historical period?

I think having grown up doing living history events really does give me something of an insider’s view of history (with a small “h”, the kind of day to day stuff that informs our writing). I’ve made and worn the clothes. I’ve “lived” as they did (pretended, that is). Eaten the same foods. Done the same chores. I’ve researched the minutiae of their daily lives not just to write a book, but to try an recreate that life. I know what happens when you fall down wearing an Elizabethan court gown. I know how it feels to wear petticoats and hoops in a high wind on the deck of a ship. I know exactly what kind of range of motion you have in a Regency gown (hint: you ain’t climbing no tree). I know that a corset doesn’t poke or pinch. I know that starting a fire with a flint and tinder is hard work (and that it sucks to do it in the rain, shivering and desperate to be warm). I know how to load and fire a black powder gun, and what the smoke smells like. I hope that all this adds up to a rich narrative that readers will enjoy, but not be actively aware of. Growing up around horses didn’t hurt either. I’ve ridden to hounds. I’ve driven a carriage. I’ve jumped in a side saddle. I’m not just imaging doing these things, I’m remembering them.

What do you think is the greatest creative risk you’ve taken in this book? How do you feel about it?

That’s a hard one. I’d say it’s following where my voice leads me. Stephen King has this whole thing about the purity of spare writing, of being succinct. My personal motto is Why use one word when I can use eight?, and I clearly never saw an adjective I didn’t like. I write deep POV, filled with sentence fragments. I’m sure it’s going to drive some people crazy, but I love it. Voice is clearly my strongest asset, IMO anyway. If we’re not talking about something like voice, than I would say that my heroine is big creative risk. She’s brash, a little masculine, and she’s not shy about sex. I wouldn’t call her a slut, but some people might . . .

Is there anything you wanted to include in the book that you (or your CPs or editor) felt was too controversial and left out?

Too controversial? No. I kept waiting to get told I’d gone too far (esp. with the sex scenes, this is Zebra after all, not Aphrodesia), but I never got reined in. I had really expected to have some of my language cleaned up (let’s just say I don’t like euphemisms for men’s genitalia, I use the “c” word that also means a male chicken a lot) but no one ever said a word about it. LOL! The only thing I had to consciously work on was softening George up a bit. My editor felt she was a little too “magnificently competent” (aka hard). So I worked on layering in some softer moments in her internal monologue.

I have ideas for future books that have been deemed “too controversial”, though. I really really really want to write a romance about free blacks in England and Paris around the time of the French Revolution, but it’s a hard sell on all fronts. *sigh* But as the hero is already fully formed and running around inside my head harassing all comers, I’m going to have to write him eventually. And I’d better get on it before he and that damned balloonist join forces and stage a coup.

What are you working on now?

I’ve turned in my second book, tentatively titled LORD SCANDAL (due out sometime in 2008). In LORD SIN you meet George’s two best (male) friends, Gabriel Angelstone and Marcus Thane. LORD SCANDAL is about Gabriel. He’s the half-Turkish son of a diplomat who ends up falling in love with a very scandalous divorcee (what can I say, I’m just not interested in ingénues). Her already humiliated family is by no means pleased with the idea of being in any way connected with the living, breathing scandal that is Gabriel. It was loads of fun to write, and it happens to be the book I finaled in the Golden Heart with so I’m thrilled to get to share it with everyone.

I just sent off my proposal for Marcus’s book. He’s going to fall—hard and messy!—for a retired courtesan who’s been supporting herself by publishing her memoirs (a la Harriette Wilson). Unfortunately, someone appears to be trying to silence her pen . . . Keep your fingers crossed for me and Marcus. It took me a long time to find the right woman for him, I kept trotting them out and he kept yawning after a chapter or two. He finally got intrigued when I let the naughty girl out to play (who knew he had “knight in shining armor” complex and a thing for bad girls?).

Thanks for talking to us, Kalen!

Comment on this interview for the chance to win a copy of LORD SIN! The winner will be announced Tuesday, April 24. If you haven’t already done so, please check out Bertie the Beau’s Official Risky Regencies Contest Rules.

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