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Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Riskies welcome back Elizabeth Rolls whose next Harlequin Historical, Lord Braybrook’s Penniless Bride, will be in bookstores in June. Elizabeth comes to us all the way from Down Under!

Elizabeth will give away one copy of the book to one lucky commenter chosen at random.

Elizabeth, tell us about Lord Braybrook’s Penniless Bride.

Hi everyone! Thanks for having me to visit again. You want to hear ALL about Braybrook and Christy? LOL! Just a little bit maybe. This is the story of a man who has a mental list, enumerated by his stepmother in front of the heroine, of the attributes he requires in a bride . . . and how he ends up having to marry Christy Daventry who embodies none of said attributes. Christy is a woman with only one thing to depend on – herself. She is capable, intelligent and more than aware that a man like Braybrook can only want one thing from a woman like her. She is also aware of her own deepest vulnerability- her loneliness.

How does Lord Braybrook’s Penniless Bride fit in with your previous books?

Braybrook was really an accidental character. He first appeared in His Lady Mistress and originally I intended him to be a bit of a rat bastard, in Anne Stuart’s immortal phrase. But he refused to behave badly and turned out to be rather nice. Still, he only had one scene, and a very minor part at that. Then I started writing A Compromised Lady and there he was again. This time muscling his way in on the action right from the start. I was starting to find out a little bit more about him and before I knew where I was, parts of his story were coming to me, so I wrote them down before I could forget them. The early parts of Lord Braybrook’s Penniless Bride were written at much the same time as parts of ACL. It turned out though, that the characters from the earlier books didn’t show up at all in this story. That surprised me, but the story just didn’t work out that way.

Did you come across any interesting research while you were writing the book?

I did quite a bit of reading up on illegitimacy. The situation for illegitimate children was really horrible. A child born out of wedlock had no legal rights of inheritance AT ALL. They were considered Filius Nullius – child of no one. There was absolutely nothing in the legal system to protect such children or force the father to take responsibility. Of course in those days there was no way to prove beyond all possible doubt that the father was the father. Children born into this situation were considered literally tainted. Julian’s actions are, I have to admit, historically fairly unlikely both in regard to Christy and Nan Roberts. What can I say? The man’s a hero. I had a weird experience with the last part of the book in terms of research. I really didn’t know how to end the story, and tie everything up so that Julian’s altered attitudes were believable. Not for the reader, but for Christy. Most of it was in place, but I needed some sort of context for him to make that final declaration. Not to force it, but to give it form. In the end I found a couple of books on antique toys and nursery furniture – talk about a blinding revelation! The moment I had those books in my hands I had my final scene. (Literally. I’d barely opened them except to check they covered the right period.) It’s completely sappy and sentimental, the rocking horse owes more than a passing swish of the tail to the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit, but I love it!

What is risky about Lord Braybrook’s Penniless Bride?

Risky?? Hmm. The risky part is that Christy is not your average well-bred heroine. That in itself is perhaps not risky, but Braybrook’s initial attitude towards her is typical of his time and rank, and is, as she later points out to him, deeply hypocritical. He is attracted to her, but because she is so far beneath him in the social scale he views her purely as mistress material. However, he is forced by circumstance and Christy’s nature to change his mind. I don’t want to give too much away in terms of spoilers, but he is also very much of his time in his attitude towards illegitimacy and some may find his initial views on this somewhat confronting. Possibly also those who don’t like children in a romance may find Braybrook’s youngest siblings annoying, so be warned if you are in that category. The man has a family and his story turned out to be very much about the importance of family and just what family involves. Braybrook’s conflict is that he is torn between what received social wisdom tells him he should feel about Christy, and what his heart is telling him.

What’s next for you?

I’m battling on with the next book. This one is a bit of a departure for me – a murder mystery. Don’t get too excited just yet. Murder is easy, but the plotting of the whole thing is giving me hell. I mean figuring out what happens is fine – the tricky bit is trying to make sure it isn’t obvious for the reader! Right now I’m hung up on the significance of a snuff box . . . This one is Regency set, but after that I have an idea for a Restoration story. So I’m reading about the English Civil War and the Restoration, and the 17th century generally. Lots of reading on both sides, Parliament and Royalist. I’m finding the differences and conflicts in religious thought fascinating, which may give the story a very different flavour to what I’ve written in the past. It’s hard to say at the moment. So far I have a premise and two characters and a couple of rough, VERY rough – did I say ROUGH? – scenes. It feels good though, but no doubt by the time I’m fully into the writing it will drive me mad! It’s nice to be doing something a little different though. I love Regency and will definitely come back to it, but this story doesn’t fit into a Regency setting and I really, really want to write it. I guess though I won’t be able to come back here and tell you all about that one – unless you want to make the blog Risky Regencies AND Restoration Drama for a day!

Elizabeth’s A Compromised Lady is a finalist for Australia’s Romance Novel of the Year!!

AND His Lady Mistress is still available as one of Harlequin’s 60th Anniversary Free Downloads.

Don’t you have a question you are dying to ask Elizabeth? Ask a question or leave a comment for a chance to win Lord Braybrook’s Penniless Bride

A lot of times, when romance readers talk about why they read romance, they mention the “Happy Ever After,” or “HEA,” as we’ve shorthanded it.

And that is the same reason many of us don’t read literary fiction, because there’s often an UNHappy Ever After, and that is unfulfilling, not to mention depressing.

For me, however, I’ve come to realize that what I require is a Satisfying Ending. I don’t need it to be happy, I just need it to be resolved. And, sometimes, literary fiction doesn’t resolve things, it just shows us that our miserable lives continue on and on past the book.

I like reading genre books because the point of the book is usually reaching some sort of conclusive ending: The murder is solved, the battle is won, the fantastical planet is saved. Something that makes you feel as though you’re not missing anything, like the world will continue as you’ve come to understand it even though the last page has been read and absorbed.

For example, I was thinking of one of my favorite authors, Bernard Cornwell, and his trilogy of the Archer’s Tale; the overall goal of the main character is to find the Holy Grail, but there are just as large goals that are begun, and concluded, in each book. Fabulous, fabulous writing and plotting. Back to romance, Elizabeth Hoyt does a similar thing with her Four Soldiers quartet. Each story has a traditional HEA, with a larger goal drawn out over the course of the four books. Ken Bruen‘s Jack Taylor series reveals more about the main character over the course of the two books I’ve read, and also satisfactorily solves the mystery.

In some ways, a good ending is like a good dessert: It can make up for a lot of faults in the meal. A bad dessert can literally leave a bad taste in your mouth, just as an unsatisfactory ending can ruin all the hard work the author did in the first three-quarters of the book.

I have read one book where an open ending worked for me, and that was Michel Faber‘s The Crimson Petal And The White, a historical fiction book that was just luscious. I had been warned, however, that the ending wasn’t traditional, so I was prepared.

How about you? Do all your endings have to be happy? What book has been ruined for you by the ending? What authors end books particularly well?


PS: A new Risky is coming to town! Wait for her arrival sometime next week!

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It’s an interesting phenomenon that the closer you live to a historic site, the less likely you are to visit it. I had dinner last night with Diane and Amanda and our conversation included a joint confession from me and Diane about all the places we hadn’t been to in the Washington DC area. We also exchanged ideas on time management but I fear we only encouraged each other on new ways to procrastinate.

Last Saturday I took time off from writing by visiting Tudor Place with my friend and fieldtrip companion Kate Dolan. I’d never visited (of course), although it has a family connection via the Custis and Calvert families to Riversdale House Museum (which I visit fairly often as I’m a docent). Also I wanted to check it out as the Beau Monde field trip on July 15 includes visits to both locations. And if you’re a member of the Beau Monde, you’ll hear about it soon. Honest!

So, the house. Absolutely gorgeous. It was built by Martha Washington’s granddaughter and her husband, Martha Custis Peter and Thomas Peter, on land acquired in 1805, and designed by Dr. William Thornton, architect of the US Capitol. Construction ended in 1816 and the Peter family lived in the house until 1983. Consequently it is a house filled with almost two centuries’ worth of art and artefacts collected by the family, several of whom were amateur artists (quite good ones). It also has a superb garden.

This palm tree outside the house is one of several that are third-generation descendants of trees acquired by the Peters almost two centuries ago.

The house isn’t built of stone, as you might think, but stucco scored to look like it over brick construction. Photography was not allowed inside the house, but one of the highlights for me was seeing the original 1920s kitchen with original fittings including a mighty iron range and hot water heater. There’s also a very lovely butler’s pantry with many sets of china–because the family were in the house so long each new bride brought new china to the house.

The house is also particularly rich in items owned by George Washington, including china and silver. Moreover, since this was a family who didn’t throw anything away, ever, there’s a terrific amount of documentation in the form of bills, letters and so on. Many major historical figures were entertained at the house including Lafayette and Daniel Webster.

I was lucky enough to visit at peak rose blooming season, which was spectacular this year because it’s been cool and wet. The garden has many varieties of heirloom roses, many beautifully scented; and with a wide variety of scents, too–peppery, spicey and so on. The roses on the left are from the early nineteenth century–early varieties tend to be rather straggly with small blooms, and this one is unusual in that it blooms all summer (or as long as it can stand to in DC). The one on the right–oh, it’s a nice (if off-center) picture. I think it’s probably a variety from later in the century. By July most of these roses will probably have given up the fight against the heat so I was glad to see them and take these pics.

Here’s an overview of the gardens and a closeup of some foxgloves, which to my surprise grew in full sun among the roses and seemed quite happy there.

Here’s a very lovely rose arbor and a close up of the roses growing on it. On the left you can also see some of the gigantic boxwoods in the garden. There were also some huge trees that may have been original to the garden and although I briefly met the garden specialist I didn’t have time to bombard her with as many questions as I would have liked.

So this seems as good a time as any to ask the question: What are you doing this summer? Are you coming to the RWA National Conference in Washington, DC?–and I’ve just heard that I’ll be signing A Most Lamentable Comedy at the July 15 “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing, which I’m very excited about. Are you planning a vacation? Where? What will your beach reads be?

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Whenever people ask me about my agent Lucienne Diver I tell them that I write stuff, she sells it, and she’s really nice. But here’s her official bio:

Lucienne Diver joined The Knight Agency in 2008, after spending fifteen years at New York City’s prestigious Spectrum Literary Agency. Over the course of her dynamic career she has sold over six hundred titles to every major publisher, and has built a client list of more than forty authors spanning the commercial fiction genres, primarily in the areas of fantasy, romance, mystery, suspense and erotica. Her authors have been honored with the RITA, National Readers’ Choice Award, the Golden Heart, and the Romantic Times Reader’s Choice, and have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. 

She’s also an author in her own right with her debut YA Vamped released in May 2009 by Flux. Further information is available at The Knight Agency, her author site, and her blog.

Everything I Need to Know About History I Learned from Roberta Gellis.

Okay, this isn’t entirely true, but it’s not terribly far off the mark either. Have you ever read a Roberta Gellis novel? Full of fantastic history and characters who are truly products of their time. The men are not necessarily enlightened, appreciating the heroine’s wit and independence at first banter. They’re as they would have been—largely focused on their estates and their wars. The women often start out as conveniences or distractions and end up earning every ounce of the hero’s respect.

This is not to say that I have trouble with historical heroes who are sometimes forward thinking. I’m sure they existed as well. I love the truly wonderful banter of men and women who give as good as they get. But I think it has to be kept in perspective, because what makes a historical romance truly remarkable and memorable to me is being transported to another time and place. I don’t just want to imagine the trappings, I want to run my fingers along them, breathe them in. Do they need airing out? Is the scent of the sachets they were stored with still redolent in the air?

I think that part of the reason the Regency era is so popular in romance is that it was such a rich time. It covered less than a decade of actual history, but so much happened within those years. The Napoleonic Wars, riots, decadence, reform, Jane Austen, Byron and Shelley (both of them), balls and banter and rakes, oh my! So much material to mine, it’s no wonder writers and readers never grow tired of it.

But what about other periods? The middle ages, with the invasions, crusades, Knights Templar, black death (okay, maybe the latter isn’t the stuff of romance) is equally rich, potentially missing only the glittering, over-the-top decadence of the Regency. The middle ages were a little more down and dirty and the church a little more…present…in everyday life.

Speaking of down and dirty—what about the old west? Pioneers and pistols, outlaws, lawmen, braves, snake oil salesmen, gutsy women….

You know, there’s just something to love about every time period. Been hearing that historical romance is a difficult sell? Well, I look on the New York Times bestseller list and at the sales on Publishers Marketplace and historical romance is still selling. But there are a lot of great stories well told already on the market. Sure, if your voice is amazing, the romance gripping and the action visceral, the sheer page-turning readability of your novel may be its own hook, but now more than ever it’s important to make your work really stand out. If I can’t think how I’d write a pitch letter or what a publisher might put in the back cover copy to distinguish your novel from a dozen others on the shelf, there’s a good chance I won’t take it that far.

So, what says excitement to agents and editors?

I asked Keyren Gerlach from Harlequin, who says that super-sexy historicals, like Courtney Milan’s January 2010 debut PROOF BY SEDUCTION, really stand out for them.
Kate Seaver from Berkley mentions Robin Schone’s erotic historical CRY FOR PASSION, which came out in March 2009. The author, she says, really knows her time period, has a distinctive voice and pushes the boundaries of her genre.

I’m going to mention a few more names, authors with very unique, chicklit voices in historical romance: the fabulous Janet Mullany (RULES OF GENTILITY), Kasey Michaels (THE BUTLER DID IT) and Kathryn Caskie (A LADY’S GUIDE TO RAKES).

Sometimes originality comes from the way disparate elements are combined, like the history and humor, sometimes it’s in the heat coming off the pages or the way a particularly intriguing event or historical figure is spotlighted. I love to learn even as I’m entertained! The important thing is to find that which makes your work special and unique and to give the reader a transcendent reading experience. There’s always room for transcendence!

A few weekends ago, I went to an old college friend’s bachelorette party at a fun local dance club. And what do a bunch of sophisticated 30-somethings with jobs, mortgages, boyfriends/fiances/husbands/kids/pets, talk about when they have too many pomegranate martinis? You guessed it–they talk about the Twilight books! It is my shame in life that, deep down inside, I am a Twilight-loving, Gossip Girl-watching 14-year-old. (Speaking of GG, did you see the news that Ed Westwick is going to star as Heathcliff in a new Wuthering Heights movie opposite Gemma Arterton???)

My friends and I, it turns out, are united in many opinions re: Twilight. We share a deep dislike of Bella (weird, since the story is in 1st person and thus all about Bella). We sometimes get mired in details that have no explanation (how do vampires have sex if they have no blood? How did the Volturri get from Italy to Forks anyway? They’re not exactly inconspicuous, and they probably don’t have passports). We would love to see a book all about Alice and Jasper (because Alice is never a passive dishrag like Bella, and Jasper seems like a total bad-ass). But we do not all agree on one very important point–who is the real hero, Edward or Jacob?

The bride-to-be finally announced (loudly), “Come on, Manda! You know as well as I do, Jacob is the guy you marry. Edward is just the guy you ****.” (Because she’s now the arbiter of things marital! And it’s not a party without a few f-bombs, of course). And there you have it. Literature, and life, in a nutshell. There are guys you marry, and guys you ****. In romance novels, he is one and the same, because we want a HEA we can believe in. When we’re young, it’s not always so clear which is which; not always when we’re grown-up, either.

But it made me think. What I like about Twilight is not the whole vampire/werewolf thing (the world-building here is flimsy at best). It’s the fact that it’s really just a framework for a good old-fashioned Forbidden Young Love story. It could just as easily be a Regency tale of the gorgeous young heir to a dukedom who falls for a vicar’s shy daughter. She knows she should marry the nice young shopkeeper’s son who is courting her, but she just can’t stay away from the duke…

I don’t often see this whole Crazy, Unstoppable, Force of Nature Love in romance fiction, and sometimes I do crave a Romeo and Juliet, Cathy and Heathcliff kind of story. I know that it’s not especially realistic, and I definitely do not want to go back to being 16 myself, and live again through my first breakup (whimpering in my dark room as I clutched a dried-out corsage from a dance we went to, and my parents thinking I had gone completely insane). But I do like reading about it at times. Do you? What are some of your favorite “crazy love” books? (And if you know some good romances that fit, let me know!!).

(For the record, I would not want to marry Jacob or Edward. Talk about baggage. You either get the whole unpredictable phasing into a werewolf thing, or you get in-laws in your business for eternity).

And now I have to finish packing and decide what to read on the plane! Tomorrow I’m off to meet Diane and trek to New York for BookExpo America, Lady Jane’s Salon, and all kinds of fun things. If you’re in the area, let us know!

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