Debut Author Emery Lee and The Highest Stakes

Today we welcome debut author Emery Lee. Emery’s The Highest Stakes is set earlier than the Regency, in the 18th century racing world. I first “met” Emery when she sent a frantic email asking for advice. An editor had made an offer for the very first book she wrote. I’m not sure if my advice is responsible, but that book is here!

Read what some reviewers say:

The Highest Stakes is a rich and rewarding read, with the history of
the times neatly sewn in. The real meat of the book, though, is its
relationships: not only between Charlotte and Robert, but between
Robert and Phillip Drake, and a handful of lesser players. Emery Lee
lays it out cleverly, sometimes humorously, with period sensibility
and restrained sensuality–A Historical Novel Review

Emery will give away a signed copy of The Highest Stakes to one lucky, randomly-chosen commenter.

Welcome to the Riskies, Emery! The Highest Stakes is your debut novel! Tell us about it.
The Highest Stakes is a tale of drama, danger, thwarted love, and retribution set in the high stakes gentleman’s world of 18th century horseracing, when racing and breeding were the obsession of the uppermost elite, and a match race might replace a duel in settling a point of honor.

Charlotte Wallace leads a cold and lonely existence a sympathetic stable groom takes her under his wing and teaches her everything about horses and horseracing. Robert Devington’s singular desire is to claim the girl he has loved since he first spied her riding hell-for-leather over the Doncaster heath, but these star-crossed lovers are destined to be thwarted at every turn. Determined to have Charlotte at any cost, Robert risks everything in a wager …for love.

Throughout this story the history of the English Thoroughbred is also told, from its creation by mares imported as part of a queen’s dowry, to the breed’s perfection through the progeny of the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Barb. From Doncaster’s Cantley Common to Newmarket’s Rowley Mile, and across the Atlantic to the American Colonies, the English blood horse emerges from the stables of the powerful elite to dominate the turf.

We love debut authors! Tell us about “The Call” when you found out someone wanted to publish your book.
Shockingly, The Highest Stakes is the first and only novel I have ever written, and it was begun at the tender age of forty-three! I wrote the novel during an extremely turbulent year that included the accidental deaths of four beloved animals, my father succumbing to lung cancer, and the loss of my job. Although the details are now hazy, I may have been in the process of sticking my head in the gas oven when “the call” came!

Seriously, “the call” came at a very pivotal moment in my life. I had finished The Highest Stakes with the intention of entering a major writing contest. I mailed off my manuscript with a kiss and a prayer that somehow my masterwork might fall into an admiring editor’s hands. Being a somewhat obsessive/compulsive woman of action, however, I couldn’t just sit and wait. I began firing off query letters to literary agents left and right, with rejections following on every last one of them. I then discovered two publishers who still accept unagented queries and decided to give it a go.

Deb Werksman at Sourcebooks replied with a request for the full manuscript, and called a couple of weeks later with an offer. I was thrilled…dumbstruck… and mostly terrified. I knew absolutely nothing about publishing, and needed someone experienced to guide me. I frantically emailed a group of author bloggers asking for help. One kind soul referred me to my present agent Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary. The rest, as they say, is history.

What inspired you to write about horseracing and horses?
I have loved horses for as long as I can remember, and like most young girls, always dreamed of
owning my own. This dream came true at age thirteen, when I managed to save five hundred dollars and secure a steady baby-sitting job that paid just enough to cover the cost of board.

Since then, I have owned about thirteen different horses of various breeds. I have shown, trained my own mounts, and taught all of my family members to ride. These days my schedule only allows for pleasure riding, and I own two geldings, a gorgeous grey Arabian, and a palomino Quarter horse.

I have always heard that one should write what one knows. I also believe one should write about one’s passion. I know horses and they are one of my passions.

Did you come across anything in your research that surprised you?
Absolutely! I am such a geek that I have spent a great deal of my life researching things just for the fun of it – simply because something piqued my interest.

I admire horses, and have owned several different breeds. I am, however, most partial to the Arabian for his gentleness, beauty, and perhaps in part, to his ancient lineage. A long time ago, I learned that the thoroughbred racehorse actually descended from the Arabian. I was curious to learn more and began digging.

It was fascinating to learn that the Thoroughbred was created specifically for racing in 18th century England. Another little-known fact is that nearly all of the Thoroughbreds in existence can still trace their blood lines back to three specific Eastern bred stallions. This is how the premise of the novel came about.

Here at Risky Regencies we’re all about risky. What is risky about The Highest Stakes?
Although The Highest Stakes is unquestionably a love story, it is not at all in the traditional mode.

Although I am an unapologetic romantic who devours historical romance novels by the bucket load, I just knew that traditional romance was not my writing style. I have always been most drawn to stories with a darker side, heavily empathizing with the “tortured” characters in some my favorite novels – Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. I also believe these kinds of characters work best with a foil. In my world, Robert Devington could not exist without Philip Drake.

My other “risks” were to attempt what I felt was a grand-scale love story with not one, but several antagonists, whose Machiavellian moves against Robert and Charlotte would tug on the readers’ heartstrings. Lastly, I wanted to tap into the excitement and adventure of horseracing.

Although these elements are seemingly at odds, I hope my readers will find it a winning combination.

What’s next for you?
Professionally speaking –
Although The Highest Stakes is already a big read, I can’t help feeling the story is still only half told! I am very pleased to say that Sourcebooks recently concurred with me, and the second novel is well under way. Fortune’s Son (Philip Drake’s story), should be released late 2011.

On a more personal note –
I am celebrating the publication of my first novel by realizing a lifelong ambition – to attend The Kentucky Derby. I’ll see y’all soon at Churchill Downs!

Are you ready for a good horse story? Did you devour horse books as a child? Ask Emery questions or make a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of The Highest Stakes.

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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12 years ago

This sounds like a really cool book! The horse racing, romance and drama. I can’t wait to read it! Thanks for the giveaway.

12 years ago

Indeed, I was one of those who loved horse books as a child – I think I read all the books by Marguerite Henry. I’d love to read this book. Thanks for the giveaway.

12 years ago

Congralations on your debut book!

12 years ago

I loved horse books as a child, although perhaps my choices were a little different to most, as I loved to read about wild horses. The Aussie brumby books were my favorite (about a silver brumby).

12 years ago

Two of my favorite things. Thanks,look forward to reading your book.

12 years ago

Wow, what a great story! All the best with the future, and congratulations on your first publication!

Carol L.
12 years ago

Congrats on your new release. I enjoy reading about horses and love Regency Romance books so those are two of my favorites. Thanks for the opportunity.
Carol L.

12 years ago

Congrats on getting the call and on the release of your debut book! This sounds like a fantistic book. I love books about horse racing and you don’t see many of them. Also love to read debut books!

Louisa Cornell
12 years ago

I can’t wait to read this one! The very first big girl book my parents gave me was Black Beauty. I was six years old and from that point on horses were my obsession. I still own that well-worn old copy, which is saying something 46 years and several moves all over the world later. I loved the Silver Brumby books too. My yellow and tattered copies of all of the Brumby books are packed in a box.

I was the luckiest little girl in the world when we moved to England and I found out about the racing stable the local squire owned in the tiny village where we lived. I actually worked as an exercise boy there and I was in heaven. The last two years we lived there two library sisters moved in next door and kept two hunter jumpers and a Welsh pony in the four stall stable at the bottom of their garden.

I finally fulfilled my lifetime dream when I was 21 and bought a Tennessee walker / quarter horse cross named Taz. Taz and I enjoyed each other’s company for over 26 years and I miss him every day. I am horseless now. Don’t know if I could take losing another one.

I find the world of English racing fascinating and your book sounds very much like the grand family saga romances of old. I can’t wait to read it!

Jane George
12 years ago

Hi Emery!
Congrats on your release, it sounds great. I’m a fellow horse-lover, used to have a mare I did combined training with. King of the Wind (story of the Godolphin Arabian) was a favorite when I was little. And I loved Ben-Hur because the Arab horseman allowed his horses inside the tent. (They used Lipizanners in the film.)
Best of luck with both your books!

Louisa Cornell
12 years ago

Oh gosh, Jane !! I had completely forgotten King of the Wind! Now I have to go and find my old battered copy. LOVED that book when I was a girl. And I LOVE Ben Hur !!

Did anyone else read the Misty of Chincoteague books?

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Welcome, Emery! I just got home from Washington (DC) Romance Writers Spring Retreat (which is a whole other story).

I’m delighted that your book is finally here. I met a couple of other authors who recently sold to Sourcebook which seems very active these days!

Sounds like you are bringing back memories for all of us about horse books we have loved. Mine was The Black Stallion.

Janet Mullany
12 years ago

Emery, congrats on your release and welcome to the Riskies.

Question for you: I’ve understood that Georgian methods of horse training were very cruel by modern standards. How did you balance the historical truth with a modern sensibility?

12 years ago

Oh man, this is right up my alley — when I was a kid I wanted to *be* a horse and live on Chincoteague (it didn’t work out :D). I’m adding it to my “to-read” list asap!

12 years ago

The first time I was on a horse, aged 5, it reared several times. I remember looking down at my dad and the man who was at the horse’s head, wondering why they looked so surprised and upset – wasn’t that what horses do? When the man gave me back to Dad, he said something like “You should make a rider of her. Sadly, I’ve only been on a horse a few times since them…but I think I may be able to take some lessons soon. I have been to Chincoteague, and I read lots of horse books – Dick Francis, etc. I look forward to this one. The book sounds great.

Susanna Fraser
12 years ago

Oh, this sounds wonderful! I grew up on King of the Wind, Black Gold, and the Black Stallion books, so this should be right up my alley.

Emery Lee
12 years ago

Hi everyone ! Thank you so much for your interest and kind comments.As a kid, I read every horse book and watched every horse movie I could find, and I never grew out of it.I adored The Man From Snowy River and Hidalgo is still a fave movie(Vigo Moternson might have something to do with that too!!). As to the 18th century training methods, I did indeed address some of the cruelty issues in chapter 3 when Charlotte is first learning about horses. I think you will find it extremely enlightening- I surely did in my research! If you would like a sneak preview of the story- please visit my web site Thanks again to the “Riskies” for having me and I hope you all “Enjoy the Ride!” Emery Lee

12 years ago

It sounds like the lead characters aren’t members of the aristocracy. Is that right? If so, what made you decide to write about “commoners”?

Good luck with your debut!

Emery Lee
12 years ago

Hi Kaetrin-

Thanks for your question!

I wanted the story to feel real, be about people we all could relate to, although the story does cross class boundaries.

Charlotte’s uncle, Sir Garfield is a social climber and Philip Drake, a younger son of an arisocrat. The selfish motives of these men are clearly revealed, which creates the conflict that keeps Charlotte and Robert apart.

-Emery Lee

Karyn Gerrard AKA~Drew
12 years ago

Loved horse stories as a child, and love to read historical romances with riding in them.

All the best for your debut!

12 years ago


(Where was I when this went up? Oh, yes, I was sick, in bed)

Anyway… HORSES!!!!!!!!

Black Beauty was my first horse book, back when I was… seven? eight? Then my father, also horse-mad, introduced my sibling and me to My Friend Flicka.

Later on I found The Silver Brumby and its sequels, and National Velvet and…

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

azteclady, hope you are feeling better!

This certainly is a horse-mad group!