Sally MacKenzie and Surprising Lord Jack

SMKname2Diane here.
Today we welcome back Sally MacKenzie to talk about her latest Regency, Surprising Lord Jack. Sally just keeps giving us charming books. First the Naked series, now the Duchess of Love series. By giving, I also mean  Sally is giving away a signed copy of Surprising Lord Jack to one lucky commenter chosen at random.

n403080Here is what reviewers are saying about Surprising Lord Jack

*Starred review* “MacKenzie has penned another humorous Regency-era gem that will get a collective thumbs-up from readers.”–Shelley Mosley, Booklist

Four stars. “MacKenzie delights her devoted fans once again with a quick-witted, steamy romp. Add a touch of mystery and another bright tale of love and laughter is born. An engaging, and meddlesome, cast whips this lusty tale into a perfect heart-holiday treat!”–Anne Black, RT Book Reviews

4.50 / 5 -Reviewer Top Pick. “I recommend this book to all my fellow historical romance fans.”–Debra Taylor, Night Owl Reviews

Welcome back, Sally!

Hello, Riskies! I’m so glad to be stopping by again. I had a chance to see Diane at the Washington Loves Romance gathering in February. She was apparently deep in deadline craziness, but she looked calm and composed as always– (Diane note: Most likely I was merely sleep-deprived…)

Tell us about Surprising Lord Jack.

Surprising Lord Jack is the second book in my Duchess of Love trilogy. (Well, it’s a trilogy plus a novella: “The Duchess of Love” is the prequel to the series and tells how the duchess met her duke.) It’s about the duchess’s youngest son, and it begins where Bedding Lord Ned, the first book in the series, ends.

Here’s the back cover copy:

Unladylike behavior…

Frances Hadley has managed her family’s estate for years. So why can’t she request her own dowry? She’ll have to go to London herself and knock some sense into the men interfering in her life. With the nonsense she’s dealt with lately, though, there’s no way she’s going as a woman. A pair of breeches and a quick chop of her red curls, and she’ll have much less to worry about…

Jack Valentine, third son of the famous Duchess of Love, is through being pursued by pushy young ladies. One particularly determined miss has run him out of his own house party. Luckily the inn has one bed left. Jack just has to share with a rather entertaining red-headed youth. Perhaps the two of them should ride to London together. It will make a pleasant escape from his mother’s matchmaking melodrama!

There a Jack the Ripper sort of plot thread as well: someone is slitting the throats of prostitutes and even society women with soiled reputations, a class into which Frances now falls.

I’m excited because ALA Booklist gave Jack a starred review!

What is risky about the book?

Well, three things come to mind, though they might be more tricky than risky.

First, I wanted to try my hand at a “chick-in-pants” book, where the heroine pretends to be a man–or, in this case, a boy. Sometimes in these stories, the hero begins to fall in love with the heroine even before he knows her true gender. However, I happened to be working on Jack’s book during the Jerry Sandusky scandal. I followed the news reports pretty closely, partly because I have sons who’ve competed in Division I varsity athletics (and I went to the University of Notre Dame), so I’m interested in the whole question of the power athletics has in a college’s culture. But mostly, of course, I was reading and listening to news reports because the story was so horrifying. And since I’m the mother of boys, these kinds of events make me start questioning my sons to see if any coach or scout leader or other male in their lives ever did anything inappropriate with them. (My questioning drives them crazy, by the way. None of the men I’m related to wanted to discuss the trial.)

So with that, there was no way I was going to have Jack feel any sexual attraction for Frances while she was pretending to be male. Frances, however, was free to fall in love with Jack, except she hates men. So making their relationship develop when she’s in disguise was tricky.

13252737Second, Jack’s book is the middle of a trilogy, and, unlike the Naked series, I planned these books to fit together. The first book had the advantage of setting things up, and the last book gets to tie things together (I hope). But the middle book is, well, in the middle. It’s got the threads I planned to run through the series coming and going. It has to be able to handle that, but be a satisfying, complete story on its own. So it was a bit tricky keeping things balanced. I think I managed it, though. A reviewer who’s read only Jack’s book told me she didn’t feel the need to have read Ned’s story first, so that was a big relief!

13223652Third, the books are set in a pretty tight timeframe. Jack’s book actually begins as Ned’s is ending. I haven’t tried that before.

Was it easy to write?

Argh!! No. Maybe because it was the middle book, it just about killed me. I finished the first draft and revised and polished, but the book wasn’t working. I had to do pretty much a complete rewrite–or at least it felt that way. And since my publisher had moved the release date up, I had a real honest-to-God, drop dead deadline. The icing on the cake was that the D.C. derecho roared through a few days before that deadline, leaving our house intact, thank God, but taking our electricity and internet. I had to write with an eye on my laptop battery’s charge indicator and be creative in finding places to recharge when it got low. I discovered the church’s “crying room” had an outlet that worked, so I sat through Sunday Mass plugged in. (No, I wasn’t working, and no, there weren’t any babies in the room with me at the time, and yes, I felt very good about going to church that week.) When we went out to eat, I asked for a table with an outlet. The upside was that I kept my nose to the grindstone–no internet to distract and no battery power to waste on endless games of computer solitaire. When I was done–the day I had to send the manuscript off–I went to Panera’s to use their internet.

Did you come across any interesting research?

Yes–and Janet has already told you all about it. Back on November 15, Janet posted about the Threads of Feeling exhibit*. I was so excited! No, I didn’t know about the exhibit (until Janet mentioned it), but I had been researching London’s Foundling Hospital, so I knew mothers used to leave scraps of fabric when they gave up their babies, sort of like a claims check, I guess…so they could come back and reclaim their children once they were able to care for them.

I knew Jack was going to have some sort of charity he was involved in, and it made sense to me that since Ned’s son died in childbirth, the charity would have something to do with children. Well Jack actually has two charities–one for prostitutes who want a way out of that life and one for abandoned children. I researched the Foundling Hospital to see if such a plan would work, though the children at Jack’s house are mostly the offspring of prostitutes, abandoned on the streets. He finds them, brings them to his “foundling hospital,” and educates them until they are old enough to find work.

Bedding Lord Ned had a thieving cat. There’s a dog on Surprising Lord Jack’s cover. Does he have a role in the story?

Of course! The dog’s name is Shakespeare; Jack and Frances discover him with an abandoned baby in the stews, and he can do all kinds of tricks.

I may have said before that I’m a bit of a pantser–the story develops as I write it. I realized that Shakespeare had belonged to a local actor who’d decamped for parts unknown, leaving his dog behind. I thought that was a bit odd, and I filed it away as a “possibly important but currently mystifying” detail. At the end of the story, I discovered that Shakespeare’s former owner had a role to play in resolving the Jack the Ripper thread.

And I’m sure any dedicated plotters reading this are now twitching.

I never thought I would be a pantser. If you ask any of my four sons, I’m sure they’d say I’m a control freak. I think I scored “possible army officer” on the career test I took in college. But, to quote Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”

What’s next for you?

I’ve finished the first draft of Loving Lord Ash, the last book in the trilogy which should be out in Spring 2014. Maybe because I’m a pantser, I can’t just type “the end” and send a manuscript off to my editor, though. I usually take several weeks to a month to revise and polish before I’m willing to part with a story. I’m just hoping Ash doesn’t give me the fits Jack did!

And now a question for your readers: Do you have a favorite book that features a cross-dressing heroine? Mine is Fool’s Masquerade by Joan Wolf. I have to say I’m a big fan of Joan Wolf’s Regencies–I have many of them on my keeper shelf. (Okay, really a keeper box.) Why do you like this kind of story–or if you don’t like “chick-in-pants” books, why not?

Thanks for being our guest, Sally. Readers, do not forget to comment for a chance to win Surprising Lord Jack.

*The Threads of Feeling exhibit comes to Williamsburg, VA, May 25, 2013.


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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28 Responses to Sally MacKenzie and Surprising Lord Jack

  1. Stefanie D says:

    First of all: those covers are cute!!!!
    I´m reading about a heroine wearing pants right now in Catherine Coulter´s Lyon´s gate. I think it´s amusing to see how all the heroine wants is to wear something comfortable while working with the horses. But the hero reacts very strongly to her because, oh my… He can see her legs! And her rear!!! Very funny. .p

    • That is funny, isn’t it, Stefanie? And Regency writers sometimes have our men swooning over just getting a glimpse of a “well-turned ankle.”

      Your comment made me think of how fashions have changed even in my lifetime. I was looking at a picture taken at D.C.’s Tidal Basin in the 40s or 50s and was struck at how all the women were wearing dresses and heels. When I was a child, my mother used to insist I get dressed up in a dress to go downtown (D.C.). (And I had to wear white gloves and a hat for Easter, but that’s a different story!) And now I hardly ever wear a skirt.

      I’m so glad you like the covers! My Naked books just had words–no people–so it’s an interesting change for me.

  2. HJ says:

    Sally, I’m in the UK rather than the US but I believe that the Jerry Sandusky scandal was about his abuse of underage boys. Why did that make you feel “So with that, there was no way I was going to have Jack feel any sexual attraction for Frances while she was pretending to be male”? Was Frances underage? It doesn’t sound so from your description of her as having managed the family’s estates for years. Did Jack think she was a child, a boy? She is described as a “youth” in the blurb, so maybe that was it? If so, it might be better if you say “So with that, there was no way I was going to have Jack feel any sexual attraction for Frances while she was pretending to be male and he thought she was only a boy”.

    I just want to remind you and others that paedophilia is entirely different from men feeling sexual attraction for other men. If Jack had found Frances attractive while he thought she was a man (as opposed to a boy) he would not have been behaving in the way Jerry Sandusky did. He may be bisexual, or he may be heterosexual and subconsciously realise that she is a woman. But he would not be behaving in an inappropriate manner – unless, possibly, he was in a position of power over her and would have been abusing that power (which is the only similarity with Sandusky that seems at all possible, from reading this blog post, if he did not think she was a child).

    Sorry to seem picky, but the myth that homosexuality and paedophilia are linked is damaging even though it has been proved that there is no link, and I’d hate even one person to get the wrong idea.

    • Exactly, HJ. I agree completely. The problem was that Jack did indeed think Frances was a boy, not a man. I’m sorry my post didn’t make that clear because, yes, I firmly believe homosexuality and pedophilia are not related–and I agree, many people seem to think that they are.

      • HJ says:

        Thanks! I only spotted the word “youth” after I’d first drafted my comment, and wondered if that might be the explanation so amended it. I see below that she actually looked 13 or 14, so I perfectly understand your reference to Sandusky now.

  3. HJ says:

    On a less serious note – my favourite book that features a cross-dressing heroine is Lady Rogue by Suzanne Enoch. It’s one of the few in which the heroine passes successfully as a man in society (as opposed to in limited interaction with other people) even though she doesn’t fool the hero…

  4. Karen H in NC says:

    Thanks for an interesting post today. I’ve read your Naked series and loved it. I read Duchess in Love and loved it….but I’m waiting (at least I think I can wait) to have all 3 books in hand before I start to read. Especially since you say they are closely intertwined. In any event, whenever I start reading this new series, I know I shall love it too!

    Now, to answer your question; I know I’ve read several books where the heroine disguised herself in male attire, but I don’t recall the titles right off hand. I know that in all cases, she seemed to fool everyone except the hero. And in most cases, while the hero wasn’t necessarily clued into the fact she was a woman, he felt an attraction to him/her…so much so that he questioned himself as to why and how he could be attracted to another male.

    I’m reading Wedding of the Season by Laura Lee Guhrke right now and in it, the heroine often dressed in ‘Turkish Trousers’…mainly when she is driving her motorcar. This book is set in the early 1900’s and is quite a different era for my normal reading.

    • Hi, Karen! I’m hoping Ash won’t kill me. “He’s” giving me fits!!

      My memories of the “chick-in-pants” books I’ve read are like yours–the heroine fools everyone but the hero. In Jack, I had her fool Jack, too–which is why the masquerade needed to be discovered relatively early in the book. And yes, I thought of having Jack feel some attraction for her, but, as I said before, he thinks she’s a boy, probably around 13 or 14. So the attraction he does feel is that of a friend and mentor/protector. Because of his charity work, he’s used to dealing with young boys in trouble. But then he’s really angry to discover she’s lied to him.

  5. HJ says:

    Wow, 13 or 14!! That’s some disguise. I always wonder why no-one seems to have difficulties spotting who’s female wearing jeans and who isn’t today, but I suspect it’s because no-one “in the olden days” expected an apparent boy/young man to be a woman. It was unthinkable that a woman would wear trousers, and so it never occurred to them that one had. Except for the hero, generally…

    Another case of a woman disguised is Stephanie Laurens A Rogue’s Proposal. Once again, the hero is not fooled. But I love this trope!

    • Well, I tried to finesse that by making her quite tall and thin with a voice that was lower than normal for a woman. And of course she cuts her hair and binds her breasts, such as they are. She doesn’t take into account, however, that if she were really the 16 or 17 she’s trying to pretend she is, she would likely have some peach fuzz at least.

      And I have to admit when I was a young teen and in my nonconformist phase with short hair and baggy clothes, I think I was once taken for a male since I, too, was tall and thin. People do tend to see what they expect to see, I think. So it didn’t feel like a complete reach to me. But I also just wanted to try my hand at the trope.

      The nice thing about having the Jack not catch on is I could explore his non-sexual feelings of friendship and concern for Frances–while of course Frances feels worried about being discovered and guilty for misleading him.

  6. diane says:

    Welcome, Sally!
    HJ, thanks for emphasizing the difference between homosexuality and paedophilia. I got what Sally meant, but it was good to make it crystal clear. (I once was a mental health therapist for children, so this distinction is important to me)

  7. diane says:

    On another note, in case you feel that a woman dressing as a boy or man could not have possibly happened in the Regency, here’s a blog from Louise Allen, Harlequin Historical author, about a real person who did just that!

    • Wow, Diane. Fascinating! And I thought it was also true, though I don’t have a link to any evidence, that women did dress as soldiers and fight in the Napoleonic War…or am I making that up?

      • diane says:

        I don’t think you are making that up. I think there was a surgeon who went through the war as a man but was discovered upon death to be a woman…but I’d have to search out the source.

  8. Ella Quinn says:

    I’m half way through this book, and loving it. Great job, Sally!! Tweeted and shared on FB.

  9. I LOVED the Naked series and I’m looking forward to this series as well.

    Enoch’s Lady Rogue and Rosenthal’s Almost a Gentleman are two of my favorite “heroine in pants” novels.

    I would think the hardest part about writing one would be walking the line between believable and unbelievable. There are so many little details to keeping the lady’s disguise intact and not making the hero look clueless!

    • Yay, Louisa. SO glad you enjoyed the Naked nobles! And I do hope you enjoy these books.

      I think the longer the masquerade goes on, the harder it becomes to keep it believable. I’m still gobsmacked, though, by the link to a real life case Diane posted!!

  10. Ebony Morton says:

    I loved you baker series and now I’m starting ur new series. Your books are great reads.:)

  11. HJ says:

    Diane – it was James Barry who was the military surgeon in the British Army, believed to be Margaret Ann Bulkley. There was also Hannah Snell who joined the army, originally to look for her missing husband. Also, Chevalier d’Eon fought with the French dragoons, but that case is a little different as the motive may not have been simple disguise but rather more complex. In all cases, though, they survived for years dressed as men.

  12. Barbara Elness says:

    I loved Eloisa James’ Duchess by Night, where Harriet goes to a house party as Harry. I think chick-in-pants books are a lot of fun and it’s always interesting to see how the author handles the hero being attracted to a man part of it, but of course that attraction always helps him realize it’s really a woman. 😀

  13. gamistress66 says:

    enjoyed the interview & enjoyed the 1st book & novella in the series. looking forward to reading Jack’s story, particularly what tricks Shakespeare gets up to 😉 congrats on the ALA starred review too 🙂

  14. I’m headed off to bed, but I’ll check back in the morning to see if anyone else has stopped by. It’s been fun as always hanging out with the Riskies! Thanks for hosting me again, Diane!

  15. Linda Thum says:

    Coincidentally I just finished reading a book where the heroine disguises as a man (Maggie Robinson’s Lord Gray’s List). I quite enjoy reading this type of story; it’s especially amusing when the hero gets all worried when he thinks himself attracted to a “man”.

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