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!
Hi Lucienne, it’s great to have you visit. I’m so glad you emphasize the worldbuilding that’s essential to historicals. It’s an odd phenomenon that even if a writer doesn’t include the historical details she’s researched (or only a few of them), her knowledge somehow forms a strong foundation for the writing.
So glad you mentioned Roberta Gellis. I just love her books. I have all the Roselynde series. Another author that I think really gets you into time and place is Carla Kelly. While she writes about the Regency period, she seldos writes about the aristocracy. I love her stories of the soldiers and seamen. Also her frontier stories collection.
I love Debra Mullins also. She writes such wonderful characters that you just get all caught up in their tales.
I’d like to see some Edwardians/Belle Epoques. 🙂
I second the kudos for The Rules of Gentility. That book is very Risky. I risk incontinence every time I pick it up.
And I’d also like to give a shout out about Kate Pearce’s romantic and highly erotic Regency historicals.
I see your YA is published with Flux. That’s LLewellyn, isn’t it?
I read this one book called “Julia” by William Napier and it was the story of a British Roman woman. Several years ago a Roman sarcophagus was found in London when making parking lot. It was a much more detailed burial than archaeologists had seen before of Romans in Britain. So this author decided he wanted to know why the body ended up where it did. He wrote Julia and it’s a beautiful story. Julia’s body is now on display at the Museum of London and I went to see her. I loved her character so much that I got really angry that she was just on display for everyone to see. I wanted her buried where she could be with Marcus. It’s an almost ridiculous idea because obviously I didn’t’ know Julia and the story is fictional and I LOVE museums. I want to work in one for the rest of my life. But Napier certainly did create a real world and real characters for me.
Jane George, Yup, that’s part of Llewellyn. Flux is their YA line. Website: http://www.fluxnow.com/
Jane Austen (I just love writing that), Wow, that’s high praise! I’ll have to check it out.
And thank you for helping to bring our fabulous Janet Mullany into print. I’m wild about her Rules of Gentility. And can’t wait for more.
You also mention other names of friends, Kathryn Caskie, my good friend from WRW, and Courtney Milan from Beau Monde (and such a help to get the Regency facts of law correct).
I love Mary Blayney’s Regency romances and I’m pining to read Lanvinia Kent’s debut, A Talent for Sin (maybe this weekend). And, of course, my Harlequin Historical pals, especially fellow risky Amanda McCabe, Deb Bess, and, writing IRISH medievals, Michelle Willingham. Harlequin Historical has been taking more chances on different time periods and different takes on familiar ones. I think the world of them! (obviously a bit of a bias here)
Oh, and another book I can’t wait for Christine Trent’s The Queen’s Dollmaker coming in 2010.
Are there any elements of historical fiction that would make you pass on a manuscript?
Lucienne, yes there are many people who love typing Jane Austen and have her type back. I do think I’m getting a big head since I want to try to write some Northanger Abbey fan fiction.
“Julia” is not available in the US. It is only available in the UK. Not sure where you are so this might not be a problem. If it is, bookdepository.com ships free to the US and other places and sells UK books.
I also love Sharon Kay Penman, especially her Welsh trilogy. Only one of the book has a not sad ending because the books are based on historical figures, but I really enjoy the characters. They are rich and well developed. It’s a beautiful story even though quite tragic.
I can’t think off the top of my head of any elements that will turn me right off. The main thing that separates the novels that turn me on from those that don’t is originality of story and voice (okay, maybe that should be main things…are). It can be difficult to find something that really feels fresh and has that spark. I’ll take an imperfect novel with spark (as long as it doesn’t require really extensive revision) over perfectly written dishwater any day of the week.
Roberta Gellis is one of my favorites ever.
I read ALINOR (the second Roselynde Chronicle) at least once a year–Ian de Vipont is one of my all-time favorite heroes.
I had a chance to have a one on one cup of tea with Ms. Gellis at RT last year, and it made my life. She’s just so intelligent and interesting!
And she writes fabulous books. If you want a really good Regency-era romance by a mistress of the genre, pick up an old copy of Gellis’s A WOMAN’S ESTATE–a really wonderful Regency with a great mystery subplot.
Okay, fan-girl moment over. 🙂
Popping back in to say thanks again for having me last week! What a great interview, Lucienne – and I was so excited to see Courtney Milan’s debut, PROOF BY SEDUCTION, mentioned. Courtney brings an amazingly fresh, funny, smart, lush voice to historical romance. I might just be a teensy bit biased, seeing as how she’s my critique partner and friend, but anyone who reads PROOF will see for themselves. And will also learn some things about citrus and pachyderms.
Thanks for the link, Lucienne. Vamped looks like a perfect summer read for my daughter.
You may enjoy Tate Hallaway’s witch-lit Garnet Lacey series (Berkley) which have a similar tone. They’re some of my favorite books for tubby-time reading.
Oh, wow. I knew my ears were burning for a reason.
I just have to say, I think there are a large number of awesome historical romances coming out, and that it really looks like historicals–especially risky ones ;)–are in a good market, everything else notwithstanding.
Thanks for being here, Lucienne! By the way, I’m really looking forward to reading Vamped — the excerpts I’ve read sound like just the sort of humor I love! (And I’m a big YA fan.)
Speaking of which, here’s a question for you — if I’m reading your Knight Agency blurb right, it looks like you write YA but don’t represent YA…is that right? If so, I’m just curious about why. 🙂
Good question! I actually do represent young adult. Originally, I represented entirely adult fiction. Then came Rosemary Clement-Moore and her amazing PROM DATES FROM HELL. If you haven’t read it, you’re in for a treat. The voice is phenomenal and I fell in love! Now I have two other authors writing young adult as well: Rachel Caine with her wonderful Morganville Vampires series and Chloe Neill, who’s debut novel SOME GIRLS BITE is just out (adult) but will begin a YA series in 2010 with FIRESPELL.
I really love young adult. I find that most of the books I’ve read over and over again – THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, THE CHANGEOVER, WATCHER IN THE WOODS, etc. – are YA.
Oh, I love “Prom Dates From Hell,” Lucienne! That’s one of the books I’ve been recommending all over the place. I laughed myself silly over it, and read lots of bits out loud to my dh.
(And for all you fans of witty Regency dialogue, I highly recommend the book. It isn’t Regency, but it has a lot of verbal humor — in a style that I think will tickle the funny-bone of any lovers of Regency wit!)
Lucienne, if the CHANGEOVER that you’re referring to is the one by Mahy, I loved it too!!! I’ve been a big YA/children’s fantasy fan for a long time — Diana Wynne Jones, Robin McKinley, Susan Cooper, etc al… and I love that the genre is in right now!
Cara, yup, that’s THE CHANGEOVER I’m talking about! When I was a teen, I thought it was the height of romance. Holds up really well as an adult too!
Hi Lucienne! I see we love the same kind of books! I love Roberta Gellis AND her books.And there isn’t a single Risky whose books I don’t crave.
I’ve been taking a different route with my historicals lately, and I’m feeling a bit tenuous about it. I love the strongly rooted and very sexy historical, but mine are becoming very paranormal. So tell me, what do you think is the potential for medieval paranormal romance?
Delle, I’m definitely seeing a market for paranormal historicals. I think a lot depends on how well the paranormal elements are integrated into the historical setting and storyline.
Really! That’s great! And that’s actually the fun part, especially in medievals- they have wonderful beliefs, superstitions and mythical creatures already built in to the time period. I’ve added a few and given them my own interpretation, of course. I like it because it’s such a marvelous era for tortured heroes, and I love to torture men. Most of all, heroes.
I have to laugh at Delle’s propensity to torture her heroes! She has to be cruel to be kind! And I have to agree that The Rules of Gentility should NOT be read while drinking a cup of tea. Too many laugh out loud moments!
Great post, Lucienne, and some really great insight into the historical romance genre.
I love Anna Campbell’s Regency noir novels.
I am really looking forward to reading Courtney and Tessa’s books! Looking forward to Lavinia’s book too.
And then there is the original risk taker The Divine One – Diane Gaston. The Mysterious Miss M was definitely a risk and a very successful one too.
Louisa, O Doggie One, you are so kind as to mention The Mysterious Miss M!
And thanks again, Lucienne, for being our guest at Risky Regencies.
It was a pleasure, all! And Diane, I think I’m going to have to pick up a copy of THE MYSTERIOUS MISS M!
Lucienne just sent me this link to the interview translated into French and then back into English. Never trust a computer to do the work for you.