Andrea Pickens started writing books at the age of 5 (or so her mother tells her!), with a Western tome lavishly illustrated with crayon drawings of horses. Since then she has moved from the Wild West to Regency England, with numerous titles for Signet, Pocket, and now Grand Central Publishing (nee Warner). She graduated from Yale University, and now lives and works in New York City as Creative Director of a magazine.

Commenters to the interview will be entered to win a copy of The Spy Wore Silk! Be sure and check out the Official Rules of Entry here. Winner announced on Tuesday!

Welcome to the Riskies, Andrea!

Q: First things first! Tell us about your new release…
A: The Spy Wore Silk is my first book with Grand Central Publishing! It’s the start of a Regency-set trilogy featuring a secret school for female spies. The students at Mrs. Merlin’s School for Select Young Ladies are streetwise orphans, who are trained in the arts of seduction and swordplay. They’re England’s ultimate secret weapon, dispatched to handle only the most dangerous assignments. It’s due out June 1, and I’m very excited about it! So far the feedback has been positive–it was a June Top Pick at Romantic Times, and received a nice review at Publishers Weekly, so I hope the readers enjoy it.

Q: What gave you the idea for the Merlins? What are the next stories for us to look forward to?
A: I love the swashbuckling fun of Pirates of the Caribbean, but found myself wishing Keira Knightley would do more arse-kicking of her own! So I started thinking–and decided it would be fun to make the heroine the secret agent, capable of beating powerful men at their own game. I also liked the challenge of having my heroes come to grips with women whose physical skills and intellect are as finely honed as their own.

The series features 3 roommates–Siena, Shannon, and Sofia. Each is assigned her own perilous mission, starting with Siena in The Spy Wore Silk. She must unmask a clever traitor lurking among an exclusive club of Society rare book collectors. Seduced by a Spy, due out in Spring ’08, follows Shannon to Ireland and the Scottish Highlands as she seeks to parry the attack of a French assassin. And Sofia’s story, as yet unnamed, follows her through the ballrooms and back alleys of London as she untangles a web of deceit.

These women are as close as sisters, but they each have very different personalities, with their own strengths and weaknesses!

Q: You had some great (and very unusual!) Regencies from Signet before you broke into the single title market. Which was your favorite of these books, and how do you think they differ from your new titles?
A: I think I’ve always been intrigued by trying to find a little twist to convention! One of my favorite Signet Regencies to write was A Diamond in the Rough, a golf story, where I had the hero forced to learn the game in order to win back the ancestral estate his father gambled away. The heroine is the best golfer at St. Andrews, but of course she has to play disguised as a boy. A friend asks her to teach the hero the game, so, acting as his caddie, she takes on the assignment. At first, it may seem sport and Regency romance don’t seem an ideal match. Which is probably what made me think “Oh, this could be fun!”

As to how the Signet stories differ from the new books, I would have to say they both explore ideas about unconventional heroines in unusual situations. The historical format allows a longer word count, so the stories can be a little more complex.

Q: Were there any challenges in researching the Merlins books? Any new or interesting historical facts you discovered?
A: I love research, so I’m always reading obscure books and poking around in used bookstores and antique shops for inspiration!

For The Spy Wore Silk, I found a wonderful resource by attending a lecture on using technology to teach Medieval history. There’s a section of the British Library’s website called “Turning the Pages.” It lets you actually thumb through rare medieval manuscripts and books and zoom in on details, so it was perfect for researching the illuminated psalters that play a part in the story.

In researching Shannon’s book, I found a great resource on gunpowder! So I fear the reader is going to be bombarded with a lot of little facts I found.

Q: What is it about the Regency period that makes you want to write about it?
A: I love how the era is so richly romantic. It was a world aswirl with silks, seduction, and the intrigue of the Napoleonic Wars. A time when old ideas were constantly clashing with radical new ones. What better place for an unconventional heroine?

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors/influences?
A: Well, I’ll start with you, Amanda! I love your books, and am really looking forward to your first Harlequin Historical! And of course I’m a big fan of Diane Gaston, Mary Jo Putney, Loretta Chase, Barbara Metzger, and Lynn Kerstan.

Q: The title of our blog says it all! We’re proud of our “Risky” Regencies. Tell us what’s “risky” about your stories?
I find the parallels between the Regency and today so intriguing, in that both societies confront elemental challenges to traditional ways of thinking. The upheavals in science, literature, music, technology, and social structure are so similar, and thus individuals–especially women–ask the same sort of questions about their basic sense of self. I try to play with modern sensibilities within Regency conventions, hoping the blend will strike a chord with today’s readers and still be historically authentic. I love historical romance to be alive and relevant, not some stuffy story we can’t relate to!

Q: Can we look for you at any appearances or booksignings soon?
A: I’ll be at RWA in Dallas, doing the Literacy signing, so please stop by and say hello!