(This weekend I’m soooo happy and excited to launch Laurel McKee’s debut book here at the Riskies! Countess of Scandal is on the shelves now, and we’ll also be giving away a copy here to one commenter–along with an Irish lucky penny. The lovely Kwana Jackson from Kwana Writes agreed to interview me about the book, and then I in turn interviewed my editor at Grand Central Publishing, Alex Logan, to get her take on the book…)

Countess of Scandal combines a passionate romance with a nail-biting plot. The author’s research shines through to make the era come alive, as well as her characters. An exciting tale out of the common mold” —Romance Reviews Today

“McKee sets the stage for a romantic adventure that captures the spirit of Ireland and a pair of star-crossed lovers to perfection” —RT Book Reviews, 4 stars

“How is it possible to take such a devastating time in history and turn it into a heart-warming, tender love story? The answer it appears is the writing ability of Laurel McKee and the talent to turn what could be seen as only sadness and despair into love and romance. This book gives you a history lesson that makes you understand how personal this fight was and help the reader understand how tragic the circumstance was but yet how two people that really love one another can make the best of the worst time. Excellent Read!” —The Reading Reviewer, 5 stars

“Laurel McKee’s magical pen captivates you instantaneously! In Countess of Scandal she has fashioned a hero that takes your breath away, a heroine that you immediately wish were you, blistering sensual romantic scenes, and a love story that will forever be etched in your mind. I don’t know how I’ll manage the wait until book two is out!” —Romance Readers Connection

Kwana: Hi, Amanda! Thanks so much for having me over here at the Riskies. It’s an honor to be hanging with so many women that I’m a huge fan of and admire so much. I’ll try and contain myself and do a proper interview.

So, I was thrilled to receive a surprise ARC of Countess of Scandal in the mail recently by someone named Laurel McKee. I was like, now where did I hear that before? That said, let’s talk about this alter ego of yours, Laurel McKee, shall we? Is this anything like the whole Beyonce/Sasha Fierce alter ego thing? How is Laurel different from Amanda McCabe?

Amanda/Laurel: LOL! Well, I don’t have a weird robotic glove thing like Sasha Fierce, though maybe I should get one. And I like to blame any dumb thing I do on Laurel (she’s always forgetting to pick up milk and dog food, and buying shoes that don’t match anything else in the closet). I once read that Beyonce uses Sasha to help overcome shyness and let loose on stage (not that Beyonce ever seemed paralyzed by shyness to me…), so that could be really useful! (Luckily Laurel is my real-life middle name, so she’s not entirely unfamiliar to me)

But when it comes to writing we’re not so different. I do a ton of research on all my stories (that’s one of the fun parts of this job!), and I love to use history to create conflict. Real life is usually so much weirder and more interesting than anything we could totally make up! Laurel’s books are a little longer, a little more action-packed and fast-paced, and the length means I can use more secondary characters and subplots to add to the main conflict.

Kwana: How did the idea for the “Daughters of Erin Trilogy” come to you?

Amanda/Laurel: I’ve wanted to do an Irish-set book for a very long time! My own Irish family background is very inspiring, and Ireland itself is such a gorgeous country, with a dramatic history filled with passionate people. But I knew I would have to find just the right characters and situation. A few years ago, I happened to read 3 books about strong women in Georgian Ireland–Janet Todd’s Daughters of Ireland (about the scandalous King sisters and their heiress mother), Stella Tillyard’s Aristocrats (along with the gorgeous “Masterpiece” series), and an old book I found in an antique store called Women of ’98 by Mrs. Thomas Concannon. And I also remembered touring Castletown, the enormous, beautiful estate of Lady Louisa Conolly (one of the Lennox sisters from Aristocrats, who married the richest man in Ireland, and transformed this Georgian house into one of the most elegant places in 18th century Ireland–which is saying a lot. Georgian architecture reached a zenith in Ireland!). That was how I happened to meet the 3 Blacknall sisters and learn their stories.

Kwana: Now Ireland during a bloody rebellion doesn’t sound like the most romantic setting, and at times it was very bloody and downright heartbreaking. What drew you to this particular era for Eliza and Will’s sexy love story in Book 1, Countess of Scandal?

Amanda/Laurel: It’s definitely true that an uprising is not the first setting people think of when you think ‘romance’! (though you can’t get away from them in writing about Ireland!). A Regency ballroom, maybe, or a Medieval castle. But Ireland in the late Georgian/early Regency period has so many of the things I love in a great Regency story (beautiful architecture, glittering parties–the Irish Ascendancy loved to party!, dashing men, and especially really great clothes. My stories have to have great clothes!). It also has passionate convictions and heightened emotions, acute danger, as well as the deepest of stakes. It made Eliza and Will’s love story feel very immediate and Romeo and Juliet-ish to me. At times I feared for them, even though I was the one writing the story!!! (They were childhood sweethearts, torn apart when they were young by family expectations, and going on to their own lives–marriage and rebellion for Eliza and the Army for Will. Even when they met again as adults, free to make their own choices, the fact that they stood on opposite sides seemed to keep them apart! Every day was a new adventure writing about them…)

Kwana: Tell us a bit about your research process for your stories. How do you begin and how deep do you go in order to be historically accurate?

Amanda/Laurel: Research is one of my favorite things! I would have happily stayed in school forever, buried in a library, and this gives me a chance to do that in a way. Once I had the idea for the story of Countess of Scandal, I started with the books I already had on my shelf–the 3 I’ve already mentioned, plus sources like Thomas Pakenham’s The Year of Liberty and Thomas Bartlett’s The 1798 Rebellion: An Illustrated History, as well as books with visual resources, like the gorgeous volume Irish Georgian from the World Design series. (there’s a more complete list of sources on my website here, along with some historical background info). I wanted to be very careful to give an accurate portrayal of the country and the events.

Kwana: Anna’s story is up next (Duchess of Sin, December 2010). Give us a little bit about Anna. What makes her a heroine to get behind?

Amanda/Laurel: Oh, I love Anna! Ever since the first time I met her, in the assembly room scene in Countess, I looked forward to telling her story. She’s the middle daughter, the ‘beauty,’ not considered as “intellectual” as her sisters, maybe a little spoiled, but very generous and big-hearted, fun-loving and kind. Her experiences in the rebellion affect her very deeply, and when we meet her in her own book (set around the upheaval of the Act of Union between Ireland and England in 1800/01) she tries to erase the trauma with parties, card-playing, and mischief. It’s during one of those escapades that she encounters again the dark, dangerous Irish Duke of Adair. Since their book is out in December, I got to do research on an Irish Christmas!

Kwana: Finally, the cover gods seem to be totally on your side! They are just gorgeous. Tell me, do you have some shrine hidden in your closet or a chant that you’d like to share with the rest of us mortals?

Amanda/Laurel: Well, you need sandalwood incense, a bowl of wine, a dish of sea salt, set up before a statue of the Goddess of Covers (whose name shall not be said). Then you need to find someone to teach you the Super Secret Cover Chant (which I have sworn to said goddess not to reveal).

I’ve had a few covers that weren’t so great (IMO), but they just make me appreciate the beautiful ones all the more. Grand Central has done an amazing job on these first 2 covers–they’re beautiful and eye-catching with those bold colors, and also suit the stories. I can’t wait to see what they do for Book 3, Caroline’s story (Lady of Seduction, 2011). Harlequin has also been doing some lovely covers lately–I couldn’t be happier! (Though I do give that cover chant before opening any email cover attachments from my editors!)

Kwana: Thank you so much for letting me interview you today, and being here at Risky Regencies. It was an honor and I thoroughly enjoyed Countess of Scandal!

(Watch for Kwana’s review of the book to be at Booksquawk)

(And my editor at Grand Central, Alex Logan, was kind enough to take time to be interviewed as well…)

Amanda/Laurel: What was it that first drew you to this book when it landed on your desk?

Alex: For me, the main attraction of this book was the historical backdrop of war-torn Ireland. We often talk about the setting as one of the characters in a book, and this is a good example. From the glittering society parties to the fatal battles in the countryside, Ireland during this period comes alive. We receive many wonderful Regency-set submissions every single month, so the Irish history really made this one stand out!

Amanda/Laurel: And what do you think readers will like best in the story?

Alex: Despite all the wonderful things I just said about the setting, I think readers will love Captain Will Denton best! We have a strong heroine to admire, too, but I think a good romance is all about falling in love with the hero. I can’t say it better than author Michelle Willingham: “I wanted to lick the hero like an ice cream cone”

Amanda/Laurel: LOL! What are you looking for in submissions right now (besides lickable heroes)?

Alex: Well, I’m working on quite a few continuing historical series right now. So I wouldn’t rule out another great historical if it came my way, but I’m actually setting my sights on romantic suspense. I like my romantic suspense pretty gritty. If there are any writers reading this and thinking “Me, too!” please let your agent know to send it my way. Thanks!

So there you have it! Comment on this weekend’s post for a chance to win a signed copy of Countess of Scandal