New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James writes historical romances for HarperCollins Publishers. Her latest book, Pleasure For Pleasure, completes the Four Sisters series. It comes out next Tuesday, November 28! You can order it here. And get a chance to win a copy of Pleasure For Pleasure by leaving a pertinent comment or question on today’s post! The winner will be announced Tuesday.
After graduating from Harvard University, Eloisa got an M.Phil. from Oxford University, a Ph.D. from Yale and eventually became a Shakespeare professor, publishing an academic book with Oxford University Press. Currently she is an associate professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the English Department at Fordham University in New York City. Her “double life” is a source of fascination to the media and her readers. In her professorial guise, she’s written a New York Times op-ed defending romance, as well as articles published everywhere from women’s magazines such as More to writers’ journals such as the Romance Writers’ Report. She, along with five other bestselling authors, posts to the hugely successful SquawkRadio blog
Welcome to the Riskies, Eloisa. Thanks for joining us.
1. You started out writing as a diversion from your academic interests and writing; can you talk a little bit about your background, and what made you decide to write in the Regency period rather than your area of expertise?
It was a tough decision – I teach Renaissance drama, so that’s the field I know best. But I was reading (and loving) Regency romance, and I decided to place a story there. Plus, there was the fact that Regency romances are readers’ favorites, and while there are a few Renaissance romances, they’re far and few between. I wanted to write – but I also wanted to get published and read.
2.Which of your books is your favorite?
At any given time, my latest book is always my favorite because it’s still clear to me. I wake up wondering whether I did the right thing here or there. Plus, I love them most before they’re published because at that point they are all potential. I have a clear memory of thinking before Potent Pleasures (my very first book) was published that no one could possibly dislike it (ha). I loved my characters so much that I thought they were insulated from criticism (and yes, there’s a lot of parallels to motherhood here). In the years since, I’ve come to know that every book will be loved by some people and hated by others. Before a book is published, though, it’s like a baby whom everyone calls beautiful and whose mother can’t see a fault in it.
3. You’re completing the Four Sisters series with your book, Pleasure For Pleasure, that comes out November 28. What was the spark that inspired the Four Sisters series? Did it start with a character, a setting, or some other element?
It was a combination of things. I like writing about women’s friendship, but I wanted to write about a relationship between women that wasn’t quite as easy as friendship: sisterhood, in other words. My sister and I are very close – and in fact, live about a mile apart – but our relationship is complex and far more nuanced than that I share with my girlfriends. Another aspect was my abiding love for the work of Louisa May Alcott. I wanted to walk in her steps, at least a little bit.
4. Was Pleasure For Pleasure an easy or difficult book to write?
They’re all difficult. It’s one of the cruel facts of life – the first book is difficult, and you think: “the next will be easier!” and then the next is more difficult. And the book after that, more difficult still. They just get harder as I learn more about writing.
5. How do you do your research?
Well, a great deal of it comes to me through my scholarship in the early modern period. For example, Desperate Duchesses features a series of chess games – the idea for that came through scholarship that’s being done on the chess game in Shakespeare’s Tempest. Once I have a vague idea of the areas I’d like to know more about (say, chess in the Georgian period), I ask my research assistant to start scaring up some material for me. One of the consequences of being a full-time professor and director of the graduate program in English is that I don’t have time for much research myself; instead I hire brilliant people to find out interesting facts for me.
6. What are you working on now? Tell us a little bit about the Desperate Duchesses series.
Desperate Duchesses is set in the Georgian period, so that’s a change for me. I wanted a wilder, more sensual period than the Regency for the story I had in mind. It’s a series of four books, focusing around a group of duchesses whose marriages are in trouble, for various reasons. Jemma, the Duchess of Beaumont, is the best female chess player in England or Paris – and now she’s embarked on two matches. One is with the Duke of Villiers, a chess master. And the second is with her own husband, a master of strategy in Pitt’s government. The games are conducted one move a day….and if either survives to the third game, that game will be conducted blind-folded, and in bed.
I do it all the time – in fact, I don’t think there’s any point in writing unless you take risks. To write a story without risks would be to write a story about a perfect hero and perfect heroine, sweetly matched and perfect in bed. Where’s the story? The story only comes in the risks you take in deviating from that “perfect” formula – in creating a hero who is crap in bed, or a heroine who lies, or a marriage that’s a disaster. Pleasure for Pleasure is the story of a very curvy woman – and she doesn’t lose weight either. I take risks, but for me, that’s where all the pleasure of the story lies.
8. You are very good at writing female characters, and women’s relationships with each other. What or who inspires your fabulous heroines?
OK, don’t laugh – usually myself. What I mean is that while I’m not wildly witty and incredibly beautiful, like some of my heroines, I have to give each of them a bit of myself or they are lifeless. So when I think about my heroines, that’s what I see in them. Gabby fibs because I fibbed relentlessly when I was a child. Sophie gives birth to a child at 24 weeks and so did I. Josie (the heroine of Pleasure for Pleasure) goes through some harrowing experiences due to being plump on the marriage market – I was plump in high school and I channeled my experience straight onto the page.
9. Did you run across anything new and unusual while researching this book?
I found out some fascinating information about the early publishing world…I read a bunch of 19th century memoirs (each chapter opens with a parody of a memoir)…I learned a great deal about corsets. More than I needed to know!
10. Is there anything you wanted to include in the book that you (or your CPs or editor) felt was too controversial and left out?
Nope! My editor has pretty much given up trying to cut bits of my books: I’m horribly pig-headed.
11. SquawkRadio is a hugely successful authors’ blog; what is your favorite part of participating there?
Blogging asks for a different kind of creativity than writing books, and I find I like it immensely! To sit down and just make something up and then slap it up on the web, and then get cheerful responses from all over the world – what a high! And what a tonic to the usual writer’s day, sitting in your pajamas at home.
Is there anything else you’d like the Risky Regencies readers to know about you?
I love Regencies and I’m so happy that you’re holding up the torch for all of us!
Thank you, Eloisa!