Loretta Chase has written some of romance’s most favorite books, including Lord of Scoundrels and Mr. Impossible. She has won the RWA’s RITA award, and her new book, Not Quite A Lady, has just been released. Loretta lives in Massachusetts, worships Barbie, and took time out from her schedule to answer a few questions (Commenters on this interview can win a copy of Not Quite A Lady; refer to Bertie The Beau’s Official Risky Regencies Contest Rules for the rules).

Q. Readers frequently list your books as their favorite of all time; what do you think it is about your writing that readers respond to?

A. I think that most readers respond to the author’s voice. Starting a book is like meeting someone for the first time. The voice is the first impression–the personality and attitude of the story–and either it appeals to the reader or it doesn’t. How they respond to my voice will determine whether they can enjoy the dialogue, say, or the humor, or the way I develop characters. It’s a lot like dating, actually. How happy will the reader be, spending several hours with the personality of my book–or will she/he want to dump me for someone else?

Q. How has your writing changed since your first book?

A. Well, I’d hope it’s improved, what with all the practice.

Q. How did you think of writing this particular book? Did it start with a character, a setting, or some other element?

A. It always starts the same way: I need new clothes, so I’d better get to work. My most powerful source of inspiration is that line of retailers along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.Where the story itself started, I’m not quite sure. The process is a jumble of illogical happenings, like a dream. But here’s as much logic as I can apply to it:In some stories, I’m trying to right the wrongs of Victorian fiction, especially the way the female characters are treated. Say Character A comes to a bad or pitiful end or behaves foolishly or self-destructively. I say, “Grrrr,” and then set about reworking that character. For NOT QUITE A LADY, the trigger was Lady Dedlock of Dickens’s BLEAK HOUSE. I worship Dickens & BLEAK HOUSE is my favorite book & I watched the BBC adaptation several times, but that doesn’t mean I’m thrilled with the way he deals with women. I know this is where the spark for the story came from, and the spark led first to the heroine, Lady Charlotte Hayward. In other books the hero comes first, or the setting, and sometimes a lot of things seem to happen simultaneously.

Q. How long did it take? Was this an easy or difficult book to write?

A. Oh, they all seem to be difficult mostly and easy in just enough places to keep me from giving up completely. The main challenge of NOT QUITE A LADY was maintaining a balance between the humor that I hope is my trademark and the emotional aspects.

Q. Tell me more about your characters. What or who inspired them?

A. Lady Dedlock wasn’t the sole inspiration for Lady Charlotte Hayward, whose personality and social situation is quite different. She’s also drawn from the “good” women in 19th C fiction, and the “ladylike” women of our time. They’re apparently patient, gracious and even-tempered, and always do what’s expected of them. But inside may be a great deal of frustration, stifled anger and hurt. So the inner Charlotte is a seething cauldron, which the hero brings to a boil and explosion. Inspiration for the hero is harder to pin down, but I think my sexy scholar was inspired by Thomas Young, one of those brilliant polymaths of the late 18th-early 19th C, as well as all those aristocrats who studied and wrote papers about farming. The Don Juan side of his personality added a fun element for me to work with. He isn’t the classic bookworm but a rake who seduces women as methodically and detachedly as he carries out agricultural experiments.

Q. Did you run across anything new and unusual while researching this book?

A. My hero inherits a tumbledown estate that he’s expected to restore in short order. This plot element had me studying the less glamorous side of the English stately home, and discovering many interesting details about how laundry was done, for instance, and the design and functions of dairies (about which more appears in the Word Wenches blog archives and on my website)–and, basically, a lot more of the nuts and bolts of running those grand places than appears in the book. The most fun research, though, was meeting the pigs at Old Sturbridge Village http://www.osv.org/, a living history museum in Massachusetts (also on the blog).

Q. What do you think is the greatest creative risk you’ve taken in this book? How do you feel about it?

A. Writing feels to me like jumping off a cliff, again and again, day after day, sometimes hour after hour. It’s all risk to me, so if there are any significant creative breakthroughs in this or any other of my work, someone else will have to point them out to me.

Q. Is there anything you wanted to include in the book that you (or your CPs or editor) felt was too controversial and left out?

A. I can’t recall that ever happening to me, in any book. I’ve put in things that seemed controversial, and expected someone would ask me to cut them or reword them, but I don’t remember anyone ever doing so. That may change with the WIP.

Q. How do you develop the humor in your books?

A. It isn’t conscious. It has to do with the way I see the world and interpret it and that comes mainly from my father. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a dry wit and a great store of awful jokes, which still crack me up. Some of his jokes, in fact, are themes or plot elements in my books. So it seems that genetics may explain why I spent a large part of my youth watching screwball comedies over and over. And why I gravitated toward comic writers rather than tragic ones.

Q. What else would you like people to know about you and/or your writing?

A. The easiest way to cover that question is to point readers to my website www.LorettaChase.com, for the essential info. But for writerly trials and tribulations, musings, informed and uninformed opinions, and bits of research that don’t make it into the books, readers might want to stop by www.WordWenches.com, where I blog with six other historical writers.

Thanks, Loretta! Comment for your chance to win Not Quite A Lady!