Playing with women’s fantasies is a delightful pastime for Rosenthal, who’s always looking for new ways to burn up the pages and keep your mind focused on characters and plot, not just her wonderfully erotic love scenes….an exhilarating adventure filled with untamed passion, intrigue and wild escapades in and out of bed. FOUR STARS — Kathe Robin, Romantic Times
… supremely sensual, wickedly witty, and one of the… best to date [by an author] noted for exquisitely written, intelligent romances that often hover near the erotic edges of the genre… – Kristin Ramsdell, Library Journal
Today we welcome back to the Riskies Pam Rosenthal, who’s here to talk about her new book, The Edge of Impropriety. Your comment or question enter you into a contest for a signed copy of the book, so ask away.
RR: You call The Edge of Impropriety a novel of eros, esthetics, and empire–why? And what inspired it?
PR: Well, the eros part is easy; I always write about sex and desire. But this time I got interested in the classical roots of these concepts, through a fascinating anthology called Erotikon: Essays of Eros, Ancient and Modern, and especially a poem within it, also called Erotikon, by Susan Mitchell. The poem’s about Cupid and Psyche, about the meeting of the human and the divine, and one of its long, prosy lines says:
…there aren’t enough tenses for all this to happen in, the past and the present fragmenting as they bop off one another…
Which is exactly what I believe: that sex doesn’t happen all in the same tense. There’s anticipation and retrospection; a sharpening, a blurring — even perhaps a blanking — of focus, and who knows in what order? Before, after, and during bop off each other (as Mitchell’s word) as though (in my words) in a hot pinball game.
Which is why I find rendering sex in language such a maddening, fun challenge, not to speak of a turnon — for me and hopefully for my readers.
Though here perhaps I might be frightening the horses. So back to the art and culture of the ancient world, the Greek and Roman empires…
…about which I knew shamefully little when I started, necessitating a lot of reading and thinking (my husband and I both audited some college classics courses). And I also thought a lot about our Regency period, with its neo-Classical styles, fashionable ladies women in their pale muslins and aristocratic gentlemen with their large, imposing classical educations, confident in their shared self-image as heirs to the ancient empires. This was, after all, the period when Lord Elgin pried the marbles off the Parthenon and shipped them home to Britain.
Ancient art in the service of rising empire; sex and power, elegance and erudition. I’d recently seen the Elgin Marbles for the first time, and the image that pulled it all together for me was of a scholarly gentleman and an elegant lady exchanging their first heated glances among all those beautiful blank white marble stares.
And the image remained with me into the book itself: Marina and Jasper meet cute among the marbles, in the British Museum.
RR: Your hero, Jasper Hedges, is one of those classically educated gentlemen you don’t entirely approve of. But your heroine is also pretty brainy.
PR: Yes, well, Marina Wyatt’s a writer of Society novels, called silver-fork novels at the time, these were witty, wordy, awfully popular fantasies of life among the haut ton, packaged for the eager consumption of the rising commercial and industrial middle classes, who couldn’t get into Almack’s except by reading about it. Really, these were the first Regency novels, written during the Regency itself — I find that whole self-reflexive thing, not to speak of the class comedy, quite fascinating.
And in fact, Marina’s life story is a highly romanticized version of the life of Margaret, Countess of Blessington, the lady in the painting on the cover of my previous book, The Slightest Provocation. Margaret was a popular novelist and the widow of an earl. And she also gave literary parties, had a scandalous relationship with a famous young dandy and a nasty, hushed-up, early life in Ireland. But in EDGE I mix up all the details and give her a happy ending (not the young dandy, I should add, though he also appears in the book, highly transformed as well).
RR: Is Jasper also based on a historical figure?
PR: No, not really. I patterned his upper-class prejudices (he initially resists taking money for writing) after Lord Byron; his opposition to the looting of Mediterranean art treasures also after Byron; his extensive Cambridge classical education after, of all people, the Reverend Patrick Bronte (father of Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell); his intellect after any number of guys I’ve been attracted to, including my own husband; and his love for his niece on my husband’s fantastic fathering skills. While as for his looks (a younger, hotter version of his looks, anyway), I drew inspiration, you might say, from this photo of Daniel Craig from the movie of The Golden Compass, especially the stance, the posture. All-in-all, I think that dreaming up Jasper Hedges might have been the most fun I’ve ever had creating a romantic hero, and I was gratified that one of the reviewers from DearAuthor.com — who gave EDGE an A! — called Jasper her favorite of my heroes. Pretty cool given that he’s 47 and sometimes feels his age. Oh, and he also owes a lot to Risky writer Janet Mullany’s Adam Ashworth in Dedication, so thanks are in order to Janet.
RR: Quite early on in the book Marina and Jasper have an understanding that their relationship will be only sexual, but emotional factors come into play, and so do Jasper’s family problems. Was this a hard sell, to have a hero who is guardian to an adolescent niece and deeply concerned with his family responsibilities?
PR: Not exactly a hard sell — because to be honest, I was already contracted and my editor wanted me to move along, given the glacial pace at which I work. But she also was rightfully and consistently concerned about how I was going to put an early adolescent into a book that had lots of hot sex. And in fact I gave the issue a lot of thought — as does Jasper, who makes it a point of honor never to stay the night with Marina, so he can always have breakfast with Sydney, the niece. Marina’s besotted lover, he observes rather grimly to himself, and Sydney’s quaint, straitlaced guardian might inhabit the same body, but they had very little to say to each other.
And yet part of the reason Marina falls in love with Jasper is because of his devotion to Sydney. But what are the prospects for romance when each lover lives a life divided from itself? Or (as Marina puts it) into neat little compartments….Like those trays of insects and bits of bone and mineral in the British Museum.
In many ways these issues constitute the real questions and conflicts of The Edge of Impropriety. When you write a romance about young lovers, you can make them relatively free from responsibility and tantalizingly open to risk, experience, and transformation. But here I wanted to write about lovers who were tangled up in experience, in the pulls and stresses of memory and obligation — I worked hard to find physical metaphors for the way that life weaves us into its ongoing patterns. Marina and Jasper have been shaped and hurt by their separate lives and need to find their way home together. With a little help… but that would be giving things away.
RR: What’s next?
PR: Fan fiction. 😉 Well, sort of: I call it that to keep myself from getting too self-important. I’m at a very early stage right now, but my idea is to retell two classic English novels from the point of view of certain minor female characters I think the author gave the shaft to in the originals. I tell the “real” stories, of course, in a pair of sexy novellas. And no, I’m not telling which classic English novels.
Thanks so much for having me, Riskies.
I love heroines (and heros) who are writers! And I really want to read the meet cute amongst the Elgin Marbles – it sounds like a wonderful scene.
The book sounds great. Plus I’m outrageously intrigued by the prospect of the novellas. Do we at least get a hint?
Your “reading is sexy” logo is spot on, lana. Count me in; I’m a huge fan of bookish heroes and heroines.
Sorry, no hint yet about the novellas yet. I’m still enjoying the freedom of keeping it under wraps. But at my web site there’s an in-the-works page that I’ll be updating (I haven’t yet) as I feel confident enough to do so. So do stop on by from time to time.
Intriguing and thought provoking as always, Pam! I can’t wait to read this one. I have always been fascinated by people who try their darnedest to live these compartmentalized lives and succeed at it for a long time until emotion and their hearts creep over all those little dividers they’ve worked so hard to keep in place. You have to be a complex character to do it in the first place and then you have to be even more complex to feel the emotions that blow it to kingdom come!
And I am really looking forward to the novellas. I LOVE stories that give me a new prospective on an old favorite. Sure you don’t want to drop even one little hint?
And how do you walk the fine line between historical romance and erotica successfully?
…until emotion and their hearts creep over all those little dividers they’ve worked so hard to keep in place. You have to be a complex character to do it in the first place…
What an astute point, Louisa. Thanks.
While as for walking the fine line between historical romance and erotica…
How? With great difficulty. Without (I hope) a net. By trying to confound the accepted (and to my mind false) division between genre fiction’s relentless forward momentum and erotica’s need to linger on the episodic, the set-piece.
I couldn’t agree more, Pam! There are some love scenes that need to be lingered over! I was once told a twenty page love scene was too long and it slowed down the pacing. Now there’s pacing and then there’s pacing!
Sounds like a fascinating book, Pam!
When I saw the Elgin Marbles I wondered what an innocent Regency young lady might think, with all that white exposed Masculine power. I just never figured out exactly when they were displayed so that a young Regency lady could see them.
Pam, I am fascinated.Being of a certain age myself, I look forward to reading about mature protagonists. Do you see a trend away from the innocent fresh-out-of-the-schoolroom heroines and 30-ish rakes? I do hope so.
My ver word is mating, and it’s never too late!
Thanks for the kind words, Lousia and Diane.
While as for the lack of modesty attending the marbles, I haven’t come across anything in my research about how they came to be displayed in the British Museum. I’d like to think that Regency folks were capable of dealing with all that, but I honestly don’t know.
As for a possible trend toward mature protagonists in romance, Maggie — hmmm, I don’t know. I think that population demographics will give us folks of a certain age more of it than we’ve had in the past. But here are two interesting opposing views of the situation on recent blogs: one from romance scholar Eric Selinger at Romancing the Blog, and the other a charmingly opinionated one from writer Stephie Smith.
Pam, thanks for the links. Both opinions have merit—when the mood strikes, there are plenty of lazy afternoons available for curling up with each kind of romance. there are days when I want to recapture my innocence (if I ever had any); there are days when I want a little more reality and wrinkles.
Great interview, Pam and Janet! I’ve been intrigued by this book ever since I first heard Pam brainstorming it, and what stuck in my mind was the description of the scene by the Elgin Marbles and Jasper with Sydney. Did you know from the very first that Jasper would have a niece? I have to say I love that image from “The Golden Gompass” as Jasper and Sydney. Daniel Craig makes a wonderful hero with baggage :-). I think one of the reasons I love somewhat older characters, or at least characters with complicated, messy pasts, (aside from the fact that I’m getting older myself 🙂 is that there’s so much reach emotion and conflict for a writer to mine. And it seems that much sweeter when they find happiness.
I am sure there were probably Regency Mamas who were horrified to see all of that “white exposed Masculine power” and covered up their daughters’ faces to whisk them away from all that wickedness. Then, as in any time, there were probably others who said “Well, its art, dearest.” or “Well it was done by GREEKS, dear. You know how they are.” On any given afternoon in the British Museum during the Regency there were probably tutors using the Elgin Marbles to educate, ladies intrigued and eager to see something in the form of art as it was the only way they were every going to see it before they were married, bucks taking young ladies to see them in hope of inflaming their passions, and groups of juvenile young men there to poke fun.
And I have to agree that the appeal of the romance genre is that if you look long enough you will find a hero and heroine to whom you can relate.
Hello, ladies! I followed Pam…
I’ll just listen to the conversation quietly… sitting in the corner 😀
I’m looking forward to reading this, Pam, and to finding out what the “fanfic” is about!
About those silver fork novels…how early in the era did they become popular? (I’ve got a character in my 1805-set WIP who loves a good escapist read, and since he’s a commoner with ambitions to rise in the world, I figure he’d enjoy that sort of thing…)
The Edge of Impropriety is on the list I just mailed to Santa.
I’m eagerly looking forward to an excellent read.
Have fun with your new projects!
Wow–I can’t wait to get this, Pam, as I love your writing and mixing of esoteric and eros. Yay! Thanks for stopping by.
Maggie, I agree that there’s a place both for challenges and the easy, cozy, guilty pleasures.
And Tracy, yes, it seems to me that Jasper always had a niece. Because I think that the story behind the romance structure is always of the life cycle. And so I like embed my characters in an ensemble of relationships, at different points of the compass. If that makes any sense…
Louisa, I love your imagining of the varied crowds passing through the hallowed halls where the marbles were kept.
That is the most stunningly gorgeous cover I’ve seen in a long time. Breathtaking.
And the ‘Eros, Empire, Esthetics’ triple play – ha! Intriguing, and I adore alliteration.
These books both sound wonderful and I shall certainly search them out in the bookstore to bask in the beauty of the cover art again.
(please don’t enter my name in the draw – my TBR toppleth over…)
Hi, Pam, it’s always great having you here. Edge sounds wonderfully intriguing. From one slow writer to another, your stories are worth waiting for!
Susan — re the silver-fork novels: I think they come in a little later than 1805, mostly post-Waterloo, 1820s. The books I used to research them were my beloved The Dandy, by Ellen Moers; The Silver Fork Novel, by Matthew Whiting Rosa; Silver Fork Society, by Alison Adburgham.
There might be some forerunners, but I think your character would probably be reading Sir Walter Scott.
And hi, (waving back), Jane, Megan, and azteclady.
Okay, blogger ate my comment so trying again…
Welcome back to the Riskies, Pam! This book looks like the perfect “holiday treat” for myself. 🙂 I always love your complex characters and intriguing plots. (plus you have really been blessed by the cover fairies lately, LOL)
Thanks, too, for the links. It seems like lately I’ve been writing mostly older, more experienced and life-weary characters, but the WIP features a younger, more recklessly romantic pair. It’s been an interesting, though challenging, project.
It is an amazing cover, isn’t it, M? While as for having the cover faeries on my side, Amanda — perhaps someday I’ll show you the first cover of Safe Word, which looks as though the cover models should have one of those little black bars over their eyes. No, come to think of it. I’ll never show it. Forget it.
And Elena, one of the rock-solid tenets of romance is that it’s never too late. Even for us slow writers.
Thanks, Pam! I’ve already got my character reading Ann Radcliffe and the like, and complaining whenever supposedly common-born characters turn out to be long-lost aristocratic heirs, because it spoils the fantasy for him. (He’s young still.)
Hiya Pam. Great blog post. I really enjoyed this, and am looking forward to this book. thanks
Pam had told me before but I’m bursting with pride that Adam inspired her Jasper. Thanks, Pam!
(And thanks to Risky Diane who posted this for me this morning after I screwed up the delay and my internet went weird).
“No, come to think of it. I’ll never show it. Forget it.”
Now I REALLY want to see it! 🙂
complaining whenever supposedly common-born characters turn out to be long-lost aristocratic heirs, because it spoils the fantasy for him.
Works for me, Susan.
Thanks for posting, Diane. But Janet, what is that graphic of the English gentleman and the statue? Are they in Greece? With the guy in hunting pinks? huh?
And Amanda. No way.
Here’s a good site for Women Novelists of the 1800s. Some are early enough for your character.
It was my pleasure to post the blog. It was such a small contribution. Janet selected the pictures.
The picture … now of course I can’t find the original online, but it has a title like “Lord Elgin and his protege.” It’s one of those pictures just begging for silly dialogue to be added. Possibly the servant in the red coat is warning them that an eruption is imminent (that is a smoking volcano in the background) or the artist just felt like adding a horse or…
Oh geez, that is a volcano, isn’t it. And, I suppose, broken bits of marble at their feet — the damage Elgin and his crew did was horrendous, though it’s also true that the Greeks weren’t exactly taking care of their treasure (I did lots of research on this and there are arguments to be made on both sides). And then there’s… what? A dog at his feet? A lamb? The thing really does call out for a caption. I love it.
So are you guys gonna make “LOLRegency” the new trend?
Isn’t this where Janet is supposed to say “welcome to my world”?
Here’s a good site for Women Novelists of the 1800s. Some are early enough for your character.