Today our Risky Regencies guest is Sally MacKenzie, here to talk about her latest book, Bedding Lord Ned. Bedding Lord Ned is the first of three books in Sally’s new Duchess in Love series and it has already received a starred review from Publishers Weekly

Mackenzie (The Naked King) launches the Duchess of Love Regency trilogy with an engaging tale that balances greed, jealousy, and malice with humor and sweetness….readers will cheer as each villain’s deceit is revealed and both justice and romance are served.

Sally will be giving away a signed copy of Bedding Lord Ned to one lucky commenter, chosen at random.

Welcome back, Sally!

Thanks so much for inviting me to stop by. It’s always fun to spend time with the Riskies!

Tell us about Bedding Lord Ned and your new non-Naked Duchess in Love series!

The first thing to know is the “Duchess of Love” is the ton’s nickname for Venus Valentine, the Duchess of Greycliffe. Venus has been a matchmaker since she was young enough to realize there was a difference between boys and girls, but the matches that most challenge her are those of her three sons. Bedding Lord Ned is the story of her efforts to bring Ned, her second son, together with his childhood friend Ellie Bowman.

When Ellie arrives at the duchess’s annual Valentine house party, she’s decided to give up any hope of marrying Ned. She’s loved him since she was a girl–even before he married her best friend–and she’d hoped, after she helped him through his year of mourning at the death of his wife and son in childbirth, he’d choose her for his second wife. But Cicely died four years ago, and Ned seems no closer to remarrying. Ellie wants children; it’s time for her to move on. This year she’ll put aside her dreams of Ned and find a husband from the other men the duchess has invited. She just needs to convince her heart of that–and to persuade the duchess’s thieving cat to stop stealing her red silk drawers and depositing them under Ned’s bed.

When Ned arrives at the house party, he’s decided to finally cooperate with his mother’s matchmaking efforts. He wants a family; he needs an heir. Ergo, he must consign his past to the past and get a wife–and the woman his mother seems to have selected for him even looks like his lost love. But his old friend Ellie is behaving strangely, and Reggie, Mama’s cat, keeps bringing him a pair of shocking red underwear. This outrageous, alluring scrap of silk couldn’t be good, old Ellie’s, could it? Suddenly his respectable childhood friend is invading his dreams in an utterly scandalous manner.

Admit it. The reason Bedding Lord Ned received a starred review from Publishers Weekly was because of the cat. Tell us about the use of cats as a plot device!

LOL! I’m sure that’s true. The funny thing is, I have no cats–or any pets–of my own. (I have four sons, but that’s a whole different story.) I think I’m inspired by the great Georgette Heyer’s use of pets in her books–loved, loved, loved those.

I’m not one of those writers that comes skipping, full of glee, to start a new book. Frankly, I am not bristling with ideas. I look at the blank screen in horror and get a suffocating feeling of panic when I think about the 400 some pages I have yet to fill. So I’m always scrambling around a bit trying to come up with an opening scene.

Enter Sir Reginald–Reggie–the duchess’s cat–and a pair of red silk drawers. (More on those later.) Reggie was born as a way to get the story going, but then he sort of took over–I guess that’s what cats do? I turns out he’s as much a matchmaker, in his own way, as the duchess.

Another funny thing about Reggie. When my editor showed me the cover for Bedding Lord Ned, there was an animal tugging on the girl’s dress, but it wasn’t a cat–it was a dog! I had a brief–a very brief–thought of transforming Reggie, but quickly realized I’d have to completely rewrite the book to do that. So, voila and hallelujah, the cover was changed.

Seriously, what has it been like to end a popular series, like the Naked series, and embark on something new?

The Naked series was tons of fun–it comprises seven novels and two novellas. I even came to embrace being “the Naked writer.” But all good things must come to an end. For one thing, I’d pretty much run through the peerage. Perhaps I could have wandered into other territory–I must admit The Naked Butler still calls to me–but I also think it was time to try something new.

The Duchess of Love books are planned as a series as opposed to the Naked world which grew haphazardly. Well, “planned” is a relative word–I’m what they call a “pantser” rather than a plotter. There’s a prequel novella and then a trilogy of books–one for each of the duchess’s sons. The books cover a relatively short period of time from February to perhaps November–Bedding Lord Ned happens over a matter of days in February–and intertwine a bit.

All that said, I think the Duchess of Love stories will be the same kind of read as the Naked books. I’m still having fun exploring family relationships with a touch–well, perhaps a generous helping–of humor.

How did you introduce the new series? 

We tried something new with The Duchess of Love series–or at least, new for me and I think my publisher: we kicked it off with an e-novella prequel–titled The Duchess of Love–that released April 24. But don’t worry if you haven’t made the jump to an e-reader–the novella is included in the back of the print version of Bedding Lord Ned.

The Duchess of Love is set thirty years before Bedding Lord Ned and is the story of how the duchess meets her duke. As a little bit of a nod to my Naked world, the duke first sees Venus when she’s skinny dipping in a pond on the property he’s recently inherited and is visiting for the first time. He thinks she’s drowning and rushes in to save her. It’s a mistaken identity, love at almost first sight story which includes a dog and some marauding caterpillars. (The caterpillar scene was based on a real life disaster that spelled the end of my Dwarf Mugo Pines.)

I hadn’t planned to write the novella, actually. In my original synopsis, the duchess was a widow. But when my agent suggested this prequel, I went with it. Of course, once I’d met the duke, I couldn’t kill him off. And since the duke was still alive, that meant the eldest son was “demoted” to heir apparent which changed his story quite a lot. But since I’m a pantser and not a plotter, it was all good.

Did you come across any interesting research when writing Bedding Lord Ned?

The first thing I needed to determine was whether cats do steal things. I did a little googling and came across this mention of a British underwear stealing feline. And in looking for that article while writing this blog, I came across this video:

Also in the interesting video department, I’ve got a scene where Ellie is skating on a pond and the ice cracks. She doesn’t actually fall in, but I wanted to research how Ned should best save her and found this video by a very dedicated Canadian scientist:

Finally, whenever I include objects in a story, I like to have a picture of what the thing might look like. When my husband and I were in London in the fall of 2010, I was fascinated with the decorative details on everyday objects like chairs, candelabra, andirons, and the like. At the silent auction at last year’s Beau Monde mini conference, I won a very heavy, very large paperback book, The Treasure Houses of Britain with the subtitle “Five Hundred Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting.” It is full of photographs, some of which came in very helpful when I was writing the scenes where the house party guests go hunting for paper hearts in the dungeon.

What is risky about Bedding Lord Ned

I always say I’m not really a researcher. Some authors come to writing Regencies with a strong historical bent; I came because I’d read scads of Regencies, starting with Georgette Heyer when I was around middle school age. The Regency is a bit of my imaginative playground. I want to get things right–or at least not wrong–but I’m not a historian.

The Beau Monde chapter of RWA is a great place to get lots of–sometimes an overwhelming amount of–good information. And one topic that pops up from time to time is underwear: what did–or didn’t–they wear under those dresses? Some sources seem to say they went commando. (Hilarious print from 1815 I found when checking my terminology, which I got to from this article about a “True Scotsman.”

Ergo, I was very worried about those red silk drawers. Were they going to be like waving a red flag in front of a bull? (Alas, not a period expression.) But, as I say, I’m not a writer who’s bristling with ideas or thrilled with the blank page. I’d actually tried starting the book in an entirely different way–and that had been a complete disaster. So my muse was giving me these red silk drawers; I couldn’t afford to turn up my nose at them.

And then when my husband and I were in England, we visited the Sir John Soane’s Museum. I bought The Soanes at Home, and in it I discovered Mrs. Soane, who died in 1815, had a pair of long cotton drawers! If Mrs. Soane had drawers, I decided Ellie could, too. And once I felt somewhat confident about that, I was willing to finesse the red silk part. And it’s a good thing, because what began as a way to start the story, ended up–like Reggie–taking over much more of the book than I’d intended.

What is next?

I’m finishing up Jack’s–the third son’s–book (where you’ll find a dog named Shakespeare). And I’ll be starting Ash’s book as soon as I catch my breath. No firm release dates yet on Jack’s and Ash’s stories. Oh, and our third son is getting married in August, so that will take some of my attention, too!

Now I have a question for all of you. Dog or cat? Are there really dog people and cat people? And what do you think of pets in books?

So far, including the Naked books, I’ve had cats, dogs, a talking parrot, and a mischievous monkey. And maybe some others I’ve forgotten. Ash’s book will have a pet, too, but I haven’t yet decided what it will be. Any suggestions? It has to be something that will look fetching on the cover.

Answer Sally’s questions or make a comment or ask a question of your own for a chance to win a signed copy of Bedding Lord Ned. We’ll pick a winner Monday June 3 around midnight.