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Diane here, with the absolute delight of interviewing Riskies own Janet Mullany about her Little Black Dress release, Improper Relations, released today! If you haven’t already, hurry over to Book Depository (with its free shipping) or any UK book vendor and order this book.

I read Improper Relations and I am absolutely in awe. I don’t think I’ve read anyone who reminded me more of Georgette Heyer, except Janet writes like Heyer after a few drinks.

But don’t just listen to me. Here’s a review of Improper Relations

What I continue to love about Janet Mullany’s books is how she manages to convincingly tell her story in first person from both her hero and her heroine’s perspective. The first person narrative gives an extremely refreshing take on the insanity which populates the plot; from the way her heroine observes the foibles of her own family, to the slowly beautiful dance it takes the hero to discover he’s in love. I can’t wait to see where she goes next–Stacey, Publisher’s Weekly, Beyond the Book.

Janet will give away a signed copy of Improper Relations to one lucky commenter chosen at random. Without further ado, here’s Janet!

Janet, what were you doing? Channeling a very naughty Georgette Heyer? Tell us about Improper Relations!I brought a conversation at a conference to a total embarrassed stop when I told a group of writers (who I’d never met before) that I really wasn’t very interested in men because relationships between women were so much more interesting and that’s what I was currently writing about! To clarify my out-of-the-closet confession, I wanted to write a romance where a friendship between two women is as central to the book as the romantic relationship itself, and loyalty, to the friend or the husband, cause the conflict that drive the plot. And I have to admit I really wanted to start a book with the sentence: My story begins with a marriage.

You did such a clever job of tying all the threads together. It made me very curious about your plotting process. Did you figure it all out ahead of time? Or did you fly by the seat of your pants?
A bit of both. I sold it on proposal, so I knew roughly what was going to happen, but I trusted to luck about how everything would tie in. There was a character, a rather horrible old lady, who appeared quite early on and she turned out be very significant later. I blogged about that at the Riskies after I’d written a scene with her in the middle of the night as an example of trusting your instincts when writing, which I really did with this book. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about fixing to get ready etc. to write and my first drafts are usually very clean, which is just as well.

Your voice is so distinct. Were there any writers in particular who inspired your style?
I’ve read a lot, but mostly outside romance. I write romance because I think what I write fits in with the genre (which is huge, there’s room for a lot of variants and niches!) so I don’t think I ever fell into the trap of writing as though I were writing a romance (does that make sense?). I don’t analyze what I do a lot, but I’ve always been able to make people laugh. Apparently John Cleese realized that his repressed anger was the inspiration for Monty Python sketches that involved people shut up together shouting at each other (The Argument Sketch here). I tend to like getting groups of people behaving badly together, and I don’t quite know what that says about me (it was at the core of my last book, A Most Lamentable Comedy, where they were all engaged in amateur theatricals in the country). The huge resolution scene in Improper Relations has about six to ten people coming in and out of a room at an inn.

I didn’t see any special research in Improper Relations. Was there any?
Uh. No. Originally Shad, the hero, started off as a military officer, but I was reading Nelson: A Personal History, by Christopher Hibbert (wonderful historian) while I was writing it and so he became a naval man.

What is risky about Improper Relations?
I don’t think it is a particularly risky book, to be honest, other than in style and structure. It’s all very conventional stuff, but I think the risk comes in the delivery. With all my books, either readers are going to get it or they’re going to be confused–I hope more of the former than the latter! If there is an element of risk, it’s in having a heroine who allows herself to be manipulated by someone she loves–and it’s not the hero or another man, it’s her best friend. Oh, and the hero and heroine end up in bed at the end of the book and go to sleep instead of having a boinkfest. I wanted them to fade into domestic tranquillity.

I’m in awe about how you included just about every Regency cliché there is. How did you do that?
I had a sort of shopping list of things I wanted to include, as well as the first sentence! I wanted to do a marriage of convenience because I thought the sex would be interesting to write about; I also wanted a duel, a Vauxhall Garden scene, the heroine to be transformed by a makeover into a ravishing beauty, a John Thorpe, a Wickham … I make absolutely no secret of the fact that I’m writing for my own pleasure and entertainment. And, yes, there’s sex in this, but sex as practiced by uptight Georgian people in an era where men married good girls and had sex for procreation, and paid bad girls for anything else. So great sex in marriage is a delightful, if worrying, surprise.

What amazingly clever, wickedly irreverent, riotously funny book is next for you?
My next Little Black Dress book, for spring 2011, is going to be called Mr. Bishop and the Actress–it’s funny that with all three of the books for Little Black Dress the title has come first or very early in the process. And I hope it’s all of the above! I don’t know if this is generally known outside England, but if you tack on “…as the actress said to the bishop” to an innocent statement, it immediately makes it obscene. For instance, “Do you think it will snow today?” “Yes, we’re supposed to get six inches … as the actress said to the bishop.” (The same thing works with fortune cookies, if you add “in bed.”) Possibly Shad and Charlotte (hero and heroine of Improper Relations) will appear as secondary characters.

In April, I have a Loose-Id e-novella, Reader, I Married Him, a dirty version of Jane Eyre, and then in October I have Jane & the Damned from HarperCollins and my novella which may or may not be called Little to Hex Her, based on Emma, in the anthology Bespelling Jane with Mary Balogh, Susan Krinard, and Colleen Gleason.

I can’t wait!

Remember, everyone, comment for a chance to win a copy of Improper Relations. Ask Janet a question or see how many Regency conventions we can list. What are your favorites?

This past weekend, our Washington (DC) Romance Writers workshop was a discussion of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, both the book and the Emma Thompson movie, led by our very own Austen scholar, Kathy Gilles Seidel.

In addition to having a Ph.D in English, Kathy has won every romance writing prize you can think of. She was the speaker at the very first WRW meeting I ever attended, talking about endings. I was enthralled and so very impressed. Kathy continues to impress me at every WRW Retreat where she is our opening speaker. Her talks are always intelligent, literary, accessible, and very practical.

This talk was fun. Kathy showed clips from Sense and Sensibility and compared and contrasted Emma Thompson’s adaptation with Jane Austen’s first published work. Interspersed in the discussion, Kathy imparted her Sense and Sensibility about writing books.

Here are a few of her gems (more or less direct quotes):

“Your opening should be consistent with the overall tone of your book.”

Originally, the S&S movie was going to start with a bloody fox-hunting scene in which Mr. Dashwood falls from his horse, but the tone would have been all wrong.

“If you have a character whose virtues are not appreciated, and you want the reader to invest in him, have a character criticize him.”
This was about Edward. Kathy felt that Emma Thompson improved Edward as a hero in the movie.

“Secrets are fabulous. Secrets keep readers reading.”
This was about Edward’s secret betrothal.

“Restraint is cool and sexy.”
A response to Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Col. Brandon! But we already knew Alan Rickman was cool and sexy in the role, especially when he says, “Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall go mad.”

“Books are all about the connections between people.”

I don’t remember the context, but I love the quote.

Kathy pointed out that the minor characters in the movie often provided the movie’s “feel good” moments and that it is important to think about “how readers will respond to minor characters.”

Kathy also pointed out that the point of “Ritual Death,” the “Black Moment” should be an “alternative to the happy ending,” the point where the character has to believe nothing will work out.
In S&S, the scene where Elinor believes Marianne is going to die is the Black Moment. Everything has gone wrong. Willoughby has abandoned Marianne, Edward is to marry Lucy, and Elinor is about to lose her sister.

I wish I could reproduce the discussion that led to these pieces of wisdom. All I can say is that it was stimulating and fun.

What’s the best piece of writing wisdom you’ve heard lately?

When you are reading, do you notice these things in the book, or do you just get lost in the story?

Try Kathy’s latest book about the mother of the groom, Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige.

Take a look at my website, with its new stuff and new contest. If you missed some of my early books they are being re-released in the UK. February is The Wagering Widow and March is my RITA winner, A Reputable Rake. See details on my UK page. Remember, Book Depository offers free shipping (and both are sold at discount)!

And while you are on the Book Depository website, also pre-order Janet’s February UK release, Improper Relations. I’m reading an advance reader copy and it’s fab! (and there’s a 53% discount on it!)

My birthday present to you! My bookcover for Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady coming Dec 2009 from Harlequin Historical. I LOVE this cover

My real Risky Regencies birthday is April 17, because I joined this lovely group on April 17, 2006, but, the Queen doesn’t celebrate her birthday on the anniversary of her birth, so why should I? I choose to celebrate with my other Riskies.

I was so creative. I called my first blog “My First Time by Diane Gaston Perkins” (I was still writing for Warner Forever as Diane Perkins at the time). I talked about why I think the Regency is so popular as a Romance genre. And I sounded reasonably intelligent! Who knew?

Risky Regencies came about when there were still Signet and Zebra Traditional Regencies, but we all knew they would not last. Janet, Amanda, Elena, and Cara were innovating, trying to give the subgenre new life. It was a risk, but that was the reason to name the blog Risky Regencies.

I decided to see what these Riskies chose to write about for their first times.

Janet’s first blog was, as you might expect, extremely witty with creative surprises, telling what was risky about her first book, Dedication.

Megan talks
about her risky Regency, A Singular Lady, in the sassy slightly self-depreciating style we’ve come to love, admitting she made mistakes with titles.

Cara’s first blog was about cards! She talks about the idea that became My Lady Gamester. (I still miss Cara, so I’m including her here!)

Amanda’s first real blog (after a brief one about covers, citing both a movie and fashion, natch) was a cute Jane Austen quiz. We’ve had lots of quizzes since.

Elena does another thing we’ve repeated often–talking about other books and authors we admire. Elena will be blogging on Sept 26. Yay!!!

And finally our newest Risky, Carolyn, who started her time here with a quirky introduction in Regency-speak and her first real blog about The Regency Ottoman Empire. What could be more Risky than that???

Like the Regency genre, we’re still evolving. I love the community we’ve become, and that includes our commenters!

Do you have any Risky Regency blogs you remember? What ones have stuck in your memory?

My prize, awarded at the end of the month, like Janet’s, is a DVD: 1815 The Battle Of Waterloo. It is a documentary released by that I used in writing my Three Soldiers Series (and ordered twice because I forgot I already owned it). If you don’t win you can order your own from Amazon.

My website is updated! And there is a new contest there.
And I’m now on Twitter as well as Facebook.

Today Janet cedes her usual place in the Thursday spotlight to Megan, who interviews . . . Janet!

Janet’s latest book, A Most Lamentable Comedy, is out in the UK now, and Janet answers some questions all about it.

Tell us about this book; what was its inspiration?
It’s a sequel (sort-of) to The Rules of Gentility (2007), and and an attempt to prove to my editor at HarperCollins that Rules wasn’t a one-off book. Although she didn’t bite, Little Black Dress (UK), who’d bought and published their own edition of Rules, offered me a three-book contract. This is the first of the three. I chose Caroline as heroine because I wanted to write about a bad girl. Philomena, the heroine of Rules, was quite well-behaved, as was Inigo, more or less. Caroline isn’t and I had to create an equally disreputable hero to match her. I based the premise of the book on a couple of minor characters from Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, con artists who find out after they marry that neither has any money, which I found quite fascinating.

It’s told in first person present tense—how did you decide to write it that way (since it is an unusual style)?
Rules was written that way, my UK editor loved it, and I find I have a lot of fun with it. Essentially it is all about my entertainment.

What would be your response if people say they can’t sympathize with your heroine, who is on the run from creditors and has not always led a pristine life?
Read another book?! She gets more likeable as the book goes on; she is a fiercely proud, loyal woman and you see that side of her emerge, although she remains a troublemaker who can’t resist opportunities to behave badly.

Do you plan to write more on any of these characters?

Not at the moment. They may turn up elsewhere, but they haven’t so far!

You’re a “risky” writer in terms of sex, yet this book has hardly any actual sex in it; what made you write it that way (although it does have plenty of sexual overtones)?
For this style it’s all in the subtext, and so there’s very little explicit language, which makes sense given who the characters are. Also during sexual encounters most of us are not taking notes or having a blow by blow (if you’ll pardon the expression) narrative in our heads.

What kind of research did you do for the book?
Embarrassingly little. I researched card games, bears, and sheep online, and wrote to the Folger Shakespeare Library about prompt books. As usual I dredged up items from the large trivia collection in my mind.

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken here?
I think having characters who don’t reform. Nick and Caroline remain essentially who they are, but what redeems them is that they open themselves up to friendship and community and responsibility. I may also have offended every writer who’s written about Dukes and courtesans, and every reader who likes that particular trope.

What’s up with the animals that pop up in your books: The pig who eats buttons, the dancing bear, etc.?
Oh, I like animals. The pig is based on a bit of family lore and there’s a photograph to prove it (which my brother, ahem, is supposed to be finding and scanning so I can put it on my website). When my brother was two he had a traumatic experience in a Dutch petting zoo with a pig that ate a button off his coat. As for the bear, Elena Greene blogged at the Riskies last year about dancing bears and I found them very appealing. I needed a way for the hero to meet up again with another character who’d disappeared, and I thought of a circus. As one does.

Do you think this book has an HEA?

Definitely. I can’t write the long, drawn-out apologies, explanations, declarations and six babies later type endings. To me it’s always an act of faith, the leap into the unknown territory of marriage.

What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a pantser by nature which is a bit of a problem for selling on proposal. So my rule of thumb is that if an idea doesn’t come together in a week to can it. My synopses are always extremely vague (the phrase “after many exciting adventures” is very useful) and once I start writing, the plot twists and secondary characters emerge.

What’s next for you?

Lots! I have a two-book contract with HarperCollins for a paranormal-speculative history series, Immortal Jane Austen. The first one is about Austen and vampires fighting a French invasion in Bath and should be out next summer. I wanted to call it Blood Bath; my brother, with whom I brainstormed the idea, suggested Austen Powers. I’m just finishing up my next Little Black Dress book, Improper Relations, and I have no idea what the third one will be, although I have a very appealing title knocking around in my mind (Mr. Bishop and the Actress). I also have a two-book contract with Harlequin Spice, writing erotic contemporaries as Liz Diamond, and the first of those will come out in early 2011. I’m very lucky; I’m enjoying the glow of having all these exciting projects to work on, and then remembering that yes, I do actually have to write them.

Thanks for letting me pretend to be a guest here today, Megan! Today I’m also over at History Hoydens and guest blogging at Romance Buy the Book about writing a historical bad girl. There’s a complete blog tour on my site (and a contest!)

A Most Lamentable Comedy doesn’t have US distribution but you can buy it with free shipping worldwide from

Thanks, Janet!

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Whenever people ask me about my agent Lucienne Diver I tell them that I write stuff, she sells it, and she’s really nice. But here’s her official bio:

Lucienne Diver joined The Knight Agency in 2008, after spending fifteen years at New York City’s prestigious Spectrum Literary Agency. Over the course of her dynamic career she has sold over six hundred titles to every major publisher, and has built a client list of more than forty authors spanning the commercial fiction genres, primarily in the areas of fantasy, romance, mystery, suspense and erotica. Her authors have been honored with the RITA, National Readers’ Choice Award, the Golden Heart, and the Romantic Times Reader’s Choice, and have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. 

She’s also an author in her own right with her debut YA Vamped released in May 2009 by Flux. Further information is available at The Knight Agency, her author site, and her blog.

Everything I Need to Know About History I Learned from Roberta Gellis.

Okay, this isn’t entirely true, but it’s not terribly far off the mark either. Have you ever read a Roberta Gellis novel? Full of fantastic history and characters who are truly products of their time. The men are not necessarily enlightened, appreciating the heroine’s wit and independence at first banter. They’re as they would have been—largely focused on their estates and their wars. The women often start out as conveniences or distractions and end up earning every ounce of the hero’s respect.

This is not to say that I have trouble with historical heroes who are sometimes forward thinking. I’m sure they existed as well. I love the truly wonderful banter of men and women who give as good as they get. But I think it has to be kept in perspective, because what makes a historical romance truly remarkable and memorable to me is being transported to another time and place. I don’t just want to imagine the trappings, I want to run my fingers along them, breathe them in. Do they need airing out? Is the scent of the sachets they were stored with still redolent in the air?

I think that part of the reason the Regency era is so popular in romance is that it was such a rich time. It covered less than a decade of actual history, but so much happened within those years. The Napoleonic Wars, riots, decadence, reform, Jane Austen, Byron and Shelley (both of them), balls and banter and rakes, oh my! So much material to mine, it’s no wonder writers and readers never grow tired of it.

But what about other periods? The middle ages, with the invasions, crusades, Knights Templar, black death (okay, maybe the latter isn’t the stuff of romance) is equally rich, potentially missing only the glittering, over-the-top decadence of the Regency. The middle ages were a little more down and dirty and the church a little more…present…in everyday life.

Speaking of down and dirty—what about the old west? Pioneers and pistols, outlaws, lawmen, braves, snake oil salesmen, gutsy women….

You know, there’s just something to love about every time period. Been hearing that historical romance is a difficult sell? Well, I look on the New York Times bestseller list and at the sales on Publishers Marketplace and historical romance is still selling. But there are a lot of great stories well told already on the market. Sure, if your voice is amazing, the romance gripping and the action visceral, the sheer page-turning readability of your novel may be its own hook, but now more than ever it’s important to make your work really stand out. If I can’t think how I’d write a pitch letter or what a publisher might put in the back cover copy to distinguish your novel from a dozen others on the shelf, there’s a good chance I won’t take it that far.

So, what says excitement to agents and editors?

I asked Keyren Gerlach from Harlequin, who says that super-sexy historicals, like Courtney Milan’s January 2010 debut PROOF BY SEDUCTION, really stand out for them.
Kate Seaver from Berkley mentions Robin Schone’s erotic historical CRY FOR PASSION, which came out in March 2009. The author, she says, really knows her time period, has a distinctive voice and pushes the boundaries of her genre.

I’m going to mention a few more names, authors with very unique, chicklit voices in historical romance: the fabulous Janet Mullany (RULES OF GENTILITY), Kasey Michaels (THE BUTLER DID IT) and Kathryn Caskie (A LADY’S GUIDE TO RAKES).

Sometimes originality comes from the way disparate elements are combined, like the history and humor, sometimes it’s in the heat coming off the pages or the way a particularly intriguing event or historical figure is spotlighted. I love to learn even as I’m entertained! The important thing is to find that which makes your work special and unique and to give the reader a transcendent reading experience. There’s always room for transcendence!

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