(Note from Amanda: One of the not-so-fun aspects of deadlines is not having enough time to read! I have a TBR mountain growing in my living room. But after RWA I felt the need to read a romance, so I ran to the bookstore and treated myself to a pile of even more new books. One of them was Judith James’s Libertine’s Kiss, which I had read such good things about and which has a Restoration setting–I love the Restoration! I brought it home and devoured it in one weekend. It’s one of those absolutely gorgeous books I want to run around yelling about to all my reader friends. Then I ran to the computer and emailed Judith begging her to visit the blog, and she kindly agreed to do an interview today, despite currently residing in Deadline Hell. Comment for a chance to win a signed copy, and for more information you can check out Judith’s website here…)

“Heartrendingly beautiful…there is really nothing out there quite like this.” –All About Romance, DIK Review

Amanda: Welcome to the blog, Judith! I am so excited you were able to be here today. Tell us about Libertine’s Kiss

Judith: Thanks so much for inviting me here today, Amanda! Libertine’s Kiss tells the story of two childhood sweethearts, William de Veres and Elizabeth Walters. William, the handsome son of a hard-drinking cavalier and a stern Puritan mother, was abandoned at an early age to a brutal school system and a predatory tutor. He soon discovers the escapes of poetry, literature, sex and alcohol, and the defenses of a sharp sword and a lacerating wit. By the time he graduates he is thoroughly debauched. As a titanic struggle erupts between Parliament and King, William takes up arms in the Royalist cause and pursued by Cromwell’s men, finds himself seeking shelter from a sober young Puritan woman in a cottage deep in the woods.

The Civil War has cost the once high-spirited Elizabeth Walters her best friend and her father, leaving her unprotected and alone. She flees and unwanted marriage, seeking safe haven, but what she finds there is something she never imagined. Despite William’s gratitude and promise to aid her, Elizabeth never expects to see him again, but the Restoration of Charless II to his throne will bring her to the attention of both William and the King. Can a debauched Court poet and notorious libertine convince the wary Elizabeth he is capable of love, and can a promise long forgotten and a friendship forged in the past help two lonely people find themselves and each other? These are the questions asked by Libertine’s Kiss.

Amanda: What was the inspiration for this story?

Judith: While researching my previous book, Highland Rebel, which takes place 2 years after the death of Charles Stuart, I came across the poetry of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, as well as a first edition (1680) of bishop and historian Gilbert Burnett’s account of Rochester’s conversations with him while on his deathbed, which Burnett attended. I started researching the Restoration for a possible story based on that character and I fell madly in love with the time period, which I’ve always been interested in since I read Antonia Stuart’s biography of Charles II several years ago. The neglect of the Restoration puzzles me as there was so much going on with politics, religion, philosophy, and thought. The Restoration Court was filled with a host of colorful characters and was one of the most bawdy, hedonistic and lively courts in history. In terms of literature and science it rivaled the Elizabethan period. Women had more freedom during this period than they would for many years to come and there is so much room to develop characters and so much interesting material. John Wilmot exemplifies the times. Tall, dark, and handsome, a renowned rake, Court poet and wit, he wrote fearless and ferocious satirical verse that was profane, sometimes pornographic, and often very funny. Unfortunately, his lifelong promiscuity and early death make him unsuitable for any kind of happy ending, but his character and the things that shone about him made me ask–what if? That question led to Libertine’s Kiss and the Earl of Rochester was the inspiration for William and speaks through him with his poetry.

Amanda: The setting is so vivid and beautifully drawn, I was totally drawn into the Restoration world! Did you come across any good research sources for this book?

Judith: Thank you! I have a bookshelf full of Restoration sources. The diaries of John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys, and the memoirs of the Compte de Grammont are colorful, entertaining, and full of interesting eye witness accounts. Grammont is very witty, Sam is often unintentionally funny, and Evelyn is fairly serious, but his account of being attacked by highwaymen, Sam’s breathless description of the fire of London and how they escaped, and Grammont’s delightful anecdotes about the courtiers (he knew everyone) give a fascinating firsthand look at the life and times. For a more general view, I found Restoration London by Liza Picard very helpful, as well as Social Life in England from the Restoration to the Revolution by William Sidney and Daily Life in Stuart England by Jeffrey Forgeng. Of course I also read most of Wilmot’s poetry and some biographies of him, Charles II, and Oliver Cromwell.

Amanda: We always have to ask here–what is “risky” about this book??

Judith: Ah! Of course you do. 🙂 I think I did take a few risks with this book, although I wasn’t thinking of that at the time! So far they seem to have been fairly well-received. An obvious one was making the hero a poet and actually using Rochester’s and other 17th century poetry as part of the story. At times it even serves as dialogue or commentary. The story is also bookended by Spenser’s 16th century Faerie Queen. I really felt I was off the beaten track a few times with that and it made me anxious when I thought about it. My poor editor! To say Rochester’s poetry is satirical is putting it mildly. It is profane, angry, bitingly funny, and achingly jaded, and at times pornographic, every bit as complicated as the man himself.

Another was making the character as true as possible to a 17th century libertine, while still writing a love story. I would like to make a note here! I do peek on the boards now and then when I should be writing, and I see some reviewers making comments about certain behaviors on William’s part that might be off-putting to some romance readers. They are being careful not to reveal plot points, but some who read them have inferred that means William was abusive to Elizabeth. I even saw mention of forced seduction, etc. These are things no hero of mine has ever done or ever will do. William is never deliberately cruel to Elizabeth, they are childhood friends who love and respect each other, but he is true to his nature and honest with her about that.

The last risk was mixing in a fairytale element that carried over from their childhood games. Mixing poetry, fairytale themes, a dedicated libertine who drinks and “swives” along with royal personages and other real historical figures as secondary characters was a little risky I think. Did it work? I guess that’s for readers to decide…

Amanda: And what’s next for you?

Judith: Well, you might guess from my library collection and enthusiasm for the period I’ll be spending much of my time in the 17th century over the next little while! I’m currently working on The King’s Courtesan for late April of 2011. It tells the story of Captain Robert Nichols, a soldier who came to Elizabeth’s aid, and Hope Mathews, a minor courtesan to the king. I have one more book for HQN after that, but I’ve yet to decide what it will be about. If you have any suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them! I’ll be popping in and out throughout the day and look forward to any questions or comments you might have. Thanks again for having me here today!

(Another note from Amanda: If you’re intrigued by the life of John Wilmot after reading this, I’d suggest a look at the Johnny Depp movie Libertine! And don’t forget to comment for the chance to win a copy of Libertine’s Kiss…)