A pawned family heirloom brings Lydia Kellaway and Alexander Hall together one late night in Nina Rowan’s debut romance novel A Study in Seduction, but much threatens to tear them apart. Lydia, a stubborn mathematician, experiences an attraction to the nobleman that she can’t ignore. But when a mysterious stranger threatens to unveil her dangerous family secret, a relationship with Alexander may no longer be possible.
In a Q&A with BookPage, Rowan tells us about the real-life woman who inspired her heroine and explains how a math phobe wrote a book about a math whiz.
Lydia Kellaway is an advanced mathematician, yet you admit that you are terrified of math. How did you manage to write about advanced mathematical concepts so convincingly?
I sought help. Lots and lots of help. I did a great deal of academic research and vetted the details with mathematicians. One of the most interesting things I discovered is how drastically the study of mathematics has changed since the Victorian era. Also, my husband is a research scientist whose brain somehow comprehends things like advanced calculus and flow density, so I forced him to . . . er, I mean, he graciously volunteered to review all of Lydia’s calculations and the mathematicians’ discourse.
One of the scenes in the novel involves Lydia challenging Alexander to solve a problem in five minutes. Since I seriously doubted my own ability to do that, I gave my husband the problem and timed him with a stopwatch. He solved it in eight minutes, so I figured Alexander would have his work cut out for him.
Tell us about Sofia Kovalevskaya, your inspiration for Lydia’s character. How did you discover her in your research?
I’ve always been interested in Russian history, and I knew I wanted this book to be set during the Crimean War because of the story possibilities and the conflict between Great Britain and Russia. One day I was just surfing the internet, looking up information about both 19th century Russia and Victorian women. Aside from Her Majesty, I found the histories of women writers, poets, travelers, scientists, nurses and artists. I was fascinated by Sofia Kovalevskaya, a Russian woman who had an early talent for mathematics and eventually sought a university education at a time when many such doors were closed to women. Sofia persisted and eventually became the first woman in Europe to earn a doctorate summa cum laude and a full university professorship. She unfortunately died at the age of 41 of pneumonia, but her ground-breaking work paved the way for future discoveries in mathematics.
Sexual chemistry is a difficult thing to deny or ignore, which makes it an excellent foundation for building true, deep emotions.
Lydia and Alexander experience an intense physical attraction that later blossoms into something much deeper. How do you use sexual chemistry to develop a great love story?
Sexual chemistry is a difficult thing to deny or ignore, which makes it an excellent foundation for building true, deep emotions. It also provides a great source of conflict, both internally (as in Lydia’s tug-of-war between her intellect and her desire for Alexander) and between characters. The struggle against passion, and eventual surrender to it, is also a journey that Alexander and Lydia take together, which bonds them on a whole other level. And physical intimacy and emotional intimacy are intertwined, so when Lydia and Alexander finally accept that truth, then they’re destined for a happy ending.
You hold a PhD in Art History. How has this training informed your writing of historical romance?
It’s all about the story. For me, art history is, at heart, the study of how stories are told visually. How do different artists use materials, structure, texture, lines and subjects to tell a story? Why do they choose to depict a certain moment in time? What is important about the people and objects in the scene? What does the setting contribute? What historical elements does the artist use? How are the figures interacting with each other? What does that say? How is the viewer pulled into the painting?
I like to ask myself similar questions when researching and writing a historical romance in the hopes that every detail of what I write will contribute to the overall flow and integrity of the story.
Why were you drawn to write historical romance instead of, say, contemporary or paranormal romance? Do you think you’ll ever venture into writing other romantic subgenres?
I love the story possibilities of historical romance. The Victorian era is rich with ideas for characters, plots and settings, and it’s both a challenge and a pleasure to craft a story in a specific historical time and place. Plus, I love research and get a lot of ideas from browsing the London Times archives and Google Books.
I am in awe of authors who write good contemporaries and paranormals. Though I have no immediate plans to branch out into other subgenres, I won’t say it will never happen! If a vampire and a ghost pop into my head and tell me their passionate, riveting story takes place in an alternate world, I’m willing to follow them there.
A Study in Seduction is your debut romance novel. How did you react when you found out it would be published?
I was beyond thrilled! I knew it was a bit of a risky submission because of the unusual heroine and certain plot elements, but I’ve always believed it’s a strong, interesting story with great characters. I was especially delighted that Grand Central/Forever Romance took a chance on both me and my book, as everyone has been phenomenal to work with. I could not be happier with how my own debut story has started.
What novels and authors do you read for inspiration?
I’ve been a student for most of my life, and one of the things I’ve learned is that you need to study The Greats. So I’ll always turn to Eloisa James, Betina Krahn, Jo Goodman, Elizabeth Hoyt, Patricia Gaffney, Judith Ivory, Loretta Chase and more! And any author who has mastered the use of language and descriptions has my undying admiration.
A Study in Seductionis book #1 in the Daring Hearts series. How will the books be linked? What can you tell us about book #2?
The books all take place during the mid-1850s and focus on the sons and daughter of the Earl of Rushton and his Russian-born wife. Book #2, A Passion for Pleasure, centers on the second son Sebastian Hall, a renowned, affable musician who is suddenly confronted with the loss of both his career and his inheritance. Desperate for a new purpose in life, Sebastian agrees to help one of his brothers with a clandestine task. As part of this, he seeks out Clara Winter for assistance, a woman who works in her uncle’s Museum of Automata. But Clara has a desperate, heart-wrenching goal of her own. When she realizes Sebastian can help her attain it, she makes him an offer that will change both their lives forever . . . but at what cost?