Veteran romance author Lorraine Heath has written more than 60 novels over the past 20 years. Her latest, When the Duke Was Wicked (out today!), is the first in her brand-new, deliciously titled new Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series. Will the rakish Duke of Lovingdon (love it!) forgo his wicked ways and give in to his love for Lady Grace Mabry? In this guest blog post, Heath offers a peek into her creative process and shares how real life has a tendency to influence her while she's writing.
I’m a by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer. When characters visit me, asking for their story to be told, they aren’t always forthcoming with what that story entails. Very often, they simply give me a glimpse—a scene or two—something to intrigue me, to make me want to explore what leads to the scene and what follows. When the Duke Was Wicked, the first book in the Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series, was no exception.
When I began writing the book, my husband had just finished a successful prostate cancer treatment, and three of my friends had beaten breast cancer. Cancer was very much on my mind. I didn’t originally intend for Grace, my heroine, to have cancer. She was quite obsessed with marrying for love, but as I wrote the story, I realized that she needed to be struggling with something internally in order for the reader not to find her motivation weak. It needed to be something hidden, that her husband would discover on their wedding night. She planned to reveal it before the wedding, wanting someone who would love her so much that whatever her secret was wouldn’t alter his feelings. I considered an accident that had resulted in scarring, something that made her self-conscious. Then I envisioned the scene where Lovingdon, with his wicked ways, would seduce her. And when I envisioned him undressing her, I realized she’d had a mastectomy. During Victorian times, cancer was a disease that no one talked about. It was shameful to have suffered through it. So of course Grace didn’t tell anyone, not even her dearest friends. Her parents knew, and that was it.
When writing a story, we want the characters to have to face their deepest fears. Lovingdon had already lost his first love to disease and never wanted to love again. But he does fall in love with Grace. And then he discovers she’s had cancer—sees that physical indication—and it terrifies him, angers him. He can’t bear the thought of loving and losing again. There’s no guarantee that she will remain cancer-free. But during the time period for this story, the treatment of breast cancer was advancing so I could realistically have a character who survived it.
As a writer, I tend to incorporate in my stories whatever I need to work through. Not always, of course. I tend to be cruel to my characters, and I’ve never had anyone be cruel to me. I’ve never been abused or beaten. But there is usually something reflected in my writing that is part of me. Unfortunately cancer has been very present the past few years. Writing about it, giving my characters an optimistic and hopeful story, has allowed me to work through some of my anger and fears. Grace is such a strong character that I think I channeled some of my friends into her. She faces the disease with dignity and an indomitable spirit. She is determined to make every moment count, because she doesn’t know how many she might have left. She won’t be cowed. I think she is a remarkable character, one who has given me the opportunity to acknowledge those who face cancer—any cancer—with such grace.
Thank you, Lorraine! Readers, will you be adding When the Duke Was Wicked to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Kayla Marie Photography)
Sophie Barnes was born in Denmark and spent her childhood traveling extensively with her parents. She has lived in five different countries on three continents, speaks five languages and has a degree from Parsons School of Design. Barnes draws on all of these experiences while dreaming up the vivid, unconventional characters and highly entertaining stories featured in her historical romance novels, including the just-published The Scandal in Kissing an Heir—the second in her At the Kingsborough Ball series.
In this guest blog post, Barnes shares how her own adventurous life has influenced her work.
When I was four, my parents and I relocated from Denmark to Spain, but we would always return to Denmark, where my parents kept a holiday home, for the summer. On many of these occasions, we traveled by car, allowing ourselves a week or two to explore the different countries and their towns/cities along the way. I’ll admit that there was a point where I got a bit fed up with churches and cathedrals, but I have to say that I never tired of castles. Having visited many historical buildings from different time periods and built in varying styles, I can often find a way in which to describe the exact setting I’m looking for.
If I close my eyes, I can easily transport myself to one of the places I’ve visited in the past. I can feel what the ground is like beneath my feet: soft, prickly, rough, hot, cold . . . the climate, the sounds, the smallest detail of each object. I do this from time to time with places I miss, and I think it’s a wonderful exercise for me as a writer since it helps with the whole visualization process. Take the Kingsborough ballroom, for example: The feeling I wished to evoke in its description was largely inspired by the Grand Foyer of the Palais Garnier in Paris. It’s a breathtaking room, and I remember how extravagant I found it when I visited it for the first time at the age of 18.
In The Scandal in Kissing an Heir, Lady Rebecca is locked away by her horrid aunt and uncle in a tower. The castle I describe here is largely inspired by a medieval one that a family acquaintance owns in France. I’ve only visited it once, when I was 14, but I remember the tower room and the large closet that was in there—not at all the tiny piece of furniture you find these days at Ikea. In fact, I’m sure there are rooms for rent in Manhattan with less space inside them than that closet. This, coupled with my own love of hiding in closets when I was little, led to the scene in which Rebecca has sought solitude in her wardrobe and Daniel asks if she will allow him to join her.
There’s also a scene in which Daniel and Rebecca visit a gaming hall on Piccadilly—a place named Riley’s. When Daniel and Rebecca sit down to play, whist is the game of choice, a game that I have fond memories of playing with my parents and grandparents when I was little. I definitely think that being raised with some knowledge of typical pastime activities from the Regency era has helped me with my writing. For instance, I’ve tried my hand at needlepoint, cutwork, and watercolors. I’ve taken piano lessons, walked along cobblestone streets and stood on the deck of a frigate. And although it’s been a few years, I’ve also ridden a horse and enjoyed a ride in a carriage.
In my opinion, it’s impossible to write a good book without pouring a lot of who you are as a person into your writing, which is why I often mention art in my books. The Scandal in Kissing an Heir is no exception. Lady Rebecca often finds solace in her sketchbook and watercolors, just as I have done on many occasions. In fact, I spent four years in art school, traipsing through museums and studying the great painters of years gone by. During that time, I drew a lot, filling sketchbook upon sketchbook with all kinds of drawings and watercolors. When I imagined Rebecca sitting in her tower room, I knew she wouldn’t have the patience for embroidery because she’s too lively, but lively people need a bit of quiet time from time to time, and when those moments present themselves, I just know that she’ll be drawing. But if it’s a fruit bowl, flower arrangement or landscape that you imagine will grace the pages of her sketchbook, think again, because this lady, like me, is a dreamer.
Thank you, Sophie! What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Scandal in Kissing an Heir to your TBR list?
Attention historical romance lovers: There's a new series in town, and we think you're going to love it. Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard—the first book in Vanessa Kelly's Renegade Royals series—goes on sale today. The witty, engaging romp features Aden St. James—illegitimate son of the Prince Regent—who finds himself unable to resist the charming, beautiful Lady Vivian Shaw.
In this guest blog post, Kelly offers a peek into her writing process—and shares what's so fun about basing characters on real-life royal scoundrels.
Authors of historical romance face a unique challenge: How much history should they include in any one book? Readers love the historical details, and woe betide the author who skimps or makes mistakes.
Historical romance, however, is not historical fiction, although both share the goal of creating compelling characters in a vibrant period setting. But romance has an entirely different set of genre expectations. While it’s true that our readers insist on colorful and appropriate world-building, as in all romance, the love story must come first.
In my new series, The Renegade Royals, I worked especially hard to weave in historical elements while still keeping the focus squarely on the romance. That’s because the series premise is bolstered by several well-known British historical figures—the notorious sons of King George III. My heroes are the illegitimate sons of the royal princes, and one of the fathers is the famous Prince Regent himself.
My heroes are fictional, of course, although the royal princes and their base-born offspring certainly provided me with plenty of historical fodder. For instance, the Prince Regent, who gave his name to the era and later ascended the throne as George IV, initiated his scandalous career at the tender age of 17 when he began an affair with the famous actress, Mary Robinson. He took numerous mistresses over the years and had up to six illegitimate children. In fact, the seven princes who reached adulthood sired up to 22 illegitimate children.
Clearly, I had a lot of material to work with.
Aden St. James, the hero of Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard, the first book in my series, is the illegitimate son of the Prince Regent. I began my research knowing who I wanted Aden to be, and knowing his social background (a spy, whose aristocratic mother had once had an affair with the Regent). That left me to figure out the mechanics—how old was the Regent when he fathered this fictional child, for instance, and was he actually in London when I wanted him to be? Those were the sorts of questions I had to answer in developing the background for my hero.
Believe me when I tell you that there were flow charts and diagrams involved in figuring out ages, dates, times and locations. And more than once I discovered that a certain prince was not where I wanted him to be at a given point in time. That’s one of the hazards of using historical personages in fiction—a written record exists. So just when I needed one of the princes to be in Brighton having an affair, he was inconveniently away in Germany for military training.
Another interesting challenge was deciding how much page time to give historical figures. Aside from the fact that the princes are fascinating (if often repellent) in their own right and could easily overshadow other characters, too great an opportunity existed to make mistakes. The more page time I gave the princes, the greater the risk of putting them in the wrong place at the wrong time, or having them act in a way that was contrary to the historical record.
My solution? Use them sparingly. In my books, historical figures inform the story rather than play an active role. In Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard, the Prince Regent does appear in a few scenes, both in service to the plot and because he’s such a fun character. In Confessions of a Royal Bridegroom, my next book in the series (coming in April), the royal prince who sired the hero does not appear. It didn’t make sense for the story, so I kept that real-life person firmly off-stage.
And that’s just fine, because my readers are not selecting my books for detail about the lives of the British royal family in the 19th century. Yes, they enjoy historical elements, and, yes, they want to lose themselves in the extravagant and exciting setting of the Regency era. But they primarily want a heroine they can root for, a hero they can fall a little bit in love with and a happily-ever-after that fulfills their need for a romantic and satisfying read.
Given his own romantic adventures, I hope the Prince Regent would have approved.
Thank you, Vanessa! What do you think, readers? Are you planning on getting swept up in Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard?
In her Darkest London series, Kristen Callihan has concocted a winning blend of history, the paranormal and sizzling romance that's seriously swoon-worthy. Set in Victorian London, the latest book in the series, Shadowdance (out today!), follows Mary Chase, of the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, as she teams up with loner Jack Talent to solve a murder. Neither wants to be working with the other, but lurking beneath their rivalry is an undeniable attraction that swells with each of their many heated exchanges.
As part of its Get Hooked on Historicals campaign, Callihan's publisher, Forever Romance, challenged five of its authors with the same task: Write a scene featuring a dishonored heiress with a complicated family situation as she meets her handsome rake in a cloakroom. Here is Callihan's scintillating scene:
Fur was creeping up her nose. Min pressed her body further into the silks and satins surrounding her and tried not to sneeze. Bloody inconvenient, this. There were far better places for this sort of thing. She’d be having words with Timmons when she was done here.
Which was likely to be later rather than sooner, given that the inane babble drifting through her hiding place would not let up.
“Lord Elsmere went this way. I am certain of it.” This from Miss Whetherby, husband hunter of the highest caliber.
“Let us try the ballroom once more,” said her sister, Miss Jane. “Men cannot play cards all night long.”
Min rather thought men could, and would, but gave a mental wave of encouragement toward the sisters all the same. They bustled off, arguing now over whether the diamonds around Mrs. Standish’s throat were real or paste.
Min sagged against the cloaks. Finally. Her eyes had barely fluttered closed when an arm snagged about her waist, drawing her close to a hard male body.
Suppressing a squeak, she slapped a hand against a solid chest even as she grasped the handle of the knife hidden in the voluminous folds of her altered evening gown. But she halted when a familiar voice drifted down.
“Well, well, what do we have here?” Eyes the color of strong coffee smiled down at her.
“Surely not Miss Wilhelmina Post, London’s most notorious vixen, hiding out in the cloak room.”
Glaring, Min gave his chest a good shove, and he let her go, falling back in to the deep recesses of the closet with her. The man ought to look ridiculous surrounded by cloaks, but lean, long, and with the sleeve of a fur coat draped over his dark hair, Lionel August Cavanaugh was still elegant.
In her grandmother’s time, when Empire waists ruled, Cavanaugh would have been deemed a rake. Now, when one had to contend with bustles and waist-synching corsets, he was merely labeled trouble.
“My exploits are merely a prelude to your circus act, Cavanaugh.”
He chuckled, a dark rumble of sound. “Well you’ve got me there, sweets.” He moved a bit closer, bringing with him the warm scent of vetiver and linen. “Pray tell, what are you doing in the cloak room?” White teeth flashed in the dim. “No, let me guess. You had an assignation with a rather dashing overcoat, but were thwarted by an overprotective opera mantle.”
With pronounced deliberation, he plucked an ostrich feather from her hair and held it aloft.
She ignored it. “Excellent deduction, Cavanaugh. Your talents are being underutilized.”
His eyes narrowed, yet the corners of his lips twitched. “Yes, aren’t they just?”
They grinned at precisely the same moment, and then Cavanaugh gave her arm a friendly bump with his. “It is good to see you again, Min.” His tone was softer now. “When they told me you’d be my contact, I was most pleased.”
Pleasure warmed her cheeks. “It is good to see you too, Leo.”
Though she’d not had much contact with Cavanaugh over the last year, he’d been Tony’s closest and oldest friend. Cavanaugh had been witness to all the major moments of her life. Including her downfall.
The memory, and that of her brother’s loss, had her swallowing down a lump of regret. “Well, let us proceed. Eventually the attendant will return.”
“I paid him to keep guard.” Cavanaugh’s eyes twinkled. “Bloke fully supports meetings with fallen heiresses.”
The moniker ought to sting, but didn’t. Some things were worth more than respectability. Her loss of good standing was not really a sacrifice at all. Because she and her brethren were all that stood between humanity and monsters that crept about in dark corridors.
As if he were thinking along similar lines, Cavanaugh leaned in, and his warm breath touched her ear. “The demon is using Delacorte’s identity.”
Delacorte was announcing his betrothal to Lady Sarah Smithe at this ball. If they acted fast, perhaps they could find the real Delacorte and save him.
Cavanaugh moved closer. “I’m going now. Be sure to leave appropriately mussed.”
He moved to buss her check the precise moment she turned to do the same to him. Their lips met instead. It was the slightest of touches, a small exchange of breath, but Min felt the shock down to her toes, and her heart stilled.
Slowly, Cavanaugh drew back. The familiar insouciant expression he usually wore wasn’t there. No, this was far more worrisome. He appeared shocked, thoughtful, intent. Gently, he reached out and snared a coil of her hair with his finger. The auburn lock gleamed bright against his white gloves. How strange, all these years and she didn’t even know what his skin felt like upon her own. Dark eyes stared down at her. When he spoke, his voice was rough and thick. “Take care of yourself, Min.”
Best-selling author Elizabeth Hoyt has been writing historical romance novels for the past 10 years. The latest from this five-time Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist is Duke of Midnight, our Top Pick in Romance for October. Our reviewer, Christie Ridgway, calls the book "a sensual tale of forbidden love." Read Christie's full review here.
We were curious about the books Hoyt has been reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites:
NOWHERE BUT HOME
By Liza Palmer
Liza Palmer’s previous book, More Like Her, was both laugh-out-loud funny and thought-provoking, which is kind of like doing a triple backflip off the high dive for an author, so when I heard Palmer had another book out, I was psyched. Nowhere but Home more than met my expectations. In rural Texas, the heroine, Queenie Wake, has come home with her tail between her legs, having failed in New York as a chef. But she finds her art blossoming when she turns to her mother’s recipes and starts cooking last meals for the prisoners about to be executed at the local prison. The term ‘feel good’ usually makes me wince—it sounds so schmaltzy—but Nowhere but Home is a true feel good book, one with a spine of steel.
THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE
By Simone St. James
The Haunting of Maddy Clare was a Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards finalist in two categories—and won both, so naturally I was intrigued. Set between the wars, The Haunting of Maddy Clare has a wistful, melancholy tone and a spot-on period sensibility that gradually draws you into a mystery combined with a ghost story and a romance, all perfectly balanced. A simply wonderful read.
THE SPYMASTER'S LADY
By Joanna Bourne
This book had been sitting in my to-be-read pile for simply ages, and when I finally picked it up, I couldn’t figure why it’d taken me so long to read. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, The Spymaster’s Lady pits a French heroine spy against the English spymaster hero tasked with learning all her secrets in a battle of wit and skill that travels all the way from the coast of France to London. The action is fast and fun; the romance is visceral and hot; and Bourne has a rich, lovely voice that elegantly evokes the time period in a virtuoso performance. The Spymaster’s Lady is the type of book that made me fall in love with historical romance in the first place.
You are likely already aware that it's First Fiction Month here at BookPage—a month-long celebration of debut novels . . . and their authors, of course! One such author is Jennifer McQuiston, whose debut—What Happens in Scotland, a historical romance—was published earlier this year.
In this fabulous guest post, Jennifer discusses her fascinating path to becoming a romance writer and her experience of being a first-time author—although, with her second book (Summer Is for Lovers) coming out next month and her third (Moonlight on My Mind) in April, she's actually well on her way to becoming a veteran!
I didn’t always want to be an author.
There. I said it. And the lights just flickered above my head, suggesting I have upset some delicate balance of literary fate. After all, don’t authors emerge from the womb knowing not only who they are, but also what they want to write?
Nope. Not me. A veterinarian and a scientist by training, I work for the federal government tracking infectious disease outbreaks around the globe. Reading has always been a way for me to escape the pressures of work, or a treat to savor on those rare vacations. I have always enjoyed reading historical romance, but about five years ago I realized I was beginning to search for stories that were a bit different. Grittier. Less dukes and dancing, more cholera and syphilis. At some point, I began to realize those stories were in my head, and began toying with the idea to write a novel.
My earliest attempts to craft said “gritty romance novel” failed on several levels. My scientific training ensured I understood everything there was to know about cholera, but I knew nothing about craft. I tried again, feeling my way blindly to a voice that was uniquely mine but did not require translation for a lay audience. Writing became less of a pastime and more of an obsession. I set my clock for 4 a.m. every morning for a slog in front of the laptop before the real day job started. Each time I woke up to that insistent alarm, I learned a little better how to tune out my internal scientist, and how to become . . . gasp . . . an author.
What Happens in Scotland is my first published novel, but it was my fifth completed manuscript, a testament to just how long I slogged. Be forewarned: there is no cholera in this story. It isn’t even that gritty, although it features a chamber pot and a few raw edges to the plot. But it is still, irrevocably, me. My voice, my vision, my eccentricity. I knew it was special from the moment I started writing it, but I don’t think I realized how truly different it was until the reviews started rolling in. It is a book that has engendered some strong opinions among readers and reviewers, namely because it breaks a few of what are considered “standard rules of romance.” Not everyone loves the fact that I keep the hero and heroine apart for half the book searching for each other, but others have praised that difference. Some dislike the fact it takes place over a 24-hour period, while others welcome the change in pace. It contains a little too much physical humor for readers looking for lilting prose, but others claim the humor is their favorite part of the writing.
The truth is, there is no one way to write—or read—a book. I feel remarkably privileged that my publisher, Avon/Harper Collins, believed in me enough to not only take a risk on a different sort of book, but to make me a multi-published author.